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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Boris Godunov Blogging Event

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of Boris Godunov is currently playing in rep as part of the 'A World Elsewhere' season along side two other plays, The Orphan of Zhao and The Life Of Galileo. The RSC ran their third social media call and this time Boris was the play to be featured. This time instead of running a scene for us to film/take pictures of, we were given tickets to see the matinee performance of the play and then attend a post show question and answer session.
Stephen Ventura (Shchelkarlov/Misail/Poet), Sadie Shimmin (Hostess), 
Philip Whitchurch (Varlaam/Prince Wisniowiecki) 
Photo By: Ellie Kurttz
The play is set in Russia in 1598, when, Prince Dmitry, the rightful heir to the Russian throne is dead and its left to Boris Godunov to reluctantly take the throne. After six years of securely ruling, rumours begin to surface that it was Boris that killed Dmitry to clear his way to the throne. These whispers reach the Chudov Monastery, where a young monk, Grigory, is yearning for life outside his cell. Realising that Prince Dmitry would have been the same age as him, he flees the monastery for Poland, where he intends to post as the 'reborn' Prince and convince the Polish people to help his overthrow Boris and become Tsar. In Poland, Grigory is using his considerable charm to gain loyalty and manpower. He has also caught the eye of the Polish princess, Maryna, who is quite taken with the idea of marrying a Tsar. When he finally proposes marriage he becomes compelled to reveal his true identity to her. She is furious, but eventually agrees to be his wife if he manages to overthrow Boris. Grigory gathers a troop of supporters and crosses over the Russian border to fight, after a first defeat, Grigory rallies the troops for a second, and back in Moscow, Boris Godunov's life, and claim to the throne, is hanging in the balance.

                                        video clip from Boris Godunov (c) RSC.

The play is superbly performed by the company and stars a fantastic cast led by Gethin Antony as Grigory and Lloyd Hutchinson as Boris Godunov. Other cast members include James Tucker as Shuisky, Joe Dixon as Afanasii Pushkin and Lucy Briggs Owen as Maryna.

This production of the play is a new adaptation of a play originally by Alexander Pushkin and was adapted by the late Adrian Mitchell and is directed by the former RSC Artist Director (2002-2012) Michael Boyd. The set for the production has been designed by Olivier Award winning Tom Piper, the lighting designed by Vince Herbert and music is by John Woolf. All of these contribute to a feel of Russia. Though the set maybe a little basic, the acting and use of the space makes up for it. The music definitely feels authentically Russian. All in all, the cast and the production team have produced a very enjoyable piece of theatre, that I'd recommend highly that everyone catches.
Lloyd Hutchinson (Boris Godunov)
 Photo By: Ellie Kurttz
After the show, all of us bloggers were invited back to the Ferguson Room at the RSC for a post show Q+A with three of the actors, Gethin Antony (Grigory), Lloyd Hutchinson (Boris) and James Tucker (Shuisky) and we were also joined by the productions assistant director, Emily Kempson.

Here are some of the questions and answers that were given.

Q - Could you please give us an introduction to the play.
A - (Emily) One of the things I found really interesting with this play its that it's got a really interesting production history, in fact this is the first time this uncensored version has been performed professionally in England. The play has continuously been repressed by various censorship regimes and throughout Russian history. The action begins in 1598 with the coronation of Boris which is also the time that Elizabeth The First was on the throne of England, so around the same time that Shakespeare was alive here is what was happening in Russia, that is why its part of the World Elsewhere season. The production was directed by Michael Boyd, and his last production while he was Artistic Director and I think it was a really apt play for him to finish on and certainly felt a good finale to his ten year tenure. It's a really good round up of the Russian work that Michael has done while he's been at the RSC. He trained as a director in Russia and has a really strong connections with Russia, and he also speaks Russian, which is something we all found really useful during rehearsals. Hearing his insight. So along with the connections this play has to Shakespeare's histories it felt an appealing last play for him to do. The rehearsal period was a much longer one than I've ever been involved with, so that was a very brilliant thing for me. It felt for me a very open and creative process in that Michael isn't one of those directors that walks into the rehearsals with a plan of this is how the production will be. It's very much about getting in the rehearsal room and putting ideas together. In the beginning we thought of what the play might say about Russia today, and the Pussy Riot thing was much more recent when we started, and that was on the news and we also talked about what this play might say about Russian politics throughout history and even still today. We also had a brilliant talk by writer Martin Sixsmith where we talked about how Russia constantly finds itself within the grip of an automatic power.

