I was last at the RSC back in 2012 playing Cassius opposite the ever brilliant Paterson Joseph's Brutus. It's a weird feeling getting back to the Royal Shakespeare Co. You come back home. The RSC was the place of my first job after drama school. 30 years later I had moved up from playing Lucius in my first RSC production of Julius Caesar to playing Cassius in the very same play. Our 2012 production went on to take Stratford, London, Moscow and New York by storm.
Paapa Essiedu plays Hamlet our upcoming show and having worked with this fabulous young actor in a production of Black Jesus a few years back, I have the same hopes for this historic production of Hamlet that I experienced on Caesar.
On Monday the 11 January only a week after beginning rehearsal for Hamlet our cast all boarded a coach outside the London rehearsal room to get properly welcomed to Stratford-upon-Avon by the vast behind-the-scenes family that makes the company run like a well oiled machine.
You come back 'home' with the RSC. Strangely, on the coach it's not just the older company veterans like me who feel it, even the new members of the company feel like they are coming home. Maybe it's because we're all returning to the home of Shakespeare, who for any actor (no matter your background, culture, training or lack of it) is the father of drama. So I and a whole new company of actors on the coach return to our theatrical home and the bus is alight with excitement, laughter, questions and potted conversations.
It's bit (I imagine) like a foster child visiting your foster mother and looking round your old room. You have a claim on the room, but you know deep down that each new group of children in her care will be given equal love, nurturing and guidance.
We arrive and are doled out photo card passes. Security is full on nowadays. We get whisked to a great buffet lunch. Over lunch we are introduced to and greeted by a host of different departments: costume; armoury; publicity; box office; education; stage management; housing; administration etc. etc. etc...
Again, many new alliances and excited conversations and most excitedly the offer to talk through and where possible to give company members the chance to nurture our own projects whilst at the company. Like a good foster parent the company looks for what you are good at and encourages you to nurture that skill. Having been here before, I can attest that the best training that any actor could ever have for the stage, is on tap for company members and the best of practitioners are available to work with.
After lunch we do work with a physio on technique for working on a raked (inclined) stage so that one doesn't end up needing an osteopath on tap. This is followed by a voice session on the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage. This stage and auditorium has changed a lot since I was first on it 32/33 years ago. Now it is a wonderfully intimate space and because of the thrust stage no member of the audience is further than about 35 ft from you as an actor and this means that you have an intimacy and immediacy. However this does not mean that you can do TV mumbling, it takes a certain diction and clarity and the team of voice and text experts from world famous Cis Berry (who was Head of Voice on my first stint with the company) to our own production's Kate Godfrey are on hand to help you be both natural, clear and always heard.
We followed this session with costume measurements, shoe fitting measurements, armoury chats, photos of every bit of me... I'm sad to say that 3 inches have decided to attach themselves to my waist since I had Cassius's "lean and hungry look".
Finally a look round our prospective properties whilst staying in Stratford. The RSC has a number of properties and I've never been disappointed. I've got a marvellous home by the river. Surely I should be paying them for the pleasure of working and living in such an idyllic place (let's keep that last bit between me and you). Back to London to continue rehearsals.