Miles says that his first memory of Shakespeare is “cold and green”. It was 1967 and Peter Hall was doing a film version of Midsummer Night’s Dream with Judi Dench as Titania. As the children of Ian Richardson and Maroussia Franks, two founder members of the RSC, he and his brother had been enlisted as fairies. He was just four years old. The weather was appalling and they were holed up in a caravan playing I-spy between takes. He was cold and he was green (the colour of the fairy make-up). At the end of the filming sessions he and his dad would rush to the theatre where he was playing Corialanus. Time being limited his father would apply his brown make-up and rush off with his still-green son. On one occasion the car broke down and two figures, one brown, one green attempted to thumb a lift. Without success! They were rescued by the theatre sending a car to collect them.
He remembers the fun the two boys had, just a year between them, exploring the theatre, playing with props and being given swords and shields surplus to requirements for garden play. And they never injured each other with them. Conventional toys, yes but not these.
Basically the family moved according to dad’s work and as they were determined that the boys should not be sent to boarding school Miles’ formal education was partly in London, partly in Stratford at Tiddington and KES for a while and then the UN school in New York where he gained an International Baccalaureate while dad was playing in My Fair Lady. Back in England he went to the Arts Educational Drama School, graduating in 1982.
Shakespeare. he says, has never been a foreign language to him. Growing up in a theatrical family with the theatre and actors constantly around him it was to him just another language, like being bi-lingual. He worked as a child actor at the RSC. He played Moth in Love’s Labour’s Lost when his dad was Berowne, He was on stage with Estelle Kohler, Janet Suzman and Norman Rodway who playing Holofernes spat pieces of apple in his face much to the amusement of the audience.
As a professional he was Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet with Hull Truck, Duke of Venice/Lodovico in Othello at Theatre Clwyd, did a national tour with Richard II and Richard III, played Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet on a Middle-East tour, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Birmingham rep and Paris in Romeo and Juliet at the Ludlow Festival theatre.
Then in 2003 he found himself at the RSC. Nearly 40 he was once again on stage with Judi Dench, his fairy queen at four years old. It was All’s Well That Ends Well. He was also in Greg’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the same season. Miles finds Greg a very generous and clever director: your ideas are welcomed and you feel ownership of the play yet these ideas will have arisen from rehearsal work leading you towards Greg’s concept of the play.
He had five years at the RSC during this period, going on to work with Michael Boyd in his History Cycle. He is totally democratic, Miles says. Everyone is welcome to voice ideas including stage managers and technical staff but he is outspoken about what he likes and dislikes.
Shakespeare is often a yardstick for other work. He has recently played Charles III and says he saw the role as “tragic kin” to Shakespeare. Now in Volpone working with Trevor Nunn for the first time he says Jonson’s language is brutish rather than poetic. At 75 Nunn he has found sharp, lively and with total mastery of the text. He just asks for a page reference to relay to the actors.
Miles was encouraged by the RSC to do a BA in Shakespearean Studies at Warwick during the History Cycle and has run workshops for students both here and at the University of Tel Aviv. It has given him the opportunity to run with the ideas of Cicely Berry and John Barton. He finds that simplifying the language doesn’t work, giving them less of it does.
I ask about future acting roles. His hot favourite is Capulet and he would like Henry IV once he becomes king, but not his Bolingbroke part. And Prospero. All fathers, he reflects, and knowing what it is like dealing with adolescent children he can empathise with the roles!
A totally theatrical education came his way as a child of two founder members of the RSC who brought up their children with theatre wherever it took them.
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.