Archive for the ‘Origins’ Category
How strange it is. Our final show is done. I’m back in London. As I write, Joni and Caroline are probably driving back to London in the good old Pentabus van, it bursting at the seams with props from the show that need to be returned to various places around London and beyond. The last time I wrote, we were just settling into the Theatre Severn before the actors arrived. Caroline has written of what happened next, so I will try not to repeat stuff, but it has been a really wonderful final stage. The theatre is an extraordinarily beautiful place-sitting on the river bank overlooking Shrewsbury town, everything state of the art but not flashy, the architecture is a really clever balance of old and new, and perhaps most impressive is the automatic soap and hand towel dispenser in the ladies. (or maybe I’m just easily pleased. but seriously, it is well clever.) Apparently some people have found it difficult to accept this new building into the town, some saying it looks like a shed, which I find very hard to understand, but I guess when something as prominent as this arrives on the landscape, it must take a while for people get used to it. Still, for a company coming into the building, it has nothing but good things to offer in terms of facilities, resources and space. Something we got the most excited about however, was the fact that the theatre had agreed to project images of the show onto the side of the building. The first day we knew they would be shown, we eagerly awaited dusk, and then dashed to the other side of the bridge to witness the spectacle, never before had Shrewsbury seen the likes of such a thing. And nor had we! We cheered and clapped and ooh-ed and aahed as if watching a firework display as the images appeared, they looked amazing! We subsequently found reason to drive past the projections on a nightly basis, just to do a bit more ooh-ing and aah-ing. (usually adding 5 minutes to our journey home, but worth it.) Also, if you strategically sat on a particular table in a pub called the Armoury, (the most gorgeous place just across the river from the theatre), you could have a glass of wine and sneak glances at the projections from the window and under your breath do some more ooh-ing and aah-ing so as not to disturb the conversation. Apparently these projections hit the headlines in the local press, who were also a little gobsmacked by our projected presence.
Anyway, with the tech complete, lines added, little sections tweaked, and with Tim and Jack having ensured that the show looked and sounded as beautiful as it could do, we were ready for our first night. Totally sold out, and full of people who had been in some way part of the Origins journey from the beginning. Nerve wracking as well. Would people like it? Would they laugh? Would they feel like we were doing justice to the history, and to the man himself? It was an excellent first show, the audience seemed to completely go with us, and the company were flying. In the final moments of the show, as Erasmus talks of ‘one in several billion chances’, hundreds of tiny stars began to glow (courtesy of Theatre Severn’s star cloth.) and it felt like quite an epic and moving moment, for the company, for the show, for the theatre in a way. Amazing what a few twinkly lights can do to the emotions!!
I went back to London as the show continued, and we continued to play to some great houses, did a lively post show talk and had a schools matinee. The cast were all staying in a place called Netley Hall, around 20 mins drive from Shrewsbury. Beautiful little cottages in the grounds of a stately home, near to the stunning Shropshire countryside. Many a hilly walk was had from what I understand. I returned for the final couple of shows and it was lovely to feel that the show had completely bedded into the space, and the cast really reveling in the story and their individual journeys. After the show on Friday, we had all been invited to the chairman of the Pentabus board’s house for an after show curry. About a half hour drive from the theatre, we arrived at Robert’s gorgeous house, to find a table groaning with food-6 different curries, with ingredients all from Robert’s garden, and many a bottle of wine waiting to be drunk. Robert and his wife Sian were fabulous hosts, and we sat chatting into the evening, relaxed and full. Very, very full. Lovely. We got back pretty late and were all looking forward to a lie in, but were awakened at 10.05am the next morning by reception, saying that we needed to vacate our cottages. Some mix up had occured and our rooms had been booked out for new arrivals. oops. Fortunately, Damian and Harry’s cottage was free and we all moved our stuff over there for the day, and worked out a plan of action for the final night. it was about a million degrees and clear blue skies, so we spent most of the day wandering around the lakes in the grounds, and reading in the sun. Damian and myself (ok, mainly Damian) cooked up a real feast using the remaining ingredients from everyone’s kitchen. After some more sitting around feeling full, it was to the theatre for the final show. Which was a cracker. Then it was some hasty goodbyes, as Max was driving some of us back to London straight away.
Driving back to London into the night, I just had a flashback to Ealing, where the journey began. Its funny, when something begins, you can never see it ending, but when the end does come, you look back on how it began through such different eyes. We had no idea the kind of show that we would create at that stage, or any idea Harry would get appendicitis, or that we would become part of the british council showcase, or that we would play in a different space at Theatre Severn. It is easy to get all sentimental and gushy when a show ends, and I’ll try not to, but I have to say I count myself very lucky to have been part of a process that has involved such a wealth of talented and commitmented and lovely people. Before I weep all over my laptop (!) I will stop there I think. Thank you Origins, thank you Charles Darwin. A short break for Pentabus to catch their breath, then onto the next one, ‘Tales of the Country’………who knows what that will bring.
As you will have been reading in Kate’s blogs, Origins has recently been on a journey worthy of some of Darwin’s adventures! But now here we are in the final week of the play – week 11 – ending in the very place where our story starts, Darwin’s home town of Shrewsbury.
