Snapshot Insight: inside Hamlet rehearsals

Snapshot Insight: inside Hamlet rehearsals

Hamlet opens in a little over a week and rehearsals are in full swing. Last week Press and Digital officer Amy Hailwood snuck into rehearsals to have a look at how they were getting on.

Hamlet opens in a little over two weeks and rehearsals are in full swing. On Monday Press and Digital officer Amy Hailwood snuck into rehearsals to have a look at how they were getting on.

“This morning David is working on the opening scene of the play, which for those unfamiliar with Hamlet, involves the changing of the watch among soldiers guarding the royal palace. In the midst of this routine palace activity, another element is at play.

The previous night a wholly unexpected event took place: the ghost of the recently dead King Hamlet appeared to two of the soldiers – Barnardo and Marcella, and they have now brought along Horatio, a more senior and educated soldier to see if it happens again, and to help discern if it really is the ghost of the dead king. In this particular production, Marcella, ordinarily a male role, is a woman (played by Leah walker) and in total four female actors will be playing a variety of roles that are normally played by men.

Having directed Shakespeare in various roles during his career, David knows, and quite evidently loves Shakespeare. As the rehearsal unfolds he seeks to transmit this enthusiasm to the actors through a variety of approaches.

As rehearsals begin, David’s body language is alert, engaged and communicates great enthusiasm – he doesn’t sit down but is constantly on the move. He also keeps the rehearsal moving at a good pace, keeping actors alive and on their toes and importantly preventing them from getting stuck in their heads.

David is a stickler for respecting the rhythm and metre of the language and has Assistant Director Jolley Gosnold on hand to prompt actors (who are still learning lines) as soon as they miss a beat. There is no judgement in the atmosphere, as David says, “The whole point of this is to have a nice time!” so the speed of Jolley’s interventions is not to make actors feel inadequate but to start creating an overall feel for them of the rhythm and pace of the production David wishes to make.

Accuracy is everything and David pulls no punches in reminding actors of the essential importance of clear articulation, particularly of consonants, to ensure the language is clearly heard and understood. As David says, “If you do justice to Shakespeare it should be accessible to everyone because his plays are gripping, compelling and relatable stories about common themes, for example Hamlet is so much about family dynamics.” Doing justice to Shakespeare absolutely includes ensuring that the sometimes complex language is heard and can be understood.

It’s not just about language though. Finding ways to support the actors connecting with their characters and unlocking the drama of each scene is a huge part of the director’s job and David steers the company through a variety of exercises: using his ‘his director-in-role' technique he rapidly fires questions at the actors while adopting the role of another character himself, exploring actors’ own views on the topic or theme at hand, and freeing their imaginations by enabling them to improvise bits of back story as they imagine it might have happened.

All this exploration is expertly steered towards a final run of the same scene again from the beginning. It’s exciting to see how the company’s work pays off and lifts the scene to a whole new level. It’s compelling to watch and we aren’t even half way though rehearsals yet. Everything points towards a fast-paced, exciting Hamlet that importantly, makes sense to anyone.”