Whispers from the Wings

Getting the keys

October 8, 2013

Wolfing up the Bodies? Day one. The three Clapham rehearsal rooms are like a rich layer cake filled with the cream of theatrical endeavour.

We are the heavy top layer, Antony and Cleopatra in the basement are the bottom layer, and in-between Richard II is squishing its readied cast out into the stairs and corridors. They are preparing for their final run-throughs before setting off to Stratford.

In the top room our cast assemble round the chocolate biscuits in various states of apprehension while the assorted great and good from various departments gather to introduce themselves. Hands are shaken, cheeks kissed, backs slapped. It's exactly a year since I was last at the RSC, so many faces are familiar and I feel welcome and warm.

Hilary Mantel and the cast of Wolf HallThe icing on the cake is Hilary Mantel herself, who with kind grace and sharp intelligence begins to unlock a succession of doors into the Tudor world; rooms of state and privy chambers are opened in our minds, and our protagonists' thinking is laid bare. Alongside Hilary, as we start our table work on the plays, are David Packer and Mark Wallis from Hampton Court who have an encyclopaedic knowledge of this world.

Together these fascinating people take us into Cromwell's universe, which – while the customs and habits may be unfamiliar – is clearly inhabited by people whose needs and anxieties are very recognisable to us today. We need to grasp the scale of things, I guess. One idea, one whim, one decision could instantly and irreversibly change the world in which they lived. And died.

And then, of course, there is Mike Poulton, who has worked with Hilary through nine drafts of his adaptations, brilliantly distilling her rich novels into two stunningly potent plays. He adds to the pool of invaluable knowledge.

Day four
We are bussed to Stratford for a bit of orientation. We already feel like friends and can laugh comfortably with, and at, each other. We explore the Swan stage, a most satisfying playing space for actors and audience alike.

keys and a pocketSome of us get the keys to peek inside the accommodation we will be taking on. We get measured for the intricate and elaborate costumes that we will also be inhabiting.

Day five
Already it's Friday. We set off by river from the site of York Place, which Henry VIII took from Wolsey – I think because he saw it had finer furnishings!

David Packer gives us a privileged tour of Hampton Court – another of Wolsey's homes that was to become a bling-filled palace for Henry. More sense of scale: the time it took to journey upstream along the Thames, the vast size of the palace kitchens, the expense of the tapestries and decorations.

Hampton Court was just one of Henry's 60-odd homes and it is an extravagant statement of power and ambition. We briefly inhabit the halls and courts in which our characters dreamed and schemed.

And all week I've been getting back to the Menier Chocolate Factory for an evening show. It's a good job I'm in a hospital bed for The Lyons (by Nicky Silver) because, as we play Sundays, I think my next day off will be 17 November!

Top image: Keys to the past - the cast, crew and one Hilary Mantel begin rehearsals.
Bottom image: Keys to the palace.

by Nick Day  |  2 comments

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We're all doomed »


Oct 11, 9:38pm
Gregory Musson

Hi Nick. Wonderful to see you back, though Richard II is something to look forward to, there are 4 people here who are looking forward to Wolf Hall far more. All the best to you all for the show, can't wait to see this.

Oct 19, 8:35am
Lucinda Whiteley

What wonderful scenes you conjure, Nick, thank you. Very conscious that we will only see the tip of the iceberg of your endeavour, but what a tip that is going to be - to coin a phrase, can't wait!

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Teaching Shakespeare