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Monday, 9 February 2015

The RSC Key interviewed Alexander Lass, the Assistant Director of the five star production Oppenheimer, with some questions asked by our RSC Key members. Oppenheimer is playing in the Swan Theatre until 7 March with BP £5 tickets still available. 

What do you enjoy most about being an Assistant Director?Collaborating with the Director I’m assisting, supporting and getting to know talented actors, fulfilling specific responsibilities such as rehearsing the younger actors in an ensemble  - those are some of the potential highlights of the role. On this production, I particularly enjoyed running lines with leading actor John Heffernan who plays Oppenheimer. One afternoon in the RSC's Clapham rehearsal rooms, we went through the entire play, with John as Oppie and me reading all the other parts: quite a marathon. I have also had a whale of a time casting and rehearsing the understudies, a key part of being and Assistant Director here at the RSC. We're looking forward to presenting our work to an audience at the upcoming public understudy run.

What’s the most important role as an Assistant Director in a production?
An Assistant Director needs to adapt to the particular requirements of each production on which he or she works. So the role will vary depending on the Director and the demands of the show. It can involve helping with casting, taking parallel rehearsals, supporting individual actors, being a sounding-board for ideas in and out of the rehearsal room, communicating regularly with other creative and technical departments, attending production meetings, watching performances and feeding back to the director. Assistant Directors often need to tone down their more creative impulses in favour of the logistical, administrative, and strategic. Crucially, an Assistant Director should be a positive presence at all times, displaying a willingness to participate while remaining patient and good-humoured at all times. They should be everywhere and nowhere; prepared for anything but relatively invisible. The ability to make a good brew should not be underestimated, either.

How does one apply for Assistant Director Jobs? Where do you look to find them?
The best place is the Young Vic directors’ network. It is free to join, and they send out regular emails about assisting opportunities, at the Young Vic itself, and at theatres all over the country. It is also good practice to regularly visit the websites of theatres where you might like to assist: Assistant Director Vacancies are often posted on the individual theatre's website, but not widely disseminated elsewhere. Writing speculative letters to theatres and directors is not particularly productive in my experience. That said it was fun to get an email from Sir Richard Eyre a few months ago, even if it was to politely decline my offer to assist him on an upcoming project.

How did you start getting into directing what was the process to get to where you are today?
I've loved theatre since I was a kid, starting off as an actor at school and university, and with the National Youth Theatre in the holidays. I tried out directing at school and really enjoyed it - my production of Dealer’s Choice won a prize adjudicated by Phyllida Lloyd. Then at university I acted in a bunch of plays and began to realise I loved discovering plays through rehearsal was what excited me the most about making theatre. I directed two plays - The Relapse and Donkey’s Years - and wanted to keep going so I applied to drama school. I was offered a place at LAMDA, and had an inspiring year on the directing course under the tutelage of Stephen Jameson. Towards the end of the course, we came up to the RSC here in Stratford for a weekend of workshops on rhetoric, text, voice, movement, and music. We were also invited to keep the company informed about our work if we were interest in being considered for assistant director opportunities in the future. After LAMDA, I was a trainee director at the Orange Tree Theatre in Sam Walter’s penultimate year. I learned about the joys of making theatre in-the-round by assisting a variety of directors, and I got involved in all departments of the building including education, literary, and youth theatre. The year culminated in a festival of new plays - unrivalled landscape - which I co-directed and developed with the Orange Tree’s Writers Group. Next, I was associate director on Threeway and Holes for the invisible dot ltd at the Edinburgh Fringe. I spent the first part of last year in New York City (my mother is American and I am a UK/US dual national) assisting Davis McCallum on London Wall for the Mint Theater, a production which was nominated for a Drama Desk and a Lucile Lortel award. It was also broadcast on American television as the inaugural “theatre close-up” programme for PBS. I returned from New York to be Associate Director on the London revival of Holes at the Arcola Theatre tent, and during the run I commissioned, developed, cast and directed Scenes on the Sand, six new one act plays presented at three late night performances on the Holes set. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to interview for the upcoming round of Assistant Director positions at the RSC, and after meeting with Angus Jackson, was asked to be his assistant on Oppenheimer.

