We started rehearsing last night. As is customary, we started by getting the whole cast together for what's called a "table read." Not that accurate for us, as we all sat around on couches, easy chairs, and benches, even if there actually was an enormous coffee table in the middle of the circle. One cast member is presently in England, and another had to work, so we weren't quite all there, but with the stage manager and director reading a few lines here and there we got through it well enough.
Tomorrow (well, today now) we'll start blocking, which is when things really get interesting. We'll get to keep scripts in our hands for the blocking, so we can write things down. Once the show is blocked, it's more or less instantly off book. That's not as radical an idea as it sounds, as everyone has had them for over a month, so there's been plenty of time to study. Other than to keep track of where we were in the scenes I wasn't in, I don't believe I actually looked at the script until the last few lines in Act IV, and Claudius has very little to say after that.
In a fairly common bit of double casting, I find that now, instead of merely playing the King, I am also playing his dead brother. The one he murdered a couple months before the play starts. This isn't that unusual. There's enough time to make the changes, even with the cuts we've imposed, and they are brothers, so it's hardly odd they'd look somewhat alike. Despite this being a "rehearsal dress" production, there will be a minimal amount of costuming, so the ghost will likely have a full head of hair while Claudius is bald (if I'm going to wear that wig, it's going to be as the guy with the least stage time).
I still feel that Claudius needs to be played as someone who thinks of himself as essentially good. In an interview, Patrick Stewart suggested that, really, Claudius had only done one wrong thing. It happened to be murdering his brother, but otherwise he was diligent, dutiful, a good king, a good husband, and if Hamlet had let him, probably a good step father. After all, it didn't occur to him to do anything to harm Hamlet until it became obvious that the prince had learned how his father died and was planning to kill his uncle in revenge. Self defense is basic.
So he starts out about as good as anyone who's just murdered his brother and married his wife can start, and remains concerned and loving until circumstances require other actions be taken. When he chides Hamlet for his "unprevailing woe," he's acting as a proper step father, advising a step-son who will one day follow him on Denmark's throne. Right up until the play within the play, his intention to send Hamlet to England may very well be purely diplomatic. Get him out of the country, and into different surroundings, in the hope he'll come out of his funk. It's only after the play, with Hamlet's knowledge obvious, and Polonius dead, that Claudius takes the extra step of writing a request for England to kill the prince when he arrives.
There will be a bit of running around backstage, exiting on one side of the stage, and immediately re-entering on the other. Claudius and Laertes have one of these quick crosses in Act IV, as the scene that originally came between their two scenes is no longer there. I feel there will probably be a quick change involved as well, to indicate that some time has passed, even if it turns out to be nothing more than Claudius removing his jacket.
Logistics and acting. That's one of the problems with producing a show you're also acting in. You have to worry about both, along with whether you'll sell enough tickets to cover the expenses of putting on the show.
Such is life.