Corpsing and dancing and sticks, oh my! | Rehearsing ‘RIII’

A look back at the final rehearsals of Richard III from AFTLS actress, Hannah Barrie

Since everyone was complaining of sore sides due to the amount of laughing that went on, we knew we had a “good’un.”

We all love spoonerisms, I won’t hear otherwise, and they arrived constantly in the Richard III rehearsal room. One of the reasons for a large amount of corpsing.

Derby instead of asking “What of his heart perceive you in his face?” at the council meeting in Act III asked “What of his f….?” You get the picture.

aftls-richard-iii-074_webWe’ve had furry dragons instead of fiery dragons from Liz. 

And “tyranny for trifle” from Evvy (which made everyone think of a good blancmange).

“My horse I’ll help you to a Lord,” Catesby proclaimed in Act V.

But my favourite was from Paul as Elizabeth in Act IV, “Who has any cause to moon but I?”

And if you don’t like a good spoonerism (shame on you!), please consider Alice as Richmond proudly riding a flatulent horse during a rousing speech. 

Perhaps you needed to be there, but I had to lie on the floor on more than one occasion due to laughing so much. It was a very enjoyable rehearsal process. But we didn’t just say silly things and roll ’round the floor. Our rehearsal weeks were epic. We managed to get to the end of the play with dance, music, drumming, and everyone off book.

Now this line learning business was no mean feat. It was hard. For everyone I think. Not only is the word count huge for all, there’s no one through line — one character journey that you’re creating and exploring — there are six. Unusual? Too right. And then you throw in music, rhythmic scene changes, props, etc. and the brain starts to over heat a little.

dancesteps_v12My final week in rehearsals was dedicated to mapping out my journey for each character throughout the play and the journey for Hannah the actor; exits, entrances, etc. It’s been a complicated dance, and I’m happy to finally feel confident in knowing what I’m doing from moment to moment.

northernbroadsidesBut enough about me. Let’s talk about Conrad Nelson. For any of you who are familiar with the company Northern Broadsides you’ll know the name. This company, based in the north of England (Halifax) produce Shakespeare and other works usually in the northern accent and tour the country with these vibrant shows. Their work is down to earth, accessible, musical, dynamic, and I’m a big fan. Conrad directs, acts, and composes music for them. And we were fortunate to be able to get a session with him which turned out to be far more than the music session it was briefed to be. The tricky thing with the show is how to create drama, tension, a threat, dynamic fast moving scene changes where the energy doesn’t drop, how to create atmosphere out of nowt [nothing]. So we decided that rhythm and song would be our best bet. Conrad came to us with some excellent suggestions. A song to potentially use in the Act I, scene II funeral procession, a ‘Te Deum’ that Con composed himself for the end moment with Richmond after Richard has been killed, and a song to start proceedings with a bang. He’s also a keen Morris dancer and taught us a set dance. I’m a keen Irish dancer, so I’ve used my own knowledge, this dance as inspiration, and my cast mate’s fabulous ideas to choreograph a folky number for the start. I hope you like it. We do. And finally Conrad taught us some rhythm patterns using 5, 4, and 3 that are simple but create great drama and tension. What an inspirational day. Thanks Con!

Now the challenge with this rhythm business is that everything we use has to fit in the suitcase. So sticks are our thing! The cajon was thrown out of the window, luckily the window was open at the time so no damage done. Although we loved the sounds it made and were really excited about the rhythms we were creating we decided it was too cumbersome for our little suitcase, so it had to go. Sorry cajon fans. BUT, we have sticks! aftls-richard-iii-003_cropQuite few of them, as it happens, and they’re great for sustaining the rhythms (and therefore atmosphere) we feel are so important to our production. There’s such a gathering of momentum throughout the play, as first of all Richard’s plots escalate, and then as the rebellion led by Richmond builds to its bloody climax on Bosworth Field. Most companies tackling the play would have large casts, elaborate sets, effects and costumes to create this – so we have had to be extremely imaginative! We’ve found that the sticks make a great sound and can also represent various different objects (knives, swords, etc) so they fit in perfectly with our lo-tech aesthetic/constraint.

One of the exciting challenges is making whole worlds out of almost nothing and the freedom that eventually gives you (plus the lack of tech time when you’re on tour). It’s the essence and beauty of ‘poor theatre’ which then allows there to be almost no divide between the performers and audience, which is a relationship which suits Shakespeare well (soliloquies, asides, etc).

We’ve experimented with different stick options. First of all we used some old broom handles (in fact, many of the items we’ve used in rehearsals have emerged from Liz’s attic) and then moved on to dowel rods. Once we settled on dowels, we then experimented with different lengths and how practical and aurally pleasing they were. We also had to consider the suitcase, so they certainly couldn’t be very long. After much deliberation we’ve settled on varying sizes of sticks. And as I type this, they’re safely nestled in our large blue suitcase surrounded by the costumes and props we’ve decided upon. But there lies another story for another time…

— Hannah Barrie (from September’s London rehearsals)

Inside the King’s Kitchen | Final Rehearsals for Richard III

We spent our last week in London reworking the play in finer detail, sometimes as a group, breaking the script down into sections and marking where we feel there are a strong gear shifts. While working on the second wooing scene with Queen Elizabeth bereft then of her husband and sons — which is a rather horrible and much tougher mirror of the first wooing scene where Richard actually manages to put a ring on the finger of the young widow whose husband he’s helped to kill along with her father-in-law whom he has killed — Evvy [Evelyn Miller] suggested clapping some of the beats to remind us where they were while we were actually playing the scene. It was really helpful and that and playing on the diagonals in the space helped us move forward.

