Fourteen Norfolk-based residents will join 74 adults from Blackpool, Bradford, Canterbury, Cornwall, Norwich and Nottingham, to appear alongside a professional cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Henry VI: Rebellion.
They are part of Shakespeare Nation, a community participation programme run by the RSC and partners including Norwich Theatre, aimed at reaching out to people who have little or no experience of Shakespeare, either as a theatre-goer or performer.
Henry VI: Rebellion, a fresh new take on Henry VI: Part Two, hurtles through one of the most turbulent periods in English history, asking the question: can the people ever really decide their own future?
The amateur group will play the roles of working people who take part in the rebellion led by the character of Jack Cade against Henry VI, and townsfolk in a scene where Henry VI is out hunting.
This play has the most characters of any Shakespeare play, and this production will feature, in total, a cast of 122 people. Twenty-five professional actors (who will also appear in Wars of the Roses), including nine recent drama school graduates. They will be joined by 97 members of the Royal Shakespeare Community gathered from across England: 74 adults from Norwich, Blackpool, Bradford, Canterbury, Cornwall, and Nottingham who are part of the RSC’s Shakespeare Nation community participation programme, and 23 young performers aged 13-17 from the RSC’s Next Generation Act young acting company.
Rehearsals are underway at Norwich Theatre, before taking to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage from April, with each group appearing in four performances in April and May this year.
At each performance, one of the six regional Shakespeare Nation groups and one of three Next Generation Act groups will perform alongside the professional acting company.
Jez Pike, Artist Development Coordinator at Norwich Theatre said: “This is a great opportunity for participants to immerse themselves in Shakespeare and appear on one of the greatest stages in the country. We hope that those involved unlock new skills, make valuable friendships, and discover a passion for Shakespeare which they can then share with their own communities.”
Owen Horsley, director at the RSC, said: “Out of the 37 plays in the canon Henry VI Part Two – or as we are calling it, Henry VI: Rebellion – has more characters than any other play. There are 85 characters on the cast list, which may explain why these plays are rarely done. One of the reasons for this wide array of characters is a series of scenes that Shakespeare writes concerning the people of England, who in various ways interact with the royal family.
This gave us an idea! For many years the RSC has built incredible relationships across the UK with partner theatres through Shakespeare Nation and through and Next Generation Act. After 18 months of developing these links online this production seemed the perfect opportunity to be ambitious. So, for the people of England, we have cast the people of England. This is an extremely exciting project as it allows this history play, written over 400 years ago, to respond directly to the state of the nation – and at points put over 50 people on the RSC stage.”