Friday, 30 January 2015

One of our Oxford University Student Ambassadors, Chloe Cheung, has written a a review on our current five star, Swan Theatre production of Oppenheimer
BP £5 tickets are available for all performances. Oxford University students can get £17 coach trip tickets on the 18 February.

‘Destroyer of worlds’: Oppenheimer at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
 by Chloe Cheung

Readers are advised that this review makes details of the plot explicit. 

The threat of nuclear war between the Cold War superpowers plunged the latter half of the Twentieth Century into some of its darkest days.  Tom Morton-Smith’s gripping new play Oppenheimer now brings the man behind the atomic bomb to the stage. 

Immediately, we are plunged into the zeitgeist: at a Communist fundraiser party, concerned guests decry the spread of fascism in Europe.  We hear how German chemists have discovered the processes of atomic fission, with possibly devastating consequences for the Allies.

At Einstein’s recommendation, the US government decides to take action. J Robert Oppenheimer is picked to lead the top-secret weapons development programme: Project Manhattan is born.  

The production is filled with striking moments; credit is due to director Angus Jackson.  Oppenheimer succinctly explains the basics of the theoretical physics involved through clear, lecture-style explanations scrawled on blackboards, so even non-scientists will be able to follow the physics that underpins the play. Most memorably, cleverly utilised projections onto the stage floor demonstrate how added neutrons destabilise uranium to the point of explosion. 

Against the backdrop of rising global political turmoil, Oppenheimer is in the ascendant, rising rapidly to the top ranks of the military.  John Heffernan’s performance as J Robert Oppenheimer is the most compelling, as befits the most complex character in the play. Heffernan encapsulates the contradictions within Oppenheimer’s self: his arrogance, optimism, ambition, weakness and, ultimately, his self-loathing at what he has created. 

In the play, Oppenheimer boldly states that the existence of nuclear weapons would eradicate all future wars.  With hindsight, though, the audience is all too aware of the horrific consequences of nuclear war.

Oppenheimer raises some of the most fundamental questions in our society today about science: the limits of ethics, the justification (if any) for use of nuclear weapons in wartime, how we exploit scientific advances for destructive and dangerous purposes.  The nuclear question is still brutally relevant in our post-Cold War world.  

Oppenheimer is now playing in the Swan Theatre until 7 March. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

Our Marketing Intern, Hannah Goodwin, went along to a production of Love’s Labour’s Won at the RSC and discovered, with her BP £5 ticket, the unbelievable value that being a RSC Key member can bring!

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of Love’s Labour’s Won (Or Much Ado About Nothing) is full of fun and festivities with the heart-warming notion that love can often show itself in the most unlikely of couples. Its post-World War One backdrop provides the perfect setting for a story of gender battles, sibling rivalry and love conquering all.

Set in Autumn 1918, with the memories of war slowly fading into the past, soldiers Benedick and Claudio return from the trenches to find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and introduced to her cousin, Hero. As they settle into their post-war lives, Love’s Labour’s Won follows the highs and lows of a whirlwind romance for Claudio and Hero, with their passion being encouraged by most and yet plotted for downfall by others.

Despite Claudio and Hero’s relationship being the focal point of suspense and tension in the play, their engagement is upstaged by the fiery and quick-witted exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice. Their constant challenges of wit and smart remarks not only set up for some hilarious comedy but provides a will they/won’t they situation that completely captivates the audience. With them both confirming their planned lives of solitude and bachelorhood, it only takes a little interference from their friends before battles of wit meet with a ceasefire of love.

Although both relationships are met with challenges, love ultimately wins overall with peace and joy falling over this post-war household just in time for Christmas festivities to commence!

Christopher Luscombe’s production of Love's Labour's Won (Or Much Ado About Nothing) makes a welcome break from the winter chill with a warmth that flows from the stage and into the hearts of its audiences. It is playing in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at the RSC Stratford until 14 March 2015. With BP £5 tickets available for RSC Key Members, there are really no excuses to miss such a fantastic show!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

RSC Key member, Beth Sharrock, has written a review on Love's Labour's Lost.  BP £5 tickets are available for this comic verve. 
Love's Labour's Lost is showing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until the 14th of March. 

