Sunday, 31 July 2011

Week One - Twelfth Night and See how they Run

Having worked with the Original Theatre Company on two previous shows and indeed, perhaps more notably, having spent a great deal of time on those tours in the company of Artistic Director, Alastair Whatley (who discovered that I keep a regular diary…) it should have came as no surprise that he ask me to keep this blog on behalf of the cast and crew of the current company... It doesn’t seem possible that Journey’s End and Madness of George III were signed, sealed and delivered a whole year ago, with Dancing at Lugnasa acting as a comma in my time with the team, but such is the nature of the theatrical world that when in work – time flies.
Journey's End technical rehearsal
So, here we go and here I go. Another tour, another group of faces and another hundred, hundred miles of roadways. So, to quote the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very Beginning”.
I was first asked about auditioning for the productions some 2/3 months ago whilst working with the Guildford Shakespeare Company on their recent summer season, with another cast member of our current team, the wonderful Rachel Donovan. I ummed and erred about the prospect of packing up my life again and setting off with my trusty suitcase, the affectionatley known, ‘Tardis’ (coined on my first tour with the company) for another trek around the country, but, as with so many things, the devil was in the detail and the devil, on this occasion, proved all too alluring to turn down.
Chris playing a naan bread
Firstly, the plays – both wonderful in their own rights: I’ve never done a farce before and ‘See how they Run’ is an all time comedy slobber knocker of the very best kind; real people in the most extraordinary of situations – from a visiting Bishop to my own role of the escaped German POW. Not only that, but it was to be directed by a dear friend of mine, whom I’d originally acted along side of, on Journey’s End – the sensationally talented Chris Harper. Chris told me about the play over drinks whilst watching a mutual mate host a comedy evening in South London. “Rhys, I swear,” he told me, in his impeccably smooth RP accent, “one night a woman ran up the aisle clutching her arse, because she had shat herself with laughter.” Possibly the greatest pitch I’ve ever heard, that will sadly never be seen in a press handout. Anyway, along with the fact that I’d already heard that Arthur Bostrum (of Allo Allo! fame), Lucy Speed (EastEnders) and Dancing at Lugnasa’s Siobhan O’Kelly were on board, I was sold.
And then there was Twelfth Night. To be directed, again, by my very good friend, Alastair Whatley, to play Sir Andrew Aguecheek, which has been a part that my peers have recommended me to play for years.
I should at this point state that my widely known nickname amongst industry friends is Weasel and pretty much goes hand in hand with my casting scope. Nice.
It was plus, plus, plus all round and in my mind,  and a no brainer to go along for the audition and give my best job. Luckily for me it proved good enough and I am writing this blog, as opposed to some other sinewy, big nosed actor.
So, here we are, in the sunniest, picture-postcard Eastbourne imaginable. I finished the season in Guildford last Saturday, moved out of my flat on the Sunday and made my way here the very same day. A few of us met that evening for a quick drink before what would prove to be a very busy week. Not wanting to be too knackered before the first day, we only stayed briefly and made our way back to our respective digs (Myself, David Partridge, Gareth ((our DSM)), Jess ((ASM)) and Rachel all sharing a house together) to turn in for the night.
Rachel and I walking to the rehearsal rooms.
After a hectic commute to work  - a walk along the beach - we arrived at the rehearsal room by the Devonshire Park Theatre to kick-off proceedings. I must point out at this point that the most common misconception about the acting profession is that it is glamorous. Sure it is, when you’re raking in a cool million quid for an episode of ‘Funny, funny, this is Funny’, but for the other 99.9% of actors it’s a cramped experience, working long days for very little money (sometimes) if any (… the Original Theatre Company aside…) and glad to be so. Case and point: when first in Eastbourne, a year ago, I had failed to book any digs and foolishly agreed to crash on the floor in a flat already booked by a bunch of the cast for a knock-down price. All seemed ok until the electricity shut off one evening whilst watching TV after a performance and we couldn’t find a fuse box. Anywhere. Eventually we came across a tiny, whirring meter in one of the cupboards with a slot for pound coins… Apparently if we wanted the ‘finer things in life’, (the freezer to stay frozen) then we’d have to keep feeding the little box our much loved beer money. On top of that, the following morning I woke up covered in mystery bite marks, which we can only assume, sprung from the musky, damp sheets that were supplied to us by the landlord. We never met him, though I'm sure that Fagin probably wasn't a too distant relative. The only thing that made it bearable would be our nightly visits to one of my favourite pubs in the country - the cavalier - that houses a fish which is the stuff of touring legend (I'm without a picture of said fish - but promise to supply one).

