Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Games at Goldsmiths

It's a huge bonus to be able to do this development period in the theatre at Goldsmiths. For one thing, we're able to accommodate all our overseas visitors on campus at an affordable cost... More crucially, we have the luxury of rehearsing in a real theatre space for the entire period. Usually, you only get the theatre for the last few days before the show opens, which means that anything technical has to be worked out in advance, and done just the once. This inevitably tends to mean that you play safe - there's no time for things to go wrong. But, this time, we can afford the luxury of being playful in our technical work, just as we are being with the rest of the production. We've got our new video projector rigged up, and are playing with live feeds from an onstage camera. With Nancy as camera-person, we ended up re-staging a scene around what these live feeds offered us. What's more, we already have much of the lighting in place, so Nick and David have also been part of this experimental process. It's very liberating.

We've had Denise and Micha with us all week, so the emphasis has been very much on the larger scenes with movement sequences. I feel most of these are working well now, and I've been able to develop aspects of the storyline alongside their physical work. Where the holes are now is in the more intimate scenes - the two and three-handed bits of the play where the emotional depths need to be found. In previous devising processes I've found these the easiest part - but this time it feels harder, perhaps because I've shifted the emphasis. Maybe I'm lucky that Monday is the day we've allocated to the final rigging and focusing of light, and so it's the one day that I won't be working on the stage. Being in a smaller space will force me to concentrate on the more internal aspects of the play.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More devising

The process is moving forward in very exciting ways. I wish I could blog this on a daily basis, as I did in Shanghai, but the journey to work is about an hour and a half each way, and I can't get internet access in the lunch break. It's not like living over the job as we did in China!

Denise and Micha have joined us this week, and are working their usual magic, drawing beautiful and emotive movement out of us all. Their tsunami piece is extraordinary. At the same time, lots of strands which hadn't seemed to mesh before appear to be coming together. I'd been really worried about one scene, and kept putting it off - but today a very simple idea, born out of a previous scene, gave us the key. That key, oddly enough, was to use Yueju. I'd thought it had disappeared from this show - lovely to see it return as the solution here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Publishing and devising

Nice news for the publishing side of the company: there's a brilliant review of Theatre and Slavery in the new issue of The Drama Review. It's by Jane Plastow, the Professor of African Theatre at Leeds, so it should carry lots of weight in academic circles. It's also very nice that she points out it isn't a solely academic publication.

Devising processes continue. It's a big, complex business, but starting to shape very well. I'm enjoying the combination of Method-ish psychological character exploration with wild theatricality. By playing with form, naturalism becomes only one of the theatrical modes employed. There was a hiccough on Monday, with Nancy pointing out that there didn't seem to be much point her character being in the play as things stood. She was absolutely right. As so often in this sort of process, the blip led to a very creative new idea, which solves at least two plot-lines much more satisfactorily than before. Process, process....

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A week in workshops

We're back in workshop for the Trilogy, this time in London. I spent last weekend dashing backwards and forwards to Heathrow, picking up Chinese and Swedish actors, while Penny picked up Radhakrishna. They are all being accommodated in student rooms at Goldsmiths, which, while not exactly five-star, has the distinct advantage of being on-campus for our venue: we're working in the University theatre while the students are on holiday. This is a huge advantage, since we can have the set from the beginning (complete with a new, perfectly reflective and decidedly durable floor), and can experiment with light and projection, rather than simply imagining these additions to the rehearsals and hoping they will work at a last-minute tech. What's more, this period isn't about final preparation for a paying audience (that doesn't happen till February), so we also have the chance to take mad risks in the knowledge that we can revert to safer practice later on. I'm planning to try something particularly mad tomorrow...

Many of the foundations for this third play were laid in Shanghai, but the work Brian and I have been doing since then has re-moulded much of it. As a result, we're creating lots of new scenes, and re-working much of what we had before, with totally different sub-texts and meanings. In many cases, the scenes have different characters in them, while retaining the same theatrical structure. It's all very extraordinary. Brian came in on Tuesday, and worked with us on some of the scenes which require a more textual approach, and he's now sent those through. I've not worked in a way which combines devising and a writer before - but I think it's the way forward for us: it's certainly working at the moment.

