Sunday, 28 August 2011

I was adored once too - Week 5

Arthur: Call that a bike?
            Yep, It's here, Twelfth Night rehearsals have begun alongside our evening performances of See how they Run and the real work begins. Having just come from Guildford where I had been doing much the same thing with Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing, I'd like to think that I'm already in the right mindset to carry on where I left off with the long days, but of course that would be underestimating my body's staggeringly high laziness levels. That, and the fact that it genuinely is a pretty tall order for anyone juggling two plays in a single day. The general day structure is set to begin at 10:00am and finish when the evening's performance ends at around 9:45pm. We're not necessarily going to be called in - all day, every day - but, any spare time will be spent, desperately trying to get our lines down.
The tech team, Jess and Garreth
            Time is of the essence.
            Monday morning, I was summoned for the first scene to give my 'Curio'. Curio is a nice little part normally. He is a functional character that although is not particularly memorable, is an important cog in the piece. Our Curio however has had his lines transferred over to the other of Orsino's attendants, Valentine. This is because one of my Sir Andrew scenes falls directly before one of Curio's and would have been near impossible to do the quick change required (though I've had my fair share of practice in that department...). So, Curio, in our play has ONE shared line. I asked Al why this was the case, instead of just eliminating the part and handing all the lines to Valentine. His reason - "you're already credited as him in the program."

            After lunch I returned for the first of my Sir Andrew scenes and don't mind telling you that I was rather excited. It's a part that I've had in my mind for a long time now and is also the first Shakespearean role that I've played where people will come expecting a great deal. It's one of those roles that anyone who knows the play, has a preconceived idea of what they want Aguecheek to be like. I'll be judged on it and the pressure to deliver will be high, but pressure I've always found is a good thing. It demands us to raise the stakes and the quality of the things we do. No fear, balls out.
            Take the risk, feel the rush.
            So, Lucy, Seb and I started work. We cracked straight on, wasting as little time as possible, blocking the scene and discussing the characters and their relationships as we went.

            In my mind, Andrew is a terrifically tragic figure. He is milked dry of his fortunes, ridiculed by everyone, abandoned by his 'friend' Sir Toby and rebuffed by Olivia. He is an outsider from the opening till the end.
            He idolises Toby. He sees in him a father figure; a guide who leads him into a life of greed and excess whilst simultaneously using his wallet like a charmer with a snake. This does not shift the blame totally onto Sir T - Andrew is too stupid and quick to anger to be without fault - but he is certainly not helped.
            He may be bipolar. He is either ecstatically happy or suicidally depressed. His mood fluctuates quicker than a dizzy piranha. (That's right, Piranhas suffer from depression... Didn't you know?)
             I already love and pity him, whilst detesting him completely.
            I woke early on Tuesday with an irritating pain in my shoulder. I decided to use the unplanned extra time to get a few more lines under my belt.
            When I got to the rehearsal room, Seb and I began work with Alastair on the infamous 'catch' scene of the play. The two characters enter into Maria's Kitchen and squabble about life. They are very soon joined by Feste who sings for them. It is a beautiful moment of the play, when we see the lyrics of the song touch the two Knights and send them into a pool of melancholy. Toby notices what is happening and springs them both out of their depression, by suggesting that they sing a 'catch'.
            Our dance choreographer, Lucy, joined us to help block a piece of movement to accompany the song. Pots and pans are bashed together, Andrew scrapes a washboard and does his best to cartwheel over Toby as he unwittingly falls at the feet of a thoroughly unimpressed Maria. Lucy worked with amazing efficiency, using every second of the little time we had to make sure she left us in a happy place.
            Just before we finished work on the scene, Al said to me, "good scene, that. It has to be very good indeed."
            Thanks Cuckoo, note taken.

Pay attention 007
            After lunch, Lucy continued her work, this time with the entire cast on a short dance piece that follows the first exit of Toby and Andrew. As Andrew capers off, up stage centre, the rest of the company swarm in with an 'Ooooo, Oky Oky Kokie'! They then proceed to strut the stage, jumping, swinging and leaping together in a jubilant scene of chaos.
            The guys carried on working into the late afternoon, but I was released for the day so Pete kindly took some time out of his busy schedule to try to identify what was wrong with my shoulder. The verdict after what was a brilliant massage - tension. It's quite a common problem with actors, as we very often have to assume certain compromising postures etc to help form a believable and rounded character. Over time, this can build up and without regular attention problems can build up. I think I'll invest in a couple of sessions with a professional over the next couple of weeks, especially taking into consideration how physical both shows are. In the meantime - Pete and his magic hands are a brilliant foundation.

