I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to do a play about wickedness with such fundamentally kind people.
Richard, after all, isn’t the only mean-spirited or ambitious person in this play. A number of people are out for revenge. At least three are willing to take a life in exchange for a few pieces of gold. I literally can’t count how many curses women lay on others in their (justified!) rage.
I watch them onstage staring coldly at each other, attacking each other, raging at each other, and I believe the characters a lot. There is no question about whether Richard is really all that bad (he is) or whether Elizabeth considers holding back when she takes him to task (she doesn’t). But I have no concerns at all about the actors.
Because I know that the moment they are offstage, they will offer kind words to each other, and receive them. They’ll help each other with a quick costume change. People who were literally spitting at each other onstage will take a moment to hug and reconnect when they are off.
I think that the depth and power of the wickedness in this production is not in spite of the actors’ kindness, but because of it. Their trust in each other frees them to be brave.
It’s like stage combat–the best combat sequences are when both people fighting trust each other not to accidentally land a knap too hard or miss a target. When you trust your partner, you don’t waste brainspace on your own safety. You just go all in.
Even the best actors have a hard time dropping into the depth of the character when there is some part of their mind wondering if their scene partner really means the horrible things they are supposed to say, just a little bit. Kindness builds trust. Trust crushes fear.
And then, we’re free to work.