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Anna Henderson - Queen Isabella, Levune and James

When I was cast in the role of Queen Isabella in this production of Edward II I was absolutely delighted. I had previous acting experience, but I had never been involved in a production of this genre and it was really exciting. As a finalist taking EN301 Shakespeare and Selected Dramatist of His Time the production fed directly into my studies and I do not think any experience could compare to the hugely enriching process of bringing such a text to life. The fact that the chosen piece was a Marlowe play instead of the classic Shakespeare provided a fresh challenge and it was exhilarating preparing a performance by a dramatist of such calibre, who in my opinion is rarely given the stage time he deserves. As a company we were given the enormous luxury of an eight week rehearsal period and this without a doubt contributed to the success of the performance. We had the time at our disposal in which to form a solid team and practice techniques that helped us slowly craft our characters. I feel that our ensemble theatre worked so well because we took time to get to know each other and the space truly became safe for everybody. From our very first rehearsal we implemented jazz music and worked with the musicians to weave rhythm into whatever we were working on. I learned to treat my body as my instrument and discovered how to play it properly. In other plays I’d worked on we had always started immediately with the script, but this process did not even touch the text initially and this I found very beneficial. Instead, we focused on expressing emotions through physicality, reducing ourselves to the representation of a single word and pushing and stretching the body as far as we were able. In terms of my own character I was challenged tremendously by the openness of the script. I learnt how flexible this type of drama is in the choices it offers to the actor. It took me a long time to figure out ‘Isabella’s story’! Everyone in the cast had their own individual stories to develop and it was difficult at times to find your motivation, to know why or for what reason your character was speaking. I found the director’s ‘text message’ exercise extremely helpful, boiling down long speeches gradually until you were left with a message of one word[1]. I was doubtful at first that a long speech could be condensed to one word, but I was proved wrong and this is actually a technique I now use in my personal study of Marlowe and Shakespeare alike. Performing in the CAPITAL Studio was without a doubt the highlight of the entire process. Having an audience charged the performance and really made us work to keep the energy flowing. I thought one of the strongest points of the play was the quick pace and I loved the overlapping scene changes, which everyone worked so hard to keep seamless. As performers it was wonderful to witness how enthralled the audience were with the action and as students it reinforced the power that these plays have in performance, a power I find to be slightly diminished on the page. Personally I have benefited hugely from this production and I do not think for a second that I am alone. Not only has my knowledge of the play broadened immensely, but the possibilities for acting and staging that we explored have opened my eyes to ideas that I never would have contemplated before. I plan to write on the production as part of my assessment for EN301 and I believe this familiarity with the text is second to none. If only we could work on every play like this, the potential would be endless!

[1] [In this exercise, the actors are asked to sum up a speech in a ten word text message (which must make loose grammatical sense). When they have formulated their text message, they are asked to boil it down further to five words, then three and finally to a single word. The exercise can be enormously helpful in getting to the heart of a speech very quickly – J.I.]