WooedWhile finessing the first wooing scene, it was really interesting that suddenly the only chap in our cast, Paul O’Mahony, seemed to have the most excellent understanding. He told me to be very confident since Richard has definitely decided to marry this woman. Of course Paul would understand; he’s a man. I haven’t done huge amounts of wooing in my life! It’s written like a piece of music with Lady Anne and Richard finishing each other’s sentences or batting back the same rhythm. Similarly, in the scene where Queen Elizabeth, who is played by Paul, comes on having lost her little sons, all us women suddenly had a lot to say.

Usually, whoever is not in the scene or has very little in it gets to sit “out front” and see if we’re making sense and honoring the text. Shakespeare and Richard pull off the absolute impossible at the end of the first wooing scene with Lady Anne melting fatally and momentarily — as she says later – “I grew grossly captive to his honey’d words.” Richard, who says he’s marrying her “not all so much for love” BEFORE the scene, finds himself believing all he says and falling for her. I don’t think he’s had much love in his life at all (though he clearly WORSHIPPED his father). So, when he totally liberates himself by determining to “prove a villain” at the top of the play, he suddenly finds it possible to win a beautiful young woman’s attention. He is so gobsmacked when she leaves that I think he is physically and mentally reeling and even has a strange stab of feeling for her dead husband (Queen Margaret’s son ) Edward. Richard calls him “young ,valiant, wise, and no doubt right royal” and wonders if Anne is fickle for having submitted to him. Of course the wonder of Shakespeare is the multiplicity of choice one has: he could be cynical, sneering, tearful. But you KNOW that he has somehow, with Lady Anne, felt a feeling unknown to himself before that scene. Alice is a heartbreaking Lady Anne.

Later in the week, we found an intriguing way of staging Queen Margaret’s famous curse scene that predicts the demise of practically everyone on stage. She is such a fantastical chorus like creature, this Lancastrian Queen who has been banished on pain of death. AFTLS - Richard III 039_webHannah is using a brass singing bowl which when circled makes an eerie sound that is loud but seems to appear from nowhere. She taps it on each of her curses and we all make these involuntary movements as if being physically compelled towards her. At the beginning Margaret has asides where she is supposed to be unseen. Usually the actress would be high above or below and we played with the idea of her coming through the audience but, on Alice’s suggestion, decided to physically freeze on her asides as if Margaret has such power that she can suspend Time itself. Hannah experimented with long bits of string and silky material that she knotted as she spoke each curse but she has found something wonderfully unnerving crouching on a chair with this brass bowl as a sort of comforter.

The Royal Arms of King Richard lll

The Royal Arms of King Richard lll

She’s very powerful and Shakespeare’s gives her such frightening words. For instance, she addresses Richard as an “elvish mark’d abortive rooting hog.” In Shakespeare’s time, anyone with a physical disability was considered literally marked by elves and God’s revenge for bad deeds. The rooting hog relates to the white boar that was part of Richard’s royal arms (at right). Hannah is also our divine dance captain and chief songstress along with Evvy (our quietly fabulous Buckingham) who has given us some great dynamics for our last ‘Te Deum’ and we’ve managed some rather gorgeous harmonies that the brilliant Conrad Nelson has given us.

This week, we had the very lovely Richard Neale “on the book” for us (i.e. giving lines and prompting). Normally there would be a deputy stage manager from day one, so it was a bit of a shock to realize that some bits had just bedded in WRONG. Usually you bat off people who ask “How do you learn your lines?” but, as we each share a fifth of a two hour fifteen minute Shakespeare play, it has been seriously challenging. The process has been vocally tiring as well — many tired vocal chords and much steaming. We’ve gradually, as we are responsible for ALL our choices, rushed out before rehearsals or in the lunch hour and found our COSTUMES. Paul has some dazzling shoes with an electric blue sole, a rather lovely black fur scarf of my Mum’s for his proud and fiercely intelligent Queen Elizabeth, and a handkerchief for his hilarious sweating and constantly unpunctual Lord Hastings. I’ve gone for culottes and a long waistcoat in pinstripes and a crown made out of garden and picture wire (that needed some serious attention as it kept getting stuck in our hair). Alice has gone for a top hat as Lord Rivers and geeky glasses for the Lord Mayor with a black veil for lady Anne. Hannah has a bright red beret as a female Catesby and fine pieces of cloth for Clarence, King Edward, and Queen Margaret. Evvy uses a flat cap for Lord Derby and a silk cravat for Buckingham. Everything needs to be simple and read INSTANTLY. It also needs to weigh under 23 kilos. We did a run through for ourselves and then the hair-raising Thursday run in front of our Associate Directors but it was actually great to have an audience. Richard needs to have someone with whom to share all his devilish plots. They enjoyed the performance and you will too. America, here we come.

– Liz Crowther

[The tour is currently in residence at the University of Texas at Austin and next week travels 90 minutes south to the University of Texas at San Antonio.]