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Guest Blog: Playwright Willi Richards On Resurrecting RUSH With Rupert Everett

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Guest Blog: Playwright Willi Richards On Resurrecting RUSH With Rupert Everett
Willi Richards with his mother

It's my first play and it had found a stage in the West End, scheduled for June and July of 2020. Bingo! I was as happy as a sandboy.

Then came the Pandemic. Next came the spiral of frustration and depression. My mother died in the middle of April, leaving me with many gifts of attitude and behaviour. After a fall, she would say, "Stand up straight, look around you, check there is nothing broken and see what is possible if you carry on". Giving up was not an option. Usually, she was right - no bones were broken, maybe some superficial scratches, but progress could still be made.

What to do about Rush? No theatre, no audience. We had a director, a producer, two brilliant actors, but not the third. It is a play about will power; perhaps every play is. One of the lines in the play - a twist of a quotation from Galaxy Quest, that brilliant film about belief and team work - "Never give up, never give in" resonated and inspired me.

Can we do a first reading of Rush online and submit it for the BBC/Space Culture in Quarantine Award? Can we find an actor to read the third role who we would have dreamed of casting, but who wouldn't have considered a short run in the West End? Follow your dreams. Rupert Everett had been a name at the top of our list of desirable actors for the third role. We asked him, by email, and he very graciously agreed, saying he loved the writing and was happy to play.

Guest Blog: Playwright Willi Richards On Resurrecting RUSH With Rupert Everett
Omari Douglas, Rupert Everett
and Daniel Boyd in Rush

Were any of us considering whether this was a good idea? Or was it all just to satisfy ego, to fill the emotional gap left by the theatres being closed? Momentum was gathering. Joseph Winters, the director, reminded us that what is often being sought in four weeks of rehearsal is the magic that occurs at the first reading. We took this a proof that the idea was valid.

We recorded, a single take, the very first encounter with the three brave and brilliant actors, Omari Douglas, Daniel Boyd and Rupert Everett, scripts and pencils in hand, on Zoom with locked-off head and shoulder shots on HD. The Terrence Higgins Trust supplied an audience of about 400 people so we could raise some money for a charity that is close to my heart. Bingo.

The BBC declined our application for the Culture In Quarantine Award, but we sent our peculiar little filmed reading to them anyway. Never give up... blah blah. And what came back was " We love it!". Alongside our tenacious producer, Roger James Elsgood (who has made many extraordinarily bold plays and documentary programmes for radio), the BBC offered every support to realise the programme to iPlayer standards, taking the audience to the table of the online rehearsal room, to intimately watch and forensically listen.

It is a very odd form that we have created - brittle, rough, exciting, intense, simple beyond belief - but somehow so honest that the play shines through in the voices of these excellent actors. It's something that would never happened if life had gone the way it was supposed to and I had not learned to straighten up and carry on. Thanks, Mum, for your advice. I am sad you are not here to see it.

Rush is available on BBC iPlayer from today, as part of BBC Arts Culture In Quarantine.


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