The RSC has mastered in Love’s Labour’s Lost a play which unapologetically mocks people in love. To their faces. Were Shakespeare alive today, his problematic, comedic masterpiece may be encapsulated in an ironic ‘like’ for one of those detestably cringeworthy “Me and My Girl #theone #loveher” updates.

On the page, Shakespeare’s lesser performed comedy reads like the Bard’s sonneteering run-through. No less than five lovers in the plays pen odes to their mistresses, which makes the play read more like an anthology than a piece of drama. And indeed, the lover’s action shows itself as much on paper as it does between people.

The power of the penned verse in this play is, like forerunner to Malvolio’s blundering interpretation skills, the production’s biggest gag. Picture this; four young academic Edwardian gentlemen reclining in their library walled parlour, vowing to sign their lives and desires in favour of strict study. Freedom of food, sleep, and most importantly – women – are all forsworn by the gallants for three years. 

Now picture these litigiously bound men in their dressing gowns, weeping and pining and waxing positively rhetorical for four beautiful strangers who have taken their fortified court, and even more impregnable vows, by storm. What’s more? In what feels like an unspoken jeer of “Berowne and Rosaline sitting-in-a-tree”, their odes of painful love are all overheard by each other. What’s even more? The scene stealing comedy is provided by Luscombe in the form of a teddy bear.
that's right, a teddy bear. 

"For your fair sakes have we neglected time,
Play'd foul play with our oaths: your beauty, ladies,
Hath much deform'd us"
Berowne, V.ii

The sonnet scene is one which threatens to be a laborious wade through the mud of the inaccessible, superfluous, verbose, grandiloquent sophistry (see where I’m going with this?) that has built itself into a harmful skeleton in the closet of ‘Shakespearephobia’. This production side steps this landmine as smoothly as an Edwardian slick comb ‘do. Our love sick brotherhood have just as great a laugh at each other’s attempts at poetry as we do, with their awkward half rhymes and (more than slightly) tearful deliveries.

The relationship between the forsworn men is beautifully crafted by Sam Alexander (King of Navarre), William Belchambers (Longaville), Edward Bennett (Berowne) and Tunji Kasim (Dumaine). The group so naturally navigate a convincing, if not naive, devotion to learning astray into the murkier waters of unrequited love; which is so artfully acted that one truly believes the feeling is a new, and threatening, experience. Bennett courts Berowne’s monologues with all the joyful angst of a reluctant lover. Perhaps even more skilful is the group’s tackling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest unwritten scenes – an all-singing, all-dancing, all-bearded Muscovite serenade. 

"We are wise girls to mock our lovers so."
Princess, V.iii.

The play’s female temptations are played with a measure of flirtation, modesty and downright girlish giggles by Frances McNee (Maria), Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Katharine), Michelle Terry (Rosaline) and Leah Whitaker (the confident Princess of France). The Princess and her women are a perfectly choreographed, commanding hand to mould the putty mess of unrequited lovers. Measured touches of a more paternal relationship are embraced beautifully by the baby-faced Peter McGovern (Moth) and John Hodgkinson (Don Armado). 

These stunning performances are not without an original score by Nigel Hess so powerful and emotive it seems to inhabit the stage like an extra character. A funny, sad, reflective one. Think Shakespeare’s perfect wise fool expressed in strains of violin.

"Our wooing doth not end like an old play"
Berowne, V.ii
The beauty of this play is in its promises. Or rather, it’s broken ones. The stunning Edwardian interiors and idyllic rural exteriors promise us blossoming romance. The strength and conviction with which our lovers spar, as only Shakespearean ones can, with wits and disguise and each other’s pride promises an amorous resolution. The farcically bombastic play-within-a-play promises a parade of heroes who will be uninterruptedly hilarious. What we see in the play’s concluding scenes is our own hopeful optimism interrupted with a French messenger ringing the death of a beloved father, who also happens to be the King of France, with this news the play’s vows begin to tragically unravel. Gregory Doran and Christopher Luscombe’s choice to stage this scene as a precedent to the Great War is an insightful and painful light thrown upon some of our own broken promises to each other as nations and as people. Glimmering performances, artfully playful direction by Luscombe and an aesthetic itself to fall head over heels for promise a display of how Shakespeare’s comedy should be executed. 
On this, it delivers. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Behind the Scenes Tour

