RSC veteran actor Richard Katz, recently seen in The Fair Maid of the West and Artistic Associate on The Merchant of Venice 1936, talks about his many roles on our Stratford-upon-Avon stages.

The company of The Fair Maid of the West dressed in Elizabethan-period costumes stood and sat around a bar laughing, singing and playing musical instruments
Richard Katz (front l) and the cast of The Fair Maid of the West
Photo by Ali Wright © RSC Browse and license our images

I think you were part of Michael Boyd’s Long Ensemble which brought together 44 actors for 3 years here in Stratford?

Yes, I would describe the experience as the job of my life. We worked together and got to know each other’s rhythms as actors so we moved quickly through rehearsal of a new play. I moved from playing Touchstone in Michael Boyd’s As You Like It to Lord Capulet in Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet. I also did Morte D’Arthur in The Courtyard Theatre, an experimental prototype for the new RSC theatre.

Was Touchstone your favourite role?

I felt that I thoroughly understood him. I had been the former duke’s jester and he had loved me and I was used to finer things but now I was demoted by the new duke, his brother. The forest was not my natural milieu and I hated it. I played him as a complete grump. My first entrance in the forest was made in a cage of clinging sticks: "Now I am in Arden".

Lord Capulet I could understand, having been both child and parent. We may reject a plan for our life put by a parent but as a caring parent having our plan rejected out of hand may make us angry. I was more than angry with Juliet played by Mariah Gale. Rupert Goold, the director, used to call it the kickoff moment as I exploded with anger and turned violently against her. Because we had worked together I could give it everything and she could take it and turn it against me.

What is it you like about the Shakespeare stage?

It is a shared space and makes it easier to reach out to the audience, to actually talk to them. My more recent work has been at The Globe and there is a different feel there. In The Globe you usually perform in daylight because it is summer and you have clear sight of your audience. They have come to enjoy themselves and will laugh at anything you make funny. So you have to deliver your storyline with speed and clarity and not simply entertain them with comic turns.

The Swan, an indoor theatre, has theatrical lighting but must allow the actor to see the audience, to engage with them. In The Fair Maid of the West, the opening Prologue keeps the same lighting state in the auditorium, no dimming occurs at this time and it dims slightly as the action starts but audience and actor can see each other clearly.

Has rehearsal for The Fair Maid of the West been different since the director is also the writer?

Yes, because she [Isobel McArthur] intended to change the text to keep alive the spirit of enjoyment yet appeal to a modern audience we were free to experiment with character but the ball was ultimately in her hands. She took what she wanted.

What is your role in the play?

I do not take part in the action but observe. I engage with the audience in The Prologue and then they are left to work out who/what I am. I like to think of it as my Muse of Fire role as I wander through the scenes without being involved rather as Derek Jacobi did in Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V.

How would you like to see theatre develop here?

This group of young actors working on Fair Maid are so talented. It would be good to see a small ensemble here, tackling a fast turnover of plays without big budget production costs.

Richard as Pellinor in the 2010 production of Morte d'Arthur
Photo by Ellie Kurttz © RSC Browse and license our images

Viv Graver

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.

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