RSC Histories

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The Royal Shakespeare Company

The Histories
Between 2006 and 2008 The Royal Shakespeare Company performed all 8 of Shakespeare’s History Plays. The first four plays Henry VI part 1 2 and 3 and Richard III opened the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon July 2006. The next four plays Richard II Henry IV part 1 and 2 and Henry V opened in July 2007 . By November 2007 the company was playing all eight plays in repertoire leading towards the first ‘Glorious Moment’ where the audience had the experience of being able to see all eight plays in four days. An extraordinary feat for the audience not to mention the performers the lighting, sound, stage automation, technicians, the stage managers, props and wardrobe crew let alone the front of house and administrative / publicity departments. The list is endless but the impossible was achieved.

The company moved to The Roundhouse in London for a two month season April / May 2008. This was an even more of an astounding feat as the RSC literally had to build the apron stage, the seating the lighting and automation rig, the dressing rooms what else oh yes, the set and band gallery inside the shell of The Roundhouse.

It was an Ensemble Company, the vision of director Michael Boyd . A normal acting company might rehearse for four weeks and then perform a play for a month. The Histories Ensemble a group of 34 actors and 5 musicians worked together over a period of two and a half years on eight productions between them playing 264 roles. The time scale allowed the performers a deeper understanding of the plays and each other, experimenting and playing in an atmosphere of increasing trust.

I was invited to join the company in 2007 to perform in Richard II, Henry IV part 1 and 2. As a musician in rehearsal I improvised my parts on violin, voice, bass viol and percussion with composers Jimmy Jones and John Wolf. Gradually as the play took shape the musical interventions became clearer the timing of each cue honed down to a nanosecond. It was still possible in some cases to improvise the musical moments even within the strict framework so every show was unique.

I played the part of Lady Mortimer in Henry IV part 1.As part of the scene she sings a love song in Welsh to her husband before he goes off to war. I composed the song Fy Nghariad i for voice, harp outback sax, piano and tuned percussion. Shakespeare in the text writes ‘the lady speaks in Welsh or the lady sings in Welsh’. It is fortunate that my first experience in acting I was able to write my own lines in a Shakespeare play! For the part where I invite my husband to lie in my lap while I sing him a song I used four lines from Mererid Hopwood’s poem.

Dere da fi i’r man rhwng nos a dydd
Lle mae’r haul a’r lloer and wen
Lle mae serch y ser yn wen
Lle diw’r stori fyth yn hen

It has to be said that I have never before been involved in a project where a company of theatre makers worked so hard. It was an ambitious vision that could only have been pulled off by the love and generosity, dedication and crazy boundless energies of everyone involved.