            Our show in the evening was press night. It was a little unnerving seeings as we hadn't performed the show on the Monday night, but despite that, all went well. There were no major cock ups and the audience absolutely adored it. What was also very reassuring was that we were playing to a near full house - over £4,000 worth of tickets having been sold in just two days.
            It's always nice to be able to play to people sitting in 'The Gods'.
            After the show, we were invited to join the 'friends' of the Devonshire Park for post-show drinks and a general wind down. What is lovely about those kind of experiences, is realising just how much people appreciate being able to meet the cast (very humbling) and how thankful they are for a piece of decent theatre. There were a few familiar faces there too, that I recognised from my previous visits - especially the general manager of the theatre, Harry, who as always welcomed us to the theatre with a lovely speech. Photos were taken, programs signed and everyone went away - hopefully - happy.
            A woman that was in reviewing the show, having previously critiqued Madness of George and Journey’s End, accosted me for a chat. She didn't like either of the previous performances. She reviewed us as such. She was wrong. I smiled and nodded. "I feel so terrible!" she said - swaying from all the free booze. "Journey's End should just be forgotten as a play, it's so dated."
            The stand-alone torch of WW1 literature and you think it's dated?
            Actually, now I think about it that war really has dated badly hasn't it?
            "My dog auditioned for this too and didn't get it..."

            Wednesday and the first of the reviews were out - and I am pleased to say that it seems we've passed with flying colours.  Of the two that have been released, they both loved it.
            Rehearsals were limited because of the matinee show. The ladies were called (ha ha) and the rest of us simply arrived for the afternoon performance, which had again increased in bookings due to the spread of word of mouth. Lovely.
            After the show, on leaving the theatre, I was accosted by a familiar fraggle. It was one of the particularly rude ones that seems to have sacrificed manners and tact for his almost militant pursuit of autographs. I opened the stage door and promptly had a leaflet thrust toward my face. "You."
            "Yes?" I responded.           
            "Are you in this?"
            "Have you seen the show?" I asked.
            "Are you going to see the show?"
            "Then no, I am not in the show."

            The evening show was quiet but perhaps one of the best we've had so far. Everyone was on the ball, the pace was up and all those that were in seemed thoroughly thankful for it.
            Afterwards, a few of us went to the pub and I brought up the Fraggle that had earlier pissed me off. Arthur recanted a few tales of various conventions he had been to where similar things had happened and Craig (our assistant Director and Sebastian in Twelfth Night) told us of a comic book convention that he had once attended...
            "You haven't lived until you've seen a 50 year old man, dressed as Wolverine, re-tie his big yellow boot laces."
            Thursday was a big day of rehearsals for me and I was in, working throughout the entire day. From my experience of being a 'resting' actor, I always make sure not to moan too much (as actors are prone to do) when one has a really long day as you never know when you'll next be looking at the green and yellow signage of the jobcentre.
            We had a very productive day. As with all productive days though - it was at times frustrating. When we got to the 'letter scene' - one which every theatre goer knows - ideas were popping about all over the place. As lovely as it is, knowing that you are in the company of incredibly creative people, there does come a point of too many cooks spoiling the broth. And, I can honestly say that at one point, Heston, Marco and Gordon all appeared at once. It made me ponder the director's role. The director is a fairly modern position. Nowadays it is perhaps the most notable position in a production, but once upon a time, the function simply didn't exist. Some actors harp on constantly at the grandiose of the modern director and how, "In the old days, it was the actors who - " yes, sure it was. But that was the past and this is the present. You wouldn't want to go back to the days before anaesthetic would you? (Maybe a tad dramatic, but it serves my point)

            No, in my mind, the Director is a vital role; one that acts as a beady bystander; the Helmsman at the foot of the barge watching the horizon, waters and engine room to keep things on their rightful course. And such an example of that popped up when the ideas of the scene battered the walls and clogged our time. In the end, it fell to the director - in this case Al - to restore order and make the decisions.
            The other spot of irritation came when finishing off the 'plan' scene that we had left yesterday, having run out of time. Again, it was totally productive and we went away leaving the scene in a very solid place, but there were frustrations. I say ‘frustrations’; maybe it would be more accurate to say, 'frustration', i.e. my frustration. So, we got to the end of the scene, all should be easy, it's just Andrew and Toby left and then... The line arrives.
            We are talking about the Sir Andrew line. The line that every actor has an opinion on, the line that studies have been made on at the front of Ardens and the line that makes me shit myself every time I think about it.
            For those of you that don't know, (presumably because you have a life) the line that I am referring to is perhaps Sir Andrews most enlightening and revealing line of the entire play, "I was adored once too." It flicks from the end of Toby proclaiming Maria's adoration of him and is left, hanging in the air without response or comment. It is his "To be or not to be", his "Once more into the breach" and every time that I go to say it, I imagine an audience full of people sat looking demurely as I hash my way through it. Before long, everyone started giving me line-readings, ideas, help (which was valuable) and guidance, but after 5 minutes, I had well and truly reached the end of my tether. I took my frustrations out on a very undeserving Cuckoo;
            "Look," I said, "Everything you're saying, I know. I should just be saying the line exactly as I would do to you now, but, for the foreseeable future, I need to get every shit reading out of my system and try to forget that it's 'that line'.
            Al understood.
            The evening show went fairly well. We had the Stage in reviewing. It was a small crowd, but they made up for their numbers in enthusiasm. Hopefully it reflects.
            Monsoon season hit Eastbourne on Friday morning. The rain plopped down in great swathes and turned the town to dingy grey. On the up side, I made a discovery; my coat isn't waterproof. It is however very good at retaining water. So, every cloud and all that...

