a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 7 (on the way in to work)

I had another read of the new ending. It makes me feel nervous. I have a feeling of ascending panic. This is a real test of my diplomacy and of my commitment to collaborating (and compromise?). It is a personal can of worms. I do not know what to do next. I feel just as strongly about it as I did yesterday but I don’t know if that counts for anything. I have to wait to see if Mark sees it my way at all. And I will have to keep reading and see whether my initial reaction was just knee jerk. I may even grow to love this new ending! Who knows?

Day 7 (proper)

In addition to the stomach exercises today, Steven led the cast through some fairly tough aerobic work. They all coped fantastically. They seem to enjoy the sweatiness of hard work. I managed to miss out on all this because our directors’ notes for the programme had to be finished and sent back to the office. It is a shame in lots of ways that these notes have to be written now, as early as day 7, as we are well aware that we are going to learn a lot about ourselves and our work through this rehearsal process. As it is we find ourselves trying to find a tone that is hopefully funny and gracious without being presumptuous and arrogant.

We started them off on an exercise to find ten fairly naturalistic sitting postures or moves while sat. They were to then set, remember these and turn them into a string of material. This is to be clearly defined and disciplined and possible to keep to the count of the music used. This is only to create a vocabulary, though, and a sense of disciplined movement. There is not necessarily an intention to use the movement in this way in the production. This is so that we can use a precise physical language underneath the opening sections of text. Physicality that can unite the characters while we are making every effort to separate them textually and vocally. It can suggest complicity and insincerity or awkwardness. It immediately can present a conflict between what the characters say and what they mean and this instantly makes them more interesting. This exercise proves tough for some but the results are uniformly good.

We try out a different exercise for the first time. We set up a camera in a small room and instruct the performers to enter one at a time and be interviewed. We also tell them that they are allowed to play and choose different levels of excitement about this interview. But what we subject them to is the pre-interview and during this we witness constant adjustments of chairs, clothes for light levels, sound checks and strange questions. All the time the camera is recording them, closing in and panning out.

We watch the recordings and it becomes fascinating how edgy they are and how difficult it is to achieve stillness when they have been knocked off guard by this strange situation. They display tiny twitches and insecurities, all written large on the TV screen. There is an unpredictable energy about the room and about these people. When later we attempt a semi-staged (seated) run-through of the first page the pace reaches a new low and that is when we refer the performers back to the video. That is what it was for – to combat this laid back, lazy, theatre raconteur delivery impulse that is afflicting us at the moment. We remind the performers that it is highly possible that the characters are not entirely at ease with the situation and it is this nervous energy that propels them on past tact and towards recklessness. Maybe they are disarmed by this situation.


Thinking again about the rewrites. It turns out that the cast have been thrown by them in a way that I had underestimated and this stiffens my resolve that they must be addressed. One performer states simply that she is a little lost now, she does not know where she is. This is a very important comment because while it is only the ending that has been radically changed, the structure of this piece is such that this changes everything. As the end is where the characters are now, what precedes is the story of what happened told from the safety of where they are now. This is a story retold in the present. We are not taken back to the events. We only experience them through four highly unreliable narrators. So of course if the end has changed it has effectively unpicked all the work we have done and we should start again. Normally it is the perfect note to not play the end while you are still moving towards it, to always live only in the moment but this is best served by linear, narrative theatre. What we have here is a little more complex. What happens at the end is the imperative to speak. It is also the reason to stop speaking, bring down the shutters, and run away into denial. It is a complex dilemma that the characters wrestle with constantly and it is the faint whiff of this that makes them fascinatingly unreliable. They effectively struggle with whether they want to tell the story and which version they want us to know, whether they are speaking for the Group, from the safety within the Group, or separating themselves from the Group. All of which is crucially linked to what actually happened with the pool and the artist.

With all of this going on in the actors’ minds it is understandable that any changes to the end can have a massive impact.


Is this what people want to read? Is this what was promised? Is this you inside the rehearsal room or just inside my head? Is this a fascinating insight into the ups and downs of rehearsal? Is that in itself enough? Is it the tricks, the processes that you want uncovered?

I still have not read the Complicité rehearsal diary and I reserve the right to make mistakes as I write this. I just don’t want to inflict navel gazing upon people who would rather feel like they were inside the rehearsal room.

But this cannot be objective. It is from the inside and surely there is worth in that? And I am also writing the resource pack which will be more practical. I want to plough on. Not exactly regardless but while I have the focus and the energy, I want to see this through, to see what develops.