a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 22

Today could have been a pivotal day. Things came to a head when one of the performers pulled that tired, disrespectful face and Steven snapped. The result was a few minutes of awkwardness and then a much more focused and energetic late night session.

We addressed the end of the text and in the absence of Mark Ravenhill we tried out some cuts. We will run these by Mark tomorrow but we felt that we could not hold back any longer. We had to try it out tonight so that we could get a sense of our ideas for the ending. As it happens the cuts added a real clarity (in our opinion).

The performers were then reminded of the documentary style that we spoke about so extensively early in rehearsals. We identified a section at the end as being surplus to the real story that they wanted to tell, so we got them to play these lines as if they were comments thrown in because the camera was still rolling and the characters felt compelled to fill in the silence. The performers were also reminded that the characters desperately want to be understood and after the shock of their story, this is their last chance to prove that they are good, nice, normal people. The truth of these statements is down to the beholder. After all that has happened the new space given around the words and the different compulsion to speak presents utterly human and fragile characters still trying to live their lives years after this brutal episode.

The success of this scene was thrilling. It was a real lesson in letting the words do the work, of giving them room to breathe and in engaging the audience to tell the real story running underneath. It was also a very clear lesson and solution to a dilemma that had been plaguing us since the start of rehearsals.

Steven had been very keen on a tremendous blast of water knocking the characters off their feet at the end of the play. While I could see the merits of it as an image I could not see it working within this play. I just could not make it say anything that needed to be said at the end. I also could not imagine it being able to work practically, knowing how much pressure would be needed to send a sizeable volume of water across the stage. But as this is not my job I said nothing and waited for much more knowledgeable and resourceful people to prove me wrong. I also trusted Steven’s instinct for the need for the stage to redefine itself in such a way at the end. While I did not agree necessarily, I trusted his ability to get it right and mine to get it wrong.

After a while, and a few timid attempts to send water across stage, I managed to convince him that if water was the element that should make an appearance at the end of the show then maybe it should start with a drop, splashing on one of the characters and then grow into a rain that soaked them, flattening their hair and darkening their clothes while they try to convince us that everything is OK. And this is where we stood until tonight.

The run of the end tonight was so fragile and simple and moving that I could not see what more the rain could say. The scene was achieving exactly what I wanted purely with the natural inflections of the performers. It struck me that anything on top of this, be it water cannon or gradual downpour, would be crass and even immature! That is how it felt. More than this it seemed a distrust of the text and performers to be able carry the ending off. Maybe it could have been our moment of disrespect?

Now the scene does not have a big theatrical trick to win over the audience. That is simply wrong. It is now the opposite of theatricality. It is the point where there is no more to be said yet the audience are still here, the camera is still running. It is an awkward moment where the characters are wondering whether you think they are a bad person for telling you what they just have, where they are wondering whether they have been understood, whether they are allowed to leave. With this in mind the music carries on long after the last words, prolonging this air of uncertainty. We have instructed the performers that they can leave the stage during this or they can stay until the lights go out on them. It is their call based on how they feel and what their character ‘needs’ from the audience.

We also went back and tidied up some sections and ran the scene where they drop their trousers and stand frozen by the image of the artist injured in the pool. The performers were obviously nervous but it was the end of a good session and they were excited. Their fears of the scene bringing laughter have yet to be disproved but it was remarkable how strong they became, and so quickly. Again it was a thrilling scene.

Tonight was the first time Steven and I have left the rehearsal room buzzing about this production. Usually there are days that just lift you with the excitement and the belief you have in the idea that you are creating good work. This rehearsal has been a slog and we have had our first such day with only two days to go. But it may have made all the difference.

The last two days could still be fraught though. There is a lot to do and it could mean that we get to Friday’s run without the cast having revisited every section of the play. While this is a real possibility it is one we must fight all the way. Once we get down to Plymouth, production requirements mean that the actors’ notion of the play disperses and has to be put together on the actual stage. To make this possible they will need a memory of the complete show. We must promise to give them that.