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Haroun Rehearsals Week 4

Haroun Rehearsals
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…

Shows
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.

Music
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.

Jon Hopkins

Reading
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!

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Other
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.

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Week in review – projects collide and my motorbike gets stolen

The week in work
Well, it’s been a hectic and fragmented week, and to be honest, I’m looking forward to getting focused on Haroun and the Sea of Stories rehearsals next week. Too much colliding on too many projects!

Unexpectedly, it felt like the opera I’m doing next year – The Knife of Dawn – got the lion’s share of my time. Monday was spent going through the first treatment of the libretto and meeting with Irina Brown to get some opera directing advice (I can’t wait until the summer, when I’m going to dedicate a big chunk of time to learning more about the medium). On Wednesday I was in the hallowed halls of the Royal Opera House to meet with their Associate Director John Fulljames – he was full of brilliant and generous producing advice. Hopefully he’ll remember me for my talent and charm rather than the fact that I dropped water all over his table and within centimetres of his MacBook! On Thursday evening we were at Tessa’s house going over her brilliant first treatment in minute detail. It’s shaping up to be a very exciting piece of work.

After that, Instructions for American Servicemen had a lot of producing work to be done, not to mention another work-in-progress outing at the Bath Comedy Festival, which went fantastically well. Boy In Darkness looks set to tour next year, and there were meetings about how that might work. A Lecture on Doubt, the live art/music/performance piece I’m developing with Sarah Johns got an evening session and some pitch writing. Finally, I was desperately trying to get my head around Haroun and the Sea of Stories and put together a vague rehearsal plan. Not quite enough done yet, but I should be able to get through the first week unscathed!

I also managed to fit in an afternoon of yoga for directors at the Young Vic, and a very lovely coffee with the theatrical demi-god that is Mike Alfreds. Such a lovely man, and wonderful to soak up his independent spirit and wealth of experience. I hope I’m as sprightly, switched on, and relaxed as he when I’m seventy.

Theatre Shows
I only managed the one show this week: Politrix at the new Hackney Showroom. It’s a strange space – basically a medium-sized warehouse with folding chairs, a lighting rig, and an mdf-bar decorated with fluorescent tubes a la Dan Flavin – but it was used brilliant by the Big House Theatre company, and shows a lot of potential. One thing going for it is it’s immense size compared to most fringe venues. My worry is that it’ll be scuppered by it’s woeful transport links. If it can tap into the local community, taking in both the ‘real’ Hackney-ites and the gentrifying cool-crowd, then it could have a flavoursome future. It’s hard to see it appealing to a wider London community though; unfortunately, when it comes to transport, I think people are just too lazy.

Reading
I’ve been reading The Active Text – Unlocking Plays Through Physical Theatre by Dymphna Callery. Although I’ve only made it through the first few chapters, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect book. Essentially it’s about applying physical theatre and devising techniques to the rehearsals of a pre-written play. Haroun… is the first ‘play’ I will direct in nearly four years. In my head, I was inventing all sorts of rehearsal room exercises to develop the ensemble’s knowledge of the text and characters. Low and behold, I open Dymphna’s book, and there are all the things I was planning on doing, and more. Although I’ll also be bringing in a huge array of Gaullier and Viewpoints inspired practise, it’s great to have a rehearsals road-map that I can experiment from over the next few weeks.

Music
I’ve been listening to a lot of Thomas Jack’s Tropical House mix-tapes. I’ve been knackered, but played while working, they’ve kept me upbeat and energised when all I wanted to do was sleep. A little bit of summer in my life.

Miscellaneous Thoughts
Without doubt the most traumatic part of this week has been having my new motorcycle stolen. Coming home on Thursday night, I was absolutely shattered, and must have dropped the key after locking up the bike. Returning the next day from Bath (where I’d spent most of the day fighting off a horrendous migraine), I walked past my parking-spot to discover it no longer there. Stolen. Through my own stupidity. It’s been a hard knock to take. I keep trying to remind myself that it’s only a motorcycle, that on every other scale of measurement my life is going stupendously well at the moment. Having Jean-Pierre visit from Paris has been an amazing way to keep my mind off it – no-one else makes me laugh so much. Ultimately though, I’m absolutely gutted. It sounds silly to say, but I had fallen in love with that bike. I was so proud of her. Every time I walked away from her I would gaze back, besotted by her beauty.  She represented freedom, anarchy, danger – the fact that my career was coming together and I could finally afford luxuries. And now she is gone, probably forever. She was not insured, and she was one of a kind. I know that in a short space of time I’ll get over the loss, but honestly, for the moment, thinking about it makes me want to cry.

