The first day of rehearsals on any new job is nerve wracking for actors. New people, new environment and the first read through of the play. For me my first day at the RSC was all of this and more.

Apart from the nerves and apprehension I felt as I walked down the road towards the rehearsal rooms, I was also struck with a crippling sense of imposter syndrome. I’ve been acting for more than three decades but I’ve never trained. Being in a room full of actors who had mostly done three years at Drama Academies such as RADA, Central and Webber Douglas I fully expected someone to tap me on the shoulder and say “Sorry mate, you shouldn’t be here. Can you leave please.”


Les Dennis, Steve Nicolson and Prasanna Puwanarajah on the Swan Theatre stage

I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is a wonderfully bright, funny, talented and inclusive company of actors and within a week it felt as if we’d all known each other for years. And in fact I’m not the only one who hasn’t trained. Caroline Quentin and myself started on the end of the pier and Rufus Hound came to acting through the stand-up comedy circuit. They are both brilliant in their roles.

Over the last 10 weeks under the guidance and vision of our two directors Prasanna Puwanarajah (Venice Preserved) and Phillip Breen (The Provoked Wife) we have created two theatrical experiences that I truly believe will thrill and entertain Stratford audiences in the Swan this summer.

Along the way our days have been filled not just with rehearsals but also with an amazing array of learning experiences I hadn’t expected. We are given individual voice lessons from the company’s Head of Voice, Kate Godfrey.

In movement class we have learnt to vogue for Venice Preserved with Polly Bennett, and have created a Busby Berkeley style routine with mirrors for The Provoked Wife with Ayse Tashkiran. Music calls with Paddy Cunneen have produced thrilling new songs and under Kate Waters and Renny Krupinski's instruction we have created exciting fight scenes that will have audiences on the edge of their seats. 

One morning our call began with Shakespeare Gymnasium. No, not as I thought, a two-hour aerobic and weights session. This was a workout of a different kind. Greg Doran, the RSC’s artistic director came in and gave us all a masterclass in Shakespeare’s verse speaking. His fascinatingly simple way of explaining how to speak in iambic pentameter unlocked a process that had been a mystery to me and made it seem less daunting.

Jodie McNee and Les Dennis outside the Swan Theatre in Stratford

We’ve even had a day trip to Stratford. One morning in early March we all climbed on board a coach for an expedition organised with military style precision by our wonderful company and stage management teams.

Our time there was filled with costume and makeup calls, stage orientation and a chance to check out where we’re all going to be living for the next four months.

Before heading back to London we even had time for a cheeky half in the Dirty Duck, the actors pub. The walls there are crammed with photos of those who have performed in the RSC theatres over the years. Looking at them I was reminded of just what a gift I have been given to be joining them. This Friday we all pack up in London and head off to Stratford to start technical rehearsals. And so the adventure continues. I can’t wait.

Les Dennis

Les Dennis

Les first came to prominence as a comedian in the 1970s after a winning set on Opportunity Knocks. He became a stalwart of Saturday night TV in the 80s and 90s starring in TV comedies including The Russ Abbott Show and The Les Dennis Laughter Show performing sketches and impressions, and most famously as the host of Family Fortunes between 1987 and 2002 on ITV. His most recent work in theatre includes End of the Pier at the Park Theatre, for which he was nominated for the OFFIE award for ‘Best Male in a Play’. Follow Les on Twitter @Les Dennis.

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