War Veterans Take To The Stage

 Combat Veteran Players

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Downtime? Don't be silly...

Posted on September 29, 2015 at 3:45 AM

After a successful production of Twelfth Night at Leicester Square Theatre, this month sees some much-needed downtime for members of the CVP before we begin rehearsals for our next production, Richard III, in November.

Now I say ‘downtime’ but this is a bit misleading. Several of our actors have full-time jobs which they manage to squeeze in alongside theatre work, one is in the process of growing her own business, a few people are involved in other creative endeavours and the majority of us are also involved in delivering Shakespeare workshops within schools as part of the company ‘Shakespeare’s Soldiers.’

And then there is the audition prep. Within the CVP, roles are not just handed out to whoever shouts the loudest, nor is the protagonist of each play rotated between players for the sake of parity. A proper audition process takes place, and the players have been trained in this practice. Over the coming month, we will be reading through the script, breaking down the text and swotting up on the history surrounding Shakespeare’s version of the life of one of our most vilified kings. Each of us will then select our own audition piece (which would usually be a soliloquy from the play) and practice delivering this until it is up to our Artistic Director’s exacting standards. Because although this is a theatre company made up of injured ex-Service personnel, there are no allowances made when it comes to delivering a polished performance.

I haven’t decided which role I’m going to audition for yet. As an actor keen to develop further, Richard would be the obvious choice. He is a fascinating character to play because of the way he charms those around him - and indeed the audience - despite everyone being aware of his ruthless ambition, manipulative tactics and penchant for murder. Whoever plays Richard will need to delve into their own psyche as well as his in an attempt to uncover the motivation behind the Duke’s actions and whether or not we are all capable of similarly narcissistic behaviour given the right (or wrong) circumstances.

I am equally intrigued by the character of Lady Anne. She can be seen as ‘falling victim’ to Richard’s charming manipulation when she agrees to marry him despite knowing that he was responsible for the death of her husband and father-in-law. But is ‘falling victim’ the right way to describe Anne’s surrender to Richard? You could argue that she knows exactly what she is doing and that it is her drive for survival that motivates her to marry Richard since she would be afforded little protection in those times as a widower. Far from being a naïve, flighty, emotional wreck as she is sometimes portrayed, she could be seen as controlling her emotions for survival purposes. I’ll have to look into it some more, but this is one reason I love Shakespeare – there are endless ways you can read the characters he created.

I am looking forward to digging deeper into the script over the next few weeks and seeing where this takes me, and I’m sure the other players will be doing the same. I’ll also be considering what nuances a female Richard III could bring to the play and likewise a male Lady Anne. Cross-gender casting can reveal things about a character that have previously been overlooked, but it can also be a barrier to the suspension of disbelief if done for the wrong reasons or purely to generate controversy. I think this could be a separate blog post entirely…


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