Written by Francesca Murray-Fuentes, Assistant Director
Week Two sees the rehearsal room filled with music, fight direction and the beginnings of staging scenes in the first three Acts, all finding the flavour of what this show will ultimately become.
Love + Strategy
The female characters in this play are complex and enjoyable to work with. A session is spent on Olwen May’s introductory speech as Duchess of York in Act 2 Scene 2, uncovering that she is not always a mild and virtuous mother, she can be garrulous and arrogant – and she has raised three sons capable of sending each other to their deaths. Mark (Director) and Olwen (actor) agree that the Duchess is at all times playing two truths in regards to Richard, her remaining son. She is simultaneously disgusted by him: the savage devil who “from my dugs he drew not this deceit”, and shares a reluctant intimacy with him because of the horrific labour she endured in giving birth to him, forever bonding them through that pain. For his part, while Richard can be very sarcastic in their conversations, it’s clear that on some level he craves her approval.
In Dorothea Myer-Bennett’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth we see another two truths playing out. Elizabeth is loving and protective of her children and brother but she is also strategic. She didn’t get as far as she has – marrying the King and producing his heirs – simply through chance. We see her ability to strategise within the text – after her husband’s death she is suicidal, but after her children’s murder she doesn’t take time to grieve, she is too busy considering how she can cling on to her status, which is her only form of protection from Richard. These dynamics make the female characters in this play strong and interesting.
The technique of real-life parallels
The trouble with plays about Kings and Queens battling it out to rule a nation is that they’re not all that easy to relate to as an audience. As a result, it is extremely important that the actors can convey these characters as truthfully as possible. One technique Mark uses to help actors portray characters who are far more powerful and have higher status than we meet in our own lives, is that of real-life parallels. For example, the cast is asked to consider their character’s experiences and journey through a more domestic parallel of an ownership challenge in, say, a family-run pub. This allows them to build the narrative on more recognisable terms, giving it a sense of immediacy and specificity that the audience can access.
Reinterpreting the Messengers
Shakespeare often used generic ‘Messengers’ to convey action occurring off stage, or pass on important information that spurs a scene onward, propelling characters to take action. Mark has found a theatrical solution to all these additional characters. In Act 3 Scene 3 for example, he makes it Stanley’s wife who calls Hastings to inform him of her husband’s night terrors, and this conveys a far more human experience of Stanley’s fears for their safety than a faceless messenger can do. In Act 2 Scene 3, a messenger who relays the news that Grey and Rivers have been sent to prison, is now replaced with a phone call taken by the Archbishop. The tension in the scene is raked up as Queen Elizabeth and the Duchess of York await with baited breath for the end of the call, with only the Archbishop’s facial responses as a guide to whether it is positive or negative news. This decision also allows the audience a break from some text-heavy scenes that run up to it, as the focus is on his body language solely.
Drumming, Fighting and Singing
Jon Nicholls (Composer and Sound Designer) leads a drumming session with the whole company, exploring what sounds can be made with the set and props on stage, and improvising around a rhythm based on the beats in the most iconic phrase of this play: ‘Now is the winter of our discontent’. The cast also learn some beautifully atmospheric and hypnotic songs which will feature at various points in the production.
Rachel and Ruth of RC-Annie (fight directors) begin choreography on the fight between the Murderers and Clarence, and later the Act 5 battle in which Richard fights for his kingdom. A lot of this work is about plotting through ‘sketches’ (ideas RC-Annie have after watching the scene) and then seeing what works, and refining it over and over. The cast is also taught how to fall safely and some handy tricks to make the fighting look as realistic as possible. Jon, Rachel and Ruth will return in the coming weeks to consolidate what has been created, ensuring that the live sound and live fights are as finely tuned as can be.