a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 5

Back to the sit-ups. I think we will all feel it at the weekend.

Compelled by a desire to get closer to making some work I set some energetic choreography with the performers, involving crashing to the floor, picking yourself up, doing it again, hitting counts in music, etc. All brave, challenging stuff. It struck me it was time to introduce the performers to the floor, to an element of risk and the techniques to keep yourself safe.

It is basically two bars of eight with a move on each count. This tests the ability to hear the count and the discipline to stick to it. It is also quite exhausting once you repeat it a few times. And this presents a fascinating moment ... How will they deal with the sweat? The heat? The burning thighs? The bruised knees? To move forward we need them to embrace this as part of the process, to indulge in it, to perversely enjoy it! Luckily, I think they do. Mostly. We shall see.

The choreography started out as a task but it turned out to be pretty effective. It might be worth returning to this and developing it. It certainly has all the pain and self-loathing of the text. It is punishment but it is also a search for empathy (something consistently and outwardly missing from the characters) as they crash their own bodies around the floor/swimming pool.

Later in the morning we get out the seats/bench (a moving row of seats on castors, forming part of the set) and ask the performers to just play with them. Sometimes all four, sometimes in twos, threes, but all the time not thinking about character and story. We need the performers to feel comfortable with the set. To own it. While we do not have the whole set in the rehearsal room, we do have these seats and the hospital bed. It is a great opportunity to play with them and see what the performers come up with outside the limiting environments of the set and the confines of proper context.

This exercise presents some interesting images and we then revisit them and try others. There is a lot of potential in this. It strikes us that this is the characters bored in the hospital, the room constantly changing showing the passing of time while the characters move around oblivious to each other. They sit down, they are then lowered to the floor where they are instantly comfortable suggesting they have been there for ages. They pace around, frustrated. They ‘collide’ with another and are tumbled to the bench where they sit, at peace, as if there for hours.

We are going to return to it on Monday and see whether we can crack off a scratch scene based on this. But there is an ulterior motive for this! We are meeting a representative of the Sydney Opera House on Monday about a possible run there next year and we are very keen to take this show. She is coming into rehearsals to meet us and to see some work in progress and, basically, there isn’t any! So Monday morning might be a furious assault on some physical scenes based on the floor exercise and the seats exercise. It could, of course, be a plan that backfires spectacularly if we show her some half-baked piece of physical nonsense so we are going to have to give it a bit of thought over the weekend.

The afternoon is dominated by a read-through of the whole text and it is here that my fears of this week being an unproductive week are completely demolished. The read-through is a massive leap forward in terms of clarity, energy and character, and is very heartening. It is a complete vindication of the approach, of tackling the text in such detail and guiding the performers through the necessary performance style. This in itself could have been reductive and interfering but it was essential that we all started off from the same place with this text. The positive results from this read-through will allow myself and Steven to relax with the knowledge that the cast have a clear understanding of the intended style of the production and can now start to find their feet from within this.

So a very positive week. Although none of this helps us with the lady from Sydney!