Q - You said it was a long rehearsal period, how long was it?
A - (Gethin) The two shows rehearsed side by side, this and The Orphan Of Zhao and I think it was around 11 weeks, so on each play around 6-ish weeks.

Q - So you might be rehearsing one play in the morning and another in the afternoon?
A - (Gethin) I mean some of the actors would be bouncing between China and Russia, and get some severe jet lack. There were actors that would get one call to be here then another to be elsewhere. What was interesting for me, its the first time I've worked with the RSC and the first time I've worked in anyway like this to not only have six weeks within that 12 week rehearsal time, you also get a lot of thinking time. For a British actor it was a real privilege to have that amount of time for the material to seep in.
Graham Turner (General Basmanov/Father Czernikowski)
Photo by Ellie Kurttz 
Q - Over that time were you developing as an ensemble? It's not a director saying this is what you'll do, it comes together as an ensemble?
A - (Lloyd) Yes, a lot of its the more the ensemble play together the tighter it becomes.
A - (Gethin) It's something that Michael really encouraged is that collaboration, a genuine collaboration, where anyone in the room can talk about anything, any department, and that create works like the coat fight. Things like that where Tom Piper (designer) brings coats into the rehearsal room and the actors contribute by finding how to use them as well and that hopefully that creates good work.

Q - I was going to ask about the concept of the battles, I though it was absolutely incredible, was it developed in the rehearsal room, rather than anyone having a set plan?
A - (Emily) Absolutely, Michael hates planning. There's no real planing.
A - (Lloyd) I mean there was a bunch of coats in the rehearsal room for us all to stick on and they were just picked up and used and then we thought how would you fight with a coat.

Q - In the original Russian script, did it break into the rhyming couplets that are in the production?
A - (Gethin) Adrian Mitchell honoured the form throughout
A - (Lloyd) It was a real shame that he wasn't in the rehearsal room, as he sadly died around 4 years ago. It would have been great to have him in the room because you've got Pushkin and him, two very different writers that came from the same block of wood, it would have been great to have him there.
Lloyd Hutchinson (Boris Godunov)
Photo by Ellie Kurttz 
Q - There's no interval in the production. Was that decision made early on and how did you feel about it?
A - (Lloyd) I personally love it, I'm a great fan of watching plays straight through. Sometime I think an interval can slow it down, but in some plays you do need that break. I remember when Michael said it I was thrilled because the first acts only around 40 minutes long.
A - (Emily) The decision was made later in the process. It's a bit of negotiation with other departments as having no interval has implications for them too. It was a really good discipline because we were told that we had to make the production 2 hours or under which I think serves it well.
A - (Lloyd) I was really enthusiastic about offering cuts early on, which I believe is vital, and it's important that you make the right cuts.
A - (James) Michael's a director who likes scenes to overlap, he hates scene changes.

Q - This was my first time in the Swan, I was really intrigued with the way you were interacting with the audience. Is that something you've done specifically for this production?
A - (Lloyd) With The Orphan Of Zhao that is quite a contained show, it's very focused, but with Boris there's always that notion that you the audience is observing us all the time. You're always there to be played with, to and involved. This was something that came out early on in rehearsing.
A - (James) Michael does that, he wants to audience to part of the action.
A - (Gethin) Essentially the writing leads you there.
Q - I think it's partly the theatre.
A - (James) You're in one room, you're having a conversation with the audience yourself as the character. I love it when a single actor is upon the stage, and they'll stand in a spot where they can take in more or less the whole audience and they can talk to them.

Q - I thought the structure of the play was quite unusual because its monologue, then a little bit of duologue and other wise its story telling. Was that something you felt playing it?
A - (Lloyd) Pushkin was such a big fan of Shakespeare, he wants to the monologue, there's bits of Macbeth in it, the comedy tavern is something similar to Henry IV part 2. It's a real lover letter to Shakespeare. You just have to honour what the writer has written, there's nothing else you can do.

Q - Was the music in the original play?
A - (Emily) John Woolf has done all the music, there is existing chants but John did all the rest. There is lyrics to the song in the tavern scene is in the original play.

Q - Does working in rep change the mind frame of an actor?
A - (James) It certainly changes your energy levels depending on what sort of day you've had. I guess tiredness can sometimes be a good thing.
A - (Lloyd) It brings out different qualities, it allows you to play with different aspects of your own apparatus.

Gethin Anthony (Grigory Otrepiev)
Photo by Ellie Kurttz  
Boris Godunov runs at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon until March 30th 2013 for more information visit the RSC Website (click here)

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