Mandi Symonds in rehearsal. Photo:Manuel Harlan.
By the beginning of Week 2 the mark up - a detailed plan of the set with all the entrances and exits - has been drawn out on the floor of the rehearsal room in coloured tape, but Rob and Duncan are still reluctant to move towards a literal blocking of each scene. Instead, the play has been broken down into sections - like scenes, except the play contains no scenes - and the company are called to work on one or more of these at a time. The idea now is to focus in on exploring the physical nature of the scenes and what this might unlock. This work continues to be supplemented with discussion, improvisation and various games and exercises. Sessions are dictated more by what is discovered than by trying to reach a particular result. For example, a discussion on the subliminal may lead to an improvisation enacting a dream which may in turn lead back to a conversation about the script. Music is played to provide varying atmospheres, people are asked to draw pictures, and are encouraged to use any of the props that have arrived in the rehearsal room in as many different ways as possible. All these sensory activities, things to experiment with and respond to, are key to drawing open and intuitive responses from the cast. Overall, an effort is made to maintain a sense of continued exploration and discovery rather than the search for a particular solution.
It is interesting to note how things, which seemingly have no relevance, can suddenly prove themselves surprisingly useful. A few team games have become rehearsal staples; in particular, the Green Diamond game which is a cast favourite. Ostensibly, this game was introduced to encourage a collective company dynamic. It is used as a focus warm up with the aim of getting the company to operate unconsciously as a single unit. However, it unintentionally fed into an exercise on the ‘Two Minutes Hate’. The exercise began with a discussion on the scene in the script, which then led to exposure to various stimuli which induced feelings of hate, including videos, photographs, quotations. Finally, the cast began an improvisation exploring how easy it was to focus as one body on a single ‘hate figure’ and direct their anger towards them simultaneously and as a cohesive mob. Judging by the ease with which the improvisation took shape, and from the feedback of the company, a simple focus game had been readily utilised to lay the foundations of this particular rehearsal.
All the work is drawn from the script, and its discoveries are often directly re-incorporated back into the text. Robert and Duncan continue to tinker with various sections at the beginning of the week, but by Friday a definitive draft has arrived. Although it is inevitable that changes will still occur, this new draft allows the actors to begin to learn their lines. This is crucial as often the need to refer back to a script can become a physical and mental barrier between an actor and the work. The dynamic nature of the show means the faster they can get “off book” the better.
What has continued to be clear throughout the week and all of these exercises is the novel’s continued relevance. On the 15th August, our tenth day in rehearsal, a session of work on the final moments in the play prompted a discussion about whether it was actually possible for one man to change the world and whether Winston’s fate was pessimism on Orwell’s part or an inevitability. On the same day, Bradley Manning, the US soldier convicted of leaking confidential documents to Wikileaks, stood up in court and apologised for his actions, stating: “I look back at my decisions and wonder how on earth could I, a junior analyst, possibly believe I could change the world for the better”. The similarity between our own work and incidents occurring halfway around the world was striking, and reaffirmed the universality of the themes present in the play. In reality, our rehearsal room discussions may not be as comfortably hypothetical as we assume, and the work we create as distant from interrogating real world events.