A few people have been interested to hear about the Q&A session that followed last night’s performance of Richard II at the Barbican and so I thought I’d write up a quick post.
In attendance for the Q&A was Oliver Ford Davies, Emma Hamilton (Queen), Marcus Griffiths (Greene), Owen Horsley (1st AD), David Tennant, Miranda Nolan (lady-in-waiting), Gracy Goldman (lady-in-waiting) and Nigel Lindsay. For those of us that had been able to attend the Q&A in Stratford-Upon-Avon, it was lovely to see David and Nigel as they didn’t come to that session.
The session started with the first assistant director talking about the rehearsal process, saying rehearsals started in Clapham on 26th August. He then went on to explain Greg Doran’s rehearsal process, which some of you may already know, describing how the first two weeks are spent reading the text in a circle, but that no one reads their own part. This is a tool that Greg always uses for his productions and Owen talked of how it helps make everyone feel a sense of ownership of the play and strengthens the ensemble. It certainly stands out for me when I see Greg’s plays that all the ensemble are invested in the story and clearly understand the characters and the situation in every scene. You just need to watch actors who are only in the background of a scene to see that they are absolutely in that moment as their character would be.
The discussion then moved on to the research trips the company went on during rehearsals and Miranda Nolan talked about how valuable it had been to visit Westminster Hall at Westminster Abbey and see the great hall that Richard II had expanded and how it helped all the actors when it came to playing the scenes set in that vast hall. Gracy Goldman also mentioned the tour guides they’d had and how the anecdotes they’d provided about happenings in the hall during Richard’s reign helped to make them understand exactly what their character would be feeling in those moments in the play.
SPOILER WARNING – Skip this paragraph if you have not yet seen the production! The floor was then opened up to the audience and after an off topic request to take David for a drink (he kindly said he had to get home), it was asked why the choice of murderer of Richard had been changed from the original text. David Tennant talked about how Exton is a character that appears at the very end of the play to kill Richard and is someone the audience has no emotional investment in and that, on discussion as a company they all felt that once Aumerle is made the killer, the play seems to be more complete. He also referred to the scene between the Yorks and Bolingbroke and that without Aumerle as the killer that scene doesn’t really go anywhere and that, although we’ll never know, he tends to think that’s possibly how Shakespeare would have wanted it to be. He also mentioned that for Henry IV Shakespeare had had to change Falstaff’s name, as the family with whom he originally shared a name were unhappy with the link and asked for it to be changed. David said it’s possible the Rutland family also didn’t like a link between their family and the killer in this play (as by this point Aumerle is called Rutland). This was a point that Oliver Ford Davies had also mentioned in the Q&A in Stratford-Upon-Avon in November and is certainly an interesting thought. I for one think the way this production is structured, the tragic end feels inevitable.
Another gentleman spoke of John Barton’s famous 1973 Richard II production starring Ian Richardson and Richard Pasco, who would alternate the roles of Richard and Bolingbroke. He had seen both versions of this production 40 years ago and asked if any of the cast had taken inspiration from this production at all. David responded that it was hard to get a sense of a performance that you didn’t see and that perhaps for him his connection was more of a spiritual one, as Ian’s wife has given him the ring Ian wore for this production. All the cast agreed it must have been fantastic to be able to see it live. Oliver Ford Davies later came back to this point and added that both Ian and Richard saw the characters in very different ways, leading to two contrasting versions. Ian Richardson was of the view that Bolingbroke did come back for the crown, whereas Richard Pascoe felt the opposite. It is always interesting to hear Oliver Ford Davies talk about Richard II, as it was his special subject at Oxford and he read volumes of Latin about the subject and therefore has lots of insights.
Owen Horsley also spoke of how useful it had been that the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon had laid out a table for them of artefacts from the time, including a letter from John of Gaunt, as well as material about other productions.