We have traveled from the blinding sunshine of London’s heatwave in June at our little rehearsal room in Ealing, through the sudden downpours and drama of the Edinburgh festival, and finally come to rest in the midst of the beautiful Shropshire hills in a brand new theatre.
Theatre Severn has only been open since March, and it is fantastic to be performing a show in a space so relevant to Darwin. His school, the church where he was christened and the streets he grew up in are all just around the corner, and are all mentioned in the play.
We are also delighted to have our own Charles Darwin – Harry Arkwright – back with us, having recovered from his attack of appendicitis. As one of the cast commented recently, it was Darwin himself who determined that the appendix is of very little or no use to modern humans, dating back to a time when we mostly lived on grass. It is a pity therefore that it had such a big effect on a re-telling of his own life story…
After having to seriously re-work several performances in Harry’s absence, the production is firmly back on its feet and has really been able to evolve this week. With more resources available to us we have increased lighting and sound, added more special effects, lengthened the script, and ended up with a show that is bigger and better than ever. The cast have spacious dressing rooms, there is a workshop for mending and improving props, we have an on-site laundry for the costumes and a very smart restaurant and bar too. Which is all quite a contrast to Edinburgh…
Theatre productions generally need a little time to bed in and adapt to a space. After a couple of dress rehearsals or performances, sound levels are sometimes tweaked, lights re-focused, or scenes re-rehearsed to be as polished as possible for the next performance. In Edinburgh, there is no time to do this. No-one can physically enter the performance space until it is time to perform, meaning that there was very little time to make alterations or repairs.
We had to be good at putting up our entire set, along with costumes and props in just fifteen minutes before the audience arrived. As soon as the audience sat down the show began, and as soon as the show ended the set, props and costumes were all cleared away again. If something went wrong it had to be dealt with on the spot. If the show started late, we might lose audience to one of the several hundred other shows performing at the festival, not to mention the knock-on effect of making the six other shows that were on after us late as well.
In Shrewsbury, we are the only theatre production here this week. The pressure is still there to create a fantastic experience for the audience, but the absence of such rigid time constraints makes for a much more polished and relaxed production. There is no risk of complacency setting in though, when we all know we could revert back to our Edinburgh ways and finish putting the set up just before the audience arrives…!
And with a whole week of performances left, who knows what could be around the
corner? To paraphrase our writers: That is all in the future. And as we know, we
can’t predict the future so there’s no point in trying. In the meantime however,
please take this final opportunity to visit us and witness what further twists and
turns, what further anomalies and mutations await the young, curious and rather
exceptional, Mr Charles Darwin.
ORIGINS Stage Manager
The final week.
With Sunday’s epic feat over, instead of a day off, we had PIGS to perform on the Monday. We took over our kitchen and the weird downstairs common room (underground, no natural light, and on entry, you could usually spy someone in a wolf costume, or a wedding dress, or a group of noisy American students frantically rehearsing, or someone curled up on one of the uncomfortable sofas with a sleeping bag, desperately trying to snatch some sleep.) and set about rehearsing, keeping to a strict schedule! We were really lucky to have three of the writers, Alan Pollock, Tim Price and Debbie McAndrew with us and great with so little time for them to be able to give valuable insight into their plays. 2.30pm saw a rehearsal of them all, we finished reading in the weird common room at 3.20, and were due to start at the Pleasance Dome at 3.30pm. A speedy journey to the Dome and the actors were straight into it! It was a really brilliant event- the five plays all very different but sat together extremely well. We heard a quiet and contemplative piece about two soldiers awaiting their fate, a boisterous take on the three little pigs story, a farce involving a large parmesan, a heartbreaking monologue about a boy recovering from a crash which killed his best mates, and a tale of love, sacrifice and revenge, told over the cooking of a joint of meat. These plays were a result of a writers’ week that we held at Pentabus back in March, and it was such a pleasure to hear in more detail what had been ideas, snippets, early thoughts, at the end of that week.
The readings over with, and it was back to Origins, and British Council Showcase week. Now officially a Plat du Jour, Pentabus were invited to attend daily British Council breakfasts, which started at 9am, and allowed for artists, delegates and British Council members to meet, drink coffee, and hopefully have those important conversations which might lead to an international tour, or a future collaboration, or just allow for meetings that might not otherwise happen. Being a Plat Du Jour meant that our show was one of about nine, whose details were put up on a big board by the entrance, as something extra for the delegates to be tempted by during their (incredibly packed) visit. A fantastic opportunity. And I have to say, I was absolutely terrified arriving for our first breakfast! Hundreds of people milling around, either leafing through brochures, confidently chatting over tea and pastries, or scanning the room to find who was worth talking to. We all had to wear name badges, and you had to quickly get used to people looking at the badge before looking at your face, and either moving swiftly on (you were not on their hit list of people to talk to!) or choosing to engage in a conversation. It was hugely exciting to be in a room full of so many different organizations, artists, festivals, artistic directors, but also pretty daunting. How on earth does one begin to talk to people? I found hovering by the food table pretty useful. Conversations about the food on offer seemed pretty do-able. What will come of these breakfasts is yet to be known. Several people came to see Origins as a result, so we shall see……
Meanwhile, the show continued, audiences were lovely, Sam and the company continued to learn each other’s rhythms, regular contact was had with Harry (who was recovering well but was getting very bored!), drinks were had (of course) more shows were seen and all of a sudden it was our final night. A highly civilized curry and discussions of everyone’s highlights and lowlights of the past month. Then the final show, a sad farewell to the marvelous Sam Taylor, and then into a taxi towards Edinburgh airport. Wonderful stage management were staying up to do the get out the next day. So it was farewell and so long Edinburgh, and onwards to Shrewsbury and Theatre Severn……. Where I am now writing this blog. I am sitting in one of the dressing rooms (yes, there are many, they are clean, spacious, organized, a much needed contrast to the chaos of Edinburgh!). The set has just gone up, Caroline is busy tending to various props that need a bit of tlc, Joni is ironing the costumes, lights are being rigged, it is a hive of activity. But an air of calm remains. It is good. Everything made it safely down from Edinburgh, apart from a key prop, which mysteriously ‘disappeared’ from the venue. I don’t want to give away what it is, but safe to say I have absolutely no idea why anyone would want to make off with it. Apart from that, we are all intact. The actors arrive tomorrow, after which we have a photo shoot, and then we begin tech.
