Written by Francesca Murray-Fuentes, Assistant Director
Much of this week has been about building up to running the show as a whole, firstly running each Act, then running each of the two halves of the show, and finally running the show as it would on a performance night, including an interval but without costume or lighting. The production team and creative collaborators sit in on these runs to keep an eye on their respective elements and tweak or adapt as necessary. The wardrobe department and dressers come to time the quick changes as the run is played at the correct speed. Other staff from the building drop in to watch including Mimi Poskitt (Senior Producer), James Brining (Artistic Director) and Anna Kelner (Head of Marketing).
This is the stage at which people who are not part of the creative team are welcomed to the rehearsal room, as by now the cast feel confident in what they are performing, and can benefit from having a fresh audience to perform to. Their feedback and notes on the run help Mark Rosenblatt (Director) gauge how the story is being conveyed, and highlight any moments where the narrative is getting lost. This gradual but constant reconfiguration means each iteration of this production is more refined, more sophisticated and more focused.
Discoveries and details
Running the show as a whole allows us to make little discoveries in the text, moments that need emphasis or clarity for the audience to receive the appropriate information. It is revealed that throughout Act 3, Scene 2 Hastings refers to Richard solely as ‘the Boar’, a title we haven’t heard before. A Shakespearean audience would have known the boar is Richard’s emblem, but today’s audience needs more guidance. One way of achieving this is in the manner in which Hastings speaks of Richard, and the reverence that he must convey through it. It may also require wardrobe to incorporate his emblem into his clothing as a reference point.
Lady Anne dies rather inconspicuously in this play. In our script her death is mentioned a couple of times but buried within a lot of other information. So we looked at how we could make what happens to her clearer and more tragic – those mentions of her death foretold are given greater accent, in her response to her coronation as Richard’s Queen, and in the grim knowledge that her usefulness to him will shortly run out.
Another opportunity the runs provide is to consider how Richard and Buckingham’s relationship develops. Shakespeare didn’t explicitly write into a scene how Buckingham is seduced to Richard’s ways of managing the world around him, but seeing how their partnership plays out along the journey of the play gives opportunity for non-spoken moments between them to demonstrate their growing familiarity.
In some ways, even after four intense weeks of rehearsals where the company have been eating, drinking and dreaming with Richard III, the final week can be revitalising. It’s in this week that the show comes together and can be seen in its full form. Now the director becomes editor and the actors’ character journeys can be refined with clarity on the story as a whole. For example, from the start Mark had intended that Prince Edward’s welcome to London in Act 3 Scene 1 would be set in an indulgent children’s party hosted by Buckingham and Richard, who are unaccustomed to the expectations of such social gatherings and have gone full out on balloons, cakes and pop. The juxtaposition of the undercurrent of their malevolence and manipulation against this playful celebration creates a fantastic tension to underscore the princes’ fateful stay at the Tower. However, once the show was running Mark felt that the scene wasn’t quite working.
The visual setting of the scene and the blocking it requires was detracting from the vital storytelling of the script. So Mark removed all the set pieces and the cast went through the text again afresh, translating it into their own words and focusing on who each piece of information was being expressed to, as Richard and Buckingham carefully negotiate a room full of potential antagonists to their plans. Then the actors tried the scene again, with complete freedom of the space and blocking as they feel fits the moment. The result was a far clearer and more engaging scene. Starting a scene from scratch may seem counter-intuitive at this late stage of rehearsals, but the decision to do so and to refer back to the text allows the scene to be refined and the purpose recaptured. As Mark says, “We’ve got to trust Shakespeare, everything is in his words”.