“I thought I’d never get through it!”
…an astonished Olga exclaims in Act One of Three Sisters. And as we approach the final week of The Faction’s Rep 2013 it is a line that I can deliver whole-heartedly using my experience of being in this wonderful company of theatre makers for the past three and a bit months!
‘I didn’t sleep a wink all night.’
The history of the world is replete with legendary endurance tests: Pheidippides journey from Marathon to Athens, Shackleton’s expedition to the Antarctic, England holding Italy to a draw in a 1997 World Cup qualifier. With regards to a Rep Season by The Faction, I sometimes feel like Pheidippides, like Shackleton, like Paul Ince.
Having been involved with The Faction on and off and in various capacities since late 2010, I took part in last year’s critically-acclaimed, inaugural Rep Season. It was one of the best professional experiences of my life and I felt how I thought actors were supposed to feel: artistically sated, exhausted and frequently drunk. Going into this season, I mostly remembered the good times: the atmosphere around the ensemble as we received glowing review after glowing review, the response from the audience as we regularly killed off the Queen of Scotland (sorry for the spoilers if you haven’t seen Mary Stuart) and the quite impeccable demonstration of trout tickling by Jonny McPherson.
What I’d forgotten was the exhaustion. Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
The dynamic of the ensemble feels very different this year. Several important and much-loved cast members from last year are absent and we have some highly-talented newbies in (not necessarily new to the company) who are all beautiful and lovely*. The company is larger. There is a better balance of men and women. We have two directors. We have a stage manager in right from the start of rehearsals. This has helped the season not feel like a rehash of last year.
Last year’s success has filled most of us with confidence throughout that it will ALL BE OK. There are dark times, of course, and we never have the opportunity to rehearse anything as much as we’d like. I’ve genuinely had sleepless nights, I’ve had to be very careful not to exist purely on Pret a Manger and Glenfidditch, and I’ve had to try to keep a separation between the harrowing journeys my characters travel and my own life (last year we had Twelfth Night to cheer us up, this time our comedy is by Chekhov).
I’ve had to pretty much put a hold on the rest of my life. Friends, family, bills, other professional commitments, they’ve all had to take a back seat. Only one member of the ensemble is married, none have children and many are not in long-term relationships and, frankly, I can see why.
Coming out of rehearsals is always sad but it is nice to be able to head to the theatre in the evening, do a great job (hopefully) and then get back to the rest of my life. Would I do it again? Like a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome I say ‘Yes! Please! Hurl me back into the basement!’. Bring on Rep 2014.
*except Jonathan Plummer who is handsome and brooding.
‘It’s a kind of refrain,’
I am nearing the end of my work on The Faction’s Rep Season 2013. Blood Wedding has now opened and Fiesco and Three Sisters have been running for a few weeks.
For Fiesco, I produced soundscapes that combined audio samples of advertisements, political speeches and war correspondence. Now, editing together snippets of Hitler’s Nuremburg Speeches with 1950’s Budweiser commercials might make for an interesting sound cue, but it doesn’t half raise a few eyebrows with the neighbours. Next time I think I will use the headphones.
For Three Sisters we experimented with the placing of sound in relation to the stage, using the New Diorama’s technical specs to have sound directed from down stage left or stage right. The chime of a clock was then used as a transition from one act to another, merging seamlessly into a string section to introduce the final act.
Finally Blood Wedding, which opened two days ago, required the most work with the ensemble. For Fiesco and Three Sisters, the cues had been produced and edited during the tech rehearsals, often being the first time the cast would have heard some of the parts. For Blood Wedding the songs have been written for the ensemble to perform live, and early on in the rehearsal process we experimented with sound during workshops to see what we could produce.
The result was fantastic. Working with the ensemble on the songs for Blood Wedding was exciting and rewarding, and their ‘can do’ approach was inspiring. My demonstrations and suggestions were met with a commitment and enthusiasm that reminded me why I enjoy working with The Faction.
The richness of Gareth Jandrell’s translation of Lorca’s play presented me with the perfect starting point from which to compose the music for Blood Wedding, and when I first saw and heard the ensemble perform these compositions with such energy and emotion, I felt it was a job well done, and I thank them for that.
‘We’re practically brothers’
Today is a big day and, by the end of it, Rep 2013 will be fully opened.
