In the first of our new blog series following two young actors performing in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s summer season, we hear from Daniel Easton as he prepares for the move to Stratford…
“I almost die for food, and let me have it!” – Orlando, As You Like It.
It’s 10pm and I am shovelling food into my mouth like a cave-dwelling crazy person. Hunched over the plate with one arm round it defending my meal as if I’m in prison. I’ve just biked back from the understudy line run of As You Like It. I know I should just fall asleep, everything in my body is telling me that, but the sensible Danny (who looks a lot like me but maybe wears a bow tie) is saying: “you need some essential nutrients before the understudy line run of Hamlet which is tomorrow morning!” I sigh. He’s annoying, but he’s right. It’s gruelling being an RSC company member, but also so rewarding. It’s everything I had expected and wanted when I accepted their offer to be part of the summer season for 2013.
In As You Like It, Jaques says that a man’s life is made up of seven ages and if this were true of our journey together as a company, the first age would be Clapham. Around 10 weeks earlier (prior to my caveman eating antics) the 11-month journey (or quest as I feel inclined to call it) kicked off. A standard sleepless night was followed with me “the school boy, with his satchel and shiny morning face” nervously entering the rehearsal rooms in Clapham the following morning to meet the 22 people I’d be sharing the next 11 months of my quest (no?) with. We worked on Hamlet from 17 December until Christmas, slowly starting to get into the world that David Farr, the director, wanted to create. Hamlet’s tragedy would be unfurling in a fencing hall, filled with suspicion and rumour. It sounded awesome. Christmas came and went, with feasting that was less Neanderthal, and then we bumped into 2013 with a two week ‘workshop period’ for As You Like It.
In complete counterpoint to Hamlet we were down in the basement, basking in mood lighting, and allowed to play and create for a fortnight to allow Maria Aberg to experiment with ideas and accumulate possible ways to approach certain sections of the play. It was a fun fortnight: we danced, we improvised, we explored ideas of ritual and looked with movement at the two contrasting worlds of the court and Arden. But because it was such a playful and creative environment we were working without actually knowing that we were working. This was most true with our trip to the forest. Now, Ray Mears I am not, so when tasked with finding food (Oli Ryan and I happened upon some sorrell, get in!) and building shelter (wouldn’t last a day) the results were somewhat questionable… but the feeling of being out there amongst the wild and being allowed to run about and scream was really useful, and the most fun I’ve ever had at ‘work’.
Having never been part of a company working on multiple shows (apart from at drama school) before, the experience of rehearsing two plays simultaneously is like nothing else. To be witnessing a tortured young man’s outpourings as he grieves for his father in the morning and then to be following that (after some lunch mind, you know how sensible I am about food…) celebrating the mass nuptials of four couples deep in the forest can be quite discombobulating at first but after a while you acclimatise and get used to the juggling. You can walk up a flight of stairs in Clapham and go from being one character to someone else.
It’s been a frantic, tiring, hilarious and astounding 10 weeks here in sunny South London. But right now, I’m still hungry and we move to Stratford at the end of the week. So, until next time…
The RSC runs a £5 ticket scheme for 16 – 25 year olds. Find out more here.
Image: Keith Pattison