a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 19

We spent the morning consolidating a lot of the work we have done while one of the performers has been absent. Steven works on the Select Delete scene and they are really charged and buzzing from this challenge. It is a headwrecker of a scene but they are getting better all the time.

We have a meeting with lighting designer Natasha Chivers at lunch. We go through the text highlighting moments and changes, shifts in moods and scenarios. It strikes me that I have such a trust in Natasha to bring a whole new creative element to the show. Strangely with this production I have less of an idea of the way things should be and can offer little guidance to her. When asked what we want we just say ‘have a play. Do what you want and we will use that as inspiration.’ I really believe that her input will open up new ways of presenting this work and we have an understanding that we can take this inspiration and adjust to what she can offer. We have a history of working this way with her and I hope her work will shake ours up rather than just complement it. She has such good appreciation that her input is another layer or language to help get the work across. Her job is not just to light what is there. Her work can be just as inspiring as the text and the music.

The missing actor returns for the afternoon, the proud and tired daddy of a beautiful 8 lb baby girl. He immediately slots back in. Hearing him say the words that I have been covering reminds me why we hire actors and why I should probably never act again.

After recapping and fitting him into some of what he has missed we start the run-through in front of the production team. And once again it starts off turgid, theatrical and just plain wrong. But this run is for memory, so slow is OK. And as far as that goes they were brilliant. But it is myself and Steven that struggle.

After the run everyone seems to just get on with their work, or stare blankly. I just felt depressed. It reminded me of a press night and I cannot stand them. I had to admit it out loud that I was struggling with this. Steven agreed and added that he just wanted to clear the room.

I never thought that I wanted anyone to say ‘well done’. It is the silence that leaves you so exposed. As it happens our producer came up to me and said that she thought it was in good shape etc. and that was of some relief. I told Steven this and he was stunned thinking that she had sat there horrified. Maybe she had and it had just taken her this amount of time to say anything! (Do you see how the paranoid mind twists and turn and tortures itself?)

The run does offer clarity though. It has to fizz along at a cracking pace. The characters have a story to tell and they want us to know but more importantly they need us to understand and that is where the energy comes from. That is the imperative. They could easily keep this story secret so they must have a need to tell it. They must also never take our understanding for granted. They must earn it and they must work harder when they sense that we are backing off from them.

The performers have to become clearer about where their focus is. There are moments of new, important information that are being lost or swallowed. This is only natural as clarity will come once they get a sense of the piece as a whole.

One of the realisations I had was that there was very little pain in the show. Admittedly we had not got to the big physical section at the end but this thought makes me think that the big physical scene needs to address this. The performers need to conjure, revel in the horrifying reality of the artist’s crash into the pool. There is a moment earlier where they are completely still, describing the accident and this will eventually fulfil this need, but I just get the sense that we need to see it somewhere. Not in a literal sense but in a cruel representative way. A scene where we see the drunken, drugged characters dancing around the flames of the photos, laughing, contorting and smashing their bodies as a final insult to the artist.

(I thought there would have been more of this type of physicality but it is harder to ask people to do this stuff. When we were performing we just didn’t think about it, we just did it. That may have been reckless but it has proved very difficult to ask this cast to go there. I feel less easy asking someone else than doing it myself.)

All of this has thrown up an interesting dilemma. How honest can I be? What if I go on to rubbish this show? Surely I cannot put this on the Internet if it is going to discourage people from seeing the show? I will not compromise this diary as this has been a fascinating process for me to find out what I think, never mind you finding out what I think. Hopefully there will be no need to suppress the publication of this diary and the show will open satisfactorily. That way there would have been no need to write anything that may compromise the marketing of the show. I will just have to see how both turn out.