Whispers from the Wings

20 years of preparation

February 13, 2014

As the tube trundled almost the full length of the Northern Line carrying me to the first day of rehearsals in Clapham in the dying embers of the year I had a rather sobering thought. It struck me that it is something in the region of 20 years ago that I first made the trip to Stratford to watch Richard III with Simon Russell Beale in the title role, at the Swan.

The Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster AbbeyHaving got over the realisation that I seem to have stealthily reached an age whereby memories that go back two decades no longer centre around grazed knees and Panini sticker albums I thought how delighted my 14 year old self would be with the current state of affairs.

Starting at the Bottom
My first engagement with Shakespeare was at the age of around 11 when my natural propensity for disrupting classrooms via class clownery and general chatter-boxing was harnessed into a performance as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

I'm fairly confident that it must have been awful but it set me on the journey that led me to where I am today and, no doubt spared the nerves of many a teacher that I encountered over the course of the rest of my academic career.

So, as I stood around in the top rehearsal room on that first morning, clutching the obligatory Styrofoam cup of coffee and striving to commit names to memory, it was a sense of pride that washed over me. Not only at having kept a promise to my 14 year old self that he would one day get here, but also the pride of working over the course of a year with the talented array of people across so many disciplines that make up a show of the scale that these three plays will achieve.

Hand in hand with that pride came the usual nervousness of joining a group of actors, stage managers, designers and technicians and not wanting to be the one that lets the whole enterprise down. It happens every time but never more so than when you are standing in the place you've been aiming for all these years.

A company trip to the Abbey
But pride and nervousness quickly subsided, to be replaced by the business of digging into the world of the plays. An early trip to Westminster Abbey, personally guided by the Dean, will live long in the memory.

It afforded us the rare privilege of standing in the very room, the Jerusalem Chamber, where Henry IV died and from which Hal emerged as Henry V. To be able to get that close to the reality behind the plays was extraordinary and it provided a direct connection with the events that we will be portraying that few companies would have the chance to benefit from.

Days like that, as well as the meticulous textual excavation that we carried out over the first few weeks, meant that when we did emerge from the table to attack the plays on our feet we were armed with a huge amount of knowledge to be put to use in breathing life into the pieces.

There's a long way to go but, if preparation counts for anything, we are in a strong position. After all, I've been getting ready for this for 20 years.

Image: a photograph of the Jerusalem Chamber taken in the late 19th century. Reproduced via a Wikimedia Commons licence.

by Simon Yadoo  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare