Pathways to Shakespeare

David Rubin

July 18, 2013

David RubenDavid is currently appearing in Titus Andronicus and A Mad World My Masters at The Swan.

I wanted to meet David Rubin after seeing his outstanding performance as Marcus in the public understudy run of Titus Andronicus.

The scene in which Marcus encounters Lavinia after her rape and mutilation was brilliantly directed and acted, making me realize what a level of sophistication Shakespeare had reached in his early playwriting. Lavinia, a pitiful spectacle, and Marcus, her uncle, are counterpointed exquisitely in this scene: she is bereft of words while he pours his sorrow word upon word into what seems a catharsis of grief. It's an alienation effect painful for the audience - many words, too many words, too many beautiful poetic words, no physical contact, chary as she is bound to be now of all men, even a sympathetic, feeling one.

And yet when you read the play you can have no idea of how powerful a dialectic it is when acted: the worst of mankind, brutal, animal, sadistic is set against the best of mankind, sensitive, caring

David tells me how glad he was to have the opportunity to play the role on this occasion especially since Richard Durden who normally takes the part assured him that he hadn't had a day off in 45 years!

Marcus is a big role in the play, a character seen by the audience as embodying sanity in a mad world. What he brings to this scene is a backstory- the stay at home statesman who has been a father figure to Lavinia while her own father has been campaigning for 10 years, who defends her right to choose her own husband and supports the opposition of her brothers to Titus' plans for a political marriage. The cast spent some time in rehearsal acquainting themselves with post-traumatic stress after battle which might explain the violent excesses of this play, a syndrome from which he does not suffer until he encounters his ravaged niece when sensitivity turns to anger and to revenge. I think it makes the audience question their own responses to revenge - the 'what if?' factor and makes it relevant to the world we live in today.

A psychologically-interesting role for David who says that he has been blessed by being given some other wonderful roles - to understudy! He understudied Prospero for Patrick Stewart in The Tempest and Cassius for Finbar Lynch in Julius Caesar. But this is the nearest he has got to a major role with the RSC. He tells me that he would dearly love to play Cassius (yes!) but especially Caliban in The Tempest. He feels that he has digested a lot of research while working on Walking with Apes which he could fruitfully use in bringing the role to the stage.

So when did it all begin for him? He had a 12-year-old boy's experience of reading round the class. A bit of Macbeth – gobbledegook as far as he was concerned. But then at A Level, while doing The Winter's Tale he encountered his first excitement. Here was a writer who explored the subconscious world, who wrote with double, triple meanings and had a complex understanding of the world we live in. Although it wasn't Shakespeare on your feet his English teacher guided them through a text, skillfully exploring its meaning and significance so that David, who confesses to having been no great reader at that time, was hooked.

A second revelation was Polanski's film of Macbeth. He couldn't believe what a brilliant thriller the play was and loved the film's modernity of style. It made him want to do Shakespeare, to become emotionally and physically engaged with the text not just read it.

His third stage of developing an interest in and life-long commitment to Shakespeare he calls his 'chasing Shakespeare years'. Following his graduation from Middlesex Polytechnic he had for nearly 10 years been involved in children's television, partly as actor and partly as educator and got the feeling that he was regarded as a children's presenter at the BBC rather than a professional actor. It was after the birth of his first daughter in 1996 that he started to actively chase down Shakespeare, as he puts it.

He spent five years with The National Education Department, playing leading roles and running workshops alongside. His experience as an actor and workshop leader had begun at Chicken Shed Theatre Company which he had joined while at school. He became their lead actor, writer and director of productions .He had persuaded them to let him play Hamlet. So back in the theatre world he loved at The National, he met Jacqui O'Hanlon, now RSC Director of Education. He acted with Jacqui and they ran workshops together. He describes her as 'inspirational'.

He had two or three auditions at the RSC without being engaged. It was Greg Doran who gave him his first job here at the RSC observing 'I think that you will be a very useful member of my company.'

This is now his third contract with the RSC. He was part of the Long Ensemble where he gained valuable experience both here and Abroad. He obviously enjoys being an ambassador for Shakespeare and has visited The USA, South Africa, Iceland and Brazil on tour. In the 90s, in his chasing Shakespeare years he had spent a weekend in war torn Sarajevo where he played Orsino in Twelfth Night for Theatre Set-up.

He has a firm commitment both to his acting and his teaching work - he is an RSC practitioner. In fact he was three months into the PGCE course which, he says would have led to the security of a teaching job, when Greg offered him a chance with the RSC. A difficult decision? Not really. He knows that he gets better teaching work as an actor, he is free to encounter youngsters as an actor and as a workshop leader he 'plays' with the plays. He believes that you can do this with children as young as five. His approach is non-academic. Having struggled himself in a prestigious academic school, his aim is to take a more relaxed approach with youngsters. He has been involved with Young People's Shakespeare productions at the RSC, notably a very successful Hamlet. These productions are basically one and a half hour versions of the plays, plot-driven but yes, with some of the poetry of the longer speeches.

When he worked with Stratford College students on A Midsummer Night's Dream for The Dell in 2006 he involved them in decision-making on the final text that he was editing. David speaks enthusiastically of the satisfaction of putting others on the path, a pay-back for what he has received, he tells me. He holds a postgraduate award in the Teaching of Shakespeare from Warwick University in conjunction with the RSC.

An inspirational man both as actor and as teacher, equally at home in both worlds and equally as committed.

by Viv Graver  |  2 comments

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Nov 20, 4:29am
David Meldrum ex BBC Education producer

Please pass on my best wishes to David and tell him I was wondering how his Television and film career was doing. And is he still into football and stand up comedy


Jan 31, 2:28pm

Great to hear from you, David....shame it's taken me 2 months to spot your post.

Is there an email address/mobile number I can contact you on??

[ or can rsc pass those details on if they have them, please? ]

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Teaching Shakespeare