This week’s rehearsals have been really exciting – counting down to the point where everyone in the cast will have rehearsed at least one scene (just two more people to go!).
On Sunday our biggest group of actors so far crammed themselves into the tiny Caterpillar Nursery in Balham. Rehearsing amongst the tiny furniture and hand-made Christmas decorations of toddlers is always a surrealist challenge but never more so when you are directing political assassinations and riotous mobs.
I was once again delighted by the enthusiasm of those playing smaller roles for filling out the story and background to their characters. In two specific cases it really transformed the scenes they were playing. The Cobbler and the Carpenter who open the play with a typically turgid bit of Shakespearean ‘comedy’ have with their new interpretation of the characters (no spoilers here – you’ll have to come see the show to find out what these are!) transformed the scene into something that is both genuinely comic, recognisably London 2011/12 and also contain the potential to allow the scene to descend quickly into something darker. They provided my two policemen (Marullus and Flavius) with something really concrete to work off. I was also very grateful to the handful of actors who turned up just to be ‘walk-on crowd’ – alongside the other plebians they added an interesting context to both this scene and the riot scenes creating exactly the kind of street scape I was hoping for. Happy director.
The second transformational characterisation came from Cinna the Poet. It is a tricky scene, both horrific and also darkly comic. The actor playing the role suggested that perhaps the poet was a bit of lush – this would explain him going out onto the streets even though he knew he shouldn’t – and also his behaviour in the scene. This particularly worked with my all girl mob, as his drunken bravado, his proclamation of his bachelor status, could all be seen as more provocative if directed towards women. I should make clear that my all girl mob is not some feminist statement, but dictated by the fact that it is a truth universally acknowledged by all amateur dramatic groups that there will be more women than men, and because there are more women than men, the women will be more prepared to play the bit parts! But it works! By the time we reached this scene the girls had been properly riled up by Brutus and then Mark Antony and were prepared for some action. I love it when a plan comes together like this.
And then came Wednesday and the entrance of Octavius – our Baader Meinhof inspired sociopathic proto-dictator. Considering I have cast one of the nicest people I know, she did a pretty good job of being scary. In fact so much so that when I asked Antony to josh with her like she was a bloke he was too scared to actually touch her! Fondling her toy gun (bright green space shooter from the £1 shop – hopefully something slightly more plausible will be found in time for the actual show) and lounging in her penthouse suite (a couple of diddy tables pushed together) I thought she was doing a great job. Then she just stopped and said ‘I feel weak’ – I am assured by my AD that I looked concerned and non-plussed – she chipped in ‘physically or in your character?’ (this is why I have my lovely AD, always handy in a crisis). Octavius confessed that it was in the character. At the time I didn’t quite know what to say, but to reassure her that she was on the right track. In fact, perhaps it is more reassuring than I (or she) thought at the time, because it means we are aiming for something even stronger than she was delivering (which was good) – so by the time we get to February she will be truly very, very scary…
Brutus and Cassius then arrived and we looked at the face off at the end of the play, just before the Battle of Philipii. I think this will work really well in the space we are using, with Octavius fronting from mid way up the stairs and Brutus and Cassius marching purposefully onto the Podium. In our lovely nursery however the seriousness of the scene was somewhat brought down by the fact that B & C had to either peer over, or under a washing line of tinsel and paper stockings – not very battlefield!
Finally looking at the scene where Antony arrives to see Caesar’s dead body and negotiate his peace with Brutus and Cassius, this was where I really saw all the character development coming into play. Brutus a mixture of sincerity, arrogance and guilt, Antony anger, grief and duplicity, Cassius righteousness and single-mindedness coupled with political-nous – it was all beautifully, subtley there – and yet we still have nearly 2 months in which to enhance, perfect and tweak it. Ooh yes I was a very happy person on Wednesday night!
Tongue twisters you say? Oh yes we did do some more tongue twisters – still struggling with caramel cramming canibals (my own worst), smelly skunks and stumps, thermos flasks and picnics we added more food to our repertoire:
She chops chips in a chic fish and chip shop
and also a strange little story:
A really frugal rural ruler’s mural
which seemed strangely appropriate in our setting – I will post some photos soon!