King Lear - Week 1

Week 1 - Table Tyranny

by Daniel Bailey, Assistant Director, King Lear

Our first week rehearsing King Lear at The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester: The first meeting is usually the most exciting and anticipated, trying to match all the names to faces googled, voices to personas, trying to remember where and how you met this or that person ... Potentially anxious moments; who am I working with? But those notions are quickly dispelled as you’re thrust into a room full of people for a ‘Meet & Greet’, theatre staff and the creative team attached to the show standing in a big harmonious circle, beaming broadly yet hoping we don’t have to play name games!

We don’t, we just say our names and our roles, simple.

Now down to business…

“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”

We need three hours of a variety of voices, choices and glorious mistakes as we read King Lear ... we're allowed mistakes in our first week, even the Assistant Director. Michael Buffong is our Director and he makes everyone feel comfortable as he talks about the world of the play so that a shared understanding is agreed, accompanied with much nodding and “ah” sounds as it all starts to make much more sense to everyone in the room.

So the week moves quickly – Table Work

We start with observations or ideas we’ve mulled over, share research to support a point, and cross reference to the Shakespeare Folio, Arden Shakespeare or No Fear Shakespeare (which is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s slang).

“Nothing can come of nothing.”

The table work process is specific to the Director leading it but it generally consists of breaking down scenes and opening up the possibility/interpretation of the text. Each day we read a scene and discuss our understanding, make choices and then read it again. Ideas and thoughts are thrown into the pot, one thinks this, another that, interesting notions that work for the scene but not for the play – a compromise to be made? An idea withdrawn or explored further?

The result is usually a clearer understanding for everyone. This process also allows actors to have freedom of choice and it's great for morale – all of these elements are the ingredients for good ensemble work.

By Friday we all feel like we have a grip of the world the play takes place in and the text. It’s fantastic to have a company on the same page, pulling in the same direction.

A Royal Exchange Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company co-production in association with Birmingham Repertory Theatre

1 April – 7 May Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
19 May – 28 May Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Talawa Artistic Director, Michael Buffong, directs acclaimed stage and screen actor Don Warrington in one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles. The production opens at the Exchange from 1 April – 7 May and Birmingham Repertory Theatre from 16 May – 28 May.

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