The week’s highlights:

– Seeing The Real MacGuffins have a storming night at the Bath Comedy Festival

– Having Jean-Pierre visit from Paris

– A great session on Knife of Dawn with Tessa and Hannah

– Brilliant final show of Boy In Darkness by Gareth

– Very inspiring coffees with Irina Brown, Mike Alfreds and John Fulljames

The coming week

Can’t believe I’m starting rehearsals on Tuesday for my next show. Like with Boy In Darkness I feel woefully unprepared. I have a plan though, and I’m sure it will work out. At the very least, the script has already been written! Design meetings tomorrow, then on the train (grrr) the morning after. Southend here I come!!!

Week in review – 29th March 2015

The week’s highlights

1 – A very relaxing three days at home, mostly spent sleeping, reading and lying horizontal. Mum even brought me breakfast in bed once!
2 – Got a brand new phone which is rather lovely thankyou very much. A Samsung A3. And quite frankly, I don’t know why anyone would need anything more.

3 – Motorbike I think is finally fixed. Seems to be running very well either way.

4 – Had a couple of really strong shows for Boy In Darkness.

5 – Have been getting firmly back into yoga-zone.

The Week in Work

Not a huge deal of this, as I was mainly home trying to catch up on sleep this week. But it was great to see Gareth really beginning to nail consistent performances of Boy In Darkness and enjoying himself much more with the narrated segments. I hope that we can take this show on the road, it’s an incredible piece, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

This week’s shows

So, I got along to a couple of friend’s shows and Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Royal Opera House this week.

I’ll keep waiting on the pavement for the ice cream van to come was the first solo show from my friend Ian Nicholson. A work-in-progress set in and around an ice cream van, it linked the history and demise of this particular British institution to Ian’s reflections on coming from the ‘island’ city of Portsmouth. There’s a lot of work still to come on this show, particularly in bringing together the rather tenuous link between the ice cream van and Pompey. Personally I would ditch the latter and focus on ice cream vans, but then again, I don’t really make the kind of auto-biographical pieces that this is trying to be. My main gripe with the show though was the £12 ticket price – which felt outrageous given that the show was clearly still in development, Ian was reading from a script at times, and the piece ended rather abruptly after thirty minutes. Inviting audiences to work-in-progress showings is an integral part of the way I work as well, but the prices are kept intentionally lower, and the show will at least be in some semblance of readiness.

For only £10 extra, I was able to sit (admittedly quite high) at the Royal Opera House for John Fulljames’ new production of Brecht and Weill’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny. The piece tells the story of the founding and ultimate degeneration of a kind of modern Sodom or Gomorrah where money is God and women little more than the trophies of men’s success. There were some fantastic musical highlights, and the mix of more traditional arias with jazz and other styles reminded me of Weinberg’s The Passenger – one of my all time operatic favourites. The acting and singing were strong, and Finn Ross’ projections brilliant; all in all, it had the ingredients of a great night out… but, ultimately, I was uninspired. Huge portions of it seemed to drag, and the production was just too safe, too clean; a Barbie-and-Ken-style parable, not the gritty, dirty, dangerous horror story it could have been. I think Es Devlin’s design has a lot to blame for this – there is no doubting how clever and pretty it was – but it was a smug and incredibly self-satisfied design that at best seemed to miss the point and at worst pandered to the very pretensions which Brecht and Weill’s opera was attacking. Which leads me to my final point – Brecht… I’ve staged his work myself, I think his innovations as a director were monumental, but nowadays, I just think his parables are so ludicrously one-sided. Capitalists aren’t necessarily evil, but are a fundamental and often ingenious part of our society. Yes, we should put curbs on greed, but to make them the villain of every piece, as Brecht does, is just absurd.

Later that evening I went along to Stringberg’s Creditors at the Brockley Jack, in a new version by my friend Neil Smith. Given the number of times I’ve seen and read Miss Julie, I can’t believe this very similar piece has slipped me by. As Neil said, it’s a kind of Miss Julie minus class anxieties. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a ‘classic’ on the fringe, and it was a bit of strange experience. I sit in studio theatres and want to see something new or rarely done, something bold or formally adventurous. While Creditors was all of these things 125 years ago, and still retains Strindberg’s psychological brilliance, this is a very straight production. It’s a good production… but ultimately I can’t see the point. If I want to see a conventionally staged classics I’ll wait until the Donmar does it again with brilliant actors and exquisite production values. Given how fringe theatre prices are going I won’t have to pay much more for the privilege. The Fringe at its best offers experiences unavailable elsewhere.

Reading

I got a lot of reading done over my three days at home – Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins was my holiday book. A fun page-turner, and although it was somewhat spoiled by my having already seen the film, I enjoyed it’s simplistic escapism. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, based on his experiences in Auschwitz and Dachau, was a different kettle of fish – a both horrifying and hopeful vision of human behaviour. Leaving enough hints for our imaginations, Frankl fortunately saved us from graphic descriptions of the concentration camps. What emerges instead are the reflections of a  beautifully inspirational man. From the depths of misery, Frankl formulated what I suppose is today referred to as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – the theory that it is not the good or bad events that determine our mental health, but the attitudes that we take towards these events. Apparently when working with patients, Frankl would often ask ‘Why do you not commit suicide?’, and from the answers then received, move forwards. Linked to this is his other central tenet – that we should not be asking the meaning of life, but asking what life expects from us. In my case, I don’t commit suicide because there is so much of this world I want to explore, so many great friends I want to spend time with, so many experiences I’ve yet to have, so much more development as an artist I want to make, not to mention the fact that I don’t think I could ever put my mum through me killing myself! This is what life expects of me – to do my best for my friends, my family, my work… and to do it with the most generosity, humaneness and dignity I can muster. I firmly believe Frankl when he says that ‘pleasure is, and must remain, a side effect or by product, destroyed and spoiled to the degree to which it is made a goal in itself’.

Music

Did I mention this last week – I’ve been loving Public Service Broadcasting. Although I prefer the music on their first album Inform-Educate-Entertain I love the full blown concept-album The Race for Space. The track Go! is just an incredible, heart-thumping and joyous experience.

Film & TV

Finally finished Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round this week. What an adventure! And what a brilliantly entertaining pair. Eastern Russia was just crazy, and reminded me of the joys of travelling off the beaten track, where the world is just a totally different place. I can’t wait to start watching The Long Way Down next.

I also caught Spike Jonze’s Her, which I loved, and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha, which wasn’t quite as wonderful (and definitely didn’t get my mum’s seal of approval!), but which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both films had sensational lead performances from Joaquim Phoenix and Greta Gerwig’s respectively. Is Gerwig the most beautiful, fun and perfect women ever?

The coming week

Lots of little bits and bobs coming up, but priorities include:
– Final preparations for Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which starts rehearsals on the 6th.
– Time on Knife of Darkness treatment before meeting on Thursday
– Coffees with Irina Brown, John Fulljames, Mike Alfreds
– Final week of Boy In Darkness run – we’re aso filming the show, and lots more friends coming to see.
Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain is having another try-out at the Bath Comedy festival
– My friend Jean-Pierre is coming to visit from Paris!!!
– Yoga and theatre afternoon at Young Vic

Boy in Darkness opens!

Week in work

Boy In Darkness opened! And although it’s not perfect, I’m immensely proud. In less than four weeks we have written, staged, designed and teched what I think is a gem of a show. It’s been hard work, but I’ve learnt an enormous amount and the effort has been utterly worthwhile. Highlights of the show are of course Gareth’s performance, Svetlana’s movement direction, and the stunning combination of Martin’s design and Fiffi’s lighting. I also think we’ve managed to retain the mystery, tension and language of the original novella without compromising on theatricality. With an extra week of rehearsals I would have loved to have sculpted each of the scenes a bit more clearly, and done everything I could to make the show scarier. Ultimately though, I think the show is rather brilliant, and I feel very blessed to have been involved. The Peake family came on Friday and gave it their unanimous seal of approval, which was the icing on the cake.

boy_in_the_darkness001

This was the first time I’ve put together a ‘mood board’ for the show, and given how jaw-droppingly beautiful the show looks, it’s certainly something I’ll be doing again. Check out the board plus images from the show here:

Theatre trips
Given that I spent the whole week in tech, previews and opening night for ‘Boy In Darkness’, I unsurprisingly didn’t make it to any theatre this week. However, lying in bed last night, I listened to a recording of Kate Tempest’s ‘Brand New Ancients’, which I saw last year at BAC. It’s an astounding piece – written in achingly beautiful modern verse, performed with virtuosic commitment and skill, underscored deliciously and telling an astounding modern epic. Just incredible. Had me in tears yet again.

Other cultural highlights

Ha! Not much time for anything else. Continuing to enjoy The Long Way Round on Netflix.

Reading stuff
Still stumbling along with Proust… After some delicious pages where the narrator glimpses the young daughter of Swann… we seem to be back to mind-numbing descriptions of Combray and the narrator’s family. Still, good to fall asleep to.

Miscellaneous Thoughts
Luckily I was able to get to yoga-brunch this Thursday at Hackney Downs Studio. It’s such a wonderful place to work, and the way in which they’re building a real community of artists is quite special. It reminds you that in a place like London, and in a career as transient as theatre directing, having that kind of place to go back to is a real privilege.

