King Lear Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

directing headshotChloe Masterton is one of the Assistant Directors of King Lear from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, working alongside Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris. Here she updates us on the show’s progress during the second week of rehearsals.

After spending week one of rehearsals in the realm of imagination, exploring the text and tentatively dipping our toes into the staging of Shakespeare’s play, week two has been all about throwing ourselves in and embodying the world.

We started the week off by moving down the hill from the cocoon of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to the grandeur of the Clore rehearsal room at the Bristol Old Vic where suddenly everything felt a bit more real.  We also began working with our Movement Director, Jane Gibson and our Composer, Dave Price who have set to work on making the physical world of King Lear all the more alive.

On a theatre production, a Movement Director works specifically with the physical language of the play.  Unlike the verbal language of the text that is (usually) set from the very beginning of rehearsals, the physical language is something that evolves through collaboration between everyone in the rehearsal room, making it unique to the production.  The Movement Director responds to the Director’s vision for the world of the play and then works with the actors to to realise that vision.  Unlike a Choreographer who would come in to rehearsals with set steps that they would teach, the Movement Director works with the physical movements that emerge from rehearsals.

Jane has been working with the student company on two things: establishing the physical rules of King Lear’s Court that we see in the first scene of the play and exploring how these rules are broken down as Lear’s plan to divide his kingdom fails.   Interestingly, it has been the creation of Lear’s Court that has been the most challenging to define so far.   It is not in the students’ immediate physical vocabulary to embody the attitudes of Royalty and nobility.  They had to experiment with evoking feelings of entitlement and wealth and translating them into ways of holding and moving the body.  The company also had to connect to the rather alien concept of an absolute monarch who has the power to banish or kill any one of them so Jane introduced Lear into this world of the court to explore how his presence had a physical impact upon the chorus of nobles.

It is this chorus of our large student company that has been the focus of much excitement this week.  As we continue to plot through the rest of the play, we are discovering ways that they might be able to create different atmospheres using both movement and song that support the action set out in the text.  But it’s only week two, and there is still much more to uncover.

King Lear continues our 250th Anniversary Season in our Theatre 18 Jun-10 Jul. To find out more about the show and to book your tickets, click here.

King Lear – Cast Bio | Jessica

With the company now in rehearsals, we interview the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School actors cast to play alongside theatre professionals, Timothy West, Stephanie Cole and David Hargreaves in King Lear.

Here we get to know Jessica, one of the Theatre School’s talented rising stars.


Jessica Temple

BOVTS Chorus in The Trojan Women, Madame Macadam in The Madame Macadam Travelling Theatre (both Bristol Old Vic Studio), Foigard in The Beaux’ Stratagem (West Country Tour), Cassius in Julius Caesar (TIE tour), Masha in Three Sisters, Lady Anne in Richard III, Doris in Flare Path, Mrs Candour in The School for Scandal, Lika in The PromisePre BOVTS: Hero in Much Ado About Nothing (Minack Theatre), Petra in A Little Night Music (Harrogate Theatre), Eliza in Pygmalion (NAT).

Where are you from and how did you get into acting?
Born and bred in Nottingham, East Midlands. Both my parents are involved in the arts  – my dad is a director and musician, and my mum is Director of Music at my old school but also plays the piano and percussion. My first show was The King and I at Derby Playhouse (now Derby Theatre) when I was 4. It’s safe to say that I didn’t really have a light bulb moment when I decided I wanted to be actor; it’s just something I have grown up doing, and love it more than anything else in the world!

Who are you playing in King Lear and what challenges have you faced in that role?
I am playing Gonerill, the eldest of Lear’s daughters. When telling people about Gonerill, the thing people say the most is, “Ooh, are you excited about playing a villain?” Now, I admit Gonerill makes choices that make her seem ‘evil’ – *spoiler alert* she does, after all give the command to ‘pluck out’ Gloucester’s eyes – but as an actor, I can’t think of her in that way. So the challenge has been finding the real motivation behind her actions; something that has been a hard task, but also very revealing and exciting.

What’s your favourite thing about training at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School?
When you become a student at the school, you are becoming a part of a family. The world class training goes without saying, but the atmosphere in the school is so supportive and with each year group being so small (12-14 actors per year), the individual care/attention is second to none.

How does it feel to be taking the Bristol Old Vic stage in your graduating show?
It feels incredibly exciting. We are so lucky to be involved in this unique production – getting to bridge the gap between training and ‘the real world’. Tim, Stephanie and David are a dream and every rehearsal feels like a masterclass.

King Lear continues our 250th Anniversary Season in our Theatre 18 Jun-10 Jul. To find out more about the show and to book your tickets, click here.

King Lear Rehearsal Diary – Week 1

sneakpeak.jpgSarah Bradley is one of the Assistant Directors of King Lear from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, working alongside Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris. Here she feeds back some of her initial thoughts after the first week of rehearsals.

