A Christmas Carol's Giles Taylor talks about playing multiple roles in the same production and the joys of repeated collaborations with directors.
This is a return for you to the RSC at Stratford having played in David Edgar’s Christmas Carol five years ago. How is it different this time for you?
I think its social context resonates far more strongly this time. David Edgar [wo adapted Dickens's story for the stage] has moved us away from what could be saccharine sentimentality to shock us into acknowledging that Dickens holds a mirror up to our own times as well as reflecting social conditions 200 years ago. It resonates in the same way as Shakespeare’s plays do.
How demanding is this show with so many different characters, ensemble pieces and understudy
I move from playing a businessman to Marley, then Mr Tumbler, then a cinnamon seller, miner and caroller, all roles that involve various combinations of singing and dancing. Last week I had to combine my own roles with Fezziwig, Old Joe and Robert and that is demanding. Apart from the lines, costumes, props, entrances and exits all need to be choreographed. It is a backstage ballet with WHAM [wigs, hair and make-up] and wardrobe support to maintain the rhythm of the performance. It’s mayhem! You could sell tickets to watch it.
Have you worked with the Director Rachel Kavanaugh before?
Yes, this is the tenth time I have been directed by her. She trusts her actors which is a great bonus. I was
Pisario in Cymbeline which is a fascinatingly bizarre play, neither tragedy nor comedy. Emma, Mrs Cratchit, was Imogen. I seem to have been cast in a number of loyal friend roles over the years.
How did you first get into acting?
It is in the blood, as they say. My mother, Barbara Hicks, was a well-known actress. I went to boarding school but in the holidays I would join her in the theatre, watching rehearsals, techs and performances. Her instruction was that I should sit still with my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. I learned so much. And I saw such wonderful theatre. I never wanted to do anything else.
Then why did you do a Classics degree at Bristol University?
As a sort of insurance, I suppose. But while at university I involved myself in a dance group. I had
already been chorally trained at school so my first work was in musical theatre. I first came to the RSC in
1998 because Edward Hall directing Two Gentlemen of Verona needed a specialist singer. In the same season I appeared in Merchant of Venice. Since then I have returned several times, more recently in Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light.
How did your work as verse consultant come about?
At first through involvement with musical theatre people. Trevor Nunn would always expect a Shakespeare speech at auditions and word got around that I could be quite helpful. It came from my classical education. I was at home with the hexameter from Greek drama and could give some insight into how the iambic pentameter worked. It was in this role that I worked on Marlowe’s Dido, Queen Of Carthage at the RSC. I’ve worked in this capacity on many productions all round the country, whilst still maintaining my acting career. I teach and direct Shakespeare at various drama schools too.
Do some actors have to juggle between teaching and acting?
Yes, one has to supplement the other. Most actors have what is known as a ‘portfolio career’. During lockdown I found myself both teaching and directing online via Zoom. Totally against the ethos of live theatre yet vitally necessary for survival in the profession. Much as I love teaching, I can’t quite bring myself to give up the acting yet.
Giles Taylor appears as Marley in A Christmas Carol until January 1, 2023.
Viv Graver is a retired teacher, who taught Shakespeare for more than 30 years in the north of England. Her present interest is introducing Shakespeare into primary schools. Viv's blog is a series of interviews with RSC cast and creatives about their path to Shakespeare and how they first came to it, at school and elsewhere.