That is all for now!
Well, back in London I am again. Briefly. Despite only getting back from Edinburgh on Saturday evening, it feels a million years ago. Lots to report. My last entry kinda left things on a cliff hanger, as we awaited to hear about Harry’s condition. The days unfolded as follows…..I might have to do a part one and a part two as such a lot happened.
Wednesday-phone call from Caroline to say Harry had gone into hospital. I called up the Pleasance and cancelled the next three shows. Joseph and Joni went to visit him that afternoon, just before he went into surgery. They kindly took a photo of him in his hospital bed, (which I may or may not try and sneak onto the blog without Harry knowing). I arrived back into Edinburgh later that day, and everyone was kind of hovering around, not wanting to commit themselves to a show in case there was any news. He got out of surgery later that afternoon and Damian and I went to visit him in the evening. We both got a bit of a shock actually, he was pale and groggy and obviously in a lot of pain. No one would tell us how long the recovery period would be, but from one look at him we could tell he would not be back by Saturday (which is when we had optimistically thought he might be).
Back at our accommodation, everyone was wracking their brains as to solutions. Do we cancel the show completely? Can we find a replacement? Who on earth would be brave/foolish enough to step into a role at such short notice, with no time for rehearsal?
Thursday-Orla arrived back in Edinburgh and crisis talks continued. No idea still when, or if, Harry would be back for Edinburgh, or even for Shrewsbury. Weird limbo. Amidst all of this, we were having to cast and plan our rehearsed readings of PIGS, which were happening on Monday. So we were finding and calling actors who to come and read for us. We happily found Harry Hepple (who was in Been So Long at the Traverse, Sam Taylor (from Analogue’s show Beachy Head which was on immediately after Origins in the King Dome. More of him later) and Lara Stubbs (in Barbershopera) who were all wonderful and willing to get on board. The Origins company would all be reading too, which in a way was a good thing as it gave us something to focus on.
We were all wracking our brains to think of people who, worst case scenario, we might approach to stand in to play Charles Darwin.
Friday-The worst case scenario was confirmed. We had kind of all on some level realized this, but today the doctors said that Harry would need a couple of weeks to fully recover. Edinburgh was out. He would need to go home and recover in time for Shrewsbury. Poor Harry. So, what on earth did this mean for Origins? Ironically, the morning this was decided, we got another 4 star review, this time in the Metro, and we had just found out that the British Council were interested in making the show a Plat Du Jour for the Showcase. As the old cliché goes, the show must go on. In whatever way it could. Today also saw our first readthrough of all the PIGS plays, which went really well, the 5 plays complimented each other nicely and the actors were all marvelous. Phew. We would not touch these again until Monday morning, as our hunt for Charles Darwin continued. But not for much longer. By Friday evening, a solution had presented itself in the form of the courageous Sam Taylor, who was willing to step into the breach and play Charles Darwin.
Next step, working out how this would all work. The Pleasance very kindly let us go into the space early morning, as well as using our slot to rehearse. Before Friday, Sam had not seen, or read the play. On Sunday, he would go on as Charles Darwin. Between now and then, we had a couple of hours in the morning, and a couple of hours in the afternoon, to rehearse him in. A daunting prospect for all involved, but everyone was totally focused on making this work.
Saturday-We got into the space in the morning to work out how the puppetry might now work without Harry as lead puppeteer. The cast were quite frankly amazing in how they adapted and solved any problems that Harry’s absence threw up. Then it became about how our temporary Charles would slot in. Would he sit and read? Or stand in the middle of the stage? Would he take part in any of the action? Quite wonderfully, the structure of the play sees Charles often as a fixed point, with things happening to, and around him, so that he is shifted from place to place. We soon learnt that if Sam stood centrally, the rest of the cast could quite easily maneuvere him around the stage to where he needed to be. The fact that Charles is baffled and surprised at each event that occurs to him, was all in Sam’s favour, as he too knew nothing at what was happening from one minute to the next! What was so incredible was how calm, supportive and practical everyone was during this potential madness. Never once did panic and fear (which I know everyone was feeling on some level) threaten to take over. Together, the company and Orla found ways of integrating Sam into the action-giving him croquet mallets, putting hats on him, etc. Amazing how little time he had had with the script how much he was able to do physically.