Excitement filled the air in the Speilman Studio at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School on Monday morning (09/05/16). It was the first day of King Lear rehearsals so all the cast and crew were brought together to finally meet. The acting students were very eager to meet the professional actors, Timothy West, Stephanie Cole and David Hargreaves, who they will be working with for the next nine weeks. Everyone was also thrilled to begin working with our Director, Tom Morris.

After we had all been introduced to one another, our fantastic Design Team began to present their design concepts and ideas for the show to the entire company. Both Anna Orton, our Set Designer and Aldo Vazquez Yela, our Costume Designer are M.A Theatre Design students at the school. Anna opened the presentation by displaying the model box of the set she has designed for the show. A model box is an accurate scaled down model of a theatre set. It gives a designer an opportunity to see what their design will look like overall before it is built to scale. It also helps the actors and director have a clear idea of what the set will look like and understand the measurements of large set pieces whilst they are rehearsing.

Aldo finished the presentation by showing the company the wonderful drawings of his costume designs. It was thrilling to see the actors reactions to their costumes. It is important that the actors know what their costumes are going to look like at the beginning of the rehearsals period as some designs will create restricted movement. Throughout rehearsals both Designers will continue to check in with Tom and the actors and adapt any new ideas that come out of the rehearsal room into their design process. After we finished the design presentation we began a read through of the script.

During the read through the cast sat around in a large circle and read their parts aloud. It was thrilling for everyone involved as it was the first glimpse of our future production. After we had finished reading the script, Tom ended rehearsals by splitting the cast into three groups. Each group was asked to think about the main themes explored within the text. It was extremely interesting to see all the different ideas each group came up with.

It was clear from this exercise that the script is not simply about age and cruelty but also about identity, gender, betrayal, family, love, nature and much much more. Each group was also asked to think about what this text asks its audience and how they will question both themselves and humanity as they make their way out of the auditorium. With this in mind, we now wait in anticipation of our opening night to see if any of our questions emerge.

King Lear continues our 250th Anniversary Season in our Theatre 18 Jun-10 Jul. To find out more about the show and to book your tickets, click here.


An Interview with Daniel Jamieson and Emma Rice

A new production reveals the intimate – and often difficult – relationship between the artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella. Judi Herman speaks to the creators of the show, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, and about the inspiration behind it.

“It feels like the echo of Chagall is there constantly,” says playwright Daniel Jamieson. “The physical language of the piece is very intimate, beautiful, acrobatic.” He is talking about The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, the new production by Kneehigh Theatre company, which promises to be a magical and surreal stage journey following artist Marc Chagall and his wife Bella through the years of their love as they negotiate the world-changing events of the first half of the 20th century.

Jamieson is fresh from sitting in two weeks of rehearsals with director Emma Rice, Audrey Brisson, the acrobat and soprano from Cirque du Soleil, who plays Bella, and Marc Antolin, the Welsh actor who plays Marc.

“We’ve brought a physical language [to the piece] which has the energy and freedom of Chagall’s painting, but also the intimacy of the two performers,” says director Rice, who is working on her last production with Kneehigh, the internationally acclaimed, Cornwall-based company, before moving to take on the mantle of artistic director at Shakespeare’s Globe.

Jamieson and Rice are reviving a play Jamieson first wrote for Exeter-based Alibi Theatre in the early 1990s that was inspired by Marc Chagall’s paintings as well as autobiographical writings of the artist and his wife. The original play was directed by Nikki Sved, and Jamieson and Rice, who were partners at the time, starred as Marc and Bella.

The play was also inspired by workshops in Poland with the extreme physical theatre company Gardzienice, which Sved, Jamieson and Rice attended in 1990. Jamieson described the experience as ‘Chagallian, [involving] running up the wall and doing somersaults, and a vivid mixture of song, movement and text. It also involved an expedition to tiny villages in the woods in what is now Belarus. It was essentially the world of Chagall paintings, with its wooden buildings – but with the important omission of the Jews, which struck all of us”.

Reading the play, this rich double-biographical story flies off the page like figures in Chagall’s paintings. But Jamieson brings out and egocentric single-mindedness in Chagall: he has the artist work to his own agenda, leaving Bella (née Rosenfeld) in Vitebsk soon after they fall in love, to develop his art in Paris from 1910 to 1914. Chagall returns with a to-do list that includes marrying Bella after a proposal by post. And the play shows Bella’s justifiable reproach at Chagall missing the birth of their daughter, Ida, by five days.

“But the connection between them remains very strong,” says Rice. “Their relationship is tremendously romantic and they both wrote about it and he painted it. I feel it’s a truth that they loved each other from the minute they met, and this was not an easy marriage. She was very bright and clever, from an important family and chose to marry this very poor painter who then messed her about for years!”

