The RSC’s Richard II is two weeks into rehearsals and it is time for another production blog. The trailer gets completed by Dusthouse today and should be on view in cinemas and online at the end of the week. I will highlight that on the blog as soon as it is available to be shown. Dates and venues for cinema screenings in the USA and Sweden have now been announced (you can buy tickets here), with other countries to come very soon. And on Friday we released the second part of the production diary with Emma Hamilton, who plays the Queen in the production, reflecting on the first day of rehearsals. Above, is an image of Westminster Hall where the cast and crew went for a day out last Wednesday – and there are further reflections from the visit below.
Last Wednesday saw the Richard II cast at Westminster in the morning and back in the rehearsal room in the afternoon for the first full read-through. Much of the previous week had been spent going through each scene of the play line-by-line so that the meaning of each phrase was clear for everyone. I think director Greg Doran is comparatively unusual among his peers in the amount of time he devotes to this close textual reading. Nor does he get the actors up from the table and start blocking moves until this process is complete.
Greg also likes to arrange the occasional day trip for the cast and production team, and so last week some fifty of us assembled outside the Palace of Westminster for a security screening. The RSC had organised first for the group to visit Westminster Hall, a magnificent medieval building around which the Victorian Houses of Parliament were constructed. (Go here for a virtual tour and videos of the hall, and watch out for the third Production Diary next week which features this visit.)
The Hall was originally built between 1097 and 1099 by William Rufus, son of William the Conqueror. Significant extensions were commissioned in 1393 by Richard II, including the astonishing hammer-beam roof. Supporting the timbers of this are two rows of thirteen angels, each of which carries a shield emblazoned with the royal coat of arms. Richard’s personal badge or emblem of a white hart features in a row of stone carvings near the very top of the stone walls. As the Westminster Hall website explains, ‘The intensive use of the King’s emblems in a royal building was unprecedented, and must have been approved by him.’
All of which is the more poignant because the first Parliament that met here after Richard’s improvements was the one in 1399 that authorised his deposition. All of the cast were impressed and Greg was particularly taken by the space, saying afterwards that it had helped him clarify a problem that had been troubling him about the staging of the play’s opening.
After which the party went across the road for a guided tour of the Richard II-related parts of Westminster Abbey, including Richard’s tomb where he is buried alongside his first wife, Anne of Bohemia. And then it was on to the National Gallery to see the portrait of Richard II in the Wilton Diptych, the portable altarpiece made for Richard around 1395-99. Astonishingly, all of the angels in the right-hand panel carry Richard’s badge of the white hart, and the king himself on the left has a hart on a chain.