Sunday- We used the morning as a dress rehearsal. Because 4 shows had been cancelled, and therefore no flyering presence out and about, we were all prepared for a quiet audience. Not so. As 3.30pm neared, and people began to queue, we realized that this quite possibly could be our biggest audience yet! Eek. What followed I think was beyond anything I had experienced before. I can’t quite describe the feeling. Orla put it quite well. She said that we were sort of bringing to reality every actor’s worst nightmare, you know the one where they turn up and have to go onstage without knowing any of their lines, or what they are doing. I was terrified just thinking about that. For Sam, this was actually happening. Joseph made an announcement at the top of the show, and from that moment I knew we were in for a pretty special event, as the support and encouragement from the audience was immense. The company did the most remarkable job. It was quite emotional actually, being part of that audience on that day. Moments within the show suddenly took on an extra resonance as Sam’s journey of not knowing what was happening next totally echoed Charles’s! What everyone had managed to achieve in such a short amount of time was just so impressive. And we had a version of the show that we could continue with into our final week. There is a moment towards the end of the show where Charles sits an exam, and as he writes, we hear him speaking. Of course, this recorded voice is not Sam’s but Harry’s. It felt strangely moving to watch Sam, but to hear Harry. Despite him being at home recovering, he was still part of the show. I liked that.
Hello. It has been a while since my last blog. No excuses really, except that days in Edinburgh seem to pass quicker than anywhere else! Lots of things have occurred. The most dramatic thing has happened in the past few hours. More of which later. Meanwhile, the festival is well and truly in full swing. Pubs where we happily sat with a smattering of other people are now so rammed it is like being stuck on a London underground platform in rush hour. Every restaurant worth eating in (and even those that are not) are fully booked with queues out of the door, and extra tables have been added to capitalize on the temporary increased volume of people so if you are lucky enough to find a table, you are likely to be rammed quite unceremoniously between several other parties. Not for the claustrophobic. When it rains (which is far too frequently for my liking) the city becomes awash with weird cape like anoraks, rain coats and umbrellas, and flyering becomes desperate and miserable as people are even more unwilling to accept a flyer when it is sodden and ink run. But saying that, the atmosphere is electric, the shows range from the sublime to the ridiculous and the alcohol is flowing. (it hits 6pm each day and I find I have a glass of wine in my hand…..)I am on the train back up after managing to escape to London for a few days, during which time I experienced what August should be like (ie, warm and sunny). Ah well. Sunshine is overrated. I also thought it would be good to have a short break from the daily drinking routine whilst away from Edinburgh. Not so. That glass of red wine appeared bang on cue, 6pm, as if from nowhere.
Back to today. I had just settled myself on the train when I got a phone call from Orla just after 9am. She asked if I had spoken to Caroline (DSM). I said no. She said that Caroline had just called to say that Harry (Charles Darwin) was in hospital with appendicitis and was being operated on later today. The show report yesterday said that Harry had been suffering from stomach ache, but everyone was convinced this was just a symptom of Edinburgh-itus (ie drinking too much, sleeping too little etc). It had apparently got worse last night and he took himself off to the Royal Infirmary, and called Caroline as soon as morning arrived. Poor Harry! So everything has kind of been thrown into the unknown while we await to hear how Harry is doing. It may be that he is out for a few days, or could be a few weeks. What this means for the show at the moment, we do not know. I have been on the phone and sending emails all morning, just to make sure everyone knows about this unexpected turn of events. Blimey. The good thing is that it has been caught early, I know it can get complicated if not spotted early on, so thank goodness Harry acted on it fast. We are all thinking of him and we will all be dropping in to find out how he is as soon as visiting hours allow.
Up to this point, Origins has been building a lovely momentum, and have had some great responses so far. Audiences have been very positive, we were ‘pick of the fringe’ on Saturday, a ‘must see’ in the Stage and have had a 4 star review in the Scotsman. Which is all pretty wonderful for us. We had a hairy few days getting settled in the King Dome, working out how on earth to get the set up and down in less than 20 minutes each side. All I can say is that the cast and crew work a small miracle every day-something that began as an epic undertaking, is now done with barely a second thought. It is quite magical to watch, as everyone now knows their jobs, and the set is efficiently and gracefully created. Even moments when 5 minutes after the house is due to open the sound isn’t working, or a monitor is refuses to switch on, there remains an air of calm as everyone pitches in to solve the problem. Everyone has put so much effort into making it all work and it has really paid off when the show reports say that every day the get in becomes quicker and quicker. Nice work team. Everyone works so hard at the Pleasance-6 or so shows all piling in one after the other, a single dressing room shared by everyone…..we are not going to know ourselves once we get to Shrewsbury, when actors will have a dressing room each!
Anyway. The day has been a long and eventful one. With Harry in hospital, and no show to do, I think everyone has felt a little bit in limbo. What we do have to concentrate on now, are our PIGS readings, which will happen on Monday. We will rehearse these over the next few days, so will report back soon. A hell of a lot seems to have been crammed into these past couple of weeks, the Questors in Ealing feels like another world away…….
