INTERVIEW: David Tennant And Gregory Doran Talk Richard II On Front Row

David Tennant and Gregory Doran were interviewed by Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4’s arts show Front Row this evening about their preparations for the new Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II.

Mark Lawson mentioned that he had read that David turns up to rehearsals having learned all of his lines and one all of the work. In that case what else does he have left to do?

“I wish that were true,” responded David “I suppose the sooner you know the lines the better I think because it allows you to play with it which, particularly with classical texts, it’s about wrestling them into your own kind of soul, really. It’s about finding away that those words feel they come from you. It’s partly through repetition, partly through investigation and partly through experimentation in the rehearsal room.”

Greg added, “We take the text around the table and nobody speaks their own lines for however long it is and we put it into our own words. And somebody will say something which will explain a line in a way I’d never thought of it before. And it also means that people kind of invest in the production because their contribution is a collective understanding of the whole play.”

Mark Lawson had watched a rehearsal of Act 3 Scene 2, where Richard loses his power and was intrigued by mention of improvisation and how that had helped the development process

David explained, “We just ran through the scene without staging it where we used what we could find in the rehearsal room to physicalise what we were talking about – other company members, chairs and prop swords, whatever else that felt appropriate within the moment – again just a way of unlocking the words really.”

Greg reminded David that at one moment he had built himself a defensive ring of plastic chairs

“With two weeks to go before we go on stage,” joked David, “That’s how I’d like to spend my life.”

Mark moved on to the political context of the play and how much David believed it still relates to modern politics, especially as he had recently played a cabinet minister in The Politician’s Husband. Does King Richard act in ways that modern politicians still do?

“Yes,” agreed David, “And he thinks he’s entirely justified and right to do the things that he does because he’s been put there by God – for God, read the electorate -  absolutely, he believes he has the ultimate power and should never be challenged and I think that’s some thing we can all recognise from the politics of today.”

Mark mentioned new that audiences were coming to the West End because they had seen many of the stars, like David and now David Walliams, in other shows such as Doctor Who 

David replied, “That’s almost not for me to say. It’s not something I set out to proselytise about, if that happens, then great. Certainly with Hamlet there was a lot of talk before we opened the show that there would be people in some way spoiling it. It’s this weird differentiation between High Art and Low Art and the two should never mix; the assumption within that being that Doctor Who is Low Art which I refute, highly. That never happened. It never happened in Hamlet once. In Much Ado About Nothing it was often quite uproarious which was led by the play. It wasn’t like I popped out of a blue door and Catherine Tate came on with a sonic screwdriver and the house roared. If people want to come and see you in something because they’re interested in your career because they’ve seen you in something else, then fine. We’re all whores!”

Greg agreed, “The audiences that came in for Hamlet, there was a sense that they would be rustling their sweet papers when David was off the stage but that never happened so that must be evidence of that.”

Doctor Who fans tend to be rather intelligent, so you don’t have any worry about Doctor Who fans spoiling and audience,” added David

Mark moved on to the live broadcast  and whether it would be tackled as screen acting or stage acting. In acting terms will David just do it as a stage performance?

“I’ve never done it and I guess you do,” said David “I’ll be honest, I’m not without some nervousness of it. I think you just have to …it’s worth a go…”

Well, there’s an audience in there,” explained Greg. “What I don’t want it to be is a second hand experience of ‘If only I was sitting in that theatre’ that wouldn’t be a first hand experience. Back at the Barbican we filmed the production we were doing of A Winter’s Tale and you had to solve the problem of how the camera was going in for a close up on an actor who was still trying to hit the back of the Barbican Theatre, and that’s a conundrum in a way. The trick is not to put backlight, because that’s the only thing that makes you see all the spit!”

A clip of rehearsals revealed that David will be using an English accent to play King Richard. Mark commented on the accent and ease with which David switched between his stage voice and natural accent.

“I suppose I’ve done it quite a lot, it’s just part of the game I guess. And it’s not an accent I particularly have to reach for, I suppose because I have used it a lot.” David admitted. “Maybe if I was doing South African or something I’d be slightly more worried about it. “

Greg was asked about how he balances the dual role of director of the play and artistic director of the RSC.

He explained, “I had a bit of time to adjust to being artistic director by myself, but what I’ve got is a fantastic team. Every day there is something that has to be dealt with, but as long as you can teach yourself to focus when you’re there, it seems to work so far.”

Finally Mark asked David an apparently easy question – would he be in the second series of Broadchurch?

David flailed a bit and avoided a straight answer.
“You’d think it was easy, but I have no idea. You’d need to ask Chris Chibnall. He’s writing it as we speak.”

But was he available? “Um...I..I..I ..I will see what I can do. The first series I very much enjoyed so I’d like to be involved in series two”

Mark also asked if, with him being one of the few with the knowledge of the outcome he had been banned from going and placing a bet at the bookies on the series killer.

“No we weren’t, nobody said that. I thought of it, and I had friends who strong-armed me,” laughed David. “I think the idea that it might get traced back to you would play so badly that I think you realise that you have to be quite careful.”

Richard II will open at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon on 10th October 2013 and will run until 16th November 2013. It will then transfer to the Barbican Theatre in London from December 9th 2013 until 25th January 2014. The cast includes David Tennant, Emma Hamilton, Nigel Lindsay, Michael Pennington, Jane Lapotaire and Oliver Ford Davies and it is directed by Gregory Doran. Both the Stratford-upon-Avon and London runs are now sold out.

The production will be filmed and streamed live from the stage of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre into cinemas around the UK on Wednesday 13th November, and subsequently into UK schools and to cinemas worldwide in screenings running until February 2014.

Tonight's edition of Front Row will shortly be available as a podcast - click here for details