a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 3 (soft physicality day)

I missed the morning session. I spoke to Steven mid-morning and he said that everyone came in today with aching backs and stiff limbs and that he led them through gentle stretches and massages. It looks like the physical rehearsal plan is making sense already.

When I get to the afternoon session I am surprised at just how stiff and sore everyone is. Tomorrow will be interesting, when we try to get those muscles moving again.

Generally it appears that today was much like the first two days. Mark’s rewrites worked well and the cast read them equally well. We also moved further into the text looking at things in detail and always trying to open up possibilities. That is the intention but it is very hard not to nail things down, state your opinion with utter conviction and give line readings for some sections. No actor appreciates you performing the lines for them with the expectation that they are then to copy you. Even though this is a golden rule I still find I have to resist doing just that at times. I have not so far, though, but I have bitten my tongue a few times.

This process of looking at the text in such detail so early on is fraught with danger I think. The performance style we are aiming for can appear at complete odds with the performance instinct of some of the cast and this is potentially wearing, frustrating and can lead to a crisis of confidence. There are always loads of questions from one performer, full of doubt and insecurity. But I think this is good. After each question the performer does seem to be strengthened and the problem clarified. With another I am starting to fear that there is a slight tone of frustration in the questions. This becomes a little more alarming when the questions start to dry up and their look becomes insular. This also becomes a moment of weakness for me. I start to question the process. ‘Are we crushing the performer under this performance style? Is it too much too soon? Do they go home at night and tell their friends about this domineering approach? Do they think we have simply got it wrong?’

All of this crosses my mind as I clock the performer’s insular moment. A moment that could just as easily be about how his legs ache from the warm-up, how she must remember to buy bread on the way home. I guess there is insecurity flying all round this room but I know it does nobody any good to let performers see it in my eyes. Despite these wobbles, and they will become much, much worse than this, I must remain open yet openly confident.

One of the interesting things that struck me today during a read-through was that these words are the words that made it into the edit (of the imaginary documentary and of the text of Mark Ravenhill). The information they carry must have earned its place over the edited material so let’s hear their worth. Why have these details been included at the expense of something else? Show us! Give the text a bit of drive!

This was because the read-through started off at a turgid pace and was, luckily, thankfully, interrupted by someone’s phone going off. This allowed us to give some notes and start again.

I just got the impression that the performers imagined themselves talking to a room full of people. Quite legitimately of course, this being theatre, but we have stressed how we want the characters to imagine they are talking to an interviewer and are being filmed. It is a totally different relationship. The impulse of the actor in front of the crowd is to take these lines of nostalgia, lean back in an imaginary leather chair and give an essentially theatrical performance. I stressed that I think they need to lean forward, push things forward, keeping things fascinating so that these words do not end up on the cutting room floor. To look into the lens with an imperative that suggests (or screams), ‘Do you understand? Because I need you to understand this!’

Another thing that struck me was the lack of specificity in the reading. This is not a criticism of the performers. Just a recognition of the stage we are at and how much further we need to go to successfully tell the story. It occurred to me that this is a text that addresses the central, absent character only as ‘she’. It is also about the ‘Group’. Within that the characters recount and express opinions while making a clear choice to use either ‘we’ or ‘I’. There are times they are talking from within the Group. Why is this? Is is subconscious? Is it a place of safety? Of defiance? Of unity? And then there are times when they choose to speak as individuals, using ‘I’ or referring to ‘my work’. Again, why? What makes them kick themselves free of the Group at this moment? The reading tended to skip over all of these seemingly insignificant moments so I decided to flag that up and introduce these moments as opportunities. The cast were asked to look at the first page and consider exactly what motivated the choice of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘us’, ‘they’, etc. I think this will help present characters who alternately revel in and recoil from their outrageous actions. I think it is this ‘colour’ to the storytelling that allows us to really get into the heads of these people. We must see the struggle and delight within for us to understand why they have to tell us about this.

Again, I have to remain calm and not get frustrated. It is brilliant watching performers develop. It is amazing to see them take you to places that you have not thought possible. And that takes time. At the moment I have to be satisfied that we, as directors, may be taking them to places they had not thought possible. We have, after all, been thinking, tasting and smelling this show for quite a while now. And for the actors, like the reader of a diary, day 3 definitely means day 3.

(By the way, I am thinking about trying to find that Complicité rehearsal diary. I guess there is no harm in having a look!)