“What shines through in Bella’s own brilliant mind and artistic ability as a writer,” adds Jamieson. “She was one of the four most gifted students in Russia.”

“Speaking from an older woman’s perspective,” Rice continues, “it’s interesting to see how hard it must have been to be married to someone so special. I hate to use the word genius but I think he was and she was too, but she wasn’t creating work that would change the world the way he did. As a younger woman I wanted to make them equal [in the original production], and as an older woman I think the interest is in the fact that whatever he had was bubbling up away from her. We watch her negotiate that as a woman and an artist. How do you get out somebody’s shadow without leaving them?”

Jackie Wullshlager’s authoritative 2008 biography of Chagall has informed the rewrites and in a powerful new scene set in post-revolutionary Moscow circa 1920, Bella inspires the artist to paint huge backdrops for the newly formed State Jewish Chamber Theatre. This new section mirrors an earlier part of the play where Chagall paints Bella for the first time and we see him manipulate her “lightly, magically and sexily”, according to Rice. “She turns that on him later when she inspires him to paint again for the Chamber Theatre. It’s a lovely balance watching the power dynamics between these two.”

In this rewrite, Jamieson uses a Yiddish poem by Polish-born writer Rachel Korn (who was born in 1898 and died in 1982). “She wrote very intimate and physical love poems. Ian Ross, the theatre’s musical director, has set it beautifully to music,” says Rice. “Chagall was so inspired by the teachings, magic and mysticism in Hassidic culture. We can see that freely expressed in the paintings and I want the piece to also do that.”

The piece blends new music from Ross with original Yiddish and Russian folk tunes, as well as Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. Chagall was designing the costumes and other visual elements for the ballet set to this music by Tchaikovsky when Bella died in 1944 in New York from a viral infection.

“Just before they left Russia the Bolsheviks and Communists were already destroying Jewish life there, so there was a sense they had to hold on to it,” says Jamieson.

A feature of the script is the Chagalls in exile and the play explores how much the iconography of Chagall’s paintings and the paintings themselves became their luggage. “We talk about the objects in his paintings – the cow, the fish, the candles, literally being their luggage that they have to carry through the show. An integral feature of the design is that these objects are going to appear in quite a cunning and magical way,” says Jamieson.

Rice agrees: “They carry not just baggage. It is treasures that they carry across the planet. That’s something so resonant, especially in these times when people are forced to move their homes across the world. What do you save and how do you save it, in your bag or in your hearts or mind? Or do you write or paint it? It’s a brilliant metaphor about home and roots and belief.”

“Chagall spent a lot of time looking back to an early time of his life in his paintings and that’s the shape of our own story: this show is something we originally made in our 20s and we’re returning to it in our late 40s,” says Jamieson. “The arc of life we examined in a youthful and imaginative way we’re now come to understand. It’s given the show an added force and poignancy.”

Written by Judi Herman for Jewish Renaissance Magazine.

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
 land on our Theatre stage 27 May-11 Jun. Find out more and book tickets here.



Madame Bovary: A note from Jon Nicholson, Adaptor

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Peepolykus production of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! Directed by Gemma Bodinetz. Cast: Emma Fielding, John Nicholson, Javier Marzan, Jonathan Holmes

We’re so pleased to be returning to Bristol Old Vic with a co-production. We last performed at the theatre in 2004 (with a sold-out retrospective of our early comedies). Since then we’ve been co-producing larger shows with theatres up and down the country (including a West End transfer of our adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles).

Peepolykus have secured an international reputation for delivering a unique brand of entertainment.  Now in our 20th year, we are staging one of literature’s most controversial and tragic novels. Why Madame Bovary?

Because it wrestles with the human condition – the aspirations we have for ourselves, delusions, passions, loneliness, disappointments, our struggle for autonomy and happiness. And comedy, for us, must start from a place of honesty and truth. Emma Bovary, the protagonist, has flaws, like us. She isn’t always easy to sympathize with, like us. Flaubert’s original is a non-judgmental and alarmingly honest account of a woman determined to have some control over her life in 19th century France.

In our adaptation, we wanted Emma (played by the double Olivier nominated, Emma Fielding) to have a voice outside of the confines of the novel. We wanted to amplify her emotional journey. We wanted to be more faithful to the heart of the novel than many of the film versions have been. This resulted in a piece of theatre that swings full pelt between clown and tragedy. For some, both the endeavor and the outcome of this will jar. But for the vast majority of the 10,000 or so people who have already seen the production, it doesn’t.

The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary might be an untraditional theatrical offering but it has been immensely gratifying to see both school parties and coach parties of over 60’s by turns moved, by turns belly laughing at the unfolding story, and sometimes both at the same time. Most importantly, YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE READ THE NOVEL!

We very much hope that you will come and see the results.


The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary plays at Bristol Old Vic from 27 May-11 Jun 2016. Find out more and book tickets here.