Whispers from the Wings

Standing up

April 5, 2012

After a number of days we reach the momentous occasion when we 'stand up'. No more readings of the play, no more discussion, no more delay, it is time to put the play on its feet.

The set design is beautifully simple. The main feature and background to the action is a wonderfully decorative wooden rood screen. In the horseshoe-shaped auditorium that is The Swan, there are a number of warm pine balustrades on each level.

On a stage which will have a bare wooden floor surrounded by the balustrades this ornate screen will look very beautiful.

Having done a fair number of productions in The Swan I think Francis O'Connor's design is very fine. But for now in the rehearsal room we rehearse not with some semblance of a 'rood screen' but with a strange steel and wire six foot high 'crowd barrier'. It looks like a set for a gritty prison drama at The Royal Court.

Ironically the 'prison scene' between Tyndale, the Flemish jailer and the Jesuit priest set in a tiny 6ft x 6ft cell with the important wood-burning stove in one corner is rehearsed on a rather boring plywood platform. This is pushed on by Stage Management for each rehearsal, which when we get to run-throughs of the play brings proceedings to an undramatic and frustrating halt.

In performance the platform will arise from the floor accompanied with appropriate music and with no apparent delay.

Watching three actors perform on this dark, tiny but atmospheric 'cell' where they share the space with a small table and two stools as well as the forementioned stove is fascinating. It is the smallest acting area I have ever seen. But it works mightily well and conveys the claustrophobia, the sense of cold, of dirt and of the fear which any inmate of it would have gone through.

It also is mightily helped by the playing of Stephen Boxer, Mark Quartly and Youssef Kerkour. A terrific scene.

Most of the actors in the play have to 'double' ie. play more than one part. This can be fascinating, exciting, frustrating, annoying, depending on how good the double is in terms of the quality of the parts, how much of a transformation one has to make and importantly how much time in performance the actor has to manage that change. Usually it means a full costume change, as well as the donning or doffing of a beard or a wig or both!

In my case Greg and I decide that Chaderton, as in his portrait, will have a beard. And I will play The Archdeacon clean shaven.

Greg has a belief that if you wear a beard you should do so for your first character. I presume to stop the audience - should they recognise you - from thinking 'O, look here he is again, and now he's stuck a bloody beard on'.

by James Hayes  |  No comments yet

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Teaching Shakespeare