And so our Edinburgh adventure begins. I am writing this on the train up to Edinburgh. We arrive in 1 hour. The train is packed full of theatre types; a tiny fraction of what Edinburgh itself will be like, as apparently (they say this every year) this is the biggest festival yet. Some of us have had the privilege of travelling first class. Others had to slum it in second. Everyone around me is asleep, after a very heavy final week in Ealing. We said goodbye to the Questors on Saturday, as we did our final dress rehearsal before the epic challenge of loading up the van began. It feels really strange to not be there any more, after basically living there for 5 weeks. Tech was long, very long, I think we all knew how technical the show was, but I don’t think any of us were quite prepared for just how painstaking the process would be. But as the hours went by (and many a custard donut was consumed) all the different elements began to fuse together and a very detailed, beautiful and complete theatrical world started to emerge. In the rehearsal room, you kind of get used to things as they are, using the rehearsal props, getting used to saying ‘when we get the projection/costume/hat/sound effect we will know how this scene will work’, getting used to the occasional afternoon sun that would beam down right in the centre of the room making everyone squint and sweat a little. Then suddenly, tech begins and you are thrust into a totally different world. A scene that you thought you knew pretty well suddenly plays completely differently when it is underscored a certain way, and moments that were marked through in rehearsal suddenly turn out to be the most beautiful due to some pretty gorgeous lighting. The creative team have lifted the show into a different realm. Also a real test to see if what worked in rehearsal would work in tech-some things were excellent, some things immediately had to be reworked, altered, or cut. All credit to the cast, who rolled with everything that was thrown at them! Orla’s eye for knowing what needed to change to make a scene work was brilliantly accurate, and it was dead exciting to see her give a note that would immediately fix a scene, or a problem. Such a luxury to have this time to tech the show, the thought of 5 hours in Edinburgh to do everything is a bit ridiculous.
Cut to: Day 3 at the Edinburgh festival.
The world of the Fringe is upon us. As I write this a group of about 15 students, all dressed up in full on wedding dresses, load up their bags with flyers, ready to hit the Royal Mile. Once we had arrived, we all made our way to our student accommodation (very central), our first port of call was of course to go and nose around the venue. We were greeted by the stage manager of the Kind Dome and he very kindly let us have a quick look at where we will be performing for the next month. There was a real air of focused calm around the whole of the Dome-everyone was working on something or other, a hive of industry! It feels really nice to be here as everything is still being built, instead of being chucked straight into the madness, we can kind of grow with it, which is lovely. A short summary of where we are at includes a first night dinner in an Italian restaurant, where we ate much food and drank much wine alongside some rotting pirates and skeletons hanging in cages above our heads (a bit of a strange theme for a restaurant, but there we go) and Lionel Blair (our first celebrity spotted. Can it get better than that?), a wild goose chase around the various Pleasance venues as we attempt to locate our posters (nowhere to be found. Mystery.), the odd hair cut, a bit of haggis on a hangover, and then 5 hours of tech, from 7-midnight. Which was epic. Time was spent working out a method to get the set up and down in 20 minutes. I feel like I watched a small miracle emerge last night. Lets see what happens in our dress rehearsal today…….audiences come in tomorrow.
So. We have just completed our final week of rehearsals before moving to the Questors Studio for a week of tech before hitting Edinburgh town. The cast have been utterly brilliant-it has been a tough ol week, and exhausting, but they have remained lively, focused and good humoured throughout. New things have been introduced into the rehearsal room on a daily basis, as things are tried, tested and experimented with, before tech. Highlights have included seeing some animation for the first time (beautiful), the emergence of Bessie the puppet dog (gorgeous!), more stuffed animals (we cant get enough of them), a spot of publicity with The Stage (Harry went and had a photo shoot and interview-we eagerly await the results) and a visit from a real life magician who helped us with how to make an explosion. (the answer involves flash cotton wool, pyro caps and a bit of slow motion acting!) The biggest joy this week for me though was the arrival of the costumes. We spent a couple of hours on Friday afternoon going through every character’s costume. They are on the whole pretty wonderful, and with all their detail do the job of locating us immediately in the 19th century. There is many a cravat, hat, wig, pair of glasses for all the quick changes, and it was just so exciting to see each character visually emerge as actors tried on their various costumes.
The work in the room this week has been all about detail, specificity, accuracy, and timing, focusing on every scene, but also the scene changes, which are proving to be as important as the scenes themselves. New locations are introduced in virtually every scene, and creating each environment needs to be in the spirit of the play, and part of the performance, and have to be painstakingly choreographed in order to get them slick and smooth. Its like the game tetras (is that spelt right?!), the challenge is to work out what fits in where and who needs what next and how many people it takes to move this table there and that blackboard here and can he leave then to make a quick change backstage…..?! The challenge once these complicated moves have been worked out, with everyone knowing exactly who is moving what and when, is to complete these moves with finesse and with a sense of pleasure, as opposed to it being ‘just another scene change’. And the key to this is just to run it. We did a run on Friday morning, and it was clear that the actors were all visibly working hard to remember everything, with the technical aspects of the show dominating the story. Understandable, considering just how much they have to remember. Orla decided that instead of working on little bits, the afternoon would be best spent on another run, and this proved to be best thing that could have happened before the weekend. Having just run it, the moves were fresh in everyone’s minds, and as a result, the second run was an utter transformation. Scenes flowed into each other as the actors very quickly established a rhythm together, which kept the pace whipping along. There was suddenly a tangible sense of the actors enjoying themselves, and as they felt more secure in the geography of the play, the characters and their relationships were really able to come to the fore and the story began to fly for the first time. It was so thrilling to watch, and to feel the difference from the morning’s run. Such a fantastic way to end the week and a great stage to be at before entering tech. Which is in no way going to be easy. I think everyone is bracing themselves for a hard slog, just because there are so many elements yet to be worked in (costume changes, chemistry sets, explosion, sound and lights, animation…) but we all know that it will be worth it.
