Whispers from the Wings

Day 1 - morning: the model box and a sense of foreboding

April 2, 2012

On Monday 8th August 2011, which seems a long time ago now, I set out from my home in South West London for the first day's rehearsal of Written on the Heart about the making of the King James Bible.

The RSC has a number of rehearsal rooms dotted along Clapham High Street, where I have worked on numerous occasions.

Perhaps because of the subject of the play I arrived at St Peter's Church Hall on time only to discover I had gone to the wrong room. The building was deserted and I soon realised I should be at St Anne's Hall 300 yards away and which incidentally is not attached to any church.

Three minutes later - and three minutes late - I enter the thronged and loudly buzzing hall. I am immediately confronted and roundly admonished and abused for my tardiness by the company manager, Jondon, a shaven-headed bull of a man. This he does, very deadpan, his tongue fixed firmly in his cheek. He and I have known each other and worked together over thirty years. His default position is Attack Dog. So naturally there is only one course of action. I immediately insult and abuse him in return. We enjoy the game. So began the first day's rehearsal of David's fine play.

The hall was full of that peculiar and loud buzz that attends the early rehearsals of any play. A mixture of nervousness, excitement and apprehension which soon dissipates within a few days and is replaced by exploratory chit chat, banter, irreverence and insults.

On the first day every actor hopes to 'know' some other actor or actors in the room. It helps relieve the tension. If we do, we greet each other like long lost comrades - even if we worked together only months before.

Sometimes one works with an actor one worked with decades before, and if you liked them then, the rapport and warmth you shared all those years ago is instantly back. I greet Oliver Ford Davies, Stephen Boxer, Jamie Ballard, Paul Chahidi, Annette McLaughlin, all of whom I have worked with on other plays over the decades.

The laughs, the banter start. The Director Greg Doran, with whom I have worked with on a number of productions comes over to welcome me. I have worked on a number of productions with him over the years - The Winter's Tale, Sejanus and Antony and Cleopatra.

Greg is an actors' director. Not obsessed with concept and showiness, but a director who likes to delve into and illuminate fine texts with a group of actors he carefully chooses and admires. He also loves actors, a quality not always evident in some directors. His CV is sensational. A long list of mostly classical productions that have been extremely well received over the years.

His love of Shakespeare, his breathtaking knowledge of the Elizabethan and Jacobean worlds and his ability to articulate and share it with the company is astonishing. My God, he's clever. It makes you sick!

We all drink coffee and after introductions from actors, designers, composer, stage management, the press office, the education department, development people, etc etc. we gather around a number of decorators tables pushed together and the work begins.

by James Hayes  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare