Thursday was my final full day in England, and in a clever move, I saved the absolute best part of the trip for last. I went to the opening night of Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, directed by Greg Doran and starring David Tennant.
I expected to be blown away by the performance. I didn’t expect to have a major, life-changing revelation as I watched the play.
If you’ve ever read any Shakespearean play, you know there’s very little stage direction given. Entrances and exits, and a few essential actions like, “They kiss.” That’s about it. This is what makes Shakespearean drama a living, breathing thing–it can be reinterpreted by each generation of actors and directors into something that fits the time.
However, the lack of direction also makes it a little harder to find the character. With a history play like Richard II you obviously have historical record to go by. Then it’s a matter of reading the text enough to understand what the character says, and what he doesn’t say, and who that makes him.
All that leads to the most important part: how do you show that? Shakespeare’s language is often strong enough to show character on its own, but finding the actions within the character that will make the audience believe you are him… that’s the key to it all, isn’t it?
I watched the play in rapt amazement, realizing this was what I was watching. The key moment for me came in Act 3, scene 2 when Richard learns his friends have been beheaded. The expression on David Tennant’s face was an absolute gut-punch, complete with that automatic physical recoil you experience when you hear horrible news.
Here’s the thing: Richard doesn’t speak for another three or four lines, and then he has one of the most powerful speeches in the play. However, it’s not until the end of that speech that he says anything directly relating to the loss of his friends. To fully grasp how much that mean to him, there had to be something physical showing his reaction.
And this is where we come to my revelation. As an author with a long history of fanfiction, I put the bulk of my energy into writing convincing characters. I’m always looking for ways to improve, and as I watched Richard II, I realized that seeing character development in action could add a new depth to my writing.
It’s no secret that I want to move to England. By now, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I Stratford-Upon-Avon is where I’d like to live. Until now, when people have asked, “Why England?” or “Why Stratford?” my answer has been, “Because I like it there,” and “It’s a pretty town and I like Shakespeare.”
All of that’s true, and they aren’t invalid reasons for wanting to relocate. But now I have a bigger, better, career related reason. Living in Stratford-Upon-Avon and watching plays regularly will make me a better writer.
I already have tickets for two more plays in April. Greg Doran is directing Henry IV pt 1 and pt 2, and I’ll be there. I’ve been looking for an excuse to return to Stratford for the annual birthday celebrations anyway; with the added incentive of seeing more character development on the stage, I really couldn’t resist.
One last picture for those of you who haven’t seen it yet…