royal shakespeare


David Tennant as Romeo in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet (2000) - Part 3

Excerpts from a Scotland on Sunday article on David at the RSC in 2000

“He is perfect casting, because of the intensity he brings to his work,“ Michael Boyd says.  While Tennant’s great friend and former landlady, the comic performer and author of Does My Bum Look Big in This?, Arabella Weir, says: "He’s astonishingly focused for his age and amazingly straightforward and honest. He’s trustworthy and he’s honourable.”

There is still something uncynical and unspoilt about him, though. He confesses that being with the RSC can be scary. “Not only because you are in the home of ‘world class classical theatre’ (as all the brochures tell you), but these big Shakespearean roles come with a lot of historical baggage attached. People tell you how romantic Ian McKellen was as Romeo, or how masculine Sean Bean was, or how marvellous Laurence Olivier was. You feel the weight of all those ghosts, those performances that have taken on a mystical resonance. And because it’s Shakespeare, you feel it’s hard to make it believable, because it is so beautiful.  With this play, everyone has so many ideas about it, that you almost want to play against the beauty. We did the balcony scene the other day and I was doing: 'But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!’ And I was going: 'How can I say that?’ It is beyond parody, but all you can do is be personal with it and make it your own, if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. I know that’s how Alex [who plays Juliet] feels about famous lines like, 'Parting is such sweet sorrow’.”   

The intensity of the rollercoaster he is on is overwhelming. Stratford is a grueling, sometimes stifling, hothouse. Rehearsal followed by show, followed by rehearsal, in one long punishing schedule. After one-and-a-half hours in the rehearsal room, there is just time for a snack  before voice warm-ups for the matinee of The Rivals. There, Tennant’s rapier-thin young blade gets involved in sword fights and various cunning derring-do disguises, then he is off again for lunch. And back on again, for The Comedy of Errors. A short show, but a physical one, as Tennant slides down those banisters, executes pratfalls and turns in a brilliantly funny double act with Ian Hughes, who plays his manservant, Dromio. He also does the neatly witty trick of lighting two post-coital cigarettes after seducing his long lost twin’s wife and then buries his head in Nina Conti’s cleavage.

Later Tennant is in his dressing-room, stripped to the waist, slapping Simple moisturizer onto his face, swigging pints of mineral water, and packing up his make-up box, an old-fashioned leather bowling case. As we leave, we trip up over a bloody but unbowed Hotspur, about to go on stage and die in Henry IV, Part 1. Falstaff is plumped in the corner and wishes us a courteous good night, while various make-up girls daub elderly knights. “It’s like this every night at this time,” says Tennant. “You can’t move for men in armour and there’s blood everywhere.”    

Photo credits include:  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust,, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and more 

Other parts of this Romeo photoset [ Part 1 ]  [ Part 2 ]


David Tennant as Romeo in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet (2000)

David Tennant on playing Romeo:
What I remember particularly about Romeo and Juliet is that people expect a chocolate-box love story. I think that’s what people imagine that story is, even though they know it’s tragic and it doesn’t end happily. They’re expecting some great essay on love. I don’t think that’s what the play is. Romeo and Juliet spend remarkably little time together and, when they are on stage together, the longest chunk of time you see them interacting with each other is the balcony scene, where the very definition is that they can’t touch, they can’t be together, there’s a physical and emotional barrier between them. I think the play is about all sorts of things, but I don’t know really that it is about love. That’s one of the things that you have to get over when playing Romeo, because if you come to the play thinking, ‘I’ve come to play a great lover’, that’s not a very helpful place to start.  The play is as much about society and the  politics of the world they’re in as it is the meditation on love which people expect.

Photo credits include:  Shakespeare Birthplace Trust,, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and more

Link to [ Part Two ]


“King Lear” by William Shakespeare

Royal Shakespeare Company, 2016

Starring Antony Sher, Paapa Essiedu,  Romayne Andrews, Antony Byrne, Eke Chukwu, James Clyde, James Cooney, Bethan Cullinane, Marième Diouf, Kevin N Golding, Marcus Griffiths, Nia Gwynne, Oliver Johnstone, Byron Mondahl, Theo Ogundipe, Natalie Simpson, Clarence Smith, David Troughton, Graham Turner, Ewart James Walters, & Kelly Williams


Artsnight, 2016: The Year of King Lear

Theatre for a New Audience, 2014 - Michael Pennington as King Lear (gif 2)

Royal Shakespeare Company - Antony Sher as King Lear  (gif 1,3-5)

Talawa Theatre Company - Don Warrington as King Lear  (gif 6)


“Wolf Hall, Parts One and Two” by Mike Poulton, based on the novels by Hilary Mantel

Winter Garden Theatre, 2015

Starring Ben Miles, Lydia Leonard, Nathaniel Parker, Joey Batey, Nicholas Boulton, Lucy Briers, Leah Brotherhead, Olivia Darnley, Nicholas Day, Peter Eyre, Mathew Foster, Daniel Fraser, Edward Harrison, Benedict Hastings, Madeleine Hyland, Robert MacPherson, Pierro Niel-Mee, Matthew Pidgeon, John Ramm, Nicholas Shaw, Joshua Silver, Giles Taylor and Jay Taylor


Rare pictures of Ian as Bolingbroke in John Barton’s production of Richard II. I was extremely fortunate to see some excerpts from this performance. The stage direction that shows Richard and Bolingbroke as a mirror reflection of each other is absolutely brilliant. One of the best performance of Ian on stage when he was a leading actor of the RSC. Too bad that there is no recording of the whole performance.

This man is by far the best Hamlet I have seen. I was annoyed by the low attendance in the cinema, but his performance completely astounded me. For such a young actor to tackle such a great part as Hamlet is a huge challenge in itself, minus the intensity of this production. From the cultural shifts to the modernising twists, the production truly felt timeless and I felt honoured to be a part of a nationwide audience.

Paapa Essiedu is one of the nation’s up and coming actors, and he has earned his stripes because of this performance. I hope he receives standing ovations for the rest of the run at Stratford.

Because top men in the Empire such as Grand Moff Tarkin — played in the original Star Wars by Peter Cushing — are upper-class types, Edwards recalls [Ben] Mendelsohn asking if he should adopt “a very posh English accent.” But the director preferred Krennic, the man in charge of the advanced weapons research wing of the Imperial military, not be a part of that boys club.

“It feels like if the Empire ever have a job vacancy, they go to the Royal Shakespeare Company to headhunt people,” Edwards says. “I like the idea that Ben’s character was much more working-class” and rose in the ranks “through sheer force of personality and ideas.”

That said, the director adds, Krennic “hits a brick wall in the hierarchy where they won’t let him in the club and it’s going to turn into a them-or-us situation: either Krennic or Tarkin and the others.”


A Line of Hamlets with their Hamlet counterparts

1971 - Ian McKellen (UK/European Tour)
2008 - David Tennant (Royal Shakespeare Company)
2010 - Rory Kinnear (National Theatre)
2015 - Benedict Cumberbatch 
2016 - Paapa Essiedu (Royal Shakespeare Company)