Delight in Understudy runs

Unique performances of Shakespeare at the RSC…for a fiver !!

There is a wonderful opportunity available to all audiences to see one-off, adrenelin fuelled, unique performances of the Shakespeare canon in the RSC theatres. I was there this week for As You Like It and I will be back next week for Hamlet.   Historically these performances are held behind closed doors, and now fantastically they are open to the general public. They are the understudy run.

I declare an interest. My son under his equity name of Michael Grady Hall is playing Silvius the shepherd in the main run of the production by Maria Aberg in the main house, and then this week gave his rendition of Touchstone the fool to a packed house in a performance he may never have the chance to give again, presuming Nicholas Tennant remains brilliantly engaging and healthy in the role for the rest of the run in Stratford and Newcastle.  However Michael, like all the other understudies, is now ready to step into the role at a moment’s notice and that is great.

The joy of these performances is that they are slightly anarchic and unexpected – not least because, to misquote Jaques, one man in his run plays many parts.  And this week David Fishley must be crowned as man of the match. In this one lunchtime performance he played 5 different roles with a showstopping moment as Duke Senior saddened to witness the hunger and exhaustion of old retainer Adam in the arms of Orsino.  Although to deliver Adam’s response he had to jump swiftly into Orsino’s arms because he was not only playing the upright Duke, but the lanquishing retainer. A leap which brought the house down, stopped the action for a moment, and was one to relish for ever.

So next week I’m heading back to Stratford and again seeing the full company led by Jonathan Slinger giving us their Hamlet and then, on Thursday 16th at 1pm I will return to the play and see a unique gathering of actors giving us a full scale, fully staged, version of the production but with a very different cast.  I can’t wait.

My congratulations to the whole As You Like it company, including Pippa Nixon and the other principals who became the forest folk to beef up the numbers as their co-company took over the leads from them. My congratulations to  Assistant Director Katie Lewis  who created this one-off performance, and to all the wardrobe team and tec team who managed to make sure everyone looked fantastic and seemed to arrive on stage at the right time in the right frock despite limited rehearsal and all being very different shapes and styles to their principal studies.  Together they made a production which was consistent and a great reading of the text – with a few great unexpected moments of joy and mayhem.  Thanks.  And thanks for allowing us the general public to witness this insight into the creative process.

(and a date for my diary, and maybe yours, we believe the Alls Well understudy run will be 7th August – but none of the actors yet know what they may be understudying because they haven’t started rehearsals yet)

First published in Whatsonstage May 2013