Somehow, two months have disappeared and we are finally into production week for Hamlet. So much has happened over the last few, crazy weeks of rehearsals that it is difficult to know what to pinpoint.
We have all moved to Stratford, our new home for most of this year and have settled down into our cottages. It was great to finally say goodbye to the rehearsal rooms in Clapham and get moving to the new one in Stratford. It just brought the reality of performing that much closer.
We have stopped Cymbeline rehearsals for the moment so that we can all concentrate on getting Hamlet to the audience. It's good to have a single focus again. I enjoyed rehearsing two shows at once. I have never done that before and the challenges of thinking of two different texts was a challenging experience. But I have, finally, learnt all my lines for Hamlet, including the understudy ones.
Soon after arriving in Stratford, the small band of understudies did a line run of the entire show. Now, if you remember my last blog I spoke about how difficult I found learning the lines of my understudy roles without a context. Well it was a great exercise in concentration and most of us did it off book. We left that rehearsal feeling a lot better with a clearer vision of the journey of our character. It felt so good to speak through the lines, hear the cues, try and sometimes fail to find what was next, but overall, coming out on the other side, intact. It doesn’t seem like such a nebulous mystery anymore.
And so the tech has started.
This is a very special time for us actors. You get lost in the theatre trying to find your way to your dressing room. You eventually get to see who you are sharing with. Your costumes are hanging on the rack at your mirror and there is an electricity in the air. People from all theatre trades are frantically busy, but there is a joy and excitement in the air. We are finally home. And everyone is working for one reason only: to share this Hamlet with an audience.
There is nothing like that feeling in the world. Slowly you get to see your fellow cast in their costumes and wigs and there is that element of play in the air. Like you have all found the dress up box in the attic and are ready for a game of make believe. But something else happens - imaginings become more concrete. The set is real and requires interaction and as you look around and get to step on it and onto the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre you know that you are in a special place ready to tell a 416-year-old play.
I feel even more present than I normally would. And then I get introduced to a wig or a piece of costume that completes my thoughts on the character and there is my light and there are my props and something stirs inside me; we are taking the last few steps to bringing this to an audience; a shudder of excitement or joy or terror passes through you and you know that this is why you chose this profession. This is what makes life worth living. This is why you do this form of art. It’s not for staying safely hidden away in the rehearsal room, it's for getting to that theatre and putting your Hamlet on the line for audiences to judge and respond to. You cannot control the reaction but you can control what you put on the stage and sometimes, like now, when you are about to make your debut at a place you have dreamed about for so long, there is that extra note of excitement; of joy. And a deep humility, even gratefulness.
I don’t think I am alone in that feeling of excitement. We have a unique take on Hamlet for this season at the RSC. And each time that we have done a run it confirms to us that this is ours and we all cannot wait to share it. This is a good place to be as we face our first preview tomorrow night.