Back in Soho
June 10, 2013
A thin veil of cigarette smoke drifts in a seductive arc up stage left. Pink neon traces an illicit pattern across the lacquer of a double bass as I watch a single shimmering symbol coming to rest on the band platform above. Down here on stage, Harry McEntire is sitting in a dustbin, and Richard Goulding has a pair of ladies' pants on his head. It can only mean one thing.
We're back in Soho.
It's good to be back. After three weeks of working on Titus Andronicus alone, the heady world of Middleton's play almost seemed like a crazy, filthy dream from which we'd all awoken. The sort of dream that you wouldn't want to discuss with anybody other than a trained psychiatrist. But the rubber crumb had barely settled after our press night performance of Titus before we found ourselves back in the Ashcroft Room, braced to hit the ground running.
Our first Stratford line-run of Mad World was a joy to behold, as each member of the cast climbed back into their characters with a renewed vigour and playfulness. By the end of it, it was almost as if we'd never left.
Which was a relief, as we now needed to rise to the challenge of taking the piece into the Swan. Our production of Mad World is phenomenally technical, often in a way that the audience might not notice.
Pretty much every second of what happens on stage has been carefully plotted, timed to within a hundredth of a second, and meticulously blocked. When you then introduce props that have a mind of their own, and scene changes that transform the space entirely within eight bars of music, it's an extraordinary undertaking.
Incidentally, it might sound like that kind of specificity is restrictive, but actually, when you finally succeed, the opposite is true; as Sean has showed us, only when you are completely on top of the physical business, and entirely secure in the mechanics and timing of each comedic beat – only then can you have the security to really play with Middleton's language, and bring to it the lightness of touch that can make all that effort seem effortless.
We're inspired in this effort by Alice Power's fantastic design, and the amazing work done by all behind the scenes in realising it. It gives us an incredibly rich world to inhabit, and shows just what an inspired choice of setting 50s Soho is for this play. It is a mad, mad world indeed.
To end this blog post, I thought I'd share an anecdote from the Ashcroft Room on the occasion of that aforementioned first Stratford line run of the play. It's a story that I think illustrates perfectly why Richard Durden has become an inexhaustible source of entertainment for his fellow company members.
Before we began that line-run, Sean gave us a few moments to clear our heads of all the bloodshed and barbarity of Rome by asking to close our eyes and let our minds go blank. He then asked us to visualise a pin-prick of bright, distant light, which, sure enough, began to approach at increasing speed.
'What is that light?' Sean continued. 'Why, it is A Mad World, My Masters.'
A few moments later we were all invited to open our eyes. Sean asked us how we were feeling, and whether that had helped us to focus on the challenge before us. After receiving excited nods from many of the company, he turned to Richard Durden and asked what his thoughts were.
Richard paused for the briefest of moments, then offered:
'Well… it was going all right… The light was coming towards me... But then it passed me.'
by Ben Deery
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