The final week in the rehearsal room began with detailed notes and reflection on the first run, and a second run to try and incorporate this feedback. The headline from group discussion was that the characters most of the actors play are essentially the same selves, with different lenses applied. The same essence, distilled through different filters.
This was a theme we returned to all week. This play offers a different challenge to many other rehearsal processes, as it is rather more conceptual. Unlike much linear, narrative driven, theatre, here Duncan Macmillan and Robert Icke have created something far more concerned with form. As a result, there are not necessarily the orthodox depths to plumb for character, certainly not in terms of backstory, given circumstances, or development timelines often used. Instead, the process is more about how to offer a truth, and then subvert it moment to moment. Daniel Raggett talked a lot this week to reinforce the idea that the company, through performance, must “make the audience believe a certain set of circumstances, then play with those.”
Much of the time and energy which might, on other plays, be spent developing character, has been devoted to learning as a company how to build a world. Running the play through in its entirety has reminded everyone how vital it is for the company to land the locations and atmospheres of the production. Acts of collective imagination therefore become integral in defining the world of the play, as any place only exists if the company can see it together and communicate it to Winston.
The characters build in the moment through the things they say; their various forms or guises are situational. We discussed the idea that Winston’s head has a finite number of visual and linguistic cues, so has to keep reusing them to tell the narrative. These characters, enacted by the same handful of people, exist because Winston is using them. The focus must constantly be on inhabiting a collective experience, not on viewing from individual perspectives. We have returned to the analogy of the play as a video game. Winston has to learn about the world around him, and encounter characters to retrieve objects and information to collect points and ‘level up’.
Another unusual aspect of this production that we have interrogated this week is the style of thought and delivery. The cast have been noted frequently on the need to build a fluency of thought; thinking quickly, but with a high degree of specificity. This involves knowing the text so well, and being so confident with the ideas, that the words themselves can be thrown away to some extent. It is about thinking on the thought, not in preparation for it. There are a few isolated instances of characters having private thoughts, or delivering pre-meditated facts, opinions, or phrases in a precise way, but the majority of the lines of the play are characters working things out aloud, or things being shared between members of the company through vocalisation.
Multiple runs of the play also highlighted the importance of pace. A note which became incorporated into the rehearsal room shared language this week was: “It should always be driven a bit too fast to be comfortable”. Winston, and the audience, should never have time to catch up. This means that the company must pass the baton quickly and deftly to keep Winston occupied, and deny him any respite. To continue the musical theme from the orchestra metaphor of last week, Daniel spoke of a virtuosic quality of being able to very quickly land a world, play in it with a lightness of touch, then move on swiftly. The world is normally ahead of Winston, and although it does generally deliver what he needs, or wants, but he can never be sure that it will do so, at what speed, or when. This puts considerable pressure on the rest of the company to keep the world spinning, and the events occurring.
The actors also discussed, and explored through games and exercises, the ‘dream logic’ on which the production runs. Understanding this as a concept explains many of the elements that can seem contradictory, or confusing. Interestingly, the children of the company found this easier to intuitively understand and accept. Many of the adults fully grasped it once they had watched some of the films which influenced Robert and Duncan at the time of writing this adaptation.
After a week of hard work both in the studio and on location where we filmed snippets of video which will now be edited and appear as projection once we enter technical rehearsals at The Playhouse Theatre, the cast won their final game of mafia in the rehearsal room. They were given some suggestions of things to read, listen to, and watch for continued reinvention of their relationships with the play, and asked to rest up, ready to meet again on the real stage! To close the week, Daniel and I went over to the Playhouse where fit-up was underway, and we could excitedly see the space beginning to take shape.