So. Week four is almost upon us. Already. Can anyone tell me where July has gone? And also, where on earth the sun has gone? Please? The heatwave we experienced in the first week feels like a distant memory as we rehearse to the sounds of torrential rain, wind and if we are lucky the occasional clap of thunder and bolt of lightening. Actually, this is quite a blessing as our rehearsal room transforms into a sauna in the sunshine and the show is so physical that it would be totally unbearable for the actors to work in. Am hoping that this rain does not follow us up to Edinburgh. Fat chance.
Anyway. Enough weather chat. Far more interesting things have been going on in the rehearsal room. It has been a busy ol week, (but still managed to find time to work through some amazing lunch deals that a nearby Japanese restaurant offers) beginning with a pretty intense Monday. We began the day going over everything we worked on last week, then Mark from Blind Summit took the actors, particularly Harry (who plays Charles) through their puppeteer-ing paces. While some of the cast have had some experience of puppetry, for others this is a completely new skill to learn and I am amazed at how quickly they have gotten to grips with the basics. Having built an understanding of the key ingredients of working as a puppeteer, the challenge was now to really invest in the puppet as a character; as Charles Darwin. Keeping the discipline of the movements, the next stage is finding ways of making him stronger and more active within the scenes. What is our young Charles Darwin like? Mark worked with Harry away from the text of the play and took him through a serious of exercises and improvisations to help him connect with the puppet. It was a really tough session actually, there is such an incredible amount of skill and patience that goes into puppetry, but also courage. Courage to kind of go outside of yourself and into the puppet. It sounds a bit weird, but true. Otherwise all we see is a human standing there manipulating a puppet, as opposed to believing that the impulses and thoughts come from the puppet itself.
To allow the puppet Charles to travel, 3 people need to be on him, so Mark then worked with them to ensure that each component of movement (eg the head, body and feet) are all connected to the same thought. Incredibly difficult, but progress was definitely made this afternoon. And this progression manifested itself in a pretty wonderful moment later on in the week, when Mark was in rehearsal again. We had just come back from lunch and were waiting to begin the afternoon. Harry was sitting with puppet Charles next to Max (who plays his grandfather)and they began quietly having a conversation. Away from the text, the play, and the pressure of having to perform, the puppet Charles began to emerge as a real little boy. They just kept chatting, in character and gradually everyone in the rehearsal room tuned in, and began to listen. It was quietly exciting to watch the puppet come to the fore and engage on a real level with Erasmus. Harry was nowhere to be seen. It felt like a really significant moment in Harry’s journey with the puppet Charles, and as a result, things really moved forward when we returned to the scene work.
Tweaks and cuts continue to be made to the script as we discover more and more what this play is. Both Steven and John are happy for the script to continue evolving and trust that any changes that are made are because we have found a clearer way of telling the story. We did our first run through on Wednesday, which was epic, to say the least! Everyone did such an amazing job to remember all 39 scenes and it was great to get a sense of the structure of the play of a whole and what kind of journey it took us on. We are still working mostly with rehearsal props, while James, Joni, Spenser and Sydney peg it around the country gathering various props, costumes and the odd stuffed animal or two. (The arrival of a peacock headpiece caused much hilarity. It is literally a peacock. On a headband. Delightfully modelled by Max, a photo will accompany this entry very soon.)
Everyone just about knows the broad outline of their journeys, but what with explosions, flowers changing colour, seasons changing, millions of costume changes, and the rest, the true test will be when we get into tech as to whether things will work how we need them to.
Now that the physical shape of each scene has been outlined, the challenge is to find the balance between playing the comedy and allowing for beauty, wonderment, discovery, and even subtlety! As the actors grow more confident in the physical elements of the show, more room can be given to character detail, and emotional truth. To look for laughs is the death of comedy, and laughs have to be earnt.
As well as lots of hard work, lots of laughs have been had this week,(a good sign for a comedy), as well as a few bursts of the frog chorus, and a short moonwalk competition (neither in the show. Yet.) But what we have to be careful of is assuming that what we find absolutely hilarious in the rehearsal room, will also be appreciated by an audience. Such a tricky thing to measure until you actually get the show in front of people. Will an audience find things like calling the poor and needy of Shrewsbury ‘herim’ (mixture of her and him. As they are both male and female. Lets see whether it makes it to the press night….!), drawing worms reproductive organs and worms with smiley faces on blackboards, funny? Not long to wait now…..
