Sharing the load
November 28, 2013
I'm somewhat fortunate in having just the one part to worry about in these plays. Most of the cast have two, three or even four roles to learn and play. Some of them will become all too familiar with the quick change rooms backstage where they will be regularly set upon by the RSC's expert and speedy dressers and 'wiggies'.
And, of course, most of the cast have one or more roles to understudy. As the Duke of Norfolk appears, at the moment, to have as much time in the dressing room as on stage in Bring up the Bodies, I felt I should offer to take on an understudy role in order to spread some load.
I suggested it to Joe Murphy, our assistant director, and we agreed that if I took on the cover of Sir John Seymour, it would greatly ease the burden on the actor originally slated to do it.
The assistant directors' briefs are very wide at the RSC and they bear great responsibility. Their input is naturally dependant on the trust invested in them by the directors.
Jeremy Herrin and Joe Murphy are already a team, and Joe commands the trust and respect of the whole company — not least because his suggestions have proved most apposite and helpful.
Perhaps Joe's most demanding task is to be entirely responsible for the understudies. He must run the understudy rehearsals, mostly in the available time during main rehearsals, and bring the understudies to a state of full readiness by the opening night. A very complex 'what if' chart has to be drawn up to cover all possible eventualities of absence. The knock-on effect from any one actor being 'off' can be alarmingly complex.
Imbued with the spirit
So I look forward to working under Joe's direction and am sure that being a part of the spirited understudy company will be ample reward for the extra work to which I've committed myself.
I think back to 2011 when I got a bit overtaken by company spirit and offered to do an ensemble role on Marat Sade to keep company with my now established chums who were wilting under the work load. My precipitantly expressed lack of inhibition when asked about onstage nudity was to have dramatic results and I found myself front page news!
It was certainly a difficult time but, on balance, I could not regret being part of a scene which so graphically showed what can happen when a pack of otherwise sentient beings happen upon a vulnerable individual. It certainly showed what can happen when an otherwise sentient actor volunteers to share the suffering! I'm usually in drama that moves or amuses and this was a rare foray into theatre that sets out to shock.
I hope covering old John Seymour will be some way further towards the amusing end of the dramatic spectrum.
Image: Joe and Jeremy.
by Nick Day
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