Attention all RSC Key members! A new discount is now available, with the ever popular Behind the Scenes Tour of our unique theatres reduced to £3.50 exclusively for Key members! This is a chance to go behind the curtain and discover the intricacies of backstage goings-on, with all the knowledge of our experienced Tour Guides at your disposal. We recently sent Kathryn, one of our Marketing Interns, round the theatres in order to give you an insider’s experience of a typical tour.

A trip behind the scenes is undoubtedly a treat for any theatre-lover, but this one hour tour of both the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan Theatre is definitely worth experiencing. Following the transformation of the theatres in 2010, the new Front of House (where the tour begins) now boasts some rather special features that could easily be missed without the tour, such as the old stage flooring that ensures you quite literally tread the same boards as many famous actors and actresses.

The first section of the tour takes you up to the third floor, where floor to ceiling windows provide a fabulous view over Stratford-upon-Avon and the RSC estate. From this vantage point it is possible to appreciate the eclectic architectural style of theatres, from the gothic Swan Theatre to the newer and more Art Deco RST. A further fascinating factor of this area includes the strategically placed theatre seats high up on the wall of the rooftop restaurant, giving you an idea of the height of the very back row of the upper circle before the theatre’s transformation.

Moving into the backstage area of the RST, the tour allows you to become privy to aspects such as the speaker layout of the entire theatre and even the RST control room. The control room provides a particularly great insight into the way a theatre like ours works. Home to the automation and lighting controls, as well as the immensely important deputy stage manager’s desk, this room overlooks the 1,040 seats of the RST auditorium – the best view in the house, unless you have a fear of heights!

The maze of backstage corridors connects the two theatres together, so the tour takes you directly from the RST into the Swan. It is in these areas that you get to see the outstations used by actors during performances – these are used both by the actors to confirm they are in position and by the deputy stage manager to cue their entrances. It is often these elements that get forgotten when you are swept up in watching a performance, but of course without these the show would quite simply not go on.

If you’re lucky, and there are no rehearsals or events taking place, you may also get to go into the Swan auditorium. For fans of the theatre’s history, this point of the tour is a great opportunity to vocalise any and all questions about the Swan’s background (such as the story of how it was funded, or its use as a wartime canteen).

Returning to the labyrinth of corridors and rooms that make up the backstage areas, the tour takes you past the dressing rooms that serve both theatres, giving you a further glimpse into the actors’ surroundings. It must be said, with warm floors and balconies overlooking the river, these rooms banish all preconceptions of cold and draughty changing rooms stuck unceremoniously in a basement area.

Throughout the tour there are always plenty of opportunities to ask questions about the current and upcoming productions, and it is guaranteed that no two tours will be the same. Without access to this kind of tour, visitors to the RSC would definitely miss out on an all-round experience of the theatres, and one that is both fascinating and educational. I urge you to take this opportunity whilst you can!

Please note: as the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon has two working theatres, tour destinations may vary. For more information about our tours please click here.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Hello RSC Key members! This newest blog post – a synopsis of Thomas Dekker’s city comedy The Shoemaker’s Holiday – is written by Kathryn Piekarski, one of our current Marketing Interns. The Shoemaker’s Holiday will show in the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 11 December 2014 to 7 March 2015.

Rowland Lacy (an aristocrat) and Rose Oateley (daughter of the Mayor of London) are young, in love, and desperate to marry, but social class and disapproving relatives stand in the way of their plans for the future. In an attempt to separate the young lovers, Lacy is ordered to serve in the war in France whilst Rose’s father contrives to match her with a more ‘suitable’ gentleman, Master Hammon. However they are not the only couple fated to be torn apart – shoemaker Ralph is also to be dispatched to the war, much to the despair of his loving wife Jane. Although Ralph dutifully sets off across the sea, leaving a parting gift of new shoes for Jane, Lacy decides to take some drastic steps in order to remain behind in London.

