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Rehearsal Report: first time's a charm

I haven’t yet reported on our first rehearsal, which was on Thursday last. This was our first proper rehearsal, I should say; the read-through doesn’t count.

The evening began with a rehearsal with Richard alone, which is as it should be, and then I joined them all for some general discussion about the relationship between Richard and Buckingham and the way that plays out in our production. We have agreed that Buckingham is not a punk, or at least not at heart; he follows Richard out of opportunism, and indeed does not so much think of himself as following Richard as being equal partners with him, and perhaps even as Richard’s puppetmaster. But then (and I should discuss this with Maria directly) one of the funny things about Buckingham is that his high opinion of himself is very much at odds with his deserts. He genuinely believes that he played a crucial role in Richard’s ascent; it doesn’t cross his mind that nobody actually believes his play-acting. They are bullshitting him as much as he is bullshitting them; they acclaim Richard because he would have them killed if they don’t, rather than out of faith in his Buckingham-described virtues.

Which is not to say that Buckingham is not important to the politics of the play. He is. It’s the fact of Buckingham’s active support of Richard’s claim that is important, not the actions themselves. If Buckingham is making an idiot of himself in Richard’s cause, rather than protecting the Young Prince, it’s clear which side is going to win. From the Lord Mayor’s point of view, or Oxford’s or Blunt’s for that matter, Buckingham’s support for Richard makes it clear that the Prince will never reign; it is time to find somebody else. In that sense, the moment when Buckingham and Richard ally themselves in II,ii is pivotal, and neither Catesby’s bungling nor Buckingham’s clowning are enough to shift the balance in the other direction.

Well. All that’s not actually a rehearsal report, just my thinking about it, mostly since that evening. At the rehearsal itself, as I said, we talked in general terms and then blocked out III,v and III,vii. Or mostly blocked them out; we still are lacking a Lord Mayor, so things will no doubt change when we have a real actor rather than an Invisible Man and the Stage Manager’s voice.

III,v is the scene of Hasting’s Head, a tricky scene to manage, particularly in an intimate theater. We will be following the time-honored tradition of keeping the head in a sack. I remember they brought Sir Ian the head in a metal pail, but I’m pretty sure he brought it out for us all to see. But that was a proscenium, and I was in the balcony. Although I had little opera glasses, as I recall. Anyway, there will be laughs, particularly when the Lord Mayor is left holding the proverbial; the trick I think will be to keep just on the straight side of the clowning line. We are laughing at the Lord Mayor ourselves, so the audience should laugh too, but then (ideally) feel just a bit guilty about it.

III,vii is the balcony scene, which will not of course involve a balcony in any way. This is where Buckingham pretends to implore Richard to take the throne on behalf of the people, and Richard pretends to be reluctant. It’s a goofy scene, frankly; by that time we know (or ought to) that Richard isn’t going to leave anybody any choice. It doesn’t matter whether the Lord Mayor consents, because we can find another Lord Mayor. It doesn’t even matter whether the Lord Mayor believes that Richard is piously reluctant, just that he is willing to say that he believes it. Nobody will believe the Lord Mayor, but that doesn’t matter either. It’s not unlike a coronation—it’s not going to convince anybody who thinks the monarch is illegitimate, but you have to go through with it anyway.

On the other hand, it is important, I think, for the audience to see that Richard and Buckingham do work well together. They generate a sort of rhythm together, feeding each other lines and relying on each other to carry through with them. It’s not a perfect partnership—I should go into detail at some point on the minor specific instances where they cross each other—but the audience should both (a) enjoy watching them work together and (2) imagine or almost believe that there is something genuine behind it.

Of course the audience should imagine or almost believe that Richard is in love with Anne. And that Richard is on Clarence’s side. And that Richard wants to protect the Young Prince. And that Richard is determined to prove a villain only because he cannot prove a lover. The audience should keep falling into the trap of trusting Richard, even trusting him to be untrustworthy, and then realizing they’ve been played again.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,