Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Old School

Over the New Year break, I read Peter Gill's new book Apprenticeship. I knew it was about the rehearsals for Bill Gaskill's famous production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and since I start rehearsals for another Brecht - The Good Soul of Szechuan - tomorrow (yipe...) at Rose Bruford, I thought it might be a good "way in". I'd read about the production before - in fact, it was reading about Gaskill's rehearsals that first got me interested in Brechtian theatre, way back in my teens. But I hadn't realised that even then the production was some way distant historically - it was as long ago as 1962.

I rather liked reading Gill's account in the knowledge that he was looking back across a time-span longer than I've been alive. For one thing, it allows the book to avoid the Equity factor which is always a problem when actors and directors write about their work. Gill is at the end of his career, and doesn't have to worry about who he offends. As a result, he gives a very lucid account of what Gaskill tried to do, what he in fact did, and how the institutional and cultural apparatus all around him proved so very tricky. As somebody who has worked in large institutions, I appreciated the last point! The great joy of Border Crossings is that there is no juggernaut of a theatre machine dictating how things should and should not be done. Of course, this is also its biggest problem - so much has to be done by so few people - but we would never have one director coming in to "sort out" another's production.... and that was what happened to Bill Gaskill.

So - tomorrow I start my first ever Brecht production.....

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