This is Amanda's first blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard III. In it she discusses rehearsals so far, Buckingham and Richard III, playing a character of the opposite gender, and working as part of an all-female cast.
Transcript of Podcast
Buckingham and Richard III
At the moment, I see Buckingham as a Michael Portillo/Peter Mandelson figure. He's a consummate politician; intelligent, sophisticated, smooth talking and looking for power. At present, I don't think he wants the throne himself; he wants the glory and the privileges of power without the pressures of kingship. This is one of the reasons he gets on so well with Richard. They're just as ambitious as each other, but Buckingham sees himself as a kingmaker, not as a king. At the beginning of the play, we see relatively little of him. I think this is partially because he hates the Woodvilles; Queen Elizabeth and her family. We've been doing a lot of historical research into the play, finding out who our characters actually were (as far as we know), and what actually happened to them. I've discovered that Buckingham's father died when he was very young, and his guardianship, (the right to be his legal guardian), was bought by Edward IV who then arranged for him to marry Elizabeth's younger sister. By the time the play starts, he has been hampered by, or at least he feels that he has been hampered by the Woodvilles for many years. When Edward dies, Buckingham sees in Richard his chance to use the political skills he's developed and become a major player at court.
Kathryn [Hunter, Richard III] and I have started to think about the relationship between Richard and Buckingham, and we've come to the conclusion that they're very like-minded. At the beginning of the second week of rehearsals, we did an improvisation in which we started to explore how far Buckingham would go in supporting Richard. This initially seemed relatively straightforward, but Barry [Kyle, Master of Play] then told us that we could only use one word; "OK". That made it slightly harder! Still, we were able to use different props from the rehearsal room and we managed to keep the improvisation going for 40 minutes. Kathryn kept asking me to do different things, (still just using the one word), but in many different ways; first she'd threaten me, then she'd ask me nicely and so on, trying to make me break and say no, but I didn't. Buckingham will do almost anything for Richard; it's only when he's asked to approve of killing the princes that he wavers in his loyalty. Doing that improvisation was really useful as we began to realise that, although Richard is always in charge, he and Buckingham have great fun together. Several times in Act 3, they are essentially play-acting a situation, for instance in iii.5 when they pretend that they're under attack in order to win the mayor's support. Earlier in that scene, Buckingham talks about how good he is at acting:
Tut, I can counterfeit the deep tragedian,
Speak and look back, and pry on every side,
Tremble and start wagging of a straw,
Intending deep suspicion: ghastly looks
Are at my service, like enforced smiles;
And both are ready in their offices,
At any time, to grace my stratagems.
Sure enough, a little later they both get to act, pretending to the mayor that they're under attack:
BUCKINGHAM Lord Mayor,
RICHARD Look to the drawbridge there!
BUCKINGHAM Hark! a drum.
RICHARD Catesby, o'erlook the walls.
BUCKINGHAM Lord mayor, the reason we have sent -
RICHARD Look back, defend thee, here are enemies.
Their acting is horribly over the top; although they're playing a dangerous game, they're having a whale of a time. Whenever I think about the relationship between Richard and Buckingham, the comparison I keep making is with Romeo and Juliet; they don't have a physical relationship, but theirs is, in many ways, a marriage of like minds. In iii.7, when Buckingham is begging Richard before the citizens to take the throne, we already know that Richard will be on the balcony above the stage, and at the moment I'm quite tempted to climb up to him at some point during that scene… It's only when Richard decides to kill the princes that there has to be a divorce between them.
Rehearsals so far...
We're in the third week of rehearsals now. During the first week, we had a read through and did a lot of games and exercises to help the company get to know each other. From the second week onwards, we started to really focus on the text of the play. Sometimes we sit and talk through a scene, other times we'll get up and try acting it out, and sometimes we'll put our scripts down and improvise the scene. This last method is often very useful at this stage in rehearsals. Essentially, what we're doing is running the scene but putting each line into our own words. Sometimes, it can be very intimidating to try and explore a scene straight away using Shakespeare's language; it's so complex that actors don't have time to think about anything other than the words. By improvising the scene using our own words within the structure of the play script (i.e. you can only speak when your character speaks in Shakespeare's version of the scene) it's much easier to relax and think about the objectives behind each line (why our characters say what they do) and how/why our characters might move on-stage at different moments during the scene.
When actors play a character of a different gender to themselves, they often say that this difference doesn't affect how they approach creating that character. In many ways, this is true; one of the worst things I could do in rehearsals would be to try and 'act like a man'. Instead, I am focusing on my character's intentions and objectives. Having said that, I am beginning to find that Buckingham's gender is affecting the way I move in character, however I have decided that this is because the world of the play is, essentially, a man's world. At court, it is predominantly the men who have influence and who move in the highest circles of power. Throughout the play, Buckingham is looking to fulfil his ambitions and advance his own position at court, but it is because of his gender, (together with his high social status), that he is able to do this. If he were a woman, he would not be able to fulfil his intentions and objectives in this way and as a result, the fact that I am playing a man is having an effect on the way I move in character. If I were playing a female character, my movements would be far less confident and assured.
This is the first time I have been a member of an all-female company, and before rehearsals started, I was very curious whether the fact that it is all-female would make a difference to the rehearsal process. As it happened, as soon as rehearsals started I forgot all about it; it's only during the last few days, when we've had some time off, that it's crossed my mind again. This is one of the best companies I've worked with; there's no messing around, everybody's very focused on what they're doing. There's an amazingly open atmosphere in rehearsals; even if we're not appearing in a scene, we're welcome to sit in rehearsals and watch other members of the company at work. This is fantastic, as we are all aware of what is happening to the production as a whole; it's a very collaborative process.
**Please note, no audio file is available for this update**