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David Rankine - The Fair Maid Of The West Interview

Isobel McArthur has given Thomas Heywood’s Elizabethan romp The Fair Maid Of The West a fantastic redefining in a production running at the Royal Shakespeare Company. 

In our recent 5 star review we described the show as “one of the funniest shows of the year”. This celebratory, music-filled, ensemble comedy about the life-saving powers of community, compromise and compassion.

David Rankine, Amber James and Richard Katz. Photo by Ali Wright.

With the run at the Swan Theatre concluding on January 14th we caught up with cast member David Rankine who plays the King of Spain and is part of the ensemble of the production.

Can you please begin by tell me a little bit about your roles within The Fair Maid Of The West and how they fit into the story?
The main roles I play in the show are Tommy, 'Drunk', and King Philip III of Spain. Tommy is a homeless busker whose guitar has no strings. He begins as something of an outsider until the protagonist, Liz, shows him kindness. 'Drunk' is an alcoholic music-lover from Scotland who is similarly down on his luck. Again, Liz manages to see the good and the merit in him as a character. King Philip III of Spain is a newly crowned and slightly-out-of-his-depth monarch, who just wants a bit of advice. I also play several pop-up characters whose names contain spoilers, but broadly-speaking they are ridiculous visitors to Liz's pub.

I know you’ve worked with Isobel McArthur (writer and director) before but what first attracted you to want to be a part of the production?
It will probably come as no surprise that as an actor it has always been a dream of mine to work with the RSC. The opportunity to perform at The Swan coupled with the chance to work with Isobel again was too good a combo to turn down!

How is it working with Isobel McArthur? 
I absolutely love working with Isobel McArthur. I have worked with her as an actor and as a writer-director and they have been some of my favourite jobs. Her scripts are hilarious, and always seem to combine well with my sense of humour. She also manages to build in so much heart and humanity alongside the ludicrous, making her scripts a joy to be part of. More than that, though, Isobel creates a relaxed, trusting, and joyful rehearsal room where actors feel supported and free to fail. In my opinion this is the most important job of a director, and it's something that's often missed.

The scene is set before the performance begins, how fun is it for you to get to interact with the audience as they enter?
I really enjoy our pre-show interaction because it seems to relax the audience and cast alike. It is a rare treat to be able to have an in-character chat to our lovely audiences before the show begins onstage. It sets up a shared space where the audience feel like they are as much a part of the action as we are and also breaks down any preconceptions people may have about coming to see a Jacobean play nice and early on. It's hard to find Jacobean storytelling intimidating when there's a sign that says: "Soup Of The Day: Booze".

At what part of the process do you really find the characters? Is that in reading the script, in rehearsals or when you begin performances?
It really depends on the role, but I tend to get a pretty good sense of character from Isobel's writing and then this develops over the course of rehearsals. We constantly play and try things differently throughout rehearsals so by the time we get to performances the characters are ready to go. 

The cast of The Fair Maid Of The West

You excellently multi-role your characters but what’s the hardest part of playing such a variety of roles?
In my opinion your first job when multi-rolling is to find as much clarity as possible. The story relies on there being no doubt in the audience's mind that the character you play in scene 2 is a different person to your character is scene 1. While costume helps with this it's crucial that we don't rely on it and that we make big bold vocal and physical choices for each character. The hard part is achieving this whilst holding on to the emotional truth of the character. That sounds dead pretentious but I think it's true; I'm a fan of big, clear heightened characters who are still undeniably human and still have all the vulnerability and relatability of a naturalistic character. The balance can be hard but I hope I sometimes achieve it. Isobel's writing style tends to be quite theatrically elevated, which gives you the chance to push those characters quite far. If they become too much someone will tell you. I hope...

If all your characters all met together, how do you think it would go?
I think my characters would struggle to understand each other at first. Then after a while they'd become good friends who still struggle to understand each other quite a bit.

Do you have a favourite scene within the play?
My favourite scene to perform is the one between the Duke De Lerma and the King. It's very good fun but also (hopefully) has a lot of heart.

My favourite scene to watch is the whole sequence on the boat - I get to sit and watch from the 'Juliet Balcony' as I underscore the show every night. It's hilarious and beautiful.

What would be your go to post-show wind down drink?
Either Guinness or whisky

What keeps you inspired?
Other actors keep me inspired. The blessing and of this job is that you constantly meet new interesting and inspiring people, all of whom you learn from. The curse of this job is that you always have to say goodbye a few months later.

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing The Fair Maid Of The West?
I really hope that audiences come out with a big smile on their faces. I hope they feel a little bit warmer despite the winter cold and a little bit more joyful despite the state of the world. 

The Fair Maid Of The West runs in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until Sunday 14th January. Tickets are available from

Aruhan Galieva, Amber James and Tom Babbage. Photo by Ali Wright.

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