What happened to the RSC's long ensemble?

The RSC long ensemble gala in the Swan 2011. The gala was to raise funds for James Gale and his family.

Updated 6th January 2013. Thanks to updates from RSC long ensemble audience members.

After I saw Debbie Korley and Dharmesh Patel in the RSC’s young people’s King Lear at the Theatre Royal in York recently, I started to wonder what the rest of the RSC’s long ensemble were dong now. I had seen some of long ensemble working in the theatre over the past year, and heard about other things they’d done since the long ensemble project ended after a residency New York in the Summer of 2011. The long ensemble was made up of 44 actors and started in Stratford in the Spring of 2009 with As You Like It (dir by Michael Boyd) and The Winter’s Tale (dir by David Farr). These two plays were joined in the Summer of 2011 by Lucy Bailey’s Julius Caesar. For me the success of the long ensemble came the year after with Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet and David Farr’s King Lear. Both plays played with time and space and for me the plays worked well with the transition from the Courtyard theatre to the new RST (via Newcastle and the Roundhouse). It was the long ensemble that opened the new RST and brought the RSC home – so to speak. The partnership between Jonjo O’Neill and Sam Troughton, as Mercutio and Romeo, brought an energy to the project, but also demonstrated how a partnership built up over a period of time could work so well.

I am sure that it was hoped that the actors and directors would move on to other things, and that some would return to the RSC.

There’s been a few long ensemble reunions in 2012. The first was the Duchess of Malfi reuniting Adam Burton and Tunji Kasim at the Old Vic. Another reunion was down the road from the Old Vic, at the Young Vic, where Sam Troughton, Mariah Gale and Gruffudd Glyn could be seen in Three Sisters. As well as Three Sisters it seems that Sam Troughton has been very busy since he left the long ensemble. He was in A Streetcar Named Desire in Liverpool, and Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court, as well as The Town on television. Mariah Gale is currently in Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Gate Theatre.

Later in the year, at the Old Vic, after being in Children’s Children at the Almeida, Darrell D’Silva was in the very successful Hedda Gabler. Forbes Masson will be playing Banquo alongside James McAvoy’s Macbeth Westminster studios. was in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, plating Mr Tumnus, for Threesixty Theatre in Kensington Gardens. The production was directed by long ensemble director Rupert Goold. He also starred in the Belgrade Theatres Crackers. There were also glimpses of Forbes supporting Melanie Masson’s on ITV’s X Factor.

The RSC women seemed to have done well since the long ensemble project ended and I enjoyed, Noma Dumezweni, Katy Stephens and Mariah Gale’s audio performances as the three witches from Macbeth in the Staging Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum. Noma Dumezweni was also in Bola Agbaje’s play, Belong, at the Royal Court in the Spring of 2012 and will be in The Feast at the young Vic from February. I managed to see Katy Stephens, who was excellent in Calixto Bieito’s Forests, but missed her playing Laura in The Father at the Belgrade theatre in Coventry. Katy is currently playing the fairy in the Belgrade Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty. Kirsty Woodward was fantastic in Kneehigh’s Steptoe and Son, which I saw at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and at the start of 2012, I saw her in The Way of the World Sheffield Crucible.

Kathryn Hunter joined the long ensemble in the second year of the project, and made a quick exit in the middle of the Roundhouse season. She went on to revive her as Peter the Red Ape in Kafka’s Monkey, which I thought was a stunning piece of physical theatre and then returned to the RSC in A Tender Thing this autumn.

One thing that has been surprising is how few of the long ensemble returned to Stratford after the long ensemble project finished. Though Jonjo O’Neill returned to the RSC in a very successful Richard III in the summer of 2012, it has taken awhile for a group of actors to return to the RSC to work together. Indeed, it has taken over a year for four members of the long ensemble to work together again in the Swan in Stratford. Adam Burton, Paul Hamilton, Patrick Romer, and James Tucker are now back in Stratford performing in the long ensemble in the Swan and Ansu Kabia is playing Nim in The Merry Wives of Windsor. Greg Hicks will return to the RSC in 2013 to play Claudius in Hamlet. Oliver Ryan is another member of the long ensemble to return to Stratford for the 1013 Summer season, and long ensemble director, David Farr, will be directing Hamlet.

Sadly Peter Shorey and James Gale have passed away.

And what happened to the other long ensemble directors? After directing a very good Taming of the Shrew for the RSC Winter season 2012, Lucy Bailey returns to the RSC for the Winter 2013 to direct The Winter’s Tale. Greg Doran,who directed the long ensemble interlude, Morte D’Arthur, took over the RSC as Artistic Director in September 2012 and I am now awaiting the announcement of his first season. He is currently directing The Orphan of Zhao in the Swan.

