It’s been a full-on three weeks since I last posted, so a slightly shorter description of what we’ve been up to in the rehearsal room.
In week two of rehearsals we examined each scene in detail, identifying its given circumstances, inciting incident, turning point and outcome event. This was a laborious two-and-a-bit days, but helped to clarify an often confusing plot – in the second half the narrative splits into two parts which take place simultaneously, and one of our challenges will be making this division comprehensible. On Wednesday afternoon I finalised casting. We then spent the rest of the week doing character work and beginning to sketch out the show’s staging. Waiting until the second week to cast means that people aren’t currently quite off-book, but there is a wonderful shared mission to the piece, and I feel like I’ve got the roles as spot-on for each actor.
Basic staging continued through week three, culminating in our first stagger-through on Friday morning. Not as awful as I was expecting. My standard experience of these early runs is in devised theatre, where often both the text and the performance are in woeful states. In this case though, the strength of the text shone through, and there were some genuinely moving moments. I was filled with unexpected optimism.
This week (week four) we’ve focused on turning last week’s rough edit into something more interesting. I turned over responsibility for all the physical work to the cast, and took small groups off to work on their individual roles and acting performances. Normally on a show this size I’d have a full-time movement director; while I don’t have that, I do have an incredibly inventive cast. Setting them tasks and coming back and editing their inventions has been an incredibly productive way to double our workload. It also means that they have full ownership over what they are doing, which for me is essential. What’s more, I’ve realised how little interest I have in ‘staging’ in the traditional sense (i.e. telling people where to stand). My interest is much more in finding performances that evolve organically into staging, but in a show of this size, with so many people on stage, actors do know roughly where they need to be standing. Otherwise there’s a cringe-worthy amount of upstaging, aimless wandering, and clumped blocking. Also, I’ve noticed that young actors always seem to think they need to play scenes close to the person they are speaking with. It’s like watching primary-school children playing football where everyone’s chasing for the ball with no sense of greater organisation. Perhaps when working with actors whose stage-craft is better developed it’s possible to ‘block’ less, so perhaps for future drama school shows I’ll work on developing some of these skills in early rehearsals.
Unfortunately most of the cast have been ill, and while we’ve got a lot done, but it’s been a tough week. Two of my main actors (Haroun and Butt) have missed rehearsals entirely. The rest of us have been working long hours, 9am to 8pm every night, often later. The show requires it though – there are so few scenes that don’t involve everyone, so it’s almost impossible to work on more than one scene at a time.
The coming few days (week five) will be make or break. If by Friday we can polish off the good work we’ve already done and solve the few remaining problems, then we’ll be in a brilliant place going into tech. If not, then there may be trouble ahead…
Since I last posted I’ve seen two operas – King Size at ROH 2 and Between Worlds at the Barbican.
King Size, directed by Christoph Marthaler, was a fun and silly take on love-songs through the centuries. Two over-ebullient performers rattled through a melange of romantic music from the Renaissance to the modern day (including the Jackson 5). They performed their roles with a very ‘German’ sense of fun (i.e. the theatrical equivalent of dad-dancing) and beautiful singing. Throughout an old woman crossed the production’s immaculate hotel room, alone. Her silent, lonely presence haunted the production.
Between Worlds focused on a group of office workers trapped in the World Trade Centre on September 11th. While not wanting to take anything away from the absolute tragedy of what happened on that day, dramatically, we spent over an hour watching people sing variations on ‘we’re all going to die’. There was no chance of escape, and the libretto had practically no subtext for the music or staging to get it’s teeth into. Ultimately, I had to ask, why create this piece? The creators emphasised that the piece deliberately ignored the wider context to focus on the human tragedy of the day. A tragedy that has been lost in the event’s global after-effects. But this is a ludicrous statement – just in it’s choice of subject the show was emphatically political. Why should we eulogise and mourn these specific dead? What about the hundreds of thousands that died in the West’s revenge-soaked retaliation? What about the terrorists themselves? What questions did this piece ask of humanity? And what did it add to our understanding of 9/11?
Movies / TV
Inevitably going to miss a few as it’s been so long since I last posted. But one highlight of the last few weeks has been discovering the extraordinary French cartoon Le Roi et l’Oiseau. Created by Paul Grimault and Jacques Prevert, it’s a beautifully conceived vision, a kind of surreal, modernist take on a classic Walt Disney film. I’d never heard of Grimault before, but he has become to me one of those visionary directors (like Disney himself, and Marcel Carne, Hayao Miyazaki, Wes Anderson, David Lynch, Francois Truffaut, Steve McQueen…) that I now can’t imagine life without. I also watched Mondo Enduro, about a group of motorcyclists who spend a year motorcycling around the world. Nutters. But incredibly charming in their absolute geekiness and bumbling Englishness.
Jon Hopkins at the Brixton Academy – what a blast! Amazing to be going to live music once again and a reminder of all that I have been missing while spending so many of my evenings watching plays. Exciting, fun and with a swagger that theatre can only dream of.
Proust has been plodding along, but I’m finally coming to my senses with French. If I really want to improve then I do need to make some focus elsewhere. Proust is doing little more than helping me to sleep every night. And I honestly think I’d be getting much more out of it in English. So I’ve taken a few steps back and have got myself a load of Tintin comics (oh my word Tintin in the Congo is outrageously un-PC), am re-reading Bonjour Tristesse, and have downloaded Perault and Anderson’s fairy tales. Plus I’m going to watch a bunch of French animated movies and focus on learning the most used words in French in my non-reading time. So hopefully this will be the way forward!
Obviously the election has been a constant side-interest. I’ve gone through moments of being utterly bored and occasionally riveted; but mainly totally frustrated. Cameron, Milliband and Clegg just say the same thing over and over again. Elections seem to have become more about repeating sound-bites than any kind of real debate. Politicians now treat us like we’re stupid, and you could see public anger boiling over on Question Time. Why can’t politicians act like normal human beings and not the public relations department of their political party?!!!
Highlights since the last blog
– Thomas Jack live at the Brixton Academy.
– Discovering the French film Le Roi et l’Oiuseau. It’s already leap-frogged into my top ten movies.
– Alia Malik moving in – a real delight to have such a cherished friend around.
– Seeing my summer plans emerging – including holidays, personal development time, and production work for Instructions.
– Giving my French a big kick-start.