Week two has been and gone already. All too fast. But much has been achieved. On Monday we all trooped to a tiny studio in Kennington, where we spent the day with Nick the photographer creating some press shots for Edinburgh. Armed with costumes, hats, bottles, bugs, badminton rackets and foliage, we were prepared for photo hilarity. We tried many a set up, from Victorian family photos, to peering over tables and into glass jars and from over 450 photos, we managed to choose around 7 shots that we thought were strong and eye catching images for the press. It was a bit of a race against time, with the deadline being at the end of the day. But we did it. The cast also had their first costume fittings today, and Orla and I went along at the end of the day to see how James (set designer) and Sydney (costume designer) were getting on. They had been in a little room at the National Theatre costume store, an amazing place filled with row upon row of every kind of garment/hat/shoe you could possibly imagine, including a massive gold plated cloak and a huge head dress in the shape of a toucan. Obviously. Wonder how we can get those into the show….
Actors play at least 5 characters each, (apart from Charles and his grandfather) so careful thought has to go into how to to best represent each one, when sometimes they only have literally a couple of seconds to go from one character to another. Sometimes it might be just a hat, or a cloak that provides the transformation, so that single item must be accurate in what it is signifying to an audience. Whilst we were there, Joseph Alford was trying on items for his numerous characters, one of which being the ‘poor and needy of Shrewsbury’. Sydney would disappear for a few minutes, and do a kind of supermarket sweep around the endless rows, and arrive back with about 10 different styles of cloak for him to try. Did he want one with a hood that goes over the face, or one with a point that made him look a bit like someone from Lord of the Rings? Or one with an inner lining? Brown or blue, stained or clean? None of them quite right? No matter, another swoop of the warehouse and she would be back with another lot to try. Painstaking, but worth it. They have begun to find some beautiful costumes.
Tuesday we were back in the rehearsal room. But with a slight difference. While we were at the photo call, the set had been delivered and put together by the wonderful stage management. We arrived to see our set, full and complete, in the rehearsal room. With a massive and beautiful floor, and an entire back wall of compartments, it looked incredible. And very big. I could not quite get my head around the fact that it could be built/ taken down in 20 minutes, which is our Edinburgh turnaround. But because our rehearsal room is used every night, we needed to do exactly that each day. The first time we took it down, it took half an hour. By Friday, it was down to 20 minutes. And that was with only 3 people doing it. In Edinburgh, there would be more hands on deck, making it even quicker. Amazing! And so incredible to have the set so early on in rehearsal. The play is fast and furious with characters coming and going all the time. So Tuesday was all about the actors beginning to orientate themselves on the set, going through everything we had worked on last week. There are 40 scenes in all and each one builds from the previous one, so it is very difficult to work on a scene in isolation without getting into rhythm and momentum of the piece. So Orla begins each day by going from scene one, working through what has already been done, then continuing from there. Each time more detail and layers are added, and it is a joy to watch as gradually moves become slicker, lines become easier to remember, and characters become stronger and more realised.
Also on Tuesday, James, Sydney and Joni took the Pentabus van from London back to Shropshire, to go to a magical place called ‘the land of lost content’. This is a kind of museum of oddities, ran by a woman who has basically collected and stored everything she has ever laid eyes on. I have not been, but I hear it is a place of wonder and a perfect place to hunt for props. They came back with many an interesting item, including a big stuffed owl, which we have named Ollie. Clever us. Rumour has it a big stuffed lion’s head might make its way into the rehearsal room. I hope this is true. Kind of.
The rest of the week saw us continuing to work through the play, with various people dropping into rehearsal, including a visit from the writers Steven and John mid week. They seemed to really enjoy the direction that the play is heading in. Which is fortunate. It was also Orla’s birthday on Wednesday, so an excuse for large amounts of chocolate cake. Mark from Blind Summit joined us for a couple of mornings for some intense puppet work, which was very exciting to watch. Charles Darwin begins life in the play as simply a blanket with a head, and it is all down to the cast to help bring it to life, and to Harry, to give him a voice. It is magical to watch this inanimate object being given life and personality, and it is amazing how quickly as an audience member you invest in it as much as you do the actors. Charles then moves from baby to small boy, which is a harder job for everyone. The puppet needs 3 people on it and so every movement needs to be choreographed. Mark’s detailed and rigorous direction ensures that each tiny movement is authentic and truthful and it is incredible to watch how a simple shift in movement can completely change how much we believe in the puppet.