Another question was about the wonderful costumes and whether they also wore them in rehearsal. Marcus said they didn’t have the full costumes at that time and it was very much up to the imagination, but that everything falls into place when you put on the costume. Nigel Lindsay did however say that he had the gloves, the sword and later the long coat during rehearsal as it gave him a sense of how to walk and of the character in general. He also mentioned that Sean Chapman (Northumberland) had one iron glove throughout rehearsal and that perhaps those playing soldiers had felt more of a need to have some part of the costume whilst rehearsing. Miranda Nolan also talked about that ladies wearing practice skirts to get used to walking in the large gowns and that Jane Lapotaire (Duchess of Gloucester) was an expert in how to wear period costume! She also spoke of the hairstyle for the ladies-in-waiting and that it’s almost like a corset.
With regards to David’s hair, they recalled the first rehearsal after David had had the extensions done and that he arrived during a warm up and Miranda at first didn’t recognise him! David also jokingly said he should also have worn a practice skirt as it was far harder than he expected to move in some of his costumes. He also spoke of the five flights of stairs between the stage and the dressing rooms and that hoisting it up to climb the stairs a few times a night was very unregal!
The cast were then asked, if the coalition government were planning to ban Shakespeare after tomorrow (which David jokingly said he thought they were), what role they would want to play or play again one last time? Nigel Lindsay playfully responded with Desdemona, but then followed up with Iago (I can really see that. He’d be great). Gracy said Hermione (from A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Miranda chose Juliet, David said he would have said Iago but as it was taken he’d choose Malvolio, Owen said he’s like to direct Titus Andronicus, Marcus wanted to be Coriolanus, Emma also opted for Iago and Oliver Ford Davies said he’d stick with Polonius (good choice indeed)! Someone also asked whether they preferred comedies, tragedies or histories. The majority said tragedies, with only Gracy choosing comedy and Miranda choosing histories. David on the other hand said it would be reductive to put them in to categories!
The next question related to whether any practitioners of Shakespeare had influenced their work. Gracy spoke about Cicely Berry (the RSC’s brilliant voice coach) and recalled taking part in a workshop with her, during which they had to do interesting work with excerpts from Macbeth and that this had really made her love Shakespeare.
Someone also asked whether they thought it was more difficult to create a character from history and how did they find their way in to the character. Nigel Lindsay commented that it was nice to play a real person as there is research available to you, but that as they lived so long ago you can still bring something of your own to it. He also spoke of how visiting places like Westminster Hall was very helpful. With regards to new plays/characters, he said you probably can be more free in a way and that for some characters it’s not the history of the person but the history of all those who have played it before that can be the most frightening. He also said how Greg spoke in rehearsal that they were playing the play not the history and that he thought that was an important point. He did however speak about reading a chronicle written by Adam of Usk, who lived at the time and apparently accompanied Bolingbroke back from exile and even visited Richard in prison and he said reading something like that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
Someone asked David if he dreamed Shakespeare, to which he said he wished he was that eloquent! He did say he sometimes wakes up at night with lines going through his head though, but that it would be for those around him to answer whether he brings the characters home with him. He said he used to think he didn’t but he’s not sure now. At this point Nigel Lindsay referred to the National Theatre’s 2003 production of The Pillowman (available to view in the NT archive if you are interested as, although the recording quality isn’t great, it’s a superb production) in which his character spent most of the play torturing David’s character with electrodes! He said that during that run his family did say he sometimes brought the character home with him, which was quite a scary thought having watched that portrayal!
The questions started to become a little silly towards the end (Doctor Who crept up as someone had brought songs she’d written about the characters for David, which he did take at the end) and there was then a discussion about David’s hair. He said he didn’t know how people do it – all the maintenance, the washing, and the endless brushing! It was jokingly suggested that at the end he should auction it for charity, which he thought was funny and he seemed doubtful anyone would want such a thing. He then jokingly said he could perhaps give it to another actor some time when they are going to play Richard and used Colin Morgan as a random example, going “Here you are Colin, here’s a scraggy bit of hair for you. That’ll set you straight!” It was very funny in that he was really highlighting the craziness of the idea that anyone could possibly ever want his hair!
This is David doing the action of offering his hair to another actor, the idea of which he thought ridiculous!
On that note, they received a final round of applause before the session finished. I always find the Q&A and director talks at the RSC fascinating and if you have a chance to go to any of them then I definitely recommend it.