Saturday was the exact mid-point of our time here in Stratford. Everyone is going a bit nuts.
There have been fights and spats and tears. We probably know each other more intimately (due to sharing dressing rooms and cottages) than some of our closest friends and family, and we have most definitely spent more hours with each other recently than we have done with our nearest and dearest.
Amongst the 20 of us cross-cast over two or three plays, running over 11 months, there were always going to be personality clashes. In fact I'm surprised it has taken this long. We are all getting sick of each other and we are all falling deeper in love with each other (apart from the people who are just sick of each other).
It feels that now that we are slap bang in the middle, the only choice is full immersion and real commitment to the Stratford cause. Whatever it turns out to be for each individual. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Because with the tears and tantrums comes trust and friendship and loyalty and really knowing twenty other people. It comes with standing ovations, better than ever shows and staggering performances. It comes with pubs, dancing and DMC's (deep meaningful chats) It comes with us making manic Sunday dashes to Birmingham to binge on Pret-a-manger and Topshop followed by 'Britain's got Talent' on the sofa together under a duvet in order to find some sense of mindless normality.
Paid to be ridiculous
Doing a season in Stratford is not normal. It is special and nuts. It's not a co-incidence that the mid point madness has come at a time when the end of a very special show is looming. At the time of me writing this, we only have eight more shows of Don Quixote left to do. We are all aware that Don Quixote is a show partly created by us. We all threw our best acting, dancing, singing, juggling, clowning, comedy, horsing, donkeying hats into the ring in the casting and rehearsal process, and the ensemble element of the show was built around that.
Our least favourite scene in rehearsals is now our favourite scene in the show. The galley slaves. We spent HOURS doing chain 'workshops'. At one desperate moment on a tea break in rehearsals in the Clapham rehearsal rooms, John Cummins and I counted that we had done 19 hours with that chain in our hands. Workshopping every possible dragging and pulling and step ball changing combination on the 'Run to the door' number. We hated it. We felt incarcerated. We WERE incarcerated. We longed for the galley slave scene to be cut. We were all at a loss, directors included about how to make that scene work. Now it is the one I will miss the most. It's brilliant. It holds the true spirit of the show in it, because everybody goes for it in the most unashamedly silly way. After belting out one of the catchiest tunes in the show, with fake mud on our faces we groan, shout, leer and jeer. It is our job. We get paid to be ridiculous in front of 400 people every night. We all try to make each other corpse by being the most toothless or most camp galley slave in the line.
On my birthday, pummelling David Threlfall to the ground with my foam rocks as a particularly ghetto galley slave, he tried and almost succeeded to bring me down with him in his stage fall, shouting 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELEANOR!' In my face. The rabble of galley slaves around me was so loud that the audience didn't notice but I got the message. (Yes I am aware of this thespy anecdote and no, I'm not sorry for telling it. Thespy anecdotes are one of my main reasons for being at the RSC.) Man, I'll miss those chains.
That evening we headed back to a party at mine where I was surprised with food, cocktails, home made birthday cake and hand made bunting waiting for me. What an amazing bunch. I'm sick of them and I love them but I definitely love them more than I'm sick of them. Thanks guys and here's to the second half. I think we're gonna be fine.