Thursday, April 18, 2013

Richard II at the Peacock - Rehearsals

Mowbray and Bolingbroke Duel

I fetched up at the rehearsals for the Ouroboros production of Richard II (starts in the Peacock on 23rd April) a couple of weeks ago.  As a failed old thespian I was looking forward to  enjoying vicariously the atmosphere at rehearsals as the opening looms.  The tightening noose, the tension and the delicious anticipation.  The company were using a hall across the road from the Peacock - a good big bright space with a curious curved ceiling - well heated.  I arrived at an auspicious time as they were just beginning Act IV Scene 1, where the "plume plucked" Richard is brought before Bolingbroke. The latter haughty and entitled, the former rueful at his downfall.

It was my first view of the cast and there were a few familiar faces.  Grizzled veteran Des Nealon certainly, Jonathan White and Frank McCusker, and a slimmer Denis Conway.  Patrick Moy had been in the Ouroboros production of Amadeus but mostly performs in England these days so he was new to me.  A young and good-looking Richard then - one for the girls (and of of course the boys).

When I arrived Moy was sitting alone in a quiet corner of the room - either acting out Richard's incarceration or, more likely, getting himself into the right place for his entry.  As the scene progressed it became clear that we are not getting a 16th century version of the play.  I suppose the gun tucked special branch style into the back of Michael Powers' (Northumberland) trousers should have been an early clue.  Power struggles and political intrigue are universal themes and can be set in any period.  These days crowns sit particularly uneasily as the likes of Ghadaffi and Mubarak would attest.

The choreography is still fluid and so there were discussions about whether Richard should be in chains or not, where various barons should stand and the like.  The director Michael Caven seems less a tyrant than an amiable consensus builder in this regard as he listened patiently to various suggestions and even adopted some. Many of the cast are playing multiple parts so I had to get a script to follow the action.  The lines are pretty well learned off at this stage so there was only the occasional involvement of the prompter/stage manager.  Frank McCusker has real star presence, even in this low-key environment. I suppose you must have a strong and charismatic actor for the key role of Bolingbroke.  You can't have the king deposed by a nonentity.

After the cast ran through Act IV Scene 1 a few times there was a brief break before they brought in a fight choreographer to orchestrate the duel between Bolingbroke and Mowbray.  For those like me who wonder how more people don't get injured during stage fights, this is how.  They carefully plan every move.  Considering Jonathan White (Mowbray) was wielding an axe and McCusker (Bolingbroke) a knife (seemed unfair that), they'd want to get it right.  Watching them practice their moves it struck me how physically demanding a lot of acting is.  I was exhausted at the end of it.

There was a surprising lack of conflict or acrimony.  Not one squabble, not one hissy fit. The cast and director all seemed relaxed and professional as they went about their business.  Disappointing that.  I remember many years ago acting with the Everyman in Cork (Rosencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead) and we had a well-known professional actor from Dublin in the cast.  At regular intervals he'd stop the rehearsals and scream "I can't work with these amateurs".  Everyone one would look embarrassed, then there'd be a bit of giggling, the director (Mick McCarthy) would mollify the afflicted star and off we'd go again.