The Coming Week
So, there was me thinking I might have a bit of down time, but next week I’ve got a casting and design meeting for my next East 15 show (Haroun and the Sea of Stories – which I haven’t even had a chance to read yet), a meeting with my relationship manager at the Arts Council, a meeting with the Head of Publishing at the Bodleain Libraries about rights for ‘Instructions…’, and numerous other bits and bobs for the various other projects I’m working on. So, the silly season of being ridiculously busy continues! Luckily, I’m looking forward to all of these things, not to mention the culmination of the Six Nations on Saturday. I just wish they weren’t all coming so on top of eachother…

The week’s highlights
– Successfully navigating our way to Boy In Darkness’ opening night, and a cracking performance from Gareth to boot!
– Meeting with the Peake family and getting their seal of approval on the show
– Surprising mum in Cardiff for mother’s day
– Hanging out with Lily while she’s over from Berlin
– Riding the Kawasaki over the Severn Bridge – magical!
– Yoga Brunch at Heartspace

Week in review – Sunday 8th March

Theatre trips
After last week’s fiascos, it was a welcome change to see some brilliant shows…

Dead Centre’s ‘Lippy’ at the Young Vic and Gecko’s ‘Missing’ at BAC

In a normal week Lippy would have been the highlight, but that award goes to Gecko’s Missing’. Both shows were beautiful meditations – Lippy on the impossibility of crossing the divide between ourselves and other people, the present and the past; and Missing on how the narratives of our past continue to shape our present. As well, both shows were outstanding explorations of theatrical form.

Lippy started with a wonderful twist – a mock post-show Q&A. The subject of lip-reading was introduced, the difficult of ever really being able to interpret what other people are saying explored, and various elements of the preceding ‘show’ alluringly dropped in. I knew nothing about Lippy beforehand, so assumed this was going to be the entire show… it was amusing, interesting, but I did wonder how they were going to keep it going for 75 minutes. I needn’t have worried. The reveal into the show’s next portion was a spectacular coup-de-theatre – one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve had in a theatre. The wordless sequence that followed was stunningly choreographed, beautifully executed, and both magical and terrifying at the same time. Ultimately the show’s second half could probably have done with some trimming, but it’s mix of Artaud, Beckett, Joyce, performance art and movement was intoxicating. The questions it asked were innumerable, but ultimately for me, at it’s heart was the impossibility of ever truly interpreting the events of the past or each other. We’re really all alone on this planet…

When I fist saw Gecko ten years ago, I would have firmly classed them as theatre. Frequently now, they are referred to as a dance company. It’s a mark of how they have developed, and the beguiling hinterland they now inhabit between the two worlds. My relationship with their work is slightly love/hate relationship though. The first time I saw them (performing ‘The Race’ in 2005), I adored their energy, fun and unabandoned joy. They were so playful with their exploration of modern life and created beautiful images out of very little more than a treadmill and puffs of chalk. Since then, they’ve grown up, and I haven’t always enjoyed the results. Many of their shows have been slow, ponderous – always an absolute treat for the senses, but frustratingly oblique. ‘Missing’ felt like the summation of that early energy and all the aesthetic lessons they have learnt from their more indulgent shows. At its centre was a wrenching narrative – the central character’s childhood trauma, the present damage it still has, and the fantastical ways the character attempts to deal with those early experiences. The imagery was wonderful, and the story and acting heart-breaking. Above all though, the show gave me an incredible amount of space to infuse my own life into the story. The cornucopia of languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, German), the ambiguous characters, the non-linear presentation, the lack of prescriptive story-telling – Gecko never tried to lead the audience to clear conclusions about what the show might be trying to ‘say’. It was a wonderful lesson in telling just enough to allow us to follow a basic story, but never too much that might close down our own dreams and interpretations.

East 15 Physical Theatre Showcase – I’ll be directing these students in a month or so, and seeing their showcase was incredibly exciting. Their physical abilities are brilliant, they explode off the stage with their sheer youthful exuberance, and they work together as an ensemble superbly. ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ is going to be a challenge for both them and me, but it’s a challenge I’m really looking forward to.

Week in work
It’s been a tough week again with Boy In Darkness. Having finished the script last Friday, we only left ourselves a week to properly stage it. Well, when I saw ‘we’, I mean ‘I’. There have been a few hard lessons I’ve learnt during the course of this show, and one of the hardest is that the five weeks rehearsals is not the same as the three weeks. Perhaps blindingly obvious, but not something I fully appreciated until now. I spent the first week of rehearsals as if I had four more to go, and we’ve been playing catch-up ever since. Gareth (bless his socks) has worked insanely hard throughout, and so we did finish the week with a half-decent run that bodes well for next week. But of course, now we have to hand over to tech rehearsals, so time is ticking away! However there is so much in Gareth’s performance that is exciting, the set looks amazing, and I think the show is going to be a real treat.

