Aamer is an environmental scientist who lives and works in Norwich. He is performing in Henry VI: Rebellion as part of Norwich's Shakespeare Nation group.

I was leaving the gym one Wednesday afternoon when I received an email. It said something about the RSC, which caught my attention. A Zoom call and two weeks later, I was part of a life-changing project.

For 55 years I was blissfully unaware of any creative instincts lurking within me. That changed in 2015 when I attended a meeting of Total Ensemble Theatre Company in Norwich. Total Ensemble is an inspirational, inclusive ensemble theatre group in Norwich working with casts of disabled and non-disabled performers.

I thought I would go for one session –  turned out it changed my life. The touchpaper was lit. It was in this heightened state of ambition to perform that I received that email about the RSC. You can understand why my heart skipped a beat.

Close up of Aamer in a shirt and blue sweater vest.
Photo by Richard Jarmy © RSC Browse and license our images

I came for the acting and stayed for the Shakespeare

At the first meeting, Associate Director Aaron explained Shakespeare Nation’s mission to “Bring Shakespeare to the Nation and bring the Nation to Shakespeare”. In return for the opportunity we would become brand ambassadors for Shakespeare in our communities.

Over the weeks of workshops and rehearsals we delved into Henry VI in depths and to levels I could not have foreseen – we discussed in detail the characters, their fears, relationships and ambitions, and explored the times in which they lived.

We read the play from start to finish, each scene and part, taking on different characters, working together to animate and add flesh to the story. The process revealed the timeless relevance of Shakespeare for all ages and struggles. It became part of our lived experience, and so it was impossible to not fulfil our designated evangelising mission.

Into Rehearsals

For the first weeks, we had no concept of the nature, scale or extent of our involvement in the production. We did not have parts or know which scenes would involve us. To me, it did not really matter. I wanted to soak up every drop of the experience, to learn for no reason – carefully dampening expectations to avoid disappointment (but secretly hoping for as much involvement as my imagination allowed).

Over the weeks we were provided with training, mentoring and direction at the highest level by the RSC and Norwich Theatre Royal. Despite the Covid-induced logistical challenges, with masterful use of Zoom sessions and video links, we all made it work. We helped, supported and motivated each other.

Tech in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The thought of being part of the full tech rehearsals in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford with the professional cast and crew was daunting and hugely exciting.

Before we left, we were cautioned that “there would be a lot going on” at the rehearsals. Don’t feel slighted, we were told, if we were – quite reasonably – politely ignored from time to time. Nothing could have been further from the truth. From the outset and throughout, we were received with a hugely generous spirit and warm and personal welcome by the entire RSC apparatus. They made clear that we are valuable and trusted members of the company, providing us full access to all the professional amenities and resources, as well as dedicated and committed mentoring. In turn, they trust us with giving the best of ourselves for ourselves and for the show. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

After tech, our group has a few more weeks of rehearsals back in Norwich before our performances in mid-May. I have been obsessively rehearsing my two lines and am looking forward to meeting up with our exceptional group for a few intensive rehearsals. Then… IT’S SHOWTIME.


Shakespeare Nation and the Rebels

Seventy-four adults from Blackpool, Bradford, Canterbury, Cornwall, Norwich and Nottingham, appear alongside the professional cast in our show Henry VI: Rebellion. They are part of Shakespeare Nation, our community participation programme run with our partner theatres, aimed at people with little or no experience of Shakespeare, either as a theatre-goer or performer. They play the roles of working people who take part in the rebellion led by the character of Jack Cade against Henry VI, and townsfolk when the king is out hunting.

The Shakespeare Nation adult engagement work is generously supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

You may also like