Nicholas Asbury's Guardian Blog
Read Nicholas Asbury's blogs as Propeller tour the UK and the world with Henry V and The Winter's Tale. Click here to find out more.
In the Green Room there is blood on the teaspoons. A bowl of intestines sits in the sink. Leeks are in the fridge. I'm on tour in Henry V with the Propeller theatre company, an all-male troupe who, over the past 15 years, have built a considerable reputation on "a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic". Which means that backstage it's very smelly, the language is of the gutter, and the testosterone is off the charts.
I first worked for this company in 1998 when I performed, er, Henry V with them. At the Watermill in Newbury, the director Ed Hall had an idea about creating a Henry V with a bunch of male actors who would play modern-day soldiers telling the story through the words of the Chorus. The ethos of the company was founded in a small theatre, where the play was bounded by the audience and thus had no set to get in the way of the action. All we had was the same as Shakespeare had: a group of blokes, some costumes and a stage. Actors lived on site; songs that were sung in the Green Room until the early hours found their way into the show; routines created in the bar were used the next day in rehearsal. Out of this came a house style based on camaraderie, humour, hopefully some intelligence, and a good deal of pace and precision. In the years since, the company has gone on to play the West End, Broadway and all over the world.
Now we are once again performing Henry V, and this is my first time back after my own travels with the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's great to be back, and nice to be doing a show with my mates. This is theatre, so you get to know and trust your fellow performers very quickly, but there is nothing like being on stage with a guy who has been one of your best friends for 13 years – you seem to know where they're going to go, what they're going to do. And they know you, too. Actors are good at picking this up quickly, but there is no substitute for friendship. I have had the privilege of being in a couple of the great ensembles over the past 15 years – firstly Propeller and then the Histories company at the RSC – and they have both had the advantage of time. We spent five weeks rehearsing this crazy show. We even underwent military training three times a week. Some really enjoyed it, others (like me) merely used it as an excuse to get to the bar faster. But it did form us into a cohesive unit.
We are at the beginning of a nine-month world tour, starting in Guildford before heading to Italy and thence to Shanghai, and then from New Zealand to Newcastle – and I'm going to be writing about it every so often here. I hope that you will join me and enjoy the sights, sounds (and smells) of being in a theatre company on tour around the world.