And the Artistic director, Michael Boyd what’s he doing now? Well, he left the RSC in September 2012, but his final production as a director at the RSC, Boris Godunov is now in the Swan.

I think some people felt that the long ensemble was too large to work well, and that many of the actors didn’t really get chance to use to really shine. However, the long ensemble did give some actors a chance to play a range of parts. Sam Troughton showed he could play both the lead and bit parts with great skill. Indeed, he produced was exceptional as a Lord in The Winter’s Tale and entertaining as an energetic and angry Romeo in Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet. It’s no surprise to see that Sam Troughton has gone on to play a range of parts since leaving the RSC, and his Mercutio, Jonjo O’Neill, has also shown his range and he is getting great reviews at the National Theatre in The Effect,

Other actors, who showed some promise in the long ensemble do not seem to have done other things. For example, Dyfan Dwyfor played a much more emotional Romeo than Troughton, when I saw him understudy Troughton early in the Straford run. I have not seen that Dwyfor has been in the theatre, since leaving the RSC and even the long ensemble has not changed the transient nature of most actors’ lives. I am hoping that Debbie Korley and Dharmesh Patel will go on to do more than the Young People’s Shakespeare. Both have demonstrated through this vehicle that they can do more than waiting women and bit parts and I look forward to seeing them in other things in the future.

I will have missed many long ensemble appearances, so please let me know of any others that are not here, or about anything you’ve seen with an actor from the long ensemble in it.

Update 10th March 2013

I have recently see Noma Dumezweni in Feast at the Young Vic theatre and Sam Troughton in Bull at Sheffield Crucible. Katy Stephens and David Rubin are also returning to Stratford over the Summer to work in the Swan.


My Long ensemble blogs

The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It

As You Like It, Newcastle 2009

Katy Stephens’ Hair

Julius Caesar

The RSC ensemble debate

King Lear

Romeo and Juliet

RSC, South Bank Show

The RSC Comes Home

Romeo and Juliet again

Antony and Cleopatra part 1

Antony and Cleopatra part 2

RSC Revealed

New Writing at the Hampstead Theatre

Full details about the long ensemble project can be found here.

RSC Revealed (The Swan, 27th March 2011)

The vision behind the RSC Long Ensemble was for a group of actors to work together for a sustained period of time to produce work. It seemed fitting then, at the end of the Stratford run and two and half years together the long ensemble got together and put on a Gala in the newly opened Swan Theatre. The event was to support the needs of long ensemble member James Gale and it was a bringing tougher of the company in one place.  The event was organised by company members Kelly Hunter and Hannah Young.

This was a special event, but it was particularly relevant in that it shared a moment with a regular RSC audience in a way that is often spoken about in moving to the thrust stage, but only partially happens  in the Shakespearean productions. The production acknowledged an audience that has followed the work over the two and half years and so there were a lot of in jokes and even mentions of regular audience members.

The Gala started in the foyer with actors collecting money and characters taking on their character roles such as Brian Doherty as Autolycus selling souvenirs from the RSC shop and Sophie Russell as the tap dancing nun from The Comedy of Errors. As the audience entered the Swan, Peter Peverley played his guitar and sang some songs including The Jam’s Town Called Malice. Our compare  for the evening was Eunice the usher who opens Romeo and Juliet, but as the evening progressed, Eunice abandoned parts of her costume to reveal Noma Dumezweni the wonderful RSC actress. At times Noma had a little helper (her daughter), who was not phased at all by being on stage.

Katy Stephens ran the auction of promises and handing out punishments to her son if the auction did not raise enough each time. There were some references to Gloucester’s blinding, but it backfired on Katy in the end as she ended up with a foam pie in her face (and we didn’t see that coming). Promises ranged from dinner for two at the Dirty Duck, and a family pass to Warwick Castle to helping the stage management team put on a production of King Lear and a chance to row Juliet (Mariah Gale) down the river.

The evening was a mixture of comedy and song. There was Christine Entwhistle’s very funny and very rude hunting routine and Richard Katz’s failing magician routine.  We saw characters as we’d never seen them before such as the knights from Morte D’Arthur in a very funny rendition of Lily White and Adam Burton’s hilarious Klauzz with Cleopatra’s attendants Iras (Samantha Young) and Charmian (Hannah Young) performing a German electro pop routine. Jonjo O’Neill performed Mr Bo Jangles and Simone Saunders sang Destiny. There were other appearances from ensemble members including Greg Hicks, Geoffrey Freshwater, Sandy Neilson, Patrick Romer, Sophie Russell and many more.

