When it comes to putting a performance together one major factor is the space that it will be performed in. This can affect everything from costume, to staging, to how a line is delivered and how you can get on and off, every tiny decision – It’s a sweet madness trying to figure it all out.
Sometimes traditional scripts have a stage plan, which is great if you happen to have exactly the same size, same shape, and same resources as the location the script was originally performed. Someone has done the hard work for you and now all you have to do is adapt it to your environment.
So what happens with new writing? What happens when you are the person designing the stage plan? How do you find the questions to ask that no-one has asked before?
Madness Sweet Madness had been allocated the Cosmo Concert Hall at the Martin Harris Centre for Music and Drama. A wonderfully vibrant space, with a large wide playing area, and forward facing acoustics. It was fabulous.
If you were doing a concert.
24:7 has a tradition of performing in none specific Theatre Spaces and this carried through into the Cosmo. It looks like a theatre space, it feels like a theatre space but is not a theatre space. The question was could we turn it into one?
This is where a little help from our friends came in. The Plant who were sharing our space had decided to use the rostra – a square raised platform that limited the space down to a more intimate one. In the interests of time and space sharing our director decided to use similar staging. Which solved one problem – that the cast wouldn’t get lost in the expanse of the Cosmo.
He felt however that it was still too empty and hit upon the idea of a large house like structure that would serve as a lightbox for transitions and play to the strangeness of the piece. There was a through line of houses in the script. Grace’s house with Charlie, The neighbours house, Vesuvius house, and the house gifted at the end. Indeed the very title of the show is a play on the phrase “Home Sweet Home”. A creative idea caused specifically by the space. Even though it divided opinion should you remove the lightbox house – visually you would have a very different – very empty looking piece in such a big space.
The space performed in is almost another character, it lends itself to the performance and creates the confines of the world in which it is set. So what happens when you give the show a second space?
We took the show to The Lantern Theatre Liverpool as part of the Shiny New Festival. The space was a more traditional studio space. Much much smaller than the Cosmo. The first thing cut? The lightbox house. It wasn’t needed in a smaller space, the atmosphere came from the fact that the smaller space gave the show a more claustrophobic feel, that Grace and Vesuvius really were living on top of each other.
It was interesting to note the changes – Actors were behind the curtain instead of in view at the beginning. The lights cycled through the transitions with the music, but this time they were directly on Vesuvius’ house instead of the lightbox – giving a sense of eeriness and surrealism, possibly not felt in the expanse of the Cosmo. Could he be dreaming in this space? When he quite clearly wasn’t in the former? The biggest change however was a simple one. Because of headroom Walt could not stand on the chairs at the Lantern – a re staging meant that he came forward instead. Right to the front of the audience. It pulled them in to his reactions – as if we were now a part of his “magic” and lent more weight to his words. A fix, a creative choice dictated by the demands of the space.
So the space does matter, it can present two different versions of the same piece a day apart and radically change your interpretation. Perhaps because the script of Madness Sweet Madness is deliberately open, that it invites you to create your own interpretation of certain elements – that it is the perfect piece to transfer into different spaces. That just because you have seen it done one way doesn’t mean it won’t work another.
I’m glad that the script doesn’t come with a stage plan, that the space becomes another character to tell the story, that in future productions interpretation can be decided by the space the show is performed in.
After all it can only add to the madness.
The sweet madness.