24 June 2021

Henry VI RSC Open Rehearsal Room Project

The rehearsal room, a place only the actors and the creatives really see, but now the Royal Shakespeare Company have opened those doors to let the audience in virtually with a special open rehearsal room project where the company have worked through a unique production of Shakespeare's Henry VI Part One which was due to play in The Swan last year.


In the Ashcroft Room at the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon the project has allowed audiences to see a window in to rehearsals like never before. Through each week day in June the company have gathered and worked through the play with three sessions streamed live online throughout the day. These sessions often led by the productions directors Owen Horsley and Greg Doran or other members of the creative team including the fight directors Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown or movement director Polly Bennett.


The company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz


The days began at 10am with a half hour warm up session in which audiences watching at home were encouraged to join in if they liked. These warm ups began in the first session with playing some introductory games and going on through the weeks to go through varied techniques including different breathing techniques or more physical activities. These often fun sessions showed the togetherness and kinship of a company of actors as they begin their day together. 


The next session, the lunchtime rehearsal, began at midday and covered the most detail about the building up towards the actual performance. These sessions offered the most insight in to process of a company building a play, from the opening rehearsal session being a run through of Acts 1 to 4 with the actors scripts in hand leading through to the final run through. These sessions varied from running through scenes and speeches to fight work, blocking scenes or the actors having discussions about the text. As a passionate theatre lover myself these insights that we never see normally were fascinating, to see the process the company goes through to build up the play piece by piece leading up to that opening performance, with work that often get's changed or developed as they further their work with the play. So interesting to watch.


The final of the 3 sessions, green room chats, wrapped up the day with open conversations about the day and how the creatives and the actors are feeling about the project and the process. This session also allowed for viewers to send in questions to be answered about the project. One of the more insightful sessions came on Monday 7th June when four of the actors opened up about the mental health of an actor and the challenges they go through especially after the challenge of being away from rehearsal room for so long and the challenge of the rehearsal room being open and filmed. 


Jamie Ballard as Talbot. Photo by Ellie Kurttz


The culmination of the project was the final live rehearsal run through of the play. This run through pretty much was the full staging of the play minus costumes and with minimal props. This tremendous performance showed off the work the company had built through and it was a thrilling production to watch. Whilst it was still only a final run through it felt as real as the full staged performance.


The company all delivered superb passionate performances with the titular role of King Henry VI played by Mark Quartley. Jamie Ballard delivered a tremendous reading of the text as Tablot. He is an outstanding actor to watch. Jamie Wilkes as Charles The Dauphin and Lily Nichol as Joan stood out with their commanding performances as the two leading French players in the action. Amanda Harris as delivers Shakespeare's text with such skill. The fight sequences were particularly impressive.


The production was enhanced by Paul Englishby's music, played by Nick Lee on guitars and Kevin Waterman on percussion, the beating drums and searing guitars added great texture to the war torn fractured world of the play. Movement director Polly Bennett has done a great job with staging in the space with social distancing still in place between the actors. The performance and the whole rehearsal project was well captured by the camera team under the direction of Rhodri Huw.


Amanda Harris (Centre) and Company. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.


The whole project has been an interesting and engaging window into the world of building up a play from the early stage or rehearsals through to the final performance. Following along the process has been both education and really captivating. Whilst this production may never actually play on stage to an audience the passionate work by all involved delivered a high quality telling of the play, maybe the freedom of not having an opening night to aim towards has allowed extra creative freedom. This version of Henry VI Part One has been unique and I hope that it's a project that the RSC continue through the other parts of the Henry VI trilogy of plays.


Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ a thrilling and insightful project opening the doors into rehearsals and the building blocks of a production.


The rehearsal room project is available on demand including the final run through until Friday 25th June 2021 with tickets available from www.rsc.org.uk

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