It’s also been quite a humbling week in other ways. Not only have I had to come to terms with the mistakes I made in earlier weeks of rehearsals, but our movement director Svetlana Biba came in twice and showed me everything that I could have been doing! What an amazing talent she is – a supremely gifted physical performer with an incredible visual imagination and a brilliant directorial eye. Sitting in the corner watching her work I felt pretty useless… In two afternoons her impact on the show has been immeasurable, and the way she has unlocked Gareth’s physical abilities has been amazing. A real lesson in directing which I’m utterly grateful to have received, no matter how painful it might have been to sit through.

Moving forward, my aims for the coming week are to bring a much more mischievous and humorous layer to Gareth’s narrator, greatly improve the visual storytelling, and really bring out the coming-of-age story that I think lies at the heart of this piece. Lots to do, so fingers crossed!

Rehearsal set...

 

Other cultural highlights

After getting frustrated watching Ewen McGregor and Charley Boorman’s ‘The Long Way Round’ on a low-res YouTube link I ordered the DVD, only to discover minutes after it was on Netflix anyway!!! Anyways, have been loving this series. Normally I find travel programmes kinda boring, and I guess this reflects my own travelling tastes. I enjoy holidays most when I’m either relaxing on a beach, or doing something adventurous like kayaking or mountaineering. There’s this middle zone where you just kind of wander around looking at stuff which I find tedious. Maybe when I was inter-railing aged seventeen this was cool, but I guess then, the adventure was to be inter-railing at the age of seventeen! Ultimately, I’m just not that interested in other cultures… or not as much as I feel I ‘should’ be. Having worked in tourism for ten years and spent so much of my own time travelling, I just find sightseeing kinda boring now. The experience itself of being on holiday is more important to me, the countries I’m visiting a backdrop to this. I want to be relaxing, having an adventure, or spending time with family and friends. The Long Way Round reflects this – the countries they visit and the people they meet are incredibly important, beautifully shot, and culturally fascinating… but the adventure of Ewan and Charley motorcycling around the world is the real story, and even this, ultimately, plays second fiddle to a beautiful bromance between two very funny men.

Music
After a couple of weeks of non-stop Four Tet, I’ve been re-discovering my love of Tom Robinson’s ‘Introducing’ podcast on Radio 6. His taste is impeccable, and the absence of a DJ blathering away wonderful. More than anything, the music is stunning – a great mix from intimate acoustic numbers to punk to weird electronica. Joyous.

Reading stuff
So I’ve turned a slight corner with Proust. I was getting totally frustrated with its slow pace, it’s meandering prose, it’s horrendously difficult French. I thought, this is beyond me, I’m going to read Dumas instead. But actually, reading the first few pages of Les Trois Mousquetaires, I found myself immediately missing Proust’s exquisite writing. For all its difficulty, it is a truly wonderful mix of poetry and prose. So I decided to change the way I’m reading it. Now, I’m just taking it one paragraph at a time, one page a night. I read the page twice in French, check the vocab I don’t know, and then read my English translation to make sure there’s nothing I missed. So it takes a while. But instead of my normal way of reading books – which is generally a rush to find out what happens next – I’m now seeing every page as a treasure-trove in its own right, if only I take the time to really explore it. And I’m falling in love with the book again, with it’s meditative pace, and the space it takes to examine the minutiae of life. It’s quite zen… I might even describe it as an exercise in mindfulness. And given that it’s the last thing I do every night before falling asleep, I feel like it’s genuinely affecting my life and my waking thought patterns. If nothing else, it makes reading Ulysses seem like a doddle!

Miscallanous Thoughts
Not much time for these! Although it’s been amazing to see the sun come out and the hints of summer arriving. I can’t wait to get on my bike and start exploring the world.

The week’s highlights

– Gecko’s ‘Missing’ at the BAC and Dead Centre’s ‘Lippy’ at the Young Vic

– Taking the Versys for a couple of rides.

– Getting to a full run for Boy In Darkness

– Discovering ‘The Long Way Round’ was on Netflix

– Watching and learning from our movement director Svetlana

A hard week at work

The week’s highlights

– Getting to the end of an exhausting week of Boy In Darkness rehearsals with a strong script and direction for next week’s rehearsals

– Another brilliant afternoon spent with the amazing Barbara Houseman

– The improving weather

– A night-time ride on the new motorcycle

– The delicious coffee I’ve been drinking from my Aeropress

– Unexpectedly bumping into my friend Lily (who lives in Berlin) at the Lyric Hammersmith

Theatre trips

Happy Days by Samuel Beckett at the Young Vic
Secret Theatre: A Streetcar Named Desire at the Lyric Hammersmith

I didn’t make it past the interval of either of these two productions. Perhaps I was not in the best mental shape to be watching theatre this week, exhausted from Boy In Darkness rehearsals. But I’ve sat through great theatre when exhausted and come out feeling utterly exhilarated and awake. Neither of these two shows managed anything but the opposite.

