A couple of weeks ago the Kunene and the King team landed in Stratford, out of the South African summer and into the British winter. I was here last year, assisting on The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, which was a very different show with a cast of 22 plus two dogs. It feels great to be back with a sliiiightly more low-key show, and to see some familiar faces from the Mrs Rich company around in The Taming of the Shrew/As You Like It.
It’s exciting to welcome the South African company to Stratford, having spent a month as their guest in Cape Town, and to show them wonders including Poundland and Greggs. On our first night here we all went for a drink at the Dirty Duck, a rite of passage for RSC company members, and it felt surreal to see everyone huddled in their winter clothes, surrounded by old signed headshots. Siphelo, the Fugard Theatre’s directing intern, quickly found the plaque in the Swan commemorating the Brett Goldin Bursary, a fund that supported young South African actors to visit the RSC, and some remaining funds of which supported Siphelo to come here with us.
So now we’re in previews. In a rehearsal room, everybody gets so close to the work that often, by the first performance, you lose perspective on how the play is going to translate to its audience. You start to second guess whether they’ll laugh, whether they’ll be moved and whether the fine-tuning we’ve done in rehearsals will pay off and resonate. So sitting amongst the first preview audience with the creative team, there’s always real tension. What will the play become under the audience’s eyes?
Early in the first preview, the audience laughed for the first time. I caught our director Janice’s eye. This was a good sign. And then they kept laughing. And then they went pin-drop silent. And then they laughed again. All that intricate work we’d done creating this story and these characters and this world rose to the surface and the show was working. I’m so excited for the week of previews ahead and to see our South African story communicate and connect with more British audiences.