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Touring Theatre to the East of England and beyond

I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: HELLO AUDIENCE...

Friday 20 July 2012

It seems totally at odds with the idea of a protected and safe rehearsal schedule to slap a 'performance' in the middle of the final week; to expose actors still experimenting to the judgement of an audience. It feels like forcing the end product far too soon. However, the 'Work in Progress' performance that the team presented last night, in the final week of rehearsals, seemed a very natural part of the process helping the show to find its centre and, of course, an obvious way to introduce the third character to the piece; the audience.

I Peterborough is, in effect, a show within a show, Lulu and Hew in their living room exorcising memories, replaying the past, avoiding the truth. However, stories need telling to someone and stories told are nearly always changed and affected by the listener. That runs true for virtually all theatre but particularly so with this piece. As a director it is possible to sit through run after run and still not fully listen and observe the play until surrounded by an audience. The energy, the dynamics, the concentration in the room alters and you do genuinely begin to see the piece through others eyes for the very first time almost. Likewise an actor can have their comprehension of the piece shot into clarity by an audience; whether it's fear or adrenalin, moments of revelation happen in performance which stagger you, causing you to ask why you never noticed them before.

It is for this reason that so many companies have previews prior to officially opening for both director and actors to experience those moments of understanding and build them into a more complex production. The 'Work in Progress' evening has enabled a mini stock-take to happen with the luxury of a number of days rehearsal left in which to deepen the play. One of the major aspects of such a performance is having your attention steered towards an audiences understanding of the story; put simply, does it makes sense, can it be followed, are they getting what the playwright wants them to hear?

Story is so basic to theatre and yet so easy to mess up. Last night has shown Joel the areas that need attention. A striking effect of last night was the emotional impact the piece had. There was a tremendous sense of pride and ownership at there being such an astounding play about Peterborough, but also a profound connection with the characters of Lulu and Hew, irrespective of the location of the piece. We leave Peterborough today and move to Ipswich to open the play next Thursday.

Chris Hallam, Assistant Director

I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: LET'S GET PHYSICAL

Wednesday 18 July 2012

So it is clear I haven't written anything for a few days but things have been getting hectic in the rehearsal room and Peterborough. Not least today with a phenomenal downpour causing us to leave the rehearsal room for short while due a leak, or 5. The Nene is looking pretty swollen here, and the theatre is very close to it!

It's been an exciting week in the movement of this play. What you are always looking for and hope will happen is when an actor suddenly throws in an idea which turns their performance around and finds the missing link that takes the piece to a different and surprising level. Milo made the dramatic move of playing Lulu in a more outrageous and seemingly inappropriate way in order to play and force some changes. However, it revealed how the script could cope with such a dramatic shift and served as a reminder that rehearsals are about making those choices you feel, or even know, won't work but can often provide some impressive solutions.

Joel is always pushing the actors to explore those gestures, those ideas. He does it by running sections a few times but with a different intention albeit pertinent to the characters. Asking to play a scene how Bill Hicks might do it (or Billy Connelly as Milo adapted it to) helped the actor to understand how many of the lines were of a 'stand-up' nature which fed in to a fresh approach to the character.

Today was also a good opportunity to do some physical character work with Jay and Milo while Joel sorted out the technical side for tomorrow nights 'Work in Progress' performance. To allow the actors to explore their characters physically, fuelled by the text but concentrating purely on how their bodies can express it, is a further way of layering the work they are doing. Some actors find it the first port of call when creating a role, others use it as a back up, some just work physically quite naturally, but it nearly always stimulates and prompts more questions and challenges.

Having read an earlier draft where the script felt like a comedy play and seen it go to some very dark places in subsequent drafts, the humour is now returning stronger than ever. Seeing that development makes me appreciate the complex relationship between the written word and performance, between text and subtext; just because a script reads dark it shouldn't necessarily be performed that way.

IPeterborough becomes a more complex and moving piece as Milo, Jay and Joel challenge themselves daily in how they present it. Tomorrow evening, 19th July, sees it put before an audience to gauge an early reaction. I'll let you know what happens.

Chris Hallam, Assistant Director

I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: IT'S A TWISTER!

Sunday 15 July 2012

Day out of the rehearsal room today, researching.

So far with I ♥ Peterborough we have a gay Dad, a troubled musical son, a drag act and now a tornado. Why not? It is Peterborough after all.

Not necessarily a tornado hotspot in the same way as parts of America but Peterborough has had two in the past seven years and consequently makes a hugely important contribution to this production. So, my task today was to find out more about these phenomenons to help place them in context for Joel and the cast.

