Stratford dramatist Nicky Cox brings family show Georgie the Knight and the Armour Too Bright to life
FACED with the challenge of creating a drama for children that explains how costumes are made at the RSC, director and writer Nicky Cox devised Georgie the Knight and the Armour Too Bright. She tells Gill Sutherland about how it came about.
NICKY Cox is something of a unique gem in Stratford’s drama world – she straddles both professional and community camps and is fondly embraced by both.
A stalwart of the Bear Pit Theatre Company, she’s both starred in shows – her Vicar of Dibley is not to be forgotten – and also directed some very memorable productions, including most recently the brilliant and ambitious Norman Conquests, which finished just as the first lockdown began in March last year.
After professional training, Nicky spent years on the road with small touring companies, performing Shakespeare and working with theatre in education.
She’s also been an associate practitioner at the RSC for many years, working with the events and exhibition team – now known as the creative placemaking and public programmes team – as well as working as an assistant director, including on the hugely successful Tartuffe.
As a freelance, Nicky says the pandemic has been difficult, with only teaching work one day a week helping her to get through.
Now though, she says the RSC work has picked up in the last few months, and she suddenly found herself with quite a lot to do.
First of all she has been in Blackpool working on the RSC’s Shakespeare Nation project.
“We did The Comedy of Errors but cut down and with a Blackpool twist. So we reflected local history and the heritage of Blackpool comedy,” she explains.
“We looked at Antipholus and Dromio being the straight man and the comedy sidekick, and managed to get a lot of catchphrases into the script.”
Working with local people rather than professionals, Nicky says after Covid restriction kiboshed performance plans, they instead filmed bits around the town, including performing in shop windows.
“It was just great fun,” she adds.
Now she’s back in Stratford, she is bringing Georgie the Knight and the Armour Too Bright to the streets of Stratford after winning a commission from the RSC.
Speaking about how it came about, Nicky explains: “There was a callout commission to create a piece of theatre for family outdoors that had to be linked to the reopening of the costume-making building.
“For eight years I worked a lot with the costume people – lots of tours and onstage events – so I had a lot of knowledge about what they did.
“I had an idea and thought, 'It’s armour and swords – that’s what will excite the kids' and how we can then get the costume-making skills within the play.
“Georgie has a fantastic piece of armour made for them and then wants to go to knight school, but no one will take them as their armour is too bright. Then they get a free ticket to see a show and it’s Henry V – so they talk to Henry after saying, 'You’re a real knight, how do I become one?' He explains that he is an actor but see the costume-maker. Then Georgie gets their armour dulled and bashed up and broken down and so the art of the costume-maker is revealed and saves the day.”
It took less than a week for Nicky to devise the script, especially when she abandoned the idea of writing it in iambic pentameter – “I realised I wasn’t as good as Shakespeare.”
Script done, the next tricky thing was finding actors for the two-hander.
“What’s great is that theatre is getting back on its feet but it meant lots of people aren’t available and the RSC wanted to use local actors.
“Luckily Grace Wylde was suggested. She played one of the Asbo twins in The Boy in the Dress and she is also in the Faith project, which the RSC is producing with Coventry City of Culture – so they were casting for that project and the director of that suggested Grace might be available if we wangle the days. Having seen her as the Asbo twin, I thought that is exactly who Georgie is – just not quite so nasty.”
Also on board playing all the other parts – eight in total – is Ollie Lynes.
“Ollie was in The Christmas Truce and Much Ado a few years ago but we’ve worked together a lot as associate practitioners for the education team, so we know each other well,” explains Nicky. “Ollie is great. He’s a bit bonkers and so able to handle playing eight characters.”
Nicky also has a role. “I’m backstage helping with quick costume changes and working the sound effects – banging dustbin lids."
Georgie the Knight and the Armour Too Bright is being performed at various places around town, including the Bancroft, Henley Street and the Rec.
Nicky says that, while it’s aimed at children, it’s not dumbed down and as they are playing outdoors people have stumbled across the performance as a “happy accident”. The feedback from families and people of all ages has been hugely positive, with many commenting that they had learned more about costume-making at the RSC.
Nicky reflects that it’s been interesting to go back to doing outdoor shows like she used to in the late 90s and early 2000s, especially following the pandemic.
“During the last year or so you question whether the creative life is sustainable. The pandemic has really been a confidence knock. I’m 50 in November and you start to think maybe this is a young person’s game. But doing this for the last few weeks, it’s reignited that passion and so I’ve gone ‘Yeah, I can do this’. I’ve found my tribe and I love working with these amazing people.”
See Georgie the Knight and the Armour too Bright at 2.30pm on 11th August, Henley Street; 18th August, the bandstand, Stratford Rec; and 20th August at the RSC Costume Day – 1pm at the amphitheatre next to Tramway bridge, 2pm in Henley Street and 4.30pm on Bancroft terrace.
RSC Costume Day
On Friday, 20th August, the RSC will host a costume day from noon to 8pm, taking over Bancroft terrace and gardens to celebrate the newly opened costume workshop.
The day will include a series of free pop-up performances, workshops and family-friendly activities throughout the town and forms part of the Threads project, a programme of events celebrating the heritage of costume-making.
Behind the Seams – Join some of the team from the costume workshop in a marquee in Bancroft Gardens. Costumes will be on display and visitors will be able to discover the variety of skills used to produce stage costumes.
Makers’ Market – Discover local craftspeople selling their creations and demonstrating their skills at the market in Waterside.
Costume Craft – Try your hand at costume-making. Colouring, activity packs, crafts and a chance to have creations woven into a costume will all be on offer.
Story Boat – Spend an afternoon on the story boat, listening to tales of the people behind the scenes in the costume workshop and the creations they make. Trips are free.
Music on the Bancroft Terrace – Relax with a drink from the Riverside Cafe and soak up the sights in Bancroft gardens and Waterside while enjoying live music.
Mannequin Trail – Beautifully costumed mannequins from the costume department and RSC Collection will be on display in shop windows around town.