I find myself writing this blog in moments when I feel overworked or overwhelmed and need to write down what is happening to me at the RSC in order to get a sense of perspective so I am not entirely engulfed by my feelings.
This is one of those moments. I am sitting on my lunch break on the grass outside the theatre. It is sunny and peaceful, the swans are gliding by on the Avon. Today is the day of tech to prepare for the understudy run tomorrow of Doctor Faustus where I am playing Mephistophilis opposite Ruth Everett's Faustus. I feel so overwhelmed with joy and excitement that I'm not sure what to do with myself. The last week of understudy rehearsals, followed by putting my version of Mephistophilis on stage this morning has been so creatively fulfilling that I want to sing and scream and shout across the river to the blokes fishing on the other side 'I'M REALLY HAPPY! THIS IS HOW HAPPY AND FULFILLED AND SANE ACTRESSES WOULD BE ALL THE TIME IF WE GOT TO PLAY MALE PARTS ALL THE TIME!'
Blokes' parts are really fun. Ruth and I get to shout and fight and stab and bleed and jump around like lads on tour. We get to take revenge on people who have tried to humiliate us or physically ruin us, we get to mock and kill those in positions of power. We are not pretty. We are going to dark, mad, angry places. We are covered in chalk, paint, sweat and blood by the time the house lights come up at the end of the show.
We will have only had around 20 hours of rehearsal time and one run-through of the play in its entirety by the time we do the understudy run tomorrow at 1.30pm. Everyone will perform the parts that they are covering to prepare for the possibility of going on if the original actor cast is unable to. As you can imagine this means the tech has been somewhat chaotic, with people doing costume changes and run rounds of the theatre that they are completely unfamiliar with. Actors are sometimes covering parts that they are not typically suited to, or during the run tomorrow will have under a few minutes to change from full drag into macho military uniforms. Tomorrow's show is a sort of exercise and it will be no where near as slick as a normal show but that is part of the fun for an audience.
What I also hope will be fun for an audience are the different interpretations that can be read by having two women in the lead roles. It is a real testament to Marlowe's play and to Maria's production that for the understudy run, we and Josh Roche (the assistant director) have changed almost nothing in regards to what the boys - Olly and Sandy, normally do on stage. We are keeping Faustus as a 'He' and 'John' in all the text, we do move for move what they do, in order that if either of us had to go on it would go as smoothly as possible. Yet with a female Faustus, Meph, Lucifer and Wagner, the play still works. It's different, but brilliant in its own way. It highlights unexpected elements of the play.
Mainly to do with violence. Violence committed by women and against women. Three men fighting one woman to death feels shocking and gruelling to watch, A female Faustus demanding the most beautiful woman in the history of the world, Helen of Troy, to own and dominate and rape is disconcerting and ultimately heartbreaking. As Mephistophilis, I encourage Faustus to inflict pain, kill and glory in the seven deadly sins - pride, covetousness, wrath, envy, gluttony, sloth and lechery. Deadly sins that are most certainly not for good girls. This violent dynamic between two women on stage is not often explored. But it's very exciting to play and we hope to watch. Unique really, as it happens one time only tomorrow, in front of 400 people.
I thought understudying duties would be dull and uninspiring and I'm sure they are for some, and could be for me in future shows. But with this part I have been allowed to explore and grow as an actor. The only thing that has ever seriously made me want give up acting over the last ten years that I have been acting professionally, is the frustration associated with not being creatively fulfilled. Right now I am happily full up. So now I've written this, I'm going to listen to the sound of the river and the chirping of the birds and feel the sun on my face before I return to my afternoon of fighting and stabbing and killing.