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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, photostage.co.uk, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and more 

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