Wings and prayers
December 30, 2013
We're coming to the end of our second week of previews. Both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have opened, and we've finally reached our day off. Which, of course, is just as stressful as any technical rehearsal.
Everybody will be receiving presents from the RSC gift shop this year. It's about as far as my feet are willing to carry me and my credit card weighs more in my pocket than a three ton stage weight.
Everybody still hasn't slept.
Many people involved in theatre have a running stress-dream which manifests itself in a variety of ways. The common theme, however, is something along the lines of finding yourself on stage and not knowing the words. Or the play. Or the people. Or, in some cases, where on earth you misplaced your (beautifully designed) Tudor codpiece.
Living the dream
You stand before an enraptured audience who wait, expectant, for the next chapter in the narrative to unfold. Silence sinks around you, interrupted by the soft flicking of programs and nervous murmurs, only to be broken by you screaming something along the lines of 'Codpiece!!' at the top of your lungs, and running maniacally from the building.
But it's only a dream. And dreams aren't real. Sort of.
Performing in both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies together is, essentially, like taking part in an intricately crafted marathon. It's the Tudor equivalent of sitting on the dodgems for six hours. The amount of times my cast-mates have turned to me and idly mumbled '...which one are we doing today?' - half way through a show - has become alarmingly frequent.
Scenes mush into a veritable casserole of sixteenth century politics, Tudor glam fashion and complete panic. Not one member of the cast or crew can say, hand on heart, that they haven't, at one point or another, had a moment of complete and utter 'Codpiece!!' along the way.
One member of the cast frequently introduces herself in the wings to me every night - half of us feel we haven't seen each other in weeks. You're no longer Lucy Briers. You're Lady Jane Rochford. Stop confusing me.
Revisions and rewrites
But on many a wing and many more prayers, we've made it through. Every day the writers feed us rewrites and cuts, the director fires notes and re-blocking at the crumbling wall of our consciousness, wishing something - anything - to stick.
Half the time, we're just wondering which version is going to come out of our mouths tonight. Which, if anything, keeps the story alive, keeps us all the more vividly in our own universe. God bless Ben Miles, who barely leaves the stage in either play. His is a discipline of infinite depth and fathomless concentration.
Held hostage in the RSC shop
Christmas looms, and I still can't leave the RSC gift shop. I've got theatrical Stockholm Syndrome. I stumble home, hearing the meandering call of an afternoon nap on the wind. I'm looking forward to it. Not because I'm tired. Not because I've already had two sleep-inducing midday mulled wines. But because I know, when next I get up on stage, it'll be a dream. I can wake up from dreams. Dreams I can deal with.
If at any point you hear an almighty 'Codpiece!!' from my bedroom, please ignore it.
It's theatre. One way or another.
by Joey Batey
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