Friday, 8 February 2013

Boris Gudunov at the RSC - the interviews at the blogger event 9th Jan 2013; and a comparison of rehearsals with those of weekly rep.

It was a treat to be able to talk to several company members after watching the play (as I said in my previous blog, this was my second viewing of the play).  We were a small number of blog invitees and, before the cast mermbers joined us, we were able to browse the small photo exhibition A World Elsewhere  - images from around the globe to chime in with the trio of new adaptations of classical plays from other countries.  I had been a few weeks earlier to see the British Museum/RSC exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world which was a reminder of what was going on around the known territories of his time, linked to his writing. A World Elswhere reminds us of, and links us to, our contemporary world.

We were joined by Assistant Director Emily Kempson and actors Lloyd Hutchinson (Boris Godunov), James Tucker (Prince Shuiskii) and Gethin Anthony (Grigory Otrepiev) for what was to be a fascinating Q & A session which developed quite naturally into a relaxed discussion.  I won't present the questions & answers here, because it has been done admirably already by Mark Johnson in his blog on 16th January - he is far mor organised than I, and his Q & A section gives a good  flavour of the session.

You can read Mark's blog here:  http://leicestermark.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/boris-godunov-blogging-event.html

My main interest was in the directorial input to the rehearsal process.  The production has such interesting design, costume and performance detail.  I wanted to know how much was in the pre-rehearsal planning and how much evolved during rehearsals in a collaborative sharing of ideas and inspiration - to what extent the actors were involved in the shaping of the piece.  A great deal, it would seem evolved during rehearsals which were a generous 5/6 weeks. The company work in repertory, which means they gell as a team in an atmosphere which enables experiment and discovery.  In my early days in weekly rep., although the companies knew each other very well because we spent months, even years, working together, there was never time for the luxury of exploring back stories, dwelling on a character's motivation or experimenting with what was going on underneath the scripted dialogue.

In weekly rep. we had the script which would begin to rehearse on Tuesday, on the Saturday night after the current show's final performance. But before we got to that, there was next week's play to tech and dress-rehearse on the Monday, in order to open that night. That play continued to run every night until the following Saturday, plus matinees on one weekday and on Saturday afternoon. And on the Tuesday morning we blocked the entire play; Wednesday worked on Act I, Thursday Act II, Friday Act III and Saturday the runthrough. Not much chance for the actor to put in his/her pennyworth.  The director held all the strings - where to move, sit, exit. We didn't complain - there was a show to be got up to performance standard and lines to learn.  No space for introspection. That was just how it was and we accepted it.  In addition (for Renaissance Theatre, Her Majesty's, Barrow) I was DSM/SM/Lighting/Sound FX as well as being a character actor, so spent most of the rehearsals when not in a scene, marking up the book, checking moves, prompting. In the afternoons when the other actors were learning lines I was out on the town, begging and borrowing props, furniture and dressings, or up on a ladder replacing blown lamps, so it wasn't till the dress rehearsal on the Monday that I was fully off the book.   Fortunately I am blessed with a quick and retentive memory and the constitution of an ox, which made the whole exercise possible. For me, with the part-time stage crew, overnight Saturday/Sunday was strike and get-out, followed by the get-in and set-up for the next play. Monday mornings for the others was line runs, for me it was collecting everything I'd arranged to borrow, in a rickety old van, and, with our designer-painter (Barry Dobbins) getting the furniture and dressings onto the set; and then going through lighting and sound with Donald Sartain, the company director-manager. Then it was the dress-rehearsal, snagging, call the 'half' and we were off!  Were we any good? Hard to say, looking back. We got by on technique, inspiration, adreneline and the sheer elation of performance. I loved it! But I would love the chance to rehearse over a protracted period. How did Stanislavsky's actors cope with their lengthy rehearsals of twelve months? The longest I have had was three weeks with Pentabus in the 1990s; but that doesn't count because it was a one-woman play (Against the Wind by Therese Collins, directed by Steve Johnstone) so there were no fellow actors to rehearse with - just me, the director and, sometimes, the writer. 

This production of Boris Gudunov is a splendid illustration of how actors, director (here Michael Boyd and assistant  director Emily Kempson) and the rest of the creative team, can together produce stunning and innovative theatre which draws the audience into their world so we see battles fought on the plains of Russia, although the actors are wielding coats not swords and ride on the shoulders of other actors for horses. Why do I say 'innovative'?  Rather it is a performance rooted in the Shakespearean tradition and still fresh today with each performance.

       Into a thousand parts divide on man,
      And make imaginary puissance;
      Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
      Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth...
 
(Chorus - prologue to Shakespeare's Henry V)

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