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Rep Season 2013 – Rehearsal Day 21 – JONNY McPHERSON (Zenturione/Vershinin/Leonardo)

December 27, 2012

‘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.

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