Archive for the ‘FOR ONCE’ Category
We have been rehearsing in London for a week now and about to head into our tech week. Having had the actual performance space to work in has been a real gift and it has put the actors into a great position ready for the work ahead. Today we entered the theatre to discover that most of Anthony Lamble’s handsome set has now been constructed and we were able to do our second full run of the play on it. Whilst there is evidently still work to do on the detail of the performances and production, it is clear that the world of the play and the formal rules we have used to structure the playing are making sense and working theatrically. This was confirmed by the handful of guests that watched our run – members of the creative team and Kate, Pentabus Associate Director. None of these people had seen the work we had been doing in rehearsals and so they were able to add a fresh perspective from an audience’s point of view. We were also joined by Tim today, who continues to generously refine his text as we make discoveries in the playing of it. The major revelation for me today was how much the play is fed by having an active audience. This makes the next month’s run an even more exciting proposition. For a play in which it’s characters are absolutely in relationship and yet for the majority of the time exist in different time zones, it seems to thrive on the interplay of laughter and tears with an audience. We made Kate cry today, and whilst I’m not saying that’s a good thing, it does say something about the power of Tim’s writing and the subtle and surprising accumulation of feeling that his play engenders.
In other news, although we are far from Vaughan’s, Orla and I have been eating a lot of meat. We’ve had confit beef, duck, beefburgers, steak fajitas among other delicacies. Wherever we go, the meat seems to follow.
This morning, whilst Orla rehearsed with Patrick and Geraldine in Bromfield, Jon and I went to Ludlow College. We met a group of 17-year old drama students and their teacher, Neil Church. They were a bright, articulate bunch and we talked about their lives as young people in Ludlow. Both Jon and I found this chat useful in helping to flesh out the detail and context of Sid in FOR ONCE, and already, returning to the rehearsal room, Jon’s performance is becoming more specific and precise.
Ben interviews Jonathan Smith (Sid)
Ben: Was this morning’s visit to Ludlow College a useful experience and how do you think it will help you in playing Sid?
Jonathan: Yes, definitely a useful experience. Useful to interact with Sid’s real-life contemporaries. It helped to make more concrete the ideas we’ve been discussing in rehearsal, in terms of social aspects of Sid’s life, the importance of Costa coffee etc. Most of the students knew at least one person who had been in a car crash, which is kind of chilling, it seemed to be a common experience. Also it was useful to see their mannerisms, the way they sit. I’m 23 now and it helped me to remember what it’s like to be that age. It was very helpful.
Ben: What were your first impressions when you read FOR ONCE?
Jonathan: Very good. I thought it was so lively. I think it’s such an honest play, and moving, but also funny. When I first read it I responded initially more to the humour rather than the emotional depth. That depth is what I’m finding now in rehearsals.
Ben: How have your thoughts on the play changed during rehearsals so far?
Jonathan: I’m finding more and more the reality of Sid – his blind eye, the loss of his three best friends, the dark place his head’s in. The way he talks and interacts is not the lively youth he seems to have been before the crash. He’s the core of someone who has been through a trauma and is now maintaining a front.
Ben: What is your personal connection to the play?
Jonathan: I grew up in a little village just outside Bath, which is similar to Ludlow, and I certainly felt growing up there that it was far too small and far too constricting by the time I started thinking about the big picture of life in my teens. So I totally sympathise with Sid’s need to get away. Also, in school I had three best friends, who luckily are still my best friends now. We grew up together and we’re as thick as thieves, so that relationship in the play between Sid and the boys feels strong for me. I can draw on my own memories of just being with each other, having a great time. And I’ve got a black labrador too.
Ben: What’s the biggest challenge in playing Sid?
Jonathan: His being blind in one eye. In yesterday’s rehearsal I was wearing an eye patch to get used to the sensation and half my vision went, which really affected the way I played the scenes, how I moved. Keeping that alive without the eye patch during performances is going to be extraordinarily challenging, to remember that physical reality, keep it in the body, not lose that feeling.
Ben: What’s been your favourite moment in rehearsal so far?
Jonathan: Last Friday we did a first physical run through, with the set, of the whole play. That was great to begin inhabiting the space and we did two extended improvisations as the family. They were a highlight because it was good to be getting the play on it’s feet and finding out what it really is.
Ben: What are you most excited about in the coming weeks?
Jonathan: I’m most excited about knowing all my lines and doing a first run of the play without scripts. Then the real work begins.
