This is Amanda's sixth and final blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III. In it she talks about moving on to the company's next production, The Taming of the Shrew, and continuing Richard III.
Transcript of Podcast
The Taming of the Shrew
Richard III is now up and running, which is great, and we’ve started rehearsals for The Taming of the Shrew, where I play Tranio. I played Kate in a production of Shrew with the RSC many years ago, so I’m really pleased to be playing a character in the sub plot this time round. I remember standing in the wings getting changed in-between scenes and wondering what was happening on-stage, what all the laughs were for. Now, I’m finding out! It's funny, even though I’ve been in the play before, I feel as though I only really know half of it. As an actor, your knowledge of a play is often determined by your involvement in it; the only person with a true overview is the director! For this reason, I often rename plays according to my character; Richard III has become The Tragedy of Buckingham, and I’m considering what to call Shrew at the moment. I think it might become Tranio's Big Adventure.
Basically, Tranio is servant to Lucentio and swaps places with his master in order to help him woo Bianca. I think Tranio absolutely loves pretending to be of a higher status than he really is. He's very well educated; I think he understands philosophy and the arts far better than Lucentio, and as a result he thinks he knows how a gentleman should behave. In Act I scene ii, he confronts Hortensio and Gremio, asking that:
… if [they] be gentlemen,
Do me this right – hear me with patience.’
At the moment, I’m really stressing the ‘if’; Tranio believes himself to be a far better gentleman than they are, despite the fact that he's technically only a servant. At the moment, I’m reading Thomas Dekker's The Gull's Hornbook (a contemporary satire of Jacobean society) to find out how the upper classes could have been viewed by their social inferiors. As a result, I think Tranio-as-Lucentio will be very over-the-top, almost foppish, but we’ll see what happens. Tranio is a well-loved servant and is very bright; he's read Lucentio's books and knows them a lot better than Lucentio does. But, at the same time, I think he really likes a good time; he tells Lucentio that, although study is a good thing, pleasure is also important:
Let's be no stoics nor no stocks, I pray,
Or so devote to Aristotle's checks
As Ovid be an outcast quite abjured.
Of course, Lucentio then goes and falls head over heels for Bianca, and because Tranio loves his master, he wants to help him and agrees to take his place. As a result, he has to help Lucentio, dressed as a schoolmaster, to woo Bianca. In fact, I wonder if Tranio doesn’t have a soft spot for Bianca himself, but maybe we’ll get to that later on in rehearsals.
At the beginning of the play, the difference in status between Lucentio and Tranio is rather blurred; their relationship is maybe a bit too friendly to be a typical of a gentleman and his servant. However, when the power and position that Tranio gains through pretending to be Lucentio is taken away from him, he learns his proper place; in the end, the play suggests, you have to remember your status and position. In a way, I think it's rather sad…
Having said that, he very quickly gets caught in a situation he can’t control; in order to beat Gremio to become Baptista's favourite suitor for his daughter (Bianca), Tranio has to promise more money and lands than Gremio can offer:
If I may have your daughter to my wife,
I’ll leave her houses three or four as good
Within rich Pisa walls, as any one
Old Signor Gremio has in Padua,
Besides two thousand ducats by the year
Of fruitful land, all which shall be her jointure.
To back himself up, he has to find a ‘father’ for his Lucentio, and terrifies a passer-by into pretending he's his father, which causes problems when the real Lucentio's father shows up. But he gets forgiven in the end, because he's a good servant.
We’ve been doing some work with Marcello Magni, who acted here in 1998 and who is an expert in physical theatre. He's been introducing us to some of the basic theories and movements behind commedia del arte, an Italian style of physical comedy. This has just served to heighten our movements; commedia is based upon character archetypes such as the fool and the lover, which are extremes. If a commedia character is in love, they’re really in love, if they’re hungry, they’re really hungry, and so on. These archetypes can affect how you move; your movements become far more pronounced. The production won’t be a commedia del arte production of the Taming of the Shrew, but we will be incorporating little bits of this work into what we do on stage.
Continuing Richard III
Richard III is continuing to develop. We are all getting used to our characters and relaxing into those roles, which means we are finding out more about them. I have discovered that Buckingham really can feel quite sidelined at the beginning of the play; no-one in that theatre pays any attention to him at all until he is taken on by Richard, and then later he's addressing the crowd; it's a huge transformation.
We have also been getting used to our costumes. Initially, they do feel a little restrictive because they are so different to what we wear today, and so we’ve had to get used to them so that we can move and react naturally in them on stage. Much of the evidence that we have for what people wore 400 years ago, especially those of high status, comes from portraiture. These portraits give us a huge amount of information about what people wore; what their clothes were made of, how they were decorated etc. However, there is also a theory that portraiture show us how people stood and how they moved in these clothes. For example, it was suggested to me once that I shouldn’t cross my arms, because people didn’t, but I’m not sure I agree. You wouldn’t cross your arms if you were having your portrait painted, but does this mean that you wouldn’t in everyday life? I think we should explore how we can use these fantastic costumes and wear them as naturally as possible.
I’m really enjoying the run so far, it's throwing up so many different challenges. You have to constantly keep on your toes and be aware of what's happening in the theatre; if it's about to rain, and you have a line where you mention the ‘dark clouds’, you have to suspect an audience will react. Similarly, there are some things you can’t predict, such as pigeons. Meredith [MacNeill, Lady Anne] was on stage at the end of the play as Princess Elizabeth when a pigeon fluttered in, sat on top of her wig and stayed there. We all burst out laughing!
**Please note, no audio file is available for this update**