Gruffudd Glyn’s one man band was a lovely overview of life in the ensemble with some jokes that made sense to anyone following the long ensemble. The evening finished with the long ensemble on stage together.

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Further Information




Antony and Cleopatra. Part 2 (Theatre Royal Newcastle, 15th October 2010)

On the 15th October matinée, Katy Stephens (text in hand) took on the role of Cleopatra in the RSC Antony and Cleopatra when Kathryn Hunter ‘was indisposed’.  Though for most of the scenes Katy Stephens held the book in her hand, she only looked at the script now and again to remind herself of  odd lines. I felt that Katy Stephens’ portrayal of  Cleopatra was much more emotional than Kathryn Hunter’s and she didn’t play the comedy as much.  On Antony’s death there were tears in her eyes.  At times Katy Stephens was a little uncomfortable in the way she stood.  However, watching her demonstrated that two different approaches to a character can work within the same production.  I felt there was certainly a lot of chemistry between Stephen’s Cleopatra and Darrell D’Silva’s Antony.

The shuffle that inevitably comes from an understudy taking on a key role resulted in some real treats.  My favourite was Greg Hicks taking on the role of the messenger Thidias. It was a lovely performance, and Hicks seemed to revel in the part, flirting with Cleopatra and taking notes in Rome with great relish.  Tunji Kasim  (normally Mardian) gave a very sound performance as Eros and I felt that this was better casting than the eunuch and even Edmund.

There were a couple of moments that didn’t seem to go to plan.  At one point Alexas was not on stage when he was asked to find out information from the messenger and the gun did not go off when Cleopatra shot at the messenger.  Maybe the safety catch was still on or because Katy Stephens hadn’t practised that much they didn’t want to take the risk.

When an understudy takes on a role, there is a bit of observing the blocking and some mimicking of the way lines are said by the original actor.  On the other hand, there is also a sense of the actor trying to bring their interpretation to the role.  The RSC policy is for the ensemble to understudy other parts. It’s enormous undertaking to understudy Cleopatra as well as play Regan and Rosalind.  In the past two years I have seen Ed Bennett’s Hamlet, Mariah Gale’s Rosalind, and Dyfan Dwyfor’s Romeo. I have also seen the understudy performance of Twelfth Night.  What the understudy does is give a very different perspective of a role in a production.  For example, I thought that Dyfan Dwyfor’s Romeo was much measured and quieter than Sam Troughton’s.  I was really pleased to see Katy Stephens play Cleopatra and in future she may get the opportunity to really make the part her own.

My review of the production with Kathryn Hunter

Antony and Cleopatra, Part 1 (The Courtyard Theatre, Theatre Royal Newcastle May to October 2010)

When I saw Antony and Cleopatra in Stratford, I felt that Artistic Director, Michael Boyd’s vision of  the RSC ensemble and how it should be put into reality seemed to come to fruition in the production. The house lights are up for most of the production creating a real awareness of the audience watching.  The vomitaria are used a lot for entrances and exits.  Soldiers launched themselves from the circle into battle.  Actors who are experienced, and who have been cast in lead roles in other productions, were playing smaller parts.  These included Greg Hicks as the Soothsayer and Katy Stephens as a fascinating Eros who delights in the partying  and ends up firmly tied up in the tragedy.

The production starts with the dimming of the house lights and Antony and Cleopatra chasing each other onto the stage. Shifting the focus moves straight onto Antony and Cleopatra from the very beginning.  The loss of the Roman frame right at the start of the production changes the perspective of the scene.  Though the Romans do appear straight after to comment on the two lovers, this slight amendement, presents Antony and Cleopatra directly to the audience, rather than through the Roman eyes.  This is important because many of the negative comments about Cleopatra are from the mouths of the Romans, and by placing Antony and Cleopatra directly in the spotlight the audience are asked to judge them for themselves. The staging of the opening scene reminds me that in their most private moments, Antony and Cleopatra are never alone. We are watching as the Romans and the Egyptian court observe the fickleness and attraction of this relationship and by lighting the audience the public nature of the events is emphasised by widening the on stage audience to us.

I felt that the chemistry between Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra and Darrell D’Silva’s  Antony has become more evident as the production has developed over the past few months.  Together they highlight that this is the story of two older people who find each other very sexy, and can’t concentrate on anything but each other.  Just watch Enrobarbus’s (Brian Doherty)  reaction to Agrippa’s  (Geoffrey Freshwater) declaration that Antony should marry Octavia and hear his emphatic ‘never’ at the suggestion that Antony will now leave Cleopatra, to know how much Antony is really tied to his Egyptian queen.