Happy Days  – Every two or three years I say I’m going to give Beckett another chance. I’ve seen some of my favourite directors tackle his work – Robert Wilson (Happy Days), Simon McBurney (Endgame, with Mark Rylance), Peter Brook (Fragments). Every time I go back, I have renewed optimism that this time I’ll enjoy Beckett. But every time I’m bored shitless. Which is not the feeling I get when I read Beckett… but I’ve just never had that magical experience, which I’m sure must happen occasionally, when it roars off the stage in all its absurd beauty and hilarity. For example, having sat through two dull as ditchwater productions of Endgame a few years ago, I actually decided to read it. I was laughing away! I thought, this is pure clown… but I’ve never seen it played that way. Instead, whenever I see Beckett, it’s treated with absolute reverence: ‘we are in the presence of greatness’. Something sacred. Something that we will endure like it or not. Nothing can survive this kind of reverence, which the Young Vic production wallowed in. It was not funny, I didn’t feel any kind of connection to Juliet Stevenson, I didn’t understand the design choices, and I was bored. Surely someone can make Beckett both meaningful and entertaining!

Secret Theatre – A Streetcar Named Desire Some of the best things I’ve seen in London originated from David Farr’s tenure at the Lyric Hammersmith – Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Spyski immediately jump to mind. But there’s something I find deeply unappealing about the Lyric’s current output. I admire Sean Holmes’ attempts to explore more European aesthetics, and in some cases this has paid off wonderfully (his production of Simon Stephens’ Morning was a brilliant case in point). On the most part though, I feel like I’m watching very boring English actors dumped into an empty approximation of German theatre. Now I have to point out that I was in a minority of one at the theatre – everyone else at the production was enthralled. But for me, this was an ugly, miscast, badly acted, embarrassingly bad production that stripped Williams’ sensuous world of any mystery, beauty, elan or atmosphere. I can see what Holmes was trying to do – blast the play down to it’s absolutely brutal kernel. But by robbing the piece of all that steamy atmosphere of the American south and replacing it with a cold, rational, British-accented reading of the piece, so much was lost and little gained. I find Holmes’ productions posses the stark outward facade of a continental production (or at least what we in the UK imagine to be a continental production), but the actors themselves don’t seem to be doing anything different. There is none of the imagination, craziness and explosiveness of the best European theatre. It’s not enough to put actors in austere, art-gallery-like settings. Something else has to happen to the very DNA of the performance itself. At a minimum, a director should read the play like a poet; not a social scientist.

Week in work

It’s been a tough old week at the office. Every production goes through it’s ‘oh shit’ moment, when you’re faced with the reality of opening night, and the complete unpreparedness of the production for that occasion. This happened on Monday, when Gareth and I hit absolute loggerheads. Gareth had gone away over the weekend and come back with some drafts of the script. There was a lot of great stuff within it, but when I tried to suggest some changes, Gareth got very defensive. I got defensive back – what was I supposed to be doing here if not to give feedback? I think both of us were struggling with our own battles. My worries were that I had completely scuppered the rehearsal process by working in a way that was completely unsupportive of Gareth as a performer. Forcing him to take a very analytical approach to the piece, spending so much time focused on writing a solid script, and asking him to stick much more closely to Peake’s language than he had been. Gareth’s never worked this way before. He’s instinctual, brilliant, highly physical. He left school when he was fourteen. I think my preoccupation with the script left me, in his mind, being connected with every teacher who’d ever criticized his written work. I think he was also panicking with the sheer scale of work that needed to be done. I took some of his scenes and worked on them that night, to show that actually I wasn’t asking for big changes, but just refining, clarification. Showing this to Gareth the next day, he saw this, and his trust slowly returned. For the next two days we were pretty much stuck in front of our computers. Gareth sending me drafts, me re-drafting them, until we got to the end. Thursday we read through the drafts, cut down on my tendency to over-write scenes, and then did the same again on Friday. Neither of us got a great deal of sleep, but the effort was fully worthwhile. We now have a very solid script going into the last week of rehearsals that I hope will serve us well. What’s more, going through the oh-shit phase, working our asses off together, and finally coming out the other end with something we were both happy with has cemented our relationship in a wonderful way. I’m very excited about moving forward.

I’m also incredibly excited about the rest of the creative team we have working with us. Martin’s set ideas are looking fabulous, and Jon’s first stabs at sound design had us talking about a gazillion possibilities. Our second voice session with Barabara Houseman was also amazing – having someone of her experience working on the project is quite an incredible privilege.

Which leaves me with Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain, which, believe it or not, was also kicking off massively this week! We now have twenty confirmed or pencilled bookings, which is the target I set myself at the beginning of the bookings process. Huzzah! Mainly this week we’ve had a lot of rural schemes jumping on-board, but we will also be returning to venues like the Yvonne Arnaud. A few more venues to chase up and then I think we will be done.