Tim interviews Ben
Tim: What first drew you to For Once and why did you want to work on it? Apart from the money…
Ben: It was two things really (excluding the money). First I read the play and fell in love with it. I responded to the themes of loss and recovery, and loved the subtle way in which emotion was planted through the play, erupting at surprising moments. Then I was interviewed by Orla and we discussed her vision for the play. I enjoyed that chat a lot and felt Orla’s vision was something I could support. So it’s been great to get the opportunity.
Tim: What’s it been like working with Orla?
Ben: It’s been great. The lovely thing about working with Orla is the confidence that she has in the other creative people around her. She is very good at giving people the space and encouragement to do their job. She can absolutely lead strongly when necessary, but is also happy to let things happen organically. She’s very generous and trusting in the rehearsal room and the result is that people feel able to work together and be bold in their offers to each other. She creates a very joyful, liberating environment in which to work.
Tim: What do you think will be the most difficult part of the process?
Ben: I think because the play does very beautiful and unusual things formally in terms of time and place, like different train tracks, which intersect at certain points, on a technical level that’s quite a complex thing to bring together. The way that Orla describes this challenge is that we all need to do the groundwork on back-story and place etc and then at a certain moment later in rehearsals it will all come together very suddenly and surprisingly. I trust her on that and I’m sure it will be very beautiful when it happens, but I think when we hit that point it might be quite a jam-packed day for everyone. But then it will be wonderful to see the play fly really, having put all that work in beforehand.
Tim: What does an assistant director actually do?
Ben interviews Tim
Ben: Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of For Once?
Tim: Orla asked me to take part in a writer’s week at Pentabus in 2009, exploring the politics of food and how that affects all of us. The group of writers were provided with research and went on visits to various places, to see if there were any stories we wanted to tell. So I did a shift in a local Michelin star restaurant with Will Holland, went to a pig farm, some of the other writers went to an abattoir… We all ate in a range of places, to experience that, and we met a lot of different people involved in Ludlow’s slow food movement. The turning points for me were talking to a group of teenagers about food and from those meetings I came up with the character of Sid. I also visited Ludlow College and saw that the notice board was covered in anti-speeding campaign posters. So I put two and two together and came up with a story for Sid. I wrote Sid’s monologue first and then pitched to Orla that I might explore his parents as characters, and try to write a play out of them, which she agreed to and that led to For Once.
Ben: How involved as Orla been in the development of the play since then?
Tim: Orla’s been totally integral to the play’s development and without her it wouldn’t be the play it is. She’s given me time and distance when I needed that, and been on hand to talk through ideas when I needed that. The play started out as monologues, but it has evolved into a more complex theatrical structure, and Orla has been the architect of that really. The finished play is as much Orla’s vision of the story as it is mine I think.
Ben: How has working with the actors on the text this week affected the play?
Tim: It’s been wonderful to hear the play aloud. It’s changed quite a bit in just a week, from the actor’s input and their questions about characters and events. They have all brought a lot of rigour to the process and the play has become stronger for it. They are three great actors who make a wonderful Gordon, April and Sid.
Ben: What are you most excited about seeing in three weeks time, when the show opens at Hampstead Theatre?
Tim: I’m looking forward to seeing Anthony Lamble’s design come to life, that’s going to be really interesting. And hearing Tony-award-winning Chris Shutt’s sound is going to be really thrilling. And discovering how Phillip Gladwell’s lighting will work with the play, that’s going to be exciting. So I have a sense of what Orla and the actors want to do, but the three other creative collaborators work is an area I haven’t been as involved with so far. So that will be exciting.
Ben: Is there anything nice you’d like to say about the assistant director on the show?
I haven’t blogged for ages because, at various stages I’ve felt like I’d never finish the play. So to blog seemed a bit redundant. But now I feel like the finish line is in sight. I haven’t crossed it yet, but I can see the Pentabus family, silver foil sheets, and energy drinks aloft waiting for me to crawl towards them.
I have had my moments where I don’t think I know what I’m doing and doubted if this was a good idea, but that’s where Orla comes in and raises an eyebrow and looks into the middle distance and says something profound like ‘It’ll be alright’ or ‘It’ll be good when it’s finished’. She’s not one for overstatement or understatement really, she’s one for statements, which are usually far more reassuring.
Monday we meet the actors, which is always fun because actors are far more attractive, witty and entertaining than the rest of us so, that’ll jazz things up.
I had two days in Ludlow and couldn’t get a Vaughans sandwhich because we were staying the Travelodge, where they deliver your breakfast in a plastic bag. Who says this was a foodie town?
Tim Price promised me pork.
