This is Chu's first blog entry for the 2003 production of Richard II in which he discusses the first and second week of rehearsals and his character, Aumerle, in particular.
Transcript of Podcast
The First Week of Rehearsals
The first day of rehearsals was fantastic. This is my second season at the Globe, and although I wasn’t here last year, I immediately felt at home when I walked through the door that day. Because I wasn’t as nervous as I would be if I didn’t know the building and the people who work here, I was very keen to start working on the play straight away!
I have to admit, although I came to audition for the role of Aumerle, I was also half-interested in the role of Thomas Mowbray, who I think has some fantastic speeches. However, Tim [Carroll, Master of Play] told me during that audition that I was at least 15 years too young to play that role, and that I should stop being silly and concentrate on Aumerle. He was right, of course.
Aumerle is a really interesting role. What initially struck me is that he's very direct, almost arrogant. You could play Aumerle as two-faced, but I don’t think he is; I think he's extremely loyal to Richard, despite his slight wavering at the end of the play. He's certainly very loyal to the idea that the king is appointed by God. Throughout the play, we are told that Richard is surrounded by flatterers, but unlike Thomas More, Shakespeare doesn’t write many scenes where Richard is actually being flattered by another character. One of Aumerle's roles in the play, I think, is to tell Richard the truth and cut through the flattery. For instance, in act 3 scene 2, when Richard returns from Ireland, the Bishop of Carlisle assures the King that:
[…] that power that made [him] king
Hath power to keep [him] king in spite of all.
Aumerle instantly seeks to counter this with what he sees as a more practical assessment of the situation:
He means, my lord, that we are too remiss
Whilst Bolingbroke through our security
Grows strong and great in substance and in power.
In that scene, Richard seems to oscillate between great joy and intense despair. I think that throughout the play, Aumerle is trying to persuade him of the existence of a practical approach, a middle way. A third way, perhaps…
The Second Week of Rehearsals
In the second week of rehearsals, we went away as a company for a few days to Gaunt's House, a large house built on the lands that belonged to John of Gaunt when Richard II was on the throne. I was initially quite nervous about going away; I’ve never been on a residential as part of a rehearsal process before, but I needn’t have worried – they’re a really, really nice group of people and we had a great time, rehearsing during the day and often playing games and having barbeques in the evenings. We used the whole house for rehearsals, and it was really useful to try out particular scenes in different settings relevant to the story of the play. For example, we rehearsed act 3 scene 3 in a tower, with Richard and his followers at the top of the staircase and Northumberland and Bolingbroke's supporters at the bottom. Suddenly having such a large distance between the two groups made me realise that Richard's (and therefore Aumerle’s) authority at that moment relies on two things; the physical distance between Northumberland and the King, and the distance between Richard's public and private personae. You can see the difference between these personae if you compare the way Richard speaks to Northumberland with the way he speaks to Aumerle and Carlisle. To the former, he speaks as a king; formally, in a way that could almost be described as arrogant, but to his supporters, he speaks more hesitantly. Throughout the scene, this difference becomes less and less, and when it has disappeared, Richard agrees to come down and the physical distance that has also preserved them vanishes too. What upsets Aumerle is that Richard's public and private personalities become inseparably linked in this scene and he loses his authority as a result, at least in Aumerle's view.
Aumerle is a very high status character; he's son to the Duke of York and about 4th or 5th in line to the throne. He is a member of the royal family and is relatively critical of the king. which is perhaps not surprising given that, I find, most of the time no-one's as critical of you as your own family! As a result, he's very close to Richard and is disappointed by what he sees as Richard's lack of resolve. This is especially true in the above scene, when Aumerle's advice is very sensible, I think; he tells him:
[…] fight with gentle words
Till time lend friends, and friends their helpful swords.
He's telling him to wait, to bide his time while they try to raise an army to fight Bolingbroke, but instead of listening to Aumerle, Richard starts to believe that his fall is inevitable and collapses into despair. It's so disappointing for the more pragmatic Aumerle that he starts to weep. On reading Richard II for the first time, it does seem as though it's about two men, Richard and Bolingbroke, struggling for power. In fact, I think it's an ensemble piece that tells the story of a family at war.
Now we’re in the third week of rehearsals, and I’m really looking forward to going to Middle Temple Hall. It's a beautiful space. I remember noticing how high the ceiling was, and how that's going to challenge us vocally, but it's a perfect space in which to perform this production because Original Practices and the Tudor hall complement each other so well. It's going to be great fun.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.