Written by Francesca Murray-Fuentes, Assistant Director
Week Three sees the company creating the build up to the final act of the play, some refining of each character’s purpose within a scene, and an exploration of scene changes.
Costume designer Gabriel Dalton, and the Wardrobe team at the Playhouse have quite a job on their hands to achieve the ever-growing quantity of quick-changes. The multi role-ing of the actors helps the audience get a sense of the distorted world Richard sees around him, where every person is an iteration of the last, and all are a threat to the York throne. So some quick changes can be executed on-stage and absorbed into the visual language of this production. That still leaves some rather whirlwind changes for some, such as Olwen May, who transitions from the Duchess of York, to the Bishop of Ely, to Stanley’s wife all within 3 scenes. It’s a testament to the skill of both actor and wardrobe to achieve these changes inconspicuously. Specific time will be allocated to practice these manoeuvres when we arrive at our technical week.
Knock-through scene changes
The production has a strong sense of propulsion throughout, and Mark (the director) has capitalised on this by bleeding scenes into each other, so they are almost stitched together like a series of recollections. This momentum adds to the sensation of the helplessness that is felt by many of the characters in the path of Richard’s relentless brutal journey to becoming King. In a scene we worked on this week, for example, Stanley (David Rubin) informs Lady Anne (Rose Wardlaw) that she is to be crowned Richard’s Queen, en-caging her to a life of no escape from his machinations. No sooner has she begun to reflect on how she has ended up damming herself by wishing his wife a wretched life (in a standoff in Act 1 Scene 2) than the coronation robes for the next scene are being placed on her shoulders. As she concludes her speech she is led to take her throne beside the man who killed her husband and father-in-law. Layering of this kind is used throughout the production, at times evoking a spilt-screen effect in which two separate environments or time zones share the physical space of the stage.
When revisiting a scene Mark will often ask the cast to ‘action’ their parts. ‘Actioning’ is scoring the text with a transitive verb on a beat-by-beat basis. Its aim is to chart the interaction between characters, and is based on an understanding that human beings are continuously attempting to affect the state of other human beings, whether we consciously process this or not. When Rose Wardlaw (Lady Anne) prepares her line “Foul devil, for God’s sake hence and trouble us not” addressed to Richard, she can action it to make the intention easier to play. For instance, she tried:
“Foul devil, for God’s sake hence and trouble us not” – [I compel you]
“Foul devil, for God’s sake hence and trouble us not” – [I chastise you]
“Foul devil, for God’s sake hence and trouble us not” – [I slap you]
Even without physical contact, the impact of the intention sent and received, is powerful and tangible.
Playing the space
The Quarry stage is an expansive one, yet retains a real sense of intimacy in its amphitheatre shape. It is a space where distances tell their own story. When Tyrrell (Dyfrig Morris) reports to Richard that the little Princes have been killed as per his request it is already an event full of tension, but that tension is all the more heightened as we watch Richard pace silently across the diagonal entirety of the stage towards Tyrrell, a lethal basilisk with its prey in its sights. Another moment of artful ‘blocking’ occurs in the stand-off between the Duchess of York and Richard in Act 4 Scene 4. The Duchess is openly telling her son that she wished he had never been born because of the cruelty and evil he has brought to their world. It’s tough stuff to hear from your mother, even for a ‘toad’ like Richard. But the coup de grâce comes when she walks the distance from upstage to where is he stands at the bottom next to the audience, and with one hand reaches out and strokes his face. The moment of physical intimacy, this expression of a mother’s love coupled with the bitterest of words makes this moment all the more potent.