Other cultural highlights
I haven’t really had much time for anything but work this week. I did try and watch the first episode of Better Call Saul… but didn’t make it past the first half-hour. I was expecting some very silly knockabout comedy. Clearly the writers had more serious thoughts in mind. Either way, it was dull. And looked kind of cheap as well. My Leonora Carrington book has arrived, and I’m looking forward to dipping into that when I get a moment. I also watched Prometheus, which was enjoyable, but not much more. Certainly nothing on the level of the original Alien movie. It felt like Ridley Scott was trying to do something between an action movie and a horror, but kind of failing to achieve either. It also fitted into what I labelled a while back the ‘psuedo-intellectual’ action movie. These are movies which purport to have deep-seated philosophical examinations at their core, but in reality are ham-fisted nonsense. At their best, they’re both wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful – The Matrix, Inception… both worked very simple concepts into fabulously stylish movies. But Prometheus seemed to think that it was an incredibly deep film, when in fact, it was just an average sci-fi with a few beautiful images.

Music

Four Tet non-stop this week. Just love to write and work to them.

Reading stuff

Proust continues… but I’m nearing the end of my patience. Too tired to deal with it.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently watching music videos. I used to pooh-pooh these as being little more than glitz, pop and sugar. In contrast to the bland uniformity of most television these days, music videos shine out as a format where quirkiness, high production values and artistic risks are embraced. Even when the videos are still a bit saccharine, there still at least seems to be an attempt at making something different. Maroon 5’s wedding crashing video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09R8_2nJtjg) had my flatmate arguing for ages about how staged the scenes were, Mark Ronson / Bruno Mars’ 80s flashback had us trawling our memories for all the references (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09R8_2nJtjg) and SIA’s Elastic Heart if not totally successful, is brilliantly weird (http://www.vevo.com/watch/sia/elastic-heart-feat-shia-labeouf–maddie-ziegler-official-video/USRV81400854).

The coming week 

Priority for this week is, unsurprisingly, our final week of Boy In Darkness rehearsals. We’ve got a script, we’ve got a strong idea of where we want to take it, now we have to put it all together.

Weekly reflection – 22/02/15

Every week, I’m going to try and reflect on the week I just had. I have no idea who it might be of  interest to. To be honest, it’s the act of writing, remembering and reflecting that is most important to me. I feel lucky enough to live a jam-packed life, and  I want to have a chance to think back over some of the more enriching things that happen. Hopefully this is a slightly more systematic way of doing it. At the very least mum will know what I’m up to.

22nd February 2015, London

The week in work

First week of rehearsals for ‘Boy In Darkness’ at the Blue Elephant. It’s been a strange week. Normally the first week is about exploring the subject matter of the show as a team. But Gareth already knows the story so well that sometimes I wonder if I’m not just wasting his time, and I can feel him getting frustrated. However, I’ve made the mistake of jumping straight to staging before, and I hope the time spent going deep at the beginning will pays its rewards. I want the piece to come out of Gareth like he wrote it, but I also want him to know exactly what the stepping stones in the story are. Otherwise it risks coming out like a jumbled mess which the audience won’t follow. To achieve the kind of grounded, minimalist telling I’m interested in, I think that we need to start slow and build from the ground up. At least I hope so. It’s strange, because for the first time I feel that in these rehearsals I’m not experimenting with how I rehearse – I’m using techniques that have served me well in the past. Which is at odds with my desire to be constantly pushing and extending my work. I don’t want any two shows I create to be at all alike. At the same time, I don’t want to throw away techniques that have previously worked well just for the sake of it. We shall see. What is clear is that Gareth is an incredible performer, and Mervyn Peake’s story is extraordinary. As long as I can release that talent then we will have a very strong show.

At the same time lots of work to be done pushing the Instructions tour… we’ve got about six bookings now, but it’s a slog…
Theatre I saw

Physical Science at the Blue Elephant
Tree by Daniel Kitson at the Old Vic
You Are Not Alone by Kim Noble at the Soho Theatre

Physical Science was a cute piece of interactive dance theatre for young kids. Watching my little cousin jiving away was a joy, and I’m hoping to get him hooked on theatre with lots more visits as he grows up. I also loved watching sign-language performed by a trained dancer. It was elegant in a way I’ve never imagined before, and reminded me of the beautiful opening to Robert Lepage’s ‘Blue Dragon’ when he explains the symbolism behind Chinese characters. I’ve currenlty living with two BSL signers, so determined to learn a bit!

Tree was perhaps the most disappointing of the three. Very pleasurable way to spend an evening, but felt strangely old-fashioned – like it was from Alan Ayckbourn’s back catalogue. Which is great if you like Alan Ayckbourn, but wasn’t exactly what I was expecting from Daniel Kitson. It was very witty, very light, very pleasurable, very well performed, but too long and ultimately just a little bit too flimsy.