The cigar smoking Antony is not at home in either Rome of Egypt.  He clearly loves the party and in this production Bacchus is his god.  Like the other Romans, he wears a suit in Rome but he looks very uncomfortable in it, so when he’s drinking on Pompey’s ship, he commands the scene wearing his little sailor hat to undermine the formality.  When he is in Egypt wearing his army uniform, he is the great soldier who can no longer win the battles.  His death is both tragic and comic at the same time.  I could weep when Eros kills himself instead of stab the dishonoured Antony, but feel frustrated that Antony cannot even kill himself.  In winching his dying bulk up to Cleopatra’s monument, the scene becomes comic.

Kathryn Hunter is not a stereotypical Cleopatra. She’s doesn’t try to mimic the  Elizabeth Taylor and Vivien Leigh view of Cleopatra.  As a small actress she uses her physical appearance to great effect.  Her moods are as changeable as her clothes, but her intelligence and quick wit come over well.  I like the accent and  her lines are spoken with passion and energy. Not one line is underplayed.  .

It’s not just Kathryn Hunter and Darrell D’Silva that give strong performances in this production.  Their love affair is played out against a background of war and politics which span the ancient world and it is the very solid performances from the rest of the cast, and the excellent blocking of scenes, that make this production work so well.

The scene changes are cleverly thought through as they alternates between Egypt and Rome.  The moment when it looked like Pompey was pointing his gun at Caesar as the scene shifted from one place to another was brilliant.  The drinking scene taking place on Pompey’s ship is wonderfully staged, including dimming the lights and focusing on Menas as he reveals his murderous plot to Pompey.  Clarence Smith brings Pompey alive and we really feel he is so volatile and he could easily explode and break his pact with the three Romans  at any time.  The production also finds a solution to how do you stage a battle on stage?  The dance with the paper ships is very effective way of doing this.

Sandy Neilson’s Lepidus is unable to hold his drink and staggers and slurs in the drinking scene.  He delights at the crocodile story.  How strange the crocodile would have sounded to the Elizabethans?  The night on Pompey’s ship is the start of  his embarrassing downfall, which was exemplified as he was  placed in the spotlight above the stage the doors slowly closing on his to signal his execution.

John Mackay used his height to great effect when playing Octavius Caesar, making him seem uncomfortable in company and often having to lower his head as he entered centre stage.   He is emotional at the loss of his sister and unable to take his drink.  At the end of the play he is the sole ruler of the world.   Changing from the black polar neck to shirt and tie showed that even in his supposedly private moments he was still very self-aware of his image.  As an audience we are supposed to think that his feelings for Octavia is more than brotherly.  he displays fury at Antony’s betrayal and he recounts the messengers stories of Antony’s behaviours  in Egypt with great clarity and anger. 

Paul Hamilton’s messenger contributes to one of the highlights of the production.  Terrified of the knife wielding, gun firing Cleopatra, he sticks to his text the best way he can.  His determination to give his message shows that there is an etiquette around messengers and that’s why the beating of  Thidias later in the play is brutal and humiliating .

I’m always amazed by Phillip Edgerley’s character acting and that he can look so different.  His  Menas and his  Proculeius were like chalk cheese – the ruffian pirate and the smart  Roman diplomat.

One thing I find a little confusing was Sophie Russell  doubling up as Octavia and a Roman soldier.  Clearly this wasn’t intended to mean Octavia was alos a Roman soldier, but could be taken that way.

I saw this production in Stratford and Newcastle and like the other long ensemble productions it has benefited from its development through time.  I really sat on the fence when it came to saying whether I liked or not.  I was unsure whether I found it engaging or not, because I had such mixed feelings about it.  However, every time I saw it, I went away thinking a lot about it.  I think now I’m hooked.  What felt, at first, like a slow bland first half has speeded up and the episodic nature of the play in its shifts between Rome and Egypt are highlighted to great effect.

My next blog discusses the matinée performance on Saturday 15th October when Katy Stephens played Cleopatra.

Reviews and Previews

RSC Antony and Cleopatra in The Times
RSC Antony and Cleopatra in Evening Standard
The Stage review of RSC Antony and Cleopatra
RSC Antony and Cleopatra in The Guardian
Antony and Cleopatra in the Observer (int with Kathryn Hunter)
Antony and Cleopatra in the FT
RSC Antony and Cleopatra Press Night delayed (The Stage)
RSC’s Antony and Cleopatra in The Telegraph