August 24, 2012
In Tim Crouch's edit of King Lear the storytelling is pacy, and he applies a similar momentum in the rehearsal room.
It's the end of day 3 of the first week and rehearsals are bouncing ahead – with big scenes and events examined already. I want to share some of the exchanges in the rehearsal room that I have found particularly interesting or that I have learned about as a budding director.
As the assistant I'm witnessing the process of opening out the text and making decisions. These decisions are based on a marriage between what the actors offer through their improvisations and performance and what Tim's ideas for the show are – and it's a happy marriage.
From the first day there has been generosity in the rehearsal room that enables collaboration and encouraged creative choices from the actors - all the while being molded and contained by Tim's beautiful direction.
It's exciting to put myself in the position of seeing the play for the first time, and in many ways this is true – and it is apt given that a major theme in the play is sight, the lack of or the regaining of insight. I did watch the play once in my early teens, but I never investigated it practically – which makes for a far greater understanding of it.
Here are three ideas from the King Lear production I want to write about:
1. Holding off, and ask question:
Tim is unpacking all the drama and encouraging the actors to hold off on play the tragedy of the play. He adds that the longer we can hold back on 'telegraphing the plot' the more it will invite the audience into the argument and to consider decisions the characters make.
He urges the cast to ask questions, and find out. As a result there have been lively debates about many of the scenes and the choices that the actors play. For instance, in the opening scene there have been questions such as – is Lear's decision to test his daughters premeditated? Why does Cordelia say nothing, and is this decision responsible for the tragedy that ensues? Through active analysis we find out what suits this specific production. I don't want to give too much away at this stage!
2. What's in, what's out:
During pre-production Tim mentioned that he needed to set up the principles of the performance, and that when the show was on tour I would maintain those principles. I wondered what this meant – and this week has clarified for me what Tim's principles are. The rules that guide the performance, the language of the show, what's in and what's out.
The main principles of the play are established as rules about the performance space. The design, by Lily Arnold, is a beautiful boxing ring-like space presents challenges for the actors, as there is a clear playing space and a clear off stage space. The actors can look toward the performance place when they are outside, as though they are looking in at a snow globe.
The set and style is like a game, an experiment. However, the actors are always seen. Tim worked on entering the space, and exiting the space – he called it 'de-powering the performance and re-powering the characters'. When an actor is animated and on they are encouraged to identify and point to actors off stage when they are referring to them or their behavior – making it clear for the audience to follow their argument.
Characters such as Edmund and Kent are using the four posts surrounding the playing platform to observe the action and propel their own narratives further. For example when Kent is banished and given five days to leave Lear's kingdom. Matt Sutton and Tim found that circling the terrain and looking in on Lear was fitting. He therefore sees how events spiral out of control, which motivates him to disguise himself and serve Lear in his journey toward enlightenment.
Edmund's transitions from scene to scene are also moments where the characters comments non-verbally on the action. When Edgar assumes the guise of Poor Tom, we see Edmund return to the raised platform and watch how his hatched plans have taken affect. Tim uses these meta theatrical moments to explore character's motivations and journeys.
3. The Umbrella Effect:
This morning Tim and the cast tackled Scene 5 when Lear is catapulted out into the stormy night following both Regan and Goneril's refusal to host his riotous knights. This scene introduces us to an important element in King Lear – the stormy turbulent weather. Storms reveal and change and in this storm Lear is forced to confront himself - unaided, unsheltered.
I was interested in how Tim and the cast would keep an eye on what was brewing outside.
When Goneril and Albany visit Regan's house during the scene, they are both carrying umbrellas and coming out of the storm. A simple but clear gesture of the weather outside. However, not only do the umbrellas indicate the bad weather they are used as symbols throughout the scene. When Lear storms out Gloucester takes the umbrella's to shelter Lear. When he returns for help he offers the umbrella to Goneril as an appeal for her to find her father out of the storm – but she refuses.
The umbrella was an indicator of the storm but soon becomes a symbol of care and comfort. It was satisfying to see the actors use the umbrella creatively - it reminds us of what is taking shape outside their domestic comfort and directs us to consider Lear's upcoming battle with the elements. It leads us into the storm.
End of scene 5 and the rehearsal room is abuzz with new discoveries, incites and we are all excited to plunge into the eye of the storm – where there will surely find stillness.
I'll let you know.
by Caroline Byrne
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