We were travelling up to Ludlow this week for a couple of days development on Tim’s play, FOR ONCE, before we head into rehearsals next week. And Tim was filling my head with hopes of pork sandwiches from the legendary Vaughan’s sandwich shop in Ludlow town centre. I was also filled with excitement about working on Tim’s glorious play, but the pork looked to be a bonus…
For two days we worked with Orla, who is directing the show, and began reading the play together. It’s a deceptively simple play but its depth and detail mean there’s a lot in there. It playfully subverts the monologue form and carries and unexpected emotional punch. We asked questions of the text and clarified details such as the timeline of events and steadily began to build up our impressions of the world of the play and its characters. This work will help us to anchor the actors when they begin work next week, as well as helping Tim to see where the text itself may still need some last-minute key-hole surgery.
That afternoon, in a production meeting, Orla spoke about FOR ONCE as “a play everyone at Pentabus cares very deeply about” and that feeling is evident – in the excitement of Thomasina at seeing the model box laid out, Jenny’s store-house of local knowledge, John’s steady overseeing, and Orla’s work with Tim. FOR ONCE is a play that touches whoever comes into contact with it and it will be great to begin work on it with the actors next week and then to take it to audiences next month. I wonder what we’ll discover.
The actors. We have a brilliant cast, all due to arrive in Ludlow next Monday. Recent graduate Jonathan Smith will play Sid, and his parents will be played by Geraldine Alexander and Patrick Driver. In the meantime, I’ve been arranging specialists to come in and talk with them during rehearsals: local police officers, a black Labrador called Raven, an Optometrist etc. Bringing this play to life is going to be so much fun.
And at some point I may even get my pork.
Ben Webb, Assistant Director
Research has begun on my new, as yet untitled play for Pentabus. I returned to Ludlow last week for a few days, Pentabus’ tour de force Jenny, organised a swathe of meetings with people from the town.
I was delighted to be returning to Ludlow, I planned to catch up with some friends I made back in May, do plenty of research into a play, but mainly if I’m honest to eat as many pork sandwhiches from Vaughans sandwhich shop as possible. I have dreamt about those pork sandwhiches for 6 months and now was my chance to make up for lost time.
First up on arrival on Friday was lunch with Pentabus Artistic Director Orla O’Loughlin. But before lunch, I took a quick detour to Vaughans and wolfed down a pork sandwhich with extra crackling. Met up with Orla, touched base (politely ate a Thai meal) and was straight in to meeting Tamsin of Olive stall fame. Tamsin got me thinking about what different opportunities there are for boys than there are for girls in the countryside.
After Tamisn I met the Mayor who gave me a fascinating insight into the machiney behind a town like Ludlow. He also had quite possibly the biggest kitchen I’ve ever seen outside of ‘Cribs’. The Mayor and delightful dog Henry gave me a taste of the administrative matrix that runs Ludlow and got me onto the army of volunteers who run the various organisations in town.
After the Mayor I checked in and headed into town to the Church pub where I met with Jenny and the La Becasse posse. I had a great day with the Michelen starred chef Will Holland, Swaino, Warwick last year working in their kitchen. So it was great to meet new additions Andy and Marcos. Although Quayle and Tim were sadly missed. I promised myself to mark their passing with a pork sandwhich tomorrow.
Friday I met with Phil Mayal former landlord of the Bull and now running the food festival. Phil was able to give me two sides of Ludlow, the one side – Ludlow’s pride and joy, where the great and the good pull together to put Ludlow on the map at the food festival. And the other side, Ludlow at night, with it’s trousers down. All excellent stuff.
In between I met with Orla for lunch, but it was a bit late and I was worried about getting in my daily Vaughan’s fix. After she left to go to the gym, I slipped off to claim my sandwich only to find no pork at the inn. 2.30pm is the cut off point for Pork. I make a mental note to be a bit withdrawn next time I see Orla.
Next was Phil Johnstone who gave me the cultural spin on Ludlow, how the Assembly rooms and various organisations, support and are supported by the vital arts and film centre, as well as articulating the appeal of Ludlow so eloquently ‘it’s like France 30 years ago’.
Then came the weekend’s winner – a night in the Church pub with finest women in Shropshire if not the world. Penny, Vicky, Sally and Camilla gave me the women’s side of the coin in Ludlow. And the prize goes to Camilla for the best ‘perfect day in Ludlow’ answer.
All these lovely people helped foster a sense of the town, and pulled my ideas for the play in all sorts of directions, but hopefully their insight will bring an honest rigour to the story that will make me feel confident when Pentabus bring the play to town.
Train left at 11.25, Pork didn’t start till 12. Robbed again.