Whispers from the Wings

Running for cover

January 23, 2014

As well as doing our eight shows a week, we are still in rehearsal. That's how it has to be for another couple of weeks until all the understudies are rehearsed into their roles.

Most of the cast are understudying more than one part. So the cover plan for the absence of any one actor can — as you can imagine — be fearfully complicated, with all sorts of knock-on effects.

The RSC have a laudable policy of mounting full, ticketed, understudy performances. With shows like these, that is a daunting task wherein some actors can be playing more than one part in any one scene.

Nick Boulton covers my own role — the Duke of Norfolk — and also King Henry, so I found myself having to play Norfolk in the public understudy run. It was such a privilege to be part of it.

Members of the company had learned and rehearsed, in some cases more than one role, in a fraction of the time afforded to the actors they were covering. The quick changes were just mental. In what we call the 'baby shower' scene, Dan Fraser was swapping cloak and hat with split second timing as he leapt from role to role, George to Gregory and back to George — much to the audience's delight.

Rock and role
One hell of a buzz was felt around the theatre and it all went unbelievably smoothly. Both cast and audience clearly had a good time.

The whole exercise seems to have had a most interesting effect on the production. The public understudy run seems to be just so daunting and demanding that actors throw caution to the wind and act in the moment. Thinking ahead is deadly; worrying about something that has just happened can be disastrous.

So I think there is a freedom and spontaneity in the performances which allows interesting discoveries to be made.

Furthermore, some actors are now in the audience watching their own roles being played by someone else. While it may be a bit like finding someone sleeping in your bed, there may be an idea worth pinching.

And then when we come back to the play proper that night there's a sort of energised repossession process . . . a sort of unconscious assertion of rights. The odd spark lights a new flame.

It makes the whole arduous exercise very worthwhile and strangely productive.

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are sold out - but you can find out about future performances by signing up to RSC e-news.

by Nick Day  |  No comments yet

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