a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

from the making of pool (no water) by Mark Ravenhill

Day 13

Steven and I have our meeting in the morning. It is extremely useful to do this. It is quickly clear that this is not just a chance to find out what we both have planned. It instantly becomes a session where we can spark up new ideas and solve the creative problems that are troubling the other. Problems that we may not even have considered until then. The success of this session means that we can now map out exactly what we feel we need to achieve over the next few days. It also means we can measure the actual progress on a session-by-session basis and are able to pick up the pace when needed.


The afternoon session starts with a warm-up that is initially designed to stretch but gradually turns into a more aerobic session. After a massage of aching muscles and an initial mini aerobic stretch I set some choreography with them. The intention here is to work fast, asking them to keep up as much as they can but to remind them that although they are learning moves they must not forget it is a stretch and must commit to every move as best and fully as they can. Once they have learnt this I start to crank up the pace of the execution. This results in a very sweaty session. I am not sure whether this approach was entirely successful though. Dancers tend to embrace the challenge to attain a quality in the moves in a very short time. This is their world and within this, failure is part of the process. A wrong turn or getting stuck is a moment of light relief, a bit of fun, for they know this confusion is temporary and an understandable part of getting something right. Actors, who may feel out of their comfort zone, can get frustrated by this approach. They appear to think they are expected to get things right straightaway, that they are disappointing if they are seen to be struggling through something. They can become unhappy and tetchy. Interestingly they probably have a very similar approach to the way the dancer tackles the new choreography. The dancer immerses themselves in the new ‘lines’, physically chews them around, gets a feel for them, before delivering anything they think is near the quality asked for. I guess the desire for the actor to get the choreography right first time is about not being unmasked for something you are not. The dancer has no fear that being seen to get a move wrong is going to make anyone think they are not a dancer. It is strange then that it is this aim for perfection and the frustration that it brings into the room that actually unmasks the actor as a non-dancer.

The evening session offers good progress. There is an interesting moment when we talk to the cast about our idea of a particular scene being delivered with the actors’ trousers down. They are taking their clothes off as the artist jumps into the empty pool. The sound of her landing on the concrete stops them in their tracks and they remain frozen, recounting the scene, with their trousers at their ankles.

We took the gentle approach and aired the idea, applying no pressure or demands but wanting them to think about it and give some feedback. It took them a while to respond.

To be quite honest, I was surprised by their responses. The girls immediately saw the theatrical potential of the scene. The boys’ minds were elsewhere. This, I expected. I think it is a completely different thing for a man to stand naked on stage than it is for a woman. We all know we are being looked at but while from certain angles you may see nothing of the woman a man knows he is being measured and compared.

What I found surprising was that this fear or nervousness came dressed up in some quite remarkable theatrical and practical concerns. One performer needed to be convinced of the scene’s artistic validity. Does the nakedness (and we did stress that it is more of a suggestion of nakedness. The trousers and pants go down but the shirt/top stays on and may well cover concerns) have anything to do with the story? Well the answer was alarmingly simple. So simple that the answer was quite difficult to give. The characters are ... skinny dipping? Skinny dipping!

Had the performer not noticed this, lost sight of this? I can’t help but think that the question came out wrongly. I think he had doubts over our intentions to use their nakedness. Maybe they were being set up to be laughed at? The boys had, after all, just snapped out of that faraway look in their eyes that possessed them when we first presented the idea. I have been naked on stage before. I know where they went in that middle distance moment.

Another ridiculous concern was expressed like this: ‘I have taken my trousers and pants off loads of times and I will never be able to get them off as quick as you want!’

But then it transpires that they too have been naked on stage before. And they say they have no problem with it. So it is about some kind of artistic validity. It cannot be about the moment in the play (skinny dipping?) so it must be about the directors. This does not worry me too much because I think they need to sleep on the idea, but I wonder if it eventually comes down to trust. (I also believe that we gave them a platform and probably encouraged these reservations because we were so careful with them. We might have made it more of a deal than it actually was.)

I just think they need some time before we can have a proper chat about real concerns.


There are several moments today when I think about the danger of making choreography and just throwing it at the text because that is what we do. We are a ‘physical’ theatre company. There is a fine line between the temptation to do this and the expectation that we should. There were some fantastic moments where we just let the performers and the text do the work. It was captivating and refreshing. And why not? These are very exciting performers and this is possibly the best script I have ever worked with.

Being a better ‘director’ rather than a physical theatre maker means knowing when to leave these moments alone. It may be just as physically considered but it is sometimes right to keep it just simple. The audience do not need any more. I have been in the rehearsal room where an actor created something beautiful with the text and the director then took it, choreographed it and effectively claimed it for his own. And in doing so he killed it.

Seeing that was a big moment for me. I never want to forget that. Sometimes less is more and this ongoing search for better and more complete integration of text and movement, as if there is some theatrical holy grail at the end of it, just pushes us into suffocating the work and not allowing the text, the actor and the audience to breathe. Surely it is only when all three of these are happy and breathing that truly alive theatre can exist?


We have been talking about a scene we want to create. It was a scene that emerged out of the development weeks at the National Theatre Studio and exists on the footage taken from a run-through of the work created.

The scene on the footage is almost exactly how we want it but we feel really strange showing it to our performers and effectively saying ‘this is how it is done’. How would they feel looking at other performers and just copying what they do? It feels disloyal to do this and any work we make with them, we would want them to have a genuine sense of ownership over it.

We decide to show them anyway, stating that we want them to use this to create their own version. While we are doing this we both have (and later confide having) the same brainwave. This reticence is stupid. We are not showing them someone else’s work. This is our work and we have the right to use as much or as little of it as we wish! This is not a workshop where the participants have paid to get as much as they can from it. We do not owe the performers. They would possibly not at all be affronted at being asked to learn something from the video. They probably looked at it straightaway and saw it as our work. We have been too democratic and have probably not served ourselves or the actors best by being so.

We run an exercise to allow the performers to create their own material so that we can make a new version but I feel we will probably end up using 90 percent of the old version. I feel that this has been a small revelation about growing up. Trying to please everybody all the time can sometimes please no-one. The performers may have been just as happy being told what to do. Sometimes that is what the rehearsal room and the director/performer relationship demands.


So did the evening session work? The jury is still out, I would say. We got the work done but the performers did not come into the afternoon session refreshed as they do in the morning sessions. The evening session was strange, partly due to the nudity discussions, but productive too. Through necessity and fascination, we need to do it again.