Tyreke Leslie is a young actor who went straight from drama school graduation in 2022 to working at the RSC.
How did you first come to Shakespeare?
Well it wasn’t at school which was all reading round the room exercises with very little to almost zero fun or interest to hook on to. But I loved poetry and so I found my hook with the language and the way it sounded rhythmically, myself.
Having been keen on football, music and drama I gradually focused on drama and did my A-levels at the Brit School, which specialises in performing arts. I did a two week course with the National Youth Theatre at Goldsmiths which introduced me to the idea of a family of actors coming together to perform.
I was lucky to be accepted at Guildhall straight from sixth form and there I came even closer to Shakespeare as my love for the language and music of it grew. This was clearly noticeable to all of my tutors and Patsy Rodenburg, the Head of Voice at Guildhall, encouraged and inspired me to reframe my inner belief system and not just take up minor roles, giving me the confidence and power to play Mark Antony in my final year.
So you went from graduation to an RSC tour with First Encounters with Shakespeare: Twelfth Night?
Yes, I played the roles of Sir Toby Belch and Antonio. I had been called for a series of auditions and the third round coincided with my final show at Guildhall. I was told I had been accepted for First Encounters Twelfth Night between matinee and evening performances. The then RSC casting director Hannah Miller came to see the show that evening.
What was the best performance of First Encounters Twelfth Night for you?
It was at a large venue in Hull where we faced an audience of 400 rowdy kids. Orsino and myself as Sir Toby came on to introduce ourselves and it was like being fed to the lions. But the children loved the show, especially the physicality involved. That’s what is wrong with merely reading Shakespeare. You don’t get the physicality, the facial expression, the interaction. It has to be experienced visually. I think every actor should be involved in a schools tour, it's a transformative experience.
And now you are in Stratford doing As You Like It?
I am truly grateful and privileged because being in this play has enabled me to observe and learn techniques from older actors. The director, Omar Elerian, loves to work with experienced players. His concept for As You Like It was how memory meets imagination, performed by older veteran actors trying to remember the version of this play that they have done years before, and thereby producing a sense of magic through the transformation of space, time and audience. This has been really effective - especially with the rehearsal room setting where, as one of the four younger actors (also understudying two characters each, of which mine are Orlando and Touchstone), I can be watching constantly to gather both knowledge and insight into the playing of the play. I have also realised how the play in performance can change organically so that it is never a mere repetition.
What would you like your future to be?
I know that the theatre is the place that I want to be. That it allows me to be me in a way I can’t be in a wider modern world. I have been given a sense of security through theatre. I love working with young people and would like to inspire them especially to embrace Shakespeare. I also see a model of fitness, dexterity and passion in the older actors, a model I hope to embrace and share as they do, later on myself.
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.