Everything in the theatre world is on pause and artists everywhere are searching for connection. Our shows are floating in the ether waiting to land on the stage again.
So whilst they are waiting, I decided to reach out to my fellow company members of The Winter’s Tale to talk about the characters they are playing and the work that goes into playing them. Maybe it will give you a little light reading for the day; you might pick up some artistic gems; hopefully it will whet your appetite for when the Royal Shakespeare Theatre's doors finally open again. Mostly, well, it was a nice thing for me to do whilst marooned in Stratford-upon-Avon, to make contact with my friends and capture thoughts from our rehearsals whilst we have all become so separate.
I would be lying if I said this time hasn't felt challenging and worrying, and finding pockets of joy each day has been my main focus. This time would have been spent thriving in each other's company on stage, backstage, in dressing rooms and - let's face it - in the pub. It's my favourite time. Chatting to actors, actors you know and love and respect and this bunch are top notch. So I called up Amanda Hadingue, who plays Paulina.
A few years ago I saw Amanda in a show at Northern Stage called The Gamblers, and she was astonishingly brilliant; she also wears a suit very well, I must say. And, as we discovered in the rehearsal room, rocks a beard, which left me quite confused about my feelings towards her, but that's for a different blog.
I decided to chat to Amanda about her notebook. She keeps a small pastel-blue Moleskine, secreted somewhere in a pocket or bag that I would catch a glimpse of every so often in rehearsals. Erica Whyman, our director, asked us all when the theatres closed to remember our rehearsal time. To not forget the magic we discovered in those four walls back in Clapham which seems like not just a lifetime ago, but a different universe. She then spoke about Amanda's notebook which had “every thought she'd ever thought about Paulina” and I wanted to know more.
Writing it down
Amanda told me she's kept notebooks for ages, flashing a miniature black book from her very first RSC season in 2008. She also mentioned she liked mini stationery, and then proudly presented a tiny stapler neatly between her thumb and forefinger. Then, fanning a rainbow of notebooks, she selected two blue ones.
The first one she had started writing when auditioning for Paulina, to prepare for the role. She spoke about recording facts, thoughts, and that writing, for her, is a way of organising and solidifying. Her second notebook was her rehearsal notebook, used from week one when we were met with the world of fascist Spain, 1950s royal families and the 1969 coast of North East England for the settings of our Sicilia and Bohemia.
She told me she goes through the play thoroughly, plotting through facts and events so that she fully understands the story. She also jots down more in depth character research and told me she looked at theatre and magic, renaissance music, ritual in theatre, all things that would pepper her playing of, and understanding of Paulina.
She will write down things she doesn't understand or questions that she might have.
Amanda used to devise a lot and make experimental, more abstract work in which the bigger picture is often at the forefront in the creative journey. Yet with Shakespeare, she found, it was so important to understand the story and the words, and not just rely on instinct, but to dig deep, to not leave any stone unturned.
Writing it down is something she has always done. Simple questions, but important character details, like, How long have I been married? Paulina is a complex character with a tangle of motives throughout the play. Amanda said the thoughts would sometimes feel slippery and confusing to her - writing them down helped her find Paulina’s strategy in the play.
The Samuel Pepys of the RSC
I asked her if she’ll read back over early rehearsal notes once the play is open and running. She said yes, sometimes those initial notes and thoughts can really help you out later in the process. There are things you forget along the way and to find them again reminds you of those details you found in rehearsal.
Her notebooks will go from in depth research to scribbled discoveries in the rehearsal room, also including quiet conversations in corners with actors about websites to book cheap flights, or reminding her to buy milk on the way home, and then later will come show notes, like, would you look up more, the people in the balcony can't see your face. Basically, Amanda Hadingue is the Samuel Pepys of the RSC.
Watching her in rehearsal I become like a child in awe of a really exciting ride at a theme park or a plate of turkey dinosaurs. She knows that text so well, it flows from her like it should have always been spoken by her. She is a force, and I can see her detail and craft. Paulina is one of my favourite roles in Shakespeare's plays; I cannot wait for you to see Amanda's Paulina on the stage. Stay safe campers. Over and out. Buy a notebook.