RICHARD II Cast Gears Up for October Opening at RSC
Rehearsals are well underway for a star-studded production of RICHARD II that opens at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon on 10 October. The highly anticipated production, which sold out months in advance of the opening, marks Gregory Doran's inaugural production as Artistic Director.
The historical play brings together some of Britain's most revered classical performers. David Tennant, who previously played Hamlet at the RSC, stars in the title role as King Richard, a monarch brought to ruin by his own weaknesses. Tennant is joined in the cast by Olivier Award-winner Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt.
Rounding out the cast of veteran actors, Jane Lapotaire rejoins the RSC in the role of the Duchess of Gloucester. It is the Tony Award-winner's first stage production in over a decade, following a forced hiatus due to a near-fatal brain aneurysm. Greg Doran commented, "Jane wrote an extraordinary account of the cerebral haemorrhage she suffered in 2000, and her long recovery in a memoir called very wittily , TIME OUT OF MIND. Few of us believed that we would see her back at work, let alone back with her "family" in the RSC at Stratford-upon-Avon.
"The Duchess of Gloucester has only one scene, but she needs to bring on stage with her the weight of the whole house of Plantagenet. She expresses her grief and rage at the murder of her husband. It's a part that needs Jane Lapotaire. And to my great luck, it was a part she was prepared to play - and which would allow her a contained role in which she could return.
"I was very lucky to persuade her to play Katherine of Aragon in HENRY VIII (or ALL IS TRUE), my first Shakespeare production for the RSC in 1996. It's a great privilege to have her back in the company in my first production as Artistic Director."
I caught up with Lapotaire during the third week of rehearsals as the company was wrapping up table work. Lapotaire explained the process:
"We spend two weeks reading round the table of all the actors in the Richard II company, but NOT reading our own roles. This is Greg's unique way of working which is very intense and demands full concentration all day every day, but it does mean by the time one reaches the end of the play every single word has been put into modern language, and that the whole Richard company now, in theory, understands every word of the text.
"This reading round teaches one a lot about how other actors see your role. It also means that by the time we actually get [finished] threading the play through, we are like greyhounds in the slips, raring to go. It was one of the most remarkable read-throughs I've ever experienced. The room was electrified.
"We also had a special visit to Westminster Abbey where we saw Westminster Hall where Richard would have lain in state and the Duke of Gloucester, my 'husband'. Then we visited Edward III's tomb - nearby are Richard's and most of the Plantagenets' catafalques, including, in a little chapel on the other side of the railings, the grave of my character, Eleanor de Bohun, the Duchess of Gloucester. I laid my hand gently on the beautiful graven brass image, and invoked her help."
I asked Lapotaire to encapsulate her emotions about her return to the RSC company. She said, "It's been an utter joy to be part of a company again. It's given me such a boost - to go back home, to be where I belong, to be with people who talk my language.
"You know, somebody said to me the other day, 'You look wonderful. You look so well!'
"I said, 'I'm an actor. I've got a job!'"
RICHARD II plays at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK from 10 October -16 November.
Photo of Jane Lapotaire Courtesy Royal Shakespeare Comapny