As rehearsals start tomorrow for Richard II, the David Tennant Treat 4 Today is an extract from David Tennant's account of playing Touchstone in As You Like It for The RSC in 1996.
A couple of days ago we posted about how David auditioned and got the part and this extract starts at his preparation for the role and the first day of rehearsals.
To start with I re-read the play. It struck me how episodic it all is, how many different stories are going on at the same time and yet how little actually happens. It seemed different to any other Shakespeare play I had read with a pace and charm and quirkiness which I imagined would be hard to get the measure of.
The next morning I bought myself a copy of the Arden study notes on As You Like It (I liked the appropriateness of the publisher) as well as two more editions of the play and I began the slow process of finding a way into this character. It's not a huge part, just seven scenes of which three or four are little more than sketches which Shakespeare seems to use to puncture the action now and again with a breath of silliness. Unlike Feste in Twelfth Night or even the fool in King Lear, he does have his own bit of plot line in his relationship with Audrey, but quite what the nature of that is is far from clear. Does he love and want to marry her or does he just want to get his leg over? He seems uncertain himself and changes his mind from scene to scene, even from line to line -but more of that later.
All too soon it was our first day of rehearsal and . . . the read-through. Always a terrifying experience when you speak your lines out loud in front of people for the first time, a read-through at the Royal Shakespeare Company is particularly scary, not only because you are at the home of 'world class classical theatre' (as all the brochures tell you) with all the history and influence of hundreds of great, definitive productions hanging in the air, but also because it's one of the few theatre companies in the country that can afford to employ the numbers of actors required to stage a full scale Shakespearian production, so the room is full of people! I sat in my place in the huge circle of chairs with palms sweating and heart racing. Everybody else in the room seemed to attack their parts with intelligence and ability. Niamh Cusack playing Rosalind was graceful and calm and the verse seemed to pour off her tongue; Rachel Joyce as Celia spoke the words like they were her own, not four hundred years old at all; Liam Cunningham gave Orlando a vigour and a believability (and I instantly understood why it shouldn't be my part). As my first cue approached I took a deep breath and hoped for the best. Feeling very small and hopeless I just gabbled Touchstone out as quickly as possible, fully expecting to be sacked at any moment and of course . . . nobody found any of it the least bit funny.