            When I got in, Pete 'the magic man' Donno, was there ready for us all with a towel in hand to get us dry.

            Seb and I were working with Chris on Sir T's and Sir A's relationship. We determined Sir A, is similar to a brand new Mercedes, shiny, spangly and fitted with all the latest mod-cons, but he's been filled with diesel instead of unleaded; impressive, but doomed. Toby, is exactly the same - just an older model. The unfortunate thing it seems, is that Toby sees in Andrew, himself, and both loves watching his youth once again spring to life, but also detests that he also sees the same young man walking the badly lit back-streets that he himself did so many years ago. They are one and the same, they need one another - but with that, comes the car crash.
            Andrew, I figured, is the human equivalent of a weathervane. He is totally affected by his surrounding forces. His psyche acts in a similar way to being stuck at the top of a flowchart.  He is a man, unable to move from the first question. He would just as easily say 'yes' as he would 'no'. It is those surrounding forces that prompt him to answer life's obstacles in the way he does.
            After the evening show, Al's voice came over the intercom into the dressing rooms. "Hello everyone, this is the management speaking. Why not come for a drink now, in the Buccaneer. On the Company. What what?"
            Cue, a large collective cheer.
            One of the toughest things to get right in heading a team of people is keeping track of moral. Gratefully, Al managed to have his finger on the company pulse and spotted that we were all feeling knackered after a week of 12-hour days. A piss up is what was needed and a piss up is what we got.
            On Saturday we rehearsed briefly in the morning before the Afternoon performance. After that, we met up on the beach for the second instalment of the 'Matinee Club'.  The Matinee Club is a group of the cast that go for a quick dip in the sea in between shows. There's a mist that can form on the brain before an evening show and nothing seems to lift it like cold water and a breeze. And, as we'll only be in Eastbourne for another week, it would be silly not to make the most of it.

This is how we say Goodbye
 The evening show was nothing short of hilarious; we all got a little giddy and suddenly found ourselves enjoying every single second. We walked about the backstage area with Cheshire cat grins. 2 hours later, 4 rounds of applause passed, and a barrel full of naughty corpsing sloshed all over the place, the show came down to our best response yet.
Find your light darling.
            The devil was within us and after going to the pub, Siobhan, Al, Craig (Happy Birthday mate) and myself ventured out to experience the grotty grotesqueness that is the Eastbourne Nightlife scene.

 We found our way to a place called Maxims, which had all the charm of my big toenail and charged £3 each for the experience. After enough booze though, anywhere is tolerable. We made friends with a couple of locals - who later had a barny and left - danced our problems away (odd how an empty space appeared around us) and staggered off in blissful merriment.
            But that wasn't enough.
            Oh no.
            Night-swimming it was to be.
            We clambered our way down to the sea, tugged off our clothes and wobbled our way out, into the bracing brine. Cuckoo was squealing, Shiv was pissing herself, Craig was in silent shivers and I dived into the deep.
            I surfaced, cleared the salty water from my eyes and gasped at the incredible sight around me.
            We had fallen into a pit of ink, enveloped by a blanket of stars. There, piercing through the blackness came tiny, twinkling orbs of light; tens and twenties and hundreds and thousands of them. I stood, stock-still, unable to move in the beauty of it. I wanted to get lost in it. Forever. Now, writing this, I want to be there, lost in it. In my entire life, I have never experienced anything so magical. I lay, floating in the tide, accompanied by the sounds of breaking water and ripples of laughter and thanked my lucky stars to be alive...
Cuckoo cutting some shapes

            The return to the beach was not quite as poetic. Four, milky white bodies, clumsily scuttling their way back to the comfort of clothes. Over I went.
            Oops, and again.
             On top of that, I dropped my towel into a pool of water before using it. Idiot.
            I also seem to have misplaced my boxer shorts. Anyone on Eastbourne beach today, if you see them, please would you return them to the Devonshire Park Theatre stage door. Thank you.
            Either that or the sea has them, in which case...
            In other news, it seems that readers of this blog now cross the oceans. Aoife, in Australia, thanks for following and Siobhan sends her big fat love.

            Oh, and if you see a pair of black Pringles floating in Sydney harbour, do us a favour?

                                                                 And finally (for the cast)...


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