Understudying

Hamlet 2008 - Rehearsal Scrapbook - Assistant Director Cressida Brown makes notes in a rehearsal. Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC

Extract from the Rehearsal Scrapbook in the 2008 production programme:

All actors at the RSC agree to take part in the understudy process in order to ensure that the play can still go on in the eventuality of any actor being absent. This means that an entire double cast of Hamlet is rehearsing in parallel throughout the process.

As Assistan Director, I hold understudy rehearsals which can amount to long evening calls, half-hour lunch meetings or even three-minute chats over a Green Room coffee. Time-snatching can be tricky with Hamlet, as almost all the actors are called during the day and are often performing A Midsummer Night's Dream in the evenings.

At the same time, I'm reluctant to slip out of rehearsals in case I miss crucial developments in the scenes; the principals are so creative in their daytime rehearsals that the characters' intentions, and therefore blocking, seem to change every session.

It is not unusual for an understudy to have to go on, even in the preview period, and as we hurtle towards our first public performance all the actors are very busy learning words, blocking, music and fights on top of their ordinary principal roles. Luckily they seem unfazed by these demands.

Written by Cressida Brown, Assistant Director
Photo by Ellie Kurttz shows Cressida making notes in a rehearsal © RSC

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Teaching Shakespeare