Category Archives: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Final week of Haroun rehearsals

Haroun Rehearsals

Haroun Set

I like to choose wildly ambitious shows that I have no idea how to make – shows that are way beyond my skill-set and comfort zone. Not because I’m a masochist (although it sometimes feels like that), but because I think it’s the surest way to develop my craft as a director.

I love Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and I knew it would be an ideal piece for the ensemble I would be working with. But I also knew it would be a huge challenge. The show involves flying scenes, underwater scenes, a journey into outer space, a dizzying number of locations, crazy characters, monsters, shadows and ships – none of which I had any idea how to create. It is by far the most ambitious project I’ve ever undertaken, and I was coming straight into it from a previous show, so had very little time for preparation. It’s also the first time I’ve worked with a pre-written text in about five years.

Hopefully the show will be a success and the students will have taken a lot from the process, but this afternoon I’ve been reflecting on my own learning outcomes.

– My preparation going into the show was not adequate. I didn’t know the story well enough, I hadn’t made clear design choices, and I was bringing my ‘wing-it’ attitude from years of devising. Part of me is quite happy that I delayed design decisions until late in the process – it meant that I’m very happy with the choices we made. On the other hand, going through the design process at the same time as trying to put together a horrifically complicated show was not particularly helpful. It also meant that the cast won’t have their costumes until they get into the theatre. For a show as physical as this one, the costumes may change what the performers are capable of doing, and I wish we had been able to look at these things earlier.

– I’ve been much more disciplined on voice work this time round, but watching the run on Friday, I still felt like this was the show’s weak point. Huge amounts of time have been concerned with the logistics of staging. For a future I want to direct a very naturalistic piece that will force me to work on basic acting skills!

– I was much better in my rehearsal planning than I have been in the past, but I still think I could have used the early part of the rehearsal period more efficiently. I always seem to get to technical rehearsals wishing I just had a couple more days.

– Casting is absolutely everything. I couldn’t have made this show without the physical skills and imagination of the actors I’ve been working with. The single biggest thing a director does in determining the quality of a show is in the casting of it. If you want the show to be physical/funny/wacky you must find physical/funny/wacky actors, and then let them play. Riff off what they bring to rehearsals and make sure the best bits get into the show. What’s more, by delaying casting until the second week of rehearsals, I was really able to make much better choices over parts, which has been incredibly beneficial. I haven’t held auditions since the last scripted piece I did over five years ago. The idea of having to make choices in such a small space of time now fills me with horror. There really is no substitute for spending time in a rehearsal room with actors.


I haven’t made it to any shows this week – non-stop rehearsals!

Movies / TV

Not much of this either!


Went to Thomas Jack at the Laundry E8. A fun night, mainly because I was with Harri and Alia – I thought Thomas Jack was a bit disappointing. It’s actually the guest mixes on his Soundcloud channel that I love the most…. His live mixing skills were pretty bad and he didn’t really know how to build a structure and rhythm to the night. Shame, but a fun night out nonetheless.


Nope, haven’t been doing much of this either!


Obviously the big event of this week was the elections. I think the idea of another Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition was at least vaguely palatable, but the Tories getting in with an outright majority – ouch… I can’t quite believe some of the policies they are planning on putting through – like tearing up The Human Rights Act – but I hope an EU referendum will take the sting out of UKIP. And if nothing else, hopefully the country will emerge financially streamlined. It’s a worrying five year in stall though, that’s for sure.

The other big shocker of the night was the clear inadequacy of the electoral system. For UKIP and the Green Party to have polled so high nationally, but to have ended up with so few seats is a disgrace.

First week of Haroun Rehearsals

The Week in Work
First week of rehearsals for Haroun and the Sea of Stories at East 15, and I’ve been looking at two strands. In the mornings, I’ve been introducing the kind of techniques that I use as a director – Gaullier’s ‘pleasure’ principle and his insistence on actor sensitivity, Anne Bogart and Tina Landau’s Viewpoints and Keith Johnstone’s status work. In the afternoons, the group has been exploring the plot, themes, personal significance and contemporary resonances of the play. What I’ve immediatley noticed is that they are incredibly brilliant at corporeal work, and so bringing this element into the piece is an absolute must. The question I face is how to do that without any Le Coq-style ‘physical theatre’… which I hate. Why do I hate it? Because for me it’s very hackneyed, stuck in the 80s, and obsessed with ornate style over human substance. I’m looking for something a bit fresher; something that maintains a focus on the actors performances as opposed to showing off their gymanstic dexterity. However, the other problem I have is how to create the umpteen landscapes and action sequences with zero money. So lots to be thinking about moving forward. This week coming I want to really nail down some very specific scene and character work, before moving onto the big staging questions…

I’ve been hard at work in Southend all this week – so no time to watch shows!

Movies / TV
Watched the movie Starlet, by director Sean Baker. A fun, quirky piece – although I wonder how much patience I would have had with its stilted plotting if Drew Hemingway hadn’t been so absolutely gorgeous to watch. Even if it was kinda hackneyed story-wise, the cinematography and soundtrack were utterly fabulous, and it had that relaxed and rough feel that I’m really enjoying at the moment. Still, I wonder how much of me was watching the movie for its artistic merits, and how much of me was just enjoying the scantily clad women…

I listened to Hannah Kendall and Anna Clyne’s hour-long slots on Radio 3’s Composer of the Week. Massively enjoyed both, and Hannah’s epic music I’d of course heard before. Anna Clyne was new to me though, and a revelation – a combination of the electronic sampling with the modernist aesthetic of Steve Reich and Philip Glass. Utterly entrancing and can’t wait to explore more.

I’ve been reading David Selbourne’s account of Peter Brook’s rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a frustrating account – Selbourne is far more interested in the politics of the rehearsal room, the ethics of the director/actor relationship, his misgivings about ‘director’s theatre’ and his own insecurities as a failing writer. Really, all I care about is what Peter Brook was doing! There are occasional descriptions of rehearsal exercises, but these are few and far between. Still, interesting that Brook was so caustic with his actors, and so harsh on them. It’s not always about being immediately loved by the actors, but pushing them to a place, perhaps of great discomfort, where they will make deep discoveries.

Week Highlights

– A lovely day spent exploring the marshlands of the Thames estuary in Essex. Found an amazing pub located in a boat in Benfleet. Want to go back!


– Got the Versys back – although significantly damaged…

– Sold the Varadero for £550. Day after I put it in Ebay. Nice!

– Discovered a new composer whose work I love – Anna Clyne

– The weather has been glorious – long may it continue.

The Coming Week
Outside of work, I’m looking forward to Alia moving in tomorrow night, and seeing King Size at the ROH on Friday night. I’m also trying to focus more and more on self-development, and want to spend some time reviewing Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. A very inspiring book that helped me a lot a while back.