Hugh Bonneville plays Gloucester

The Hollow Crown Press Pack Interview

2nd May 2016

Were you familiar with the plays before you came to The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses?
It was one of the plays I was least familiar with, although I had seen them performed on stage. They are exciting and rough and sprawling. At the time this was written, the characters would have been vivid in the audience’s imagination and they would have understood the references. Therefore artistic license has been necessary – this is very much a version of the story, which has been condensed to have a clear narrative line and it is only for the better.

What do you think of your character, Gloucester?
He’s a simple character, caught between the political and the emotional. The history plays are fascinating because they are about family. You see Gloucester devoted to his nephew, devoted to the memory of his brother Henry V. His downfall is ultimately because his wife Eleanor enjoys using the credit card too much!

Describe the heart of these plays.
It is Gloucester’s death that unleashes the Wars of the Roses. The stability he represented was a certain kind of peace. You take out the central pillar of any society then you create a vacuum. In the play you see the dukes piling in, and chaos ensues. This is the heart of the Wars of the Roses.

What are the ramifications of the family quarrels for Gloucester?
The ripples of these family feuds shape nations and have ramifications for centuries to come. The history plays have profoundly truthful family relationships playing out. In Gloucester’s case, he can see the woman he loves bringing a bad image to the central family and to the court.

Did you look at the historical Duke of Gloucester?
It was useful in rehearsals to look at the real history but the plays always develop history for dramatic effect. Shakespeare wrote with a political slant, but of course he will not alienate his audience or his monarch. He understands a good story.

Iconic actors have performed the plays for many years; does that knowledge bring with it a burden of responsibility?
Gloucester is slightly easier because he’s not one of those amazing legendary characters. When I was at the RSC I used to watch Robert Stevens’ Falstaff and Michael Maloney as Hal in the wings. I just loved that production.

What’s it like doing the plays on screen?
Theatre is endlessly refreshable. Every production finds new nuances and has new relevance to its audience. McKellen’s Richard III spoke about a militaristic attitude and context, whereas Benedict’s interpretation is completely different. Shakespeare is extraordinary because the work bears re-examination.

Will this cycle bring Shakespeare to new audiences?
It’s a compelling narrative and beautifully done in our version. People shy away from these plays but our version is very accessible.

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