I’d been looking forward to Kim Noble’s You Are Not Alone for some time, and was not disappointed. What an gob-smacking mixture of comedy, performance art, theatre, punking, shock, video and music. One of those amazing shows that is both as formally dazzling as it is penetrating of its subject matter. Exploring male loneliness, sexuality and identity in a fragmented and digital world, Noble had us giggling away, shocked by his audacity and tearful. Often at the same time. Wow.

Cultural highlights

So I joined Tate last Sunday, which felt like a very grown up thing to do. After filling in all the forms and enjoying the view from the member’s room, I didn’t really have time to do any art-viewing, so literally ran around the two exhibitions. But there were some great pieces that I’m looking forward to seeing more. Marlene Dumas continues to astound me, and it was funny seeing pieces that I’d previously had to myself in private galleries now surrounded by huge crowds. This portrait of Phil Spector remains one of my favourites:

Forsaken 2011
Wasn’t so into the endless horror of the Conflict, Time, Photography… but that’s not to deny the beautiful work on display. The highlight probably Sophie Ristelhueber’s post-Gulf War images.

RISTELHUEBER016-1
Ultimately though, the big thing I’m looking forward to at Tate is Leonora Carrington – annoying I’ll have to travel all the way to Liverpool to see it, but I’m sure it’s going to be worth it.

leonora_carrington_new_c_9a_5

 

And this is an eerie drone video from Chernobyl that captures a soviet era ghost town post nuclear fallout.  https://vimeo.com/112681885

Reading stuff 
I’m a huge fan of Eric Barker, and his thought-provoking, research-backed thoughts on modern living continue to help me grow happier. This piece on learning to settle for ‘good enough’ is perhaps one of my favourites http://tinyurl.com/q8do32a.

Tragic news that Oliver Sacks has terminal cancer, but I hope I can leave with as much dignity, joy and love for life as this beautiful man http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opinion/oliver-sacks-on-learning-he-has-terminal-cancer.html.

This final piece, also from the NY Times was just weird. I couldn’t work out if it was a Paul Auster-style short story, but seems to be for real. I’ll say nothing more: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com//2015/02/14/a-curious-case-of-writers-block/

Novel-wise I’m continuing to struggle through Proust (in French…). A few paragraphs every night before I go to sleep… beautiful, but I do rather wish he’d get on with it.

Music

Four Tet has been the soundtrack to the week – wonderfully chilled electronica. This is my favourite track http://grooveshark.com/#!/s/Unicorn/6BBZtW?src=5

Miscellaneous Thoughts…

I’ve been watching Michael Cockerell’s fly-on-the wall documentary ‘Inside the Commons’ (with significant contributions from Jack MacInnes). I can’t get over how much that place seems stuck in the nineteenth-century. Both physically as a building, but in the way it’s run. I mean, seriously? All those ridiculous costumes, arcane titles, and pompous ceremonies? And the amount of paper they seem to waste on a daily basis – did no-one tell them the joys of Google-docs? Cloud storage? Sexual equality? It’s crazy to think that it’s how our country is run. The Labour and Lib Dem MPs are coming over surprisingly well – grounded, unpretentious, genuinely likeable. The Conservative party on the whole just seems odious – which is not a comment on their politics. The party just seems to attract the kind of person that sees politics as an extension of private-school privilege and university debating societies. These self-serving, conceited toffs seem to be running our country though.

I also had an illuminating, if slightly drunken chat with another director on Saturday night. She’s not interested in making work outside of London; I don’t care so much about London and would much rather be doing stuff that tours. Mainly because I think London has enough theatre, but also because I wouldn’t be making theatre today if it weren’t for groups like Trestle who came to culture-starved Jersey. I want to make theatre for real people. I can’t help thinking that most London work, especially on the fringe, is more about pushing careers and stroking egos than a real commitment to audiences.

The week’s highlights

– I got a new motorcycle! A Kawasaki Versys 650 – which is a beautiful beast that I’m also terrified of. And terrified it’s going to get stolen very quickly… The most expensive thing I’ve ever bought (thankyou mum for helping me with the cost), so no big holidays this year and purse-strings will have to be tightened for some considerable time. Aiming to take it on a road trip this summer though – maybe South of France and Spain?

– Also got an Aeropress coffee maker. What a bargain! £25 for an expresso machine that makes coffee that is just out of this world. Delicious beans I got from my local cafe + aeropress = best coffee I’ve ever had in my life,

– Kim Noble

– A lovely evening catching up with Lady Lynne Forbes.

– Grant’s birthday bash. Planned on staying in and decorating room, but plan completely destroyed by horrendous hangover. Oh well, I’m working hard. Important to let loose a bit.