Simon Eyre, known as the mad shoemaker of Tower Street, and his wife Margery are on their way from rags to riches when Lacy – now disguised as Dutch cobbler Hans – joins his company of shoemakers. Lacy uses his new position, along with the help of his fellow journeymen and Rose’s maid Sybil, to visit Rose and continue with their marriage plans. Eyre’s journey of good fortune sees him first made Sheriff and then the new Mayor of London, and festivities are arranged to commemorate Eyre’s social ascension.

Meanwhile, Master Hammon – following a rejection by Rose – courts Jane and misinforms her of Ralph’s death in the war in order to persuade her to marry him instead. Ralph arrives home injured but alive, and is dismayed to be unable to find Jane waiting for him on his return. However, as chance would have it, Ralph is commissioned to make a pair of wedding shoes for Hammon’s new bride, to be modelled on the very pair he gave to Jane on his departure for the war. Along with the brotherhood of shoemakers Ralph invades the wedding in order to reclaim his wife from Hammon, who attempts to turn the ceremony into a twisted commercial exchange for Jane’s person.

Lacy’s disguise is eventually discerned by his uncle the Earl of Lincoln and Rose’s father, but following some lucky misdirection they are manoeuvred to invade Hammon’s wedding by mistake, whilst Lacy and Rose escape to marry with the support of the Eyres. The King attends the shoemakers’ celebrations and simultaneously pardons Lacy for abandoning his war duties and blesses the young couple’s marriage. In response to further protests from Lincoln and Oateley, the King knights Lacy and so renders Rose a Lady, finally silencing the arguments against her lower social standing. The celebratory banquet concludes the events, the King attending alongside all the shoemakers of London. 

Monday, 29 September 2014

RSC Key member, Grace Murray, reviews Webster's Shocking Revenge Tragedy, The White Devil.

The White Devil
Directed by Maria Aberg

Swan Theatre
Until 29th November

Maria Aberg’s lurid and often uncomfortable production of Webster’s revenge tragedy could not have come at a better time. The corrupt patriarchy which dominates the Italian court of The White Devil may at first seem distant from our modern society, but the ongoing Everyday Sexism and Yes All Women campaigns, among others, have proven that we still have a long way to go before feminism becomes obsolete. Webster’s tale of the bloody consequences of the affair between Vittoria (Kirsty Bushell) and Duke Bracciano (David Sturzaker) exposes the hypocrisy and rigid genderism which still influence our perspective on sexuality today.
The production opens with Vittoria stripped to her underwear on a bare stage, dressing in front of a suddenly uneasy audience. It’s impossible to escape the casual objectification in this warped version of Rome, both for Bushell’s magnetic Vittoria, defiant but frustrated by her lack of agency, and for the audience itself, bombarded by the sexual imagery on the vast overhead screen which borrows from the modern music video. Aberg also turns Vittoria’s scheming brother Flamineo into her sister, played by Laura Elphinstone as a calculating politician who adopts the misogyny of her male superiors. Flamineo’s sexist tirades seem all the more unthinkable when delivered by a woman.

Indeed, nothing is sacred in Aberg’s vision. The house of convertites, a place of seclusion for sinful women, instead serves as the menacing backdrop of many a court scene as its drugged inmates shuffle around a transparent cell. Adultery is committed in the midst of throbbing techno music, and at one point a dead body is dragged across the stage. Webster’s play exposed the carnal desires at the heart of the 17th century nobility, but Aberg’s production forces its audience to accept that sex and violence still leave us enraptured as well as enraged. It’s a deeply unsettling feeling: there’s nowhere to hide.

When Erica Whyman announced the RSC’s plans to stage The White Devil, she noted that although the problems of gender inequality aren’t easy to solve on the stage or in the world, “we are intent on asking some questions about both”. The White Devil asks us many, but most of all I was left wondering, “What has changed?” And the answer is, “Not enough.”

BP £5 tickets are still available for The White Devil