According to Thomas Wolfe, you can never go home again.
I was lucky enough to help start The Faction after appearing in Richard III at the Brockley Jack Theatre a little over four years ago. It was a thrilling production to be a part of, and opened my eyes to a style and a way of working that I had never been exposed to before. Demanding that the same rigour that is usually applied to the text is also demanded of yourself physically was a new (and a little terrifying) style of theatre-making for me, but one that I very quickly felt at home in, and what I have learned at Faction HQ (wherever that is) I have carried with pride with me throughout my career.
For one reason or another, either professional or family commitments, I haven’t worked for The Faction for almost two years. It’s been an odd one. I have sat on the sidelines for a great deal of the company’s recent artistic growth. During 2012’s inaugural rep season, I would sit in the bar at our home at the New Diorama feeling bizarrely jealous of my friends, who at this point I had known for a huge chunk of my career, having an amazing time in amazing shows. I knew that I had been away for too long, and also felt a strong desire to re-prove myself to these guys that I had grown up with as an actor.
Having the opportunity to be a part of Rep 2013 has been an immense experience so far, and it has been wonderful to back in the room with these guys. Amongst all the familiarity, it is really challenging working with other artists who know you really well. For one, they recognise and won’t accept any of your actory tricks and bad habits, nor should they. They expect you to be better, and you should be. It’s a re-education, and it’s a good one. But more than anything, I feel like I’m amongst family again, and one that I’ve missed possibly more than I realised.
We opened the season last night, with the first ever performance of Schiller’s Fiesco in the UK, to a sold-out and receptive house. We sat in the bar afterwards, amongst friends, colleagues and family, and had drinks and told jokes we had heard a million times before. It was as warm and familiar as a good home should be. And with respect to Mr. Wolfe, maybe he didn’t have as good a place to return to as I did.
The work continues, with Three Sisters and Blood Wedding joining Fiesco in the rep in the coming weeks. I really hope to see you there.
‘Soaring into the blue yonder…’
‘Never trust the words of women’
Typically, for the first couple of weeks of a Faction rehearsal, we break down the plays, read the words aloud and analyse them line by line. We comb through the text for a sense of the world we’ll all soon inhabit. Questions arise, discussions develop and opinions are shared. From where I’ve been sitting, the subject of gender’s been a hot topic and one that, for me, has provoked a few thoughts about the rehearsal process.
In all of the texts (as in, I suppose, many plays written around a century ago or more), the relationship between women and men is quite different to that which we’re now familiar. They are depictions of societies with morals and mores quite alien to our own. I don’t think I’m sticking my neck out too far to say that they are, for the most part, predominantly patriarchal. This means that occasionally we may come across scenes in which women are subjugated by men in a way that we now see as unjust, exploitative and even brutal.
A couple of examples: in Blood Wedding, the Bride and Bridegroom are seemingly traded on their marriage qualities. He is sold on his steady income and broad shoulders; she is sold on her mouse-like timidity, her early-morning bread-baking skills and her child-bearing hip-width. Or in Fiesco: a man goes to quite extraordinary lengths to defend the honour of his only daughter (you’ll have to buy a ticket to see what I mean).
Both of these examples, seen through the prism of our contemporary, western world-view, can seem risible and abhorrent. At least, they did to me. What sort of mother touts her daughter on the basis of her hip-width for god’s sake? Doesn’t sound like the best parenting. However, in the world of the play such behaviours seem established and accepted.
And then I thought: this is where it gets interesting. It’s around about this point that as an actor, you have to do some mental manoeuvring. You have to park your opinions and turn your perception inside out. Whatever value judgements I personally may have made of the play and the people depicted in it are useless for the job ahead – if anything they may be a hindrance. The only thing that’s helpful now is trying to understand that apparently peculiar world through the eyes of the person I’ll be playing to the point that it all makes sense to them. It’s like an exercise in extreme empathy.
So, from our collective objectivity we have to make the individual descent into our respective subjectivities.
For me, it’s the thing I find hardest and most interesting about getting stuck in to any role: gaining enough of an understanding of the world they inhabit to make sense of their behaviour. We’ve been up on our feet for a week or so now. As ever, I still feel a million miles from understanding why the hell I’m saying half the stuff that’s coming out of my mouth. But with thought, time and a bit of blind faith, I trust I’ll find out.