It has been another week of joyful discovery and progress is being made on all levels. Let us see what week three brings……
Hello. Well. We are at the end of our first week of rehearsals for Origins, written by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. I thought I would attempt to sum up each week on here, along with some rehearsal photos, to give a flavour of how the show is progressing. So. Monday morning saw the beginning of ‘the hottest of the hot heat wave ever to have hit London ever in the history of the world’, and saw the 5 cast members Emily Wachter, Damian Lynch, Harry Arkwright, Max Hutcheon and Joseph Alford, myself, Orla, Caroline and Joni (stage management) head to Ealing Broadway, where we would spend the next 5 weeks rehearsing at the Questors Theatre. Our first few conversations were dominated by how long it had taken each of us to get there (1.5 hours seemed to be the average) and how delightful Ealing appeared in the sunshine! We are in a fairly lovely spot, a park just opposite (more of that later), Stan’s cafe, which sells ice creams, and the centre of Ealing a mere amble away. Perfect. The Questors Theatre itself is quite the hidden gem. Big, spacious, airy (but somewhat like a sauna in the sunshine) rehearsal rooms, 2 theatres, incredible prop and costume stores, all run by volunteers. So, after we had had the obligatory ‘how long did it take you to get here’ conversations and wiped the sweat from our brows, grabbed a cup of tea and a donut, we all sat around the table and Orla opened the week with a brief chat about Pentabus, and about the origins of Origins. After official introductions, we gave the play a gentle first read, which was highly exciting. The cast are quite simply, excellent, and seemed immediately at home with the style and pace of the piece. We then chatted about the world of the play, the world of historical fact, and where the two meet, the play’s visual, physical, robustly comic style, and the sense of responsibility in doing a piece about THE Charles Darwin. Steven and John (the writers) are willing for the text to evolve within rehearsals, and open to the fact that rehearsals might illuminate some better/sharper/ clearer ways of telling the story.
After the first read, a few slight changes to the text were made, and after lunch, we gave it another read, to begin to find the rhythm and momentum, to become familiar with the play as a whole, and to test the small changes Orla had suggested before lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent reading character biogs which I had prepared, for us all to get a sense of who these people actually were. And the majority of these characters seemed to live such fascinating and busy lives, changing the world and discovering things all over the place!
Tuesday saw everyone connected to the production arrive at the Questors for a meet and greet. (more sweaty arrivals and more ‘wow, isn’t Ealing lovely and isn’t it ages away). John Moreton, Development Director at Pentabus had arrived with the Pentabus van, bursting with rehearsal props and other curiosities that might prove useful. Very exciting to see everyone involved-we have a rather huge team of rather wonderful people. One of the writers, Steven Canny, kicked off the morning by talking a little about his and John’s journey from idea to rehearsal draft, giving everything a bit of context, which was so useful to hear. They were interested in what it was in Charles’s early life that allowed him to become what he did. What was open to Charles in the years following 1809? The enormous amount of coverage that Charles Darwin has had this year seemed to overlook the fact that he had a childhood, so Steven said he was interested in exploring what that might have been in a story that recognised and celebrated diversity, variety, and possibility. What was useful for me was that Steven described this play as being about a family, and how a family dynamic can affect the choices we make. James Humphreys (the designer) then talked through the model box, which looks to be a thing of beauty (and a thing that can be put up in 20 mins, our turnaround in Edinburgh!).
After a production meeting, Orla asked the actors to sit in a line, and read through the play again, but this time whenever they were in a scene, to stand up and play their lines out. A remarkable exercise; just a simple instruction was all it took to begin to bring the play to life. Lots of laughter.
Wednesday saw us work from the very beginning of the play, up on its feet, exploring the broad brush strokes. It is a play written to be performed, not read, so the only way to discover what it is, is by getting it on its feet and playing with possibilities. It is also immensely technical, with quick costume changes, multiple roles, puppetry, animation, so much for the actors to get their heads around. And they totally embraced it all, such incredible energy, focus and downright brilliance from the cast and from Orla, that it was quite astonishing to watch the progress! We are using a bizarre mix of rehearsal props from all over the place (mainly from the Pentabus store rooms, which appear to hold many a weird and wonderful item!) as the stage management and design team get to grips with locating the many props that are needed. The hunt for a pink flamingo is on……
Thursday saw the hottest day in the heat wave. The sun creeps around so it beams straight onto the rehearsal room all afternoon, which means that we have had not tea breaks, but ice lolly breaks (from Stan’s cafe, naturally). Joni provided some respite from the almost unbearable heat by providing the rehearsal room with 2 fans. Thank goodness. It is such a physical show, and doing it in intense heat is not the ideal condition, but maybe a good warm up for the theatre in Edinburgh….
Mark Down from Blind Summit spent the day with us today. Charles for the first 15 years or so of his life in the play is played first by a blanket with a head, and then a puppet. So today was all about beginning to understand the language of these puppets, and the relationship between puppeteer and puppet. This begun with a very simple, but very effective object exercise, which involved us working with ordinary objects and making them gradually come to life. Brilliant. The presence of a puppet adds such a different element to a scene-there is something incredibly moving about watching a puppet interacting and responding with people. Everyone had worked so hard today that Orla thought a glass of wine in the park might be in order. So, in the idyllic park we were, happily chatting over a chilled glass of rose as the sun set, when two police approached us to say that there were bylaws in the park which made it illegal to drink alcohol. And that they would have to ‘stop and account’ us!! After quite a bit of incredulation from our part, they spent the next 40 hours (felt like it anyway) taking down our names and addresses, which would be kept on their system for one year. We had to sit sheepishly as they took our details, as groups of 12 year olds walked past and laughed. The only person spared was Joseph, who had conveniently left but a few minutes before. (highly suspicious behaviour on his part, we suspect he had tipped them off. He denies it.)
Friday, after being able to laugh about our partial criminal records, we went back to the beginning of the play, working through in more detail and incorporating the work that was done with Mark yesterday, before moving on. I am astonished by how much has been achieved this week. Bring on week two, which will see the arrival of the set, the beginnings of projections, costume fittings and photoshoots, more puppet work with Mark, and no doubt more ice lollys.