History lessons at the RSC
January 23, 2014
It's week four in to the rehearsals for Henry IV Part I and II. We're in a huge loft room in Clapham. For me it's week four of the next year of my life with the RSC.
In some ways it's my first week too. My first 'full time' week. For the last three weeks of January I have been moonlighting – or affectionately called 'getting the double bubble' by an actor friend.
I've been rehearsing Henry IV in the day then performing on stage at night. In Bristol. It's about a 130 mile commute. Doing it twice a day has been pretty tiring. The show was The Little Mermaid, at Bristol's Old Vic.
And just for the record I played a crab.
The transition between playing crustaceans and Shakespearian verse is probably enough material for a novel. The crab had its challenges: picking up props with pincers takes serious practice, then there's the whole shenanigan of constantly moving sideways, not to mention nearly overheating on stage.
I feel quite liberated. As if a huge, sweaty, rubber shell has been lifted from my shoulders.
Henry IV: no piece of cake
Saying that, Henry IV is no piece of cake. It's more like a delicately constructed trifle. Multi-layered. No other Shakespeare play, in my opinion, has such a huge range of characters showing every facet of society, or such a broad scope of themes.
It also has something for everyone. Firstly some of the best comedy scenes of the whole canon – spearheaded by the legendary Falstaff. It has some intricate historical analysis of the transition between feudal politics and Machiavellian Realpolitik – which ultimately show the foundation of contemporary democracy. And it also has a story of a father and a son, a king and a prince.
If I have one overall observation in my first four weeks it's this: I got the 'histories' wrong.
History: not boring
I had this naive idea, which I worry is shared by a lot of other younger people, that 'histories' meant historical. It meant a book covered in dust that you have to read with gloves on, some boring school trip to a field in the countryside with a rubbish packed lunch.
It meant loads of characters called after different counties shouting at each other about other people named after counties.
I was wrong. Hands up.
They're not quite Game of Thrones, they're even better.
My second and final observation in this blog is that the line 'I'll tickle your catastrophe', from Henry IV Part II is a complete work of genius. End of.
by Martin Bassindale
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