Written by Francesca Murray-Fuentes, Assistant Director
Our rehearsals begin with a meet-and-greet of everyone working on Richard III, the cast, creatives, Stage Management, Production, Creative Engagement, and Marketing. Mark Rosenblatt (the director), Conor Murphy (set) and Gabriel Dalton (costume) talk us through the model box (a mini to-scale version of the set) and costume design, and the general concept for this production. Finally we sit down to read through the play as a company for the first time. There is a murmur of excitement in the room, this take on Richard III is going to be very fresh and very active, a real psychological thriller.
Our first day of rehearsals begins with ‘table work’, Mark splits the company into two groups for the houses of York and Lancaster. These recreate the family trees and trace the roots of the factions and conflicts that come to the surface in this play. Shakespeare’s Histories are littered with vendettas, revenge killings, fratricide and regicide. Everyone is related to everybody else in some convoluted way, so establishing allegiances and historical tensions is vital at this stage of our excavation of the play. It’s not just about a careful reading of this play. By working through selected scenes from Henry VI part 3, which is set in the events that run up to Richard III, we uncover a far more complex set of relationships between our characters, and the twisted, bloody world they live in.
We move on to discuss the women in the play, and how their anger and revenge is played out differently from the men. We also consider what each character wants, what is their pathological need that drives them through this narrative. Mark is interested in exploring how almost every character in this play has blood on their hands, however hard they try to mask it with status and gentility. After a game of ‘Zip Zap Boing’ to energise and focus the cast after a lunch break, EJ Boyle (movement director) takes a session with the actors on freeing up their bodies and devising moments of movement which may later be incorporated into the scenes. This sort of exploration of relationships or character that is removed from text allows for some unique and intriguing discoveries of expression to be made. This will be particularly interesting when we move on to figure out how the female characters use their bodies when conjuring their curses – a very medieval action that must be accessible to a contemporary audience.
Then it’s straight into working through scenes, and getting them up on their feet. Occasionally a concise work-through of the text in a scene becomes an extended discussion over a particular line or even a word, but the debate is useful and uncovers mini-revelations that begin a more complex journey for those characters. Most vital is making all thoughts as present as possible, allowing the dialogue to be fresh, direct and explosive.
The Production meeting
The production meeting is an opportunity for all the heads of department in Production to put forward queries and concerns to Mark and the rest of the creative team. These are the people who have to realize the concept and design of the set, costume, props, lighting and sound – all in time and within budget! These questions range from practical suggestions on how to dampen the sound when trolleys are brought on stage, to what kind of knives are needed for the Murderers, or even how waterproof some parts of the stage will have to be.
‘Now is the winter of our discontent…’
Much of the rest of the week is spent working in detail on different characters, starting with lead actor Reece Dinsdale who plays Richard, and his opening speech at the top of the play. It’s an extremely famous speech but we have to look at it afresh, from the perspective of this world we are creating and Reece’s interpretation of Richard.
This speech establishes where we are and who we are for the audience, so Mark and Reece work through many iterations of how it can be played, focusing down on the shifts created by individual words or beats, and how differently an audience in Shakespeare’s time might understand the text to an audience today.
Mark and Reece have been discussing Richard’s disability for a long time now, but today we work out some telling moments where Richard deals with others’ perceptions of his disability, how he uses it for sympathy, and how he heightens it to make a mockery of the prejudice towards him. Exploring that famous opening soliloquy, and the various ways in which Reece Dinsdale can play with it is an ongoing investigation. The speech is analysed line by line, even word by word, using the iambic pentameter as our guide for what Shakespeare was trying to convey. Richard is like a fish out of water now his favourite pastime of warring is over. Reece suggests playing against the epic of the speech by making the scene domestic and intimate, that Richard’s desire to manipulate and provoke comes from a need to release himself of the boredom of peacetime. Mark and Reece discuss how Richard may delight in the element of risk that his grand plan might not work, finding the thrill in seeing his expectations of people play out. They also consider at what point in this opening scene Richard’s shrivelled arm and limp are revealed, and how an unexpected dexterity with the rest of his body can reveal that his disabilities are only disabling in the minds of others.
After an initial cutting process by Mark and dramaturge Jacqui Honess-Martin, there are still many more characters in the text, and some actors are doubling. It’s an arduous process for the director, not least because of the logistics of quick changes between scenes. He’s had to create a logic to the doubling that reflects the relationships between the opposing factions, and maintains clarity for the audience on who everyone is! After an exploration with the cast on how group dynamic, costume and voice will aid doubling, he moves on to exploring the relevance of Margaret, the vengeful ex-queen who issues curses on her enemies, and her effect on the relationships in the play. Our audience may not be acquainted with all of Shakespeare’s Histories, less so the real Margaret, so we need to develop ways of conveying her malign influence. We spend time burrowing into her backstory, and her bloody deeds wreaked upon the house of York. Not only does this provide Jane Bertish with a rich set of resources for playing this marvellously potent character, the rest of cast can channel their revulsion of her for a tension-filled arrival in Act 1 Scene 3.
Mark directing Jessica Murrain and James Barrett as Murderers 1 & 2.
Plotting through a scene with Jessica Murrain, James Barrett, Dale Rapley.