I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: UNITED WE STAND
Tuesday 10 July 2012
Here is a first report back from a sadly very wet and grey Peterborough, having completed the first week of rehearsals for Eastern Angles new production of ‘I Peterborough.
The elements seem to know this play and the nature of the piece, having blasted us with an atmospheric introduction to the city, a city very much at the heart of playwright Joel Horwood's latest work. This weather is helping tap into Peterborough. A city often overlooked but we're quickly discovering it has a very strong character and presence; a personality built from medieval streets, 70's planners, diverse cultural mix, railways, fens and the skies.
My name is Chris Hallam and assisting Joel Horwood and Ivan Cutting (the directors) over the next three weeks, through to its ‘work in progress' night in Peterborough, its opening in Ipswich and its departure to Edinburgh for the festival in August.
So, a quick introduction to the team. As well as Joel and Ivan there are the two actors Milo Twomey playing Lulu and Jay Taylor playing Hew, Amy Cook the designer and Steve Cooney Production Manager. Silki Morrison, the Stage Manager, Penny Griffin, the Lighting Designer and those in the Eastern Angles office I have yet to meet. We do of course have Keeley Mills in the Peterborough office being of huge support and with invaluable local advice.
I don't won't to give too much away about the play too soon, but it's fair to say that ‘I ♥ Peterborough' is a complex, moving and darkly funny piece looking at the relationship between a father, Lulu, and his newly discovered son. A relationship dictated and formed by its intriguing location. As you can tell by the father's name of Lulu this is not a straightforward story. However, more of that in future blogs.
The first week has been very much focussed on the script taking it from draft 3 to draft 7 through reading, discussing, playing and a lot of uniting (more shortly) in order to produce a rehearsal script on which rehearsal proper began on Monday 9th. At the same time Milo and Jay have been working on some seminal songs of the 80', learning the Macarena, the ‘Len Boone Shuffle' (a dance well known to you Peterborians) and, in Milo's case, learning to walk in high heels and playing with electric fags. Getting more interested?
The script has moved on quickly, thanks largely to the process of Uniting, a method of rehearsal or preparation that heavily divides theatre practitioners. Briefly, it is a process where you split the script up into units of sense, ideas, emotional journeys etc. which can be anything from one line of text or a stage direction through to a few pages (this play has nearly 50 units over 30 pages) and giving them highly specific active titles i.e. ‘Surviving alone' or ‘Running the gauntlet'. When it comes to rehearsal these titles give the actors an instant understanding of each section and a sense of how they could play it. Through uniting actors can develop a clear and manageable overall understanding of their journey's and the arc of the play. It is a very slow and precise process, not everyone is a fan of it and it is not necessarily suited to every play. However, the focussed, intelligent and hugely detailed work put in by Joel, Milo and Jay paid off when at the end of the first week they were able to do a very rough run through of the piece giving an extremely clear idea of the story and strong hints as to how their personal character stories could develop.
Uniting does not always answer questions, far from it, it usually creates more but does make them specific. Producing a play is very often about asking the right questions rather than finding the right answers.
OK, that's enough I think for the first week. I'll keep you informed as we go along including a nice clip lined up of them doing the notorious Len Boone Shuffle.
Chris Hallam, Assistant Director
I HEART PETERBOROUGH: Day 1
Wednesday 16 November 2011
To Arts Admin http://www.artsadmin.co.uk/ to observe the first day of a ten day exploration of Joel Horwood's http://www.ideastap.com/IdeasMag/all-articles/in-only-joel-horwood new play ‘I heart Peterborough' commissioned by Eastern Angles. You can catch two rehearsed readings of the piece at Peterborough's Key Theatre on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 November.
It's always difficult to say what the birthing point of a new play is. In the case of ‘I heart Peterborough' was it early observations whilst growing up in a small East Anglian town? Was it walking around Peterborough with Eastern Angles artistic director Ivan Cutting discussing this commission?. Was it the point Joel started to put pen to paper or today when those words get first breath?. Or is it Thursday week when it first goes in front of an audience?
Whatever the answer (and the truth is its probably all - and more - of the above) its exhilarating to be here at the read through. From what was effectively a standing start Alex Beckett Joe Arkley and Rebecca Oldfield breath real life into the characters of Gary, Tiger and Polly
Regularly through the read through the company burst into laughter. Though the subject matter is dark Joel's text at times is incredibly funny. He has a great ear for life's natural humour and that same humour serves to sharpen the tragedy of the piece.
The rehearsal room mood soon changes though when director Mike Longhurst (who will be going straight into directing Rafe Spall in Constellations for the Royal Court after this workshop) invites the company to watch Swansea Love Story - a grim depiction of the life of heroin addicts. ‘That is the saddest, bleakest thing I've ever seen' says one performer.
Lunch was dominated by a discussion of the art of the understudy. Alex regaled us of tales of ‘going on' at 25 minutes notice in the Bush production of Measure for Measure ( a performance which was prefaced by Catherine Tate announcing the change and introducing him as - potentially - the next Catherine Zeta Jones!). Joe talked of the weirdness of understudying Mercutio when you're playing Tybalt - finding yourself sword-fighting your ‘own' character when you go on.
After lunch the process of dissecting the text really begins. Who is the onstage musician (played by Arthur Darvill) and why is he wearing animal slippers. How and when did Stig die? Who went clean when?. When was the world cup in Japan? Tiny detail building up gradually to create a compelling back story. It's a reminder that theatre is a truly collaborative art - as the company - rather than just Joel - took responsibility for finding the answers.
The day ends with a brief meeting about ‘what happens next' for what has already been described as Joel's ‘funny crazy druggie beautiful new play'. It seems slightly strange - at this early, fragile stage to be talking about what the play will do in its mature life - but that's the reality of this business. And the strength of Joel's text makes it much easier to plan the future for this l'enfant terrible.
Matthew Linley, General Manager