All that being said, it really doesn’t get any better than a talented, friendly cast and two amazing scripts.

The first day was pretty typical of first days. A meet and greet was bookended by read-through’s of both plays and our first glimpses of the set designs/show concepts. Anyone that is reading this blog will no doubt be familiar with the Original Theatre Company and their theatrical 'mission' etc but to those who are new to the company I would add, the reason I find myself drawn back to them time and again, is that they don’t preach about any grand philosophy about theatre, nor ‘how’ theatre should be. Instead they put on plays that are good and they attack them with tenacity and integrity, with high production values and sincerity. That is all. And that (in my opinion) is all you need for a good show. That is their mission.
That and good casting, of which Al and Chris have managed to succeed with bells on. The familiar faces of Lucy, Arthur and Sebastian Abineri are not only sickeningly talented, but absolutely lovely people; Leo, David, Siobhan, Craig and Rachel are also not only deeply accomplished, but somehow, just as kind too!
At the end of the day, we alighted to the nearby pub and began the other, just as important task of getting to know one another. Touring is unique to stationary theatre as a cast not only works and plays together, but in most cases live together as well. This means, that at times during the process of touring, even the closest friendships and relationships can become frayed. Just as an ordinary relationship takes twists and turns – touring life does just the same. It’s all part of the same sensational ride.  It’s best, in my experience to jump right in and experience everything that it can offer.
We’ve spent the first week of rehearsals asking questions. A lot of questions. Starting with SHTR on the Tuesday and then moving on to TN on the Thursday, we went through the scripts, carefully and deliberately asking every question about the lines, actions and details that we could find.
As an example, the following excerpt;

By my troth, I would not undertake her in this company. Is that the meaning of 'accost'?
Fare you well, gentlemen.
An thou let part so, Sir Andrew, would thou mightst never draw sword again.
An you part so, mistress, I would I might never draw sword again. Fair lady, do you think you have fools in hand?
Sir, I have not you by the hand.

            Why would Sir Andrew not undertake her?
            Does Sir Andrew really not understand the word accost?
            What does accost mean?
            Why does Maria leave?
            What is Sir Toby’s influence on Sir Andrew?
            What does the phrase ‘never draw sword again’ mean?
            Why does Sir Andrew follow Sir Toby’s instruction?
            What is Sir Andrew’s opinion of his own intellect?
            What Does Maria think of Sir Andrew’s wooing skills?

            Some of these may seem totally obvious and indeed most of them are, but, (as Chris rightly pointed out) in simply asking the questions, as a group, the entire cast, regardless of the size of the part, gain a far deeper understanding of the play and know the intentions of every line. At times we lost our minds; Arthur looked over at David’s script to see an enormous ‘?’ scrawled over its entirety. And, it must be said, come 6 o’clock on Friday evening everyone’s eyes seemed a little more glazed than they did at the start of the week, but – as we all agreed – it is a start that will pay dividends in the weeks to come as we get to our feet and begin to bring the text to life.
Al sifting through the menu

Yesterday, we toasted the end of a terrific first week. Al had been given a tip on the races and so decided to take a gamble with a horse called ‘Mr. Angry’ who turned out to be Mr. Lucky. It ran its way to third place securing him a bit of dosh – surely an omen to the start of a brilliant tour – and celebrated in style with a couple of drinks at the Grand Hotel.  Cocktails have never been my bag, but somehow I managed to force down a Tom Collins or two. Al had no problem finding ones he liked, though narrowing it down ended up being the problem.
            In the evening, Leo, Arthur, Gareth, Jess, Al and myself sat down to a lovely Thai meal and enjoyed a bottle of wine at Mr. Bostrum’s nearby abode.
Me and my Bloody Mary
I guess it’s not all hard work…
            Today has been a typical Sunday. The house, quiet and subdued as we all prepare ourselves for the real work to begin. Most of the cast have returned home for the weekend to the real world of partners and children, mortgages and bills. I’ve kept put.
            Tomorrow the blocking begins. Chris has asked us all to write a character biog each, which I’ll do before I’m next called in, along with learning lines and character research. I have a book that he’s given me to read about German Prisoners from WW2 which I’ll start on tomorrow and hopefully begin to answer some of the MANY questions that are oggling me from the page.
            Twelfth Night will be put on the back burners for the next few weeks, so Sir Andrew and co will have to wait, but until then, it’s headfirst into a 1940’s vicarage hall.

            Der Tag!

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