Pathways to Shakespeare

Chris Lew Kum Hoi

February 15, 2013

Chris is an actor in the A World Elsewhere season.

Chris Lew Kum HoiI wanted to meet Chris as I had been impressed by his stage magnetism in The Orphan of Zhao. Completely immersed in the world of the play throughout, it is as the Ghost at the end that he makes an impassioned plea for the love denied him by his father. Then in the public understudy performance he played the role of the Orphan, investing it with a natural dignity that testified to his princely birth.

This is Chris' first job since leaving Drama school. He is appearing in the three plays that form the A World Elsewhere season. These plays look at China, Russia and Italy during Shakespeare's lifetime. He was interested in being part of the company when he knew that The Orphan was the first Asian-written play the RSC had performed, using various source texts in translation.

Chris tells me his mother is Spanish Philippine and his father Mauritian Chinese so he sees this play as taking him back to his historic roots, although he never knew his Chinese grandfather.

Chris was born and educated here. It was Polka Theatre who provided him with his first experience of live performance when he was taken, aged eight, to Beowulf. 'I was fascinated by how the monsters were created,' he says.

He was fortunate in encountering some passionate teachers of Shakespeare. This he feels is essential if you are to have a positive response as a youngster. In Year 7 he was made aware of The Tempest by watching a video adaptation. He says that when image and word are linked it makes for easier reception of the text. At 14 he saw Patrick Stewart in an RSC Tempest on tour.

He thinks that in class, character can appear to be fixed and set ideas about character can be imposed. Seeing a performance can open minds to other interpretations of character. He studied Macbeth for GCSE and went on to do A Level Performing Arts. He was in a school production of Romeo and Juliet and Othello at Sixth Form College.

He did a foundation year at RADA and then studied at Guildford School of Acting. It was here that he really made discoveries about Shakespeare's language, learning to be at ease with the iambic pentameter in performance and realising that different characters have different language. Here at the RSC he has been working on The Orphan with Greg Doran.

'Although not in verse, Greg helps an actor find the poetry of the language. It is like a long poem and you learn with Greg where to highlight the language.'

Chris had not worked on a thrust stage before so this is an important step in his development as an actor. And the thrust suits this play well where characters formally introduce themselves to the audience.

In Boris Godunov, working with Michael Boyd, the actors were aware of its parallels to Shakespeare's Histories and Macbeth, but at the same time the production was to reflect the controlling autocracy still present in modern Russia. The relevance of a play to a modern audience is of course part of the RSC ethos in Shakespearean production.

Now in rehearsal with Roxana Silbert for A Life of Galileo, he is again exploring the concept of power and its effects. Working on these plays will be a formative experience for Chris.

Which Shakespearean plays would he like to be involved in, I ask him. He is attracted by Othello and the concept of a man in an alien world, he says.

He confesses to preferring tragedy to comedy but at this stage of his development he is more than happy working with three charismatic directors, exploring the imaginative world of these plays and being part of an ensemble in doing so.

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