By William Shakespeare
Directed by Cressida Brown
Company: RSC Understudies
Venue: Courtyard Theatre
Date: Tuesday 21st October 2008
This public understudies performance started in much the same way as the regular performance, with Dumaine/Longaville arriving about ten minutes before the nominal curtain-up, and Berowne putting in an appearance with a few minutes to go for his regular snooze. But then we had the pleasure of an introductory comment or two from the director, Cressida Brown (with a name like that, she had to do something involved with Shakespeare). She told us the usual stuff about why they do public understudies performances, and how little time they had had to rehearse for this one, as it’s the last production of the three that this company are doing. She warned us that some of the understudies were doubling up, such as David Ajala playing both Dumaine and Longaville, so occasionally characters would be talking to themselves on stage. She mentioned some of the knock-on effects of an actor being hors de combat, as it were, and in general gave us a good warm up for the main action.
Tom Davey was now playing the king of Navarre (Longaville in the regular cast), and did a fine job, though of course he hadn’t had the time to work up as much of the comic business as the original. David Ajala (Lord) did a fantastic job as both Dumaine and Longaville, managing to clearly differentiate both characters – Longaville stiff and formal (and with a hat), and Dumaine more soft and cuddly, and bareheaded. There was a lot of humour in the way he swapped between the roles at times, especially when he had to run round the back of the auditorium to make another entrance, even getting a laugh and applause for that alone. Robert Curtis (Forester) as Berowne was less expressive, but very clear on the text, and he seemed to relax into the part more in the second half, as a number of them did.
Keith Osborn (Marcadé) played Dull, and was fine, but Ryan Gage (Lord) as Costard was, if anything, better than the original. His lines came across more clearly, his comic business was clearer, and he was generally more expressive in the part. I could see him having a long career playing Shakespearean clowns, as well as other comedy. Don Armado was played by Samuel Dutton, the puppeteer from Little Angel, who gave a splendid performance, clearly distinguished from Joe Dixon’s, and almost as entertaining. Instead of size and bluster, he gave us pretentiousness and a clear delivery of the lines. He didn’t have a purple costume – sombre black was all the costume department could come up with – so he had to put all the braggadocio into the performance, which he did very well. Moth was played by Kathryn Drysdale, one of the princess’s women normally, and she did a very good job. I’m sure I got more of the page’s wit partly because I’d seen this production before, but her performance certainly helped.
The princess was played by Natalie Walter, the other of the princess’s women, and she did a fine job as well, coming across as more flirty and less serious than Mariah Gale. Andrea Harris (Lady) doubled Rosaline and Jaquenetta, which meant that Jaquenetta didn’t appear in the final scene, two months gone, but that didn’t affect the performance. Her Jaquenetta was more explicit when churning the milk, but otherwise was much as before, while her Rosaline was still pretty feisty, and a good match for Berowne. Riann Steele (Jaquenetta) played both of the princess’s ladies – Katherine and Maria – and also managed to get two different personalities across, one of which was remarkably like Natalie Walter’s performance. Fortunately, she didn’t have to run round the theatre to swap roles, but we still enjoyed and appreciated the changeovers. Boyet was played by Sam Alexander, normally Dumaine, and he also did an excellent job for such little rehearsal, with less comic business, but plenty of clarity in his speech.
The double act of Holofernes and Sir Nathaniel was played by Roderick Smith and Ewen Cummins (Dull) respectively, and they both did a decent job, especially as Worthies. David Tennant also doubled up today, playing both the Forester, as advertised, and also Marcadé, who was due to be played by Joe Dixon. Nina Sosanya made a brief appearance as a lady(?) in breeches, who sat on the swing when the ladies were gathering for the second half scene with the presents, and various stage crew filled in as stool carriers, etc.
This was a good fun performance. OK, we weren’t expecting too much, as we knew there were going to be limitations given the circumstances, but the standard of performance was so high, and the audience was so willing to enjoy themselves, that the afternoon passed very quickly and very enjoyably. I also got the chance to correct some of my mistakes in my earlier notes, as I was reminded of how things are actually done in this production.
Apart from the performances themselves, I didn’t notice too many changes from the regular cast. I thought the ladies didn’t join in the teasing of Don Armado this time – they seemed to be more concerned to stop the blokes throwing this bloody napkin around. I realised for the first time that someone has a line which echoes the “l’envoy” that Moth gives to Don Armado’s original motto. They make some comment about the men being four, and Moth had added a line to the motto about the goose making four. I also remembered what fun it was during the Russian scene, when the king and his men huddle together after each unexpected response from the woman they believe to be the princess. The way they confer to come up with a group answer was very amusing, and just as funny even when there were only three present.
Afterwards there was a talk from the director of the understudies run, Cressida Brown. We learned that some actors prefer not to know what the main actor playing the part is doing, while others are happy to pinch as much as they can, especially when it’s a small part. She’d chosen this production for the public understudies performance, as it had the least time to prepare, and she wanted to give the hard-working cast a carrot to look forward to. The costume department couldn’t stretch to a full re-working for this production, so they had to improvise as much as possible, though for the other productions the understudies have the full kit. She had to snatch what time she could with the actors, as they were so busy with other things, but she found she could arrange time with one actor or small group here and there, and so it all came together.
It was a very enjoyable afternoon, and a lovely way to round it off.
© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me