The new additions to the company, Lianne and Spatica, are both very creative and very exciting. I'm trying to bear in mind that they don't have the history with the project that everybody else has - but at times they make it hard to think that! The Chinese actors are wonderful - Qi with his piercing intelligence, Hui with her earnest grace, and Jue with the best comic timing since Chaplin.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Back in workshop

We've gathered the Trilogy cast together again for the next round of workshopping on Re-Orientations. Many reunions of old friends from Shanghai, plus one or two new faces. Mahesh's friend Spatica has joined us from India, and Lianne Tucker has taken over as Alex and Linda. There's also the new stage management team, and even an American intern called Mica. Lots of people in the room.

I always find it difficult to start something. Maybe a re-start is even harder. I spent the morning playing devising games with the cast - as much as anything to get people in touch with their creativity, and with one another, after six months' gap. In the afternoon I talked them through the new ideas for the structure. It took quite a bit of time, so that at one point Jue asked how long I thought the play would be (!), but there seemed to be a general sense that things were moving forward very positively.

Jet-lag hit the Chinese actors from about mid-afternoon, so I sent them home and worked in some detail with Lianne, Spatica, Sarah and Radhakrishna on the tsunami and the background to the Indian story. Some very interesting possibilities starting to show. Brian's coming in tomorrow - we'll check out some possible approaches to key scenes which I'm hoping he may script. Really exciting to be mixing the written with the improvised like this.

Friday, August 07, 2009

The Observer

I saw The Observer at the National the other night. Two reasons for going: firstly that it's a new play about Africa, which is always of interest; and second that Joy Richardson (who played Olivia when our Twelfth Night went to Zimbabwe) is in it. Joy plays the mother of a young man who's been beaten up during a supposedly "free" election, for ferrying people to the polling station on his motorbike. The underlying point is that the people in the rural areas of this fictional African country (coyly un-named, but reminiscent of Zimbabwe, Kenya, Nigeria and even hinting at Ghana) are more likely to vote for "the leader of the opposition", and so become targets for the bullying tactics of "the President". What's interesting in the play is that the "democratic" opposition is the preferred candidate of the western powers in terms of trade, getting their hands on resources etc., and the altruistic heroine finds herself becoming their unconscious agent as she endeavours to get voters to register. The fact that her encouragement is concentrated in the rural areas also compromises the apparent objectivity of the international observer. It's intelligent, and at times very powerful - but I found it a bit Shavian, with the characters existing primarily to voice particular viewpoints, and the African voice being denied. Joy's big scene is wonderfully acted (of course), but it's almost entirely in Igbo, and so relies for its effect on her emotional performance, rather than on the articulation of viewpoint. The figure of the translator is, symbolically enough, the only African character who is explored in any depth, and his role as translator seems so specific that he only really exists to explain. It's difficult territory, of course. But it did make me feel that we're right to be looking to create our work through many different voices, rather than looking at ourselves looking at "the Other". There's a reason this play is called The Observer.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Who is that bloodied man?

Nisha and I went to see the Polish open-air Macbeth, which is being performed beside the Thames at the National's new Square 2. It's presented by Teatr Biuno Podrozy, who specialise in very visual, physical, outdoor work. I remember seeing them years ago, doing Carmen Funebre at the City of London Festival - and being totally thrilled by it. The Macbeth is not quite the stunning experience that was, but it's still very exciting. You have, as far as possible, to forget about Shakespeare's play - except in terms of a synopsis which tells you the story (because the performance doesn't). There are very few lines at all (and some of them aren't from the play anyway), but there is a powerful visual poetry and a language of ritual and brutality which works wonderfully on its own level, and which communicates in a large open-air space in ways which text-based theatre finds very challenging. I kept comparing it to the difficulties I faced last year at Lake Tahoe, trying to get the text of the Dream to resonate out of doors. I remember it all got much easier once it was dark: this performance of Macbeth has the advantage of only being an hour long, and so starts at 9.30, after the sun's gone down. And because it's about roughness rather than beauty, it copes very well with the unpredictability of the open-air show: at one point a passing hooligan threw a beer can into the space - and it seemed like part of the show. There's lots of fire - thrillingly used - motorbikes and gunshots, and blaring music. I remember years ago, when I tackled the play at university, and was pitching it to the college societies for financial backing, explaining the "leather jackets and jackboots" approach, the beer kegs and the cigarettes. "Macbeth on motorbikes?" somebody sneered. Well - here you can see it literally! And very exciting it is too.