BWW Interview: Alice Hewkin Discusses TEENAGE DICK at Donmar Warehouse
We talked to Alice Hewkin, who plays Clarissa Duke, about everything it takes to move Shakespeare into Mean Girls territory.
How would you describe Teenage Dick?
It's based on Richard III, and I think that what's really special about this particular play is that Mike Lew has taken Shakespeare's text and literally brought it into the 21st century. We're dealing with teens, bullying, high schools, and everything that's happening today.
We've definitely looked into high schools in America and the pressure that comes with it - different cliques, groups, power, being able to be cool, and being able to fit in. Essentially all that becomes one big theme in the play; we've looked at it all as a concept.
It's set in America - what's happening with your natural accents?
We're all doing it in general American, so we've been practicing our accents a lot, which is really nice. Callum [Adams] who plays Eddie is American and we have a dialect coach as well. I think it's really exciting, especially because we're looking at high schools, their systems, their language, and all the different words that Americans use compared to us Brits.
In terms of characters, who is who in the social hierarchy of the school?
We have Richard, who's definitely not popular at all. He's the lowest of the low in terms of the celebrity status. Then we've got Eddie, who's the complete polar opposite. He's a quarterback, he's someone who gets all the girls, he's very good-looking and extremely popular. You've got Clarissa, she's very overachieving and geeky, she has her own clique.
She's not someone who's popular at school and for her it's more about the determination of getting into a good college. When you're in school sometimes the most important thing is to have everyone like you and you'd want to be dating the most good-looking and popular person. For my character it's definitely not about that and her ambition is related to what's going to happen after school.
Also, the character of Anne, Richard's love interest, is more popular than Richard, so it's interesting to see him trying to woo her. The most unpopular guy going out with one of the most beautiful girl who used to go out with Eddie? We know that would never happen. It's really interesting to see how Richard manipulates and uses that.
Are there any changes in the core plot?
There are a few changes. The biggest similarity is the wooing scene between Anne and Richard - that scene is the same in Shakespeare's Richard III but in the 21st century in a school canteen. It's quite exciting. I won't tell you the differences, though, because they're plot spoilers!
What was the first thought you had when you read the play?
I read the script and I thought it was incredibly well written. I loved that the language was still within the play along with everyday speech. I thought that the relationship between the characters were so interesting. What drew me to Clarissa was her determination and the pressure to get into this prestigious university. I was thinking about when I was 16 and in school, how important everything seemed at that time. It was nice to go back to it. I loved the comedy of it too - it's very funny.
What kind of research did you do to translate the original material to the modern world?
During the first week, Mike Lew came to join us around the table and we all read the original scene between Anne and Richard - the wooing scene - just to see the language there in contrast to the modern language of our play. What's so great is that if you vaguely know Richard III - say the average teenager who's coming to see it - it's a great way to get people to become interested in Shakespeare.
His works can be quite complex and a bit difficult to understand or even boring, but this is a play that's making it modern and bringing it to our time. We didn't read the whole original play; we only read the bits that were useful to our specific scenes.
In the first week, we watched a lot of teen movies too, like Election and Mean Girls, so we could get into how it feels to be in an American high school. We also watched documentaries about people who've been really bullied on social media and how that's affected their lives, the damage it's caused. That was a huge part of it too.
You mentioned that the play deals with modern social pressure - how so?
With Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, all those social platforms that we have today, the pressure that's on our young people to be who they think they should be is incredible. That's a big aspect of the play, but I don't want to give away too much of what happens with it!
What kinds of conversations did you have about translating the digital aspect to stage?
There are some scenes where some Tweets come through and there are people tweeting in the script, so we explored different ways to get that on stage. Again, I don't know if I should say! But there's a huge focus on Twitter and technology.
What can audiences expect from it?
They can expect laughter, a lot of wit; they can expect to be moved, and I think they'll come away with a different point of view. I feel like they're going to feel everything. They're going to learn a lot too. There's also a big part about the election of the new president, and Eddie is running for it.
Richard wants the power, so he'll manipulate his way to get what he wants. The pressure of that reflects what's happened in our country. Power is another huge theme in it.
We see it in Richard III too - how he uses language to do that, and his occasional charm. The audiences will definitely get to see that side of it too. But there's lots of laughter, I promise!
Why should someone come to see it?
I think it's really important. It's a play with a very diverse cast, with very important issues at hand regarding social media and politics. And it's set in high school! Who doesn't want to see a play set in an American high school and have that kind of fun?
I think particularly teenagers should come to see it - it reaches that audience really well. Everyone's incredible. The cast are genuinely fantastic. It's such a safe space to explore these crucial themes, as it was during rehearsals. I feel really lucky that I'm a part of such a great group of people.
Production images courtesy of Marc Brenner