East Anglia is, apparently, quite prone to tornados. Geographically it is suited to them and they can range in intensity quite dramatically so anything from a Dust Devil up to something quite severe has occurred in this region. The biggest one to hit Peterborough was in 2005 and caused significant damage to particular areas of the city followed by a minor one in 2007. On both occasions they were the full on funnel twister types that remind us of images from films like The Wizard of Oz, which is no coincidence; Dorothy's search for home has strong parallels in this play and those killer-heels I spoke about earlier are in a pretty dramatic ruby red.

One of the great excitements of being involved in creating theatre is being able to layer images, ideas and themes; recognising references from other sources, seeing how they influence and seeing if they help in creating a richer piece.

Consequently, I found it fascinating when Joel asked me to pick 5 of the top confrontations between father and son from film, theatre etc. I'm not going to give away what they are until I see how they are, or even if, they are going to be used, but this weekend I need to source some scripts. (Darth Vadar and Luke Skywalker were in there though).

I also gained some further insight in to what Joel is looking for with this piece when he spoke to me about plays which have some bearing on the piece; Beckett's Endgame and Enda Walsh's Disco Pigs and Bed Bound.  I'm going back in the rehearsal room on Friday so it will be interesting to watch rehearsals from a new perspective.

Keep you informed.

Chris Hallam, Assistant Director

I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: Assister Act

Thursday 12 July 2012

I should explain a little about what I am up to in this production.

I am assisting Joel so I am there to help wherever I can. This has ranged from checking availability of space and researching some props through to participating in rehearsals and researching material for either Joel or the cast but more of that tomorrow.

We were joined today by Silki, the Stage Manager, so one of my duties, to follow the script, has been taken over by her, freeing me up with other work.

An Assistant Directors job is notoriously flexible and you'd be hard pushed to find an exact job description for it. It can vary so much from director to director, company to company, with some directors wanting minimal input to you practically doing their job. It's usually a happy medium.

I'm enjoying sitting in on rehearsals and seeing how the dynamics of the piece are changing and developing and watching how the relationships, not just between the characters grow, but also between the cast and Joel. You gradually see shorthand developing with instructions, guidance and understanding between them and an ease and relaxation enabling more rapid and intense work.

It is fascinating (and rare) to watch how other directors work, the skills and disciplines they use to achieve a production. As one director said ‘directing is like sex, you never normally get to see other people do it so you don't know if you're doing it right or not'.  Through assisting you get that opportunity. To see directing, obviously.

One of my duties may be to take some rehearsals as some point in the process, or to go out to the piece when it is on tour to see that it is keeping to the production's aims. It is important to remember that it is the directors and the casts' show I am assisting on and to ensure it keeps  within the  parameters found in rehearsal.  As rehearsals go on and things become more defined I will make notes of the intentions and aims as an aide memoir.

However, to throw a spanner into those works, the show obviously will breathe and grow when away from the rehearsal room so it's all a very big balancing act as to how you keep those original intentions clear without straight-jacketing the actors and the play.

Chris Hallam, Assistant Director

I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: DO THE SHUFFLE

Wednesday 11 July 2012

So back on Monday and straight into the lads, all three, director included (never getting anyone to do what he wouldn't do himself), learning the Len Boone Shuffle to the iconic track Love Won't be Denied. Film was to be attached, but annoyingly the sound didn't record, so I will get another and post asap.  This particular dance seems pretty central to a night out in Peterborough so its inclusion was essential; we're just looking for an opportunity to go out and practise in situ. Good Luck!

Amy Cook, the designer was in today having been out with Milo in London over the weekend finding the ideal dress and wig for his character. This afternoon saw ‘Lulu' being physically put together. So along with the killer-heels Milo had been mastering over the past week makeup dress and wig were added.  Make up can obviously play a huge part in the development of a character and the telling of the story but  when it is feminine make up being placed on a man it becomes even more so.  It will be interesting to see how the makeup develops over the next few weeks, and how its application by Jay as Hew adds to that.

Not wanting to reveal all, photos will be limited on this part of the play.

This unusual story between father and son is meaning the actors are having to explore and experiment considerably; ever tried dressing a man in a silk dressing gown whilst dancing the Macarena?  It is a surprisingly tender moment

The pure text work has taken a back place and Joel is moving through the piece unit by unit and taking advantage of the time available to him having a shortish script and just two actors to thoroughly play about with ideas and staging. Taking the unit to bits, being constantly reminded of its aim, exploring, playing, experimenting with it before running them together is enabling the actors to find clear and dramatically varied character personalities.  Some very moving storytelling is already coming through and with the actors still throwing out new ideas every time watching is totally gripping as new story elements are developed and clarified.

Chris Hallam, Assistant Director

I ♥ PETERBOROUGH: UNITED WE STAND

Tuesday 10 July 2012

IHP in rehearsal

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