In his director's talk on Timon of Athens, Simon Godwin pointed out that when you come across a lesser-known Shakespeare play you can usually spot similarities with plays you might know already. He remembered that Patrick Drury’s early response to the character of Flavius was to say how like King Lear's Kent he was. In fact Patrick has played several roles for the RSC in which a decent, honest man is caught up in an unwinding tragedy that he is powerless to prevent. In 2017, he played Lepidus in Iqbal Khan’s Antony and Cleopatra, Cinna the Poet in Angus Jackson’s Julius Caesar and Marcus Andronicus in Blanche McIntyre’s Titus Andronicus.
Patrick approached the character of Flavius by building on the textual reference to Timon having been his ward, establishing himself as a retainer who has watched her grow up, giving her advice which she has never heeded. His moderate way of talking serves to heighten the effect of Timon's passionate speeches and excesses.
We talked about the notoriously difficult scene in Titus Andronicus when Marcus comes upon his raped and mutilated niece Lavinia, a character he has watched grow up. This represents an enormous challenge for the actor, Patrick says, as he must understand her trauma and why he cannot touch her in circumstances which normally might cry out for physical comfort. He finds it interesting that both directors, Simon and Blanche, gave more responsibility to Flavius and Marcus than a reading of the text might suggest. As the responsible adult in the room, both characters are central to the final freeze frame of the play. And in what can be very dark plays, they suggest a possible hope for the future.
Patrick has experienced a full range of Shakespeare roles in his career. His first encounter with a play in performance was seeing Coriolanus as a school production. Every year in secondary school he would study at least one Shakespeare and the school play was always a Shakespeare as well. The standard was good and he found himself rapidly promoted to Claudius in Hamlet. It was a school trip which brought him to see his first RSC production, Eric Porter as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Patrick then went to university in Dublin where he played Hamlet, before going on to RADA.
He has also played a number of villains in his theatrical history. He admits to being somewhat enclosed and saturnine as a young actor which might have led to him being cast as the less-than-honest Angelo in Measure for Measure and Don John in Much Ado about Nothing. He has also played Claudio in the same play and Malvolio in Twelfth Night.
He is indebted to Peter Gill and Stephen Unwin, whose directorial approach he admires. Both theatrical purists in seeing language and text as the starting point, they taught him the value of being clear in what you say. Directors now are perhaps much freer and may choose to prioritise the 'Shakespeare for our time' concept, but for Patrick there is still so much that the text can teach you. When we talk, he has just come from an RSC masterclass on rhetoric which he found genuinely illuminating. He continues to be amazed by the sophistication of Shakespeare’s writing and how a study of the text can open a window into the presentation of character for the actor.
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.