Pathways to Shakespeare

Jo Stone-Fewings

February 18, 2013

Jo Stone-Fewings as LeontesIf you find yourself playing Oberon when you are 12, you may reap the benefit when you are 44. Jo, who is currently playing Laertes in The Winter's Tale, says that he doesn't generally retain the lines of a role after the run. But when he played Oberon two years ago he magically found that he knew the lines.

His English teacher, Mr Philpot,not only taught Shakespeare in the classroom but put on the plays so at quite a young age he was involved in performance Shakespeare. His other early experience of theatre was on school trips to the RSC.

Living in Hereford meant comparatively easy access to Stratford and he came to see Bob Peck in Macbeth and Zoe Wannamaker in Twelfth Night in the early 80s.

Another formative influence that strengthened his interest was the National Youth Theatre which he attended four times and where he played in Henry V and Hamlet.

He studied at The Welsh College of Music and Drama and found himself workung at the RSC at the age of 27 with Katie Mitchell on Henry VI, Part 3, playing Clarence. Three years later he was directed as Surrey by a young Gregory Doran in Henry VIII.

He has now nearly 20 years experience at the RSC and is proud to have been made an Associate Artist. Over two decades he has worked with Ian Judge, Adrian Noble, Lindsay Posner, Steven Pimlott, Gregory Doran and now Lucy Bailey, who is directing The Winter's Tale.

He admires the way Lucy responds to the 21st Century with her strong visual statements about her perception of a play.

In The Winter's Tale the visual presentation of Leontes' states of mind is stunning, the embodiment of his eruptive,corrosive anger. She has created a wonderful theatrical metaphor for the world of the play. And Lucy encourages and supports her actors' spontaneity.

Jo finds that Tara, playing Hermione, excitingly throws something different at him each night in the trial scene and this stimulates a fresh creative response from him. With Lucy you learn to have confidence in this white-hot performance.

Gregory Doran has taught him so much about Shakespeare in performance, he says. His passion for the verse is infectious and above all he has fostered in Jo the ability to play Shakespeare in different spaces - he has, he tells me, played in all the RSC theatres: The Other Place, the old RST, The Swan, The Courtyard and the new RST, which he loves most of all: 'The Swan on steroids' is how he describes it.

Sometimes, in.soliloquy, with the audience wrapped around you, something catches fire which is almost spiritual,he says. And Greg again inspires his actors with 'the freedom to be brave'.

Jo believes that there can be a false sense of veneration in relation to Shakespeare. What his plays should do is ignite the imagination and this they have the power to do in different directors. And the audience should be prepared to look at the play afresh, not come searching for some pre-conceived idea.

I raised the question of accent which we are seeing used much more prominently at the RSC. Personally I find that having a variety of accents on stage can help recognition in the audience: a character speaks like us, therefore he is one of us. And I listen and hear anew rather than take for granted.

Jo says that Shakespeare's verse calls for a muscularity and that Welsh, Scottish, Irish and Northern accents can serve it well. He says that he works with the verse, using different parts of his vocal palette to help the emotion along: sometimes he hears the musicality of his Hereford upbringing in his voice while at other times he may veer towards a London twang, so he's not locked in RP. Cicely Berry has been an important teacher for him in this area of vocal agility.

He is very much looking forward to taking this exciting show on tour and open to the challenge of those different spaces, moving from 3D to 2D when they play with a proscenium arch. Whether seeing The Winter's Tale for the first time or viewing it again without preconceptions, you should not be disappointed.

by Viv Graver  |  2 comments

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Mar 9, 8:59am
Gillian Philpotts

Congratulations Jonathan - "Jo" - on your successful career! We were not surprised to learn that treading the boards as Oberon at Aylestone School was the catalyst - we both remember your powerful performance. Gillian Philpotts (nee Hopgood) and John Philpotts.

Apr 22, 10:11pm
Lynn Massey-Davis

Saw A Winter's Tale in Hull, two weeks ago. Jo was amazing! A charismatic performance which was the centre of the whole play. Wonderful omnipresence.

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