It’s the final countdown! Well Europe only had it half-right; although it’s technically the final countdown (as in a mere couple of weeks the 24:7 Big Weekend kicks off), it’s actually only Team Multitude’s first steps trotting into full rehearsals. We’ve been conducting a sultry and coy courtship – tentatively meeting to read through various drafts, explore production and character aspects, but it’s only now that real business can begin! And by that I mean playing with a bouncy ball and drinking lots of coffee… what else do these arty types do?! We’re in good company though; as our team assembled at rehearsal HQ, we came across Team Gary, which makes that Big Weekend seem a bit more real now!
After a bit of housekeeping (a broad general term for fannying about – creative people are great at that), we got down to brass tax… FOURSQUARE! Now, I’ve never had the pleasure/pain of experiencing this ‘game’ and I’ll spare explaining the rules as I’d butcher them anyway. But needless to say, all gloves were cast off, enemy lines were drawn and character traits were revealed… and that was just director Liz and AD Flora! Things got a bit serious for my liking – there was lots of markings on the floor and regulated boxes with measuring tape. I was never very athletically inclined… shocker I know! I feel our director Liz has a lot in common with character Simon, as both she and Andy (of Blake/Drake fame) meticulously deliberated measurements and official rulings. After an arduous battle, Blake emerged victorious… stay tuned for a hotter competition than Wimbledon (albeit with less strawberries).
Now that we’d suitably limbered up for our rehearsal, we ploughed straight into a read-through of the latest and fifth draft of the play, recording it for good measure; writer Laura has gone to town and done a ruddy lot of work since our last draft. The story itself feels a lot tighter – with Laura even asserting a time line for The Multitude. This level of detail meant the story seemed more grounded in truth, which will in turn will hopefully free the potential comedy. There’s always a worry that you can end up playing something for the laughs and not the reality of the relationship/situation – which actually is where the humour comes from, (the text itself), not the surface humour that the actor/director brings (although i’m hopeful that helps otherwise i’m out of a job!) The stakes in this draft are bit different than previous but still very high – the threat The Multitude pose is just altercated slightly, which actually provides a stronger sense of the world inside building (that Lisa and Simon occupy) versus the outside world – and their freedom.
Following this, we explored designer Katie’s box model – a scaled-down version of The Lantern theatre in Liverpool, which still translates well to the John Thaw theatre we’ll be playing to in Manchester. We’re going to keep the sprawl of the set concentrated in – there’s no need to play right to periphery of space, as its about two people interacting with one another, more so than the circumstances of the office environment and inciting incident that forces them together. It was discussed that the team want vein of the design to give a sense of an office without super-realism; rather indicators so that the only complete set pieces are Simon and Lisa’s desk/work area. The rest of the set will be suggestive of a larger office (partitions and post it notes etc), but its about investing enough reality without trying to make it completely authentic – this is a theatre piece and not TV at the end of the day. The main talking point was the window, the team have proposed that it be large and oval like a globe or moon and then we discussed what this symbolises. Does it give a sense of office microcosmos? A physical barrier or bubble and does it keep the characters trapped in or the rest of the world boxed out? For me, I got a sense of Alice Through The Looking Glass - as we explored how/if Lisa opens it. There may be a backdrop/projection of cityscape to give a sense of isolation and Simon/Lisa’s view of the rest of the world from their office – a very lonely bird’s eye perspective. Through this window, how do we get a sense of time passing? For the main part the show is set in real-time, but we do need to denote a significant jump in time halfway through the play, so Katie and Liz had prepared different options to explore the passage of light in the ‘sky’ within the box model. This will be quite an important device; there’s very high stakes throughout the whole piece but stretched over a long period of time – so this will hopefully assist mine and Andy’s job of being physically drained but mentally very much on edge.
Foursqaure interlude! Yes I feel this tournament will be a big feature of rehearsals from now on… with a second point going to Blake, making the scores – 2 for him and nil for Flora, Liz and myself. But let’s not dwell, there’s plenty more rehearsals to bring it back…
Leading on from the box model, Liz felt it important to plot the physical geography of the office – the world the audience don’t see but what is important for us as actors to understand, in helping us to create a tangible perception of our characters’ reality. We need a strong sense of the world we usually inhabit in the first half of the play, before this established equilibrium is destroyed by the actions of The Multitude. The rehearsal room actually lent itself very well to this activity; being a hobbit-like creature I had to crane into some swan-like yoga position on tiptoe to see out of the window, so we’ll be using that sense of height to cut our characters off from the world outside the office. Once we’d walked around and got a sense of this world, we quietly put it away in a drawer – that’s right, we put Baby in the corner. Just until she’s useful again!
We finished off the day playing the recording of our read-through earlier through a speaker; allowing us to be completely physically free, unburdened by the dynamics of the space and script. There were no set, no desks or props – just the room and ourselves exploring the play physically. It took Blake and I about 20 minutes to get into it properly; at first I was caught up in mechanics of gesturing and physicalising the words, becoming a somewhat crude caricature, rather than inhabiting the character. Certainly after the inciting incident, however, we started to listen to each other more – responding physically, being physically present and seeing what responses came. Eye contact is so so important; its easy, especially at the start of the play, for each of us to be involved and lost in our own kinesphere – getting on with our working day, objectives and normal routine. But we need to constantly affect each other, otherwise there is no drama. This exercise proved very useful to me, as I started to get a sense of the complete physical journey my character takes and the overall physical arc of the piece itself. It also highlighted a childlike nature in Lisa – very petulant and attention-seeking, which I’d like to explore (in my head she’s a saint, but I am very bias… being the person playing her and all!). This afternoon also suggested to me why my character finds Simon irritating; I’ve taken it as a given from the script but never really asked myself why and I think its because he’s everything i don’t want to be – isolated, arrogant, condescending and not liked by my work colleagues. It’s more of a fear of him and me being similar, which is a lovely irony because although Simon and Lisa are two very different characters (chalk and cheese), they actually have a lot of things in common… its just neither of them are really aware of that (for the most part of the play anyway). There were lots of play between the two characters – almost like school children, winding each other up and chasing each other; but the two actually counterbalance each other surprising well – when one panics and looses their shit, the other keeps it together. Talk about teamwork!
BOOM! And there you have it, not only our first rehearsal but technically our first full run through; alright it was essentially a Benny Hill sketch with subtitles… but hey its there! I’ll take that thank you… and also a couple of days off to digest!
Pass the Gaviscon…