This House UK Tour

23rd Feb 2018 - 2nd Jun 2018

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The Absence of War Rehearsal Diary- Week 2

By Hannah Bannister

The shape of things

This week we have been discovering how this play fits in to the Crucible’s unique stage. It is a thrust stage and therefore we are playing to audience on three sides. In our rehearsal room our stage management team have provided a mark-up of the stage, furniture and props. What is great about the design is that we have three moving blinds and an LED screen upstage which give us great flexibility to create the various locations the play requires, quickly and easily. The stage has to become an office, an aircraft hangar, the lobby of the houses of parliament, a flat and a TV studio amongst other locations.

The first two scenes use the whole cast and when staging them we discover the stage’s possibilities and challenges whilst it is densely populated. Movement director, Anna Morrissey works together with Jeremy to build the picture. Scene one is set at the Cenotaph (we use the Centre blind to convey the image) and the cast form lines on all sides for the 2 minutes’ silence. We move quickly from here to the lobby of the Houses of Parliament, with lots of people entering and exiting. It all happens really quickly but with important plot points to land it takes a lot of finessing. We find that fluid movement works really well for this scene. Walking on a curve or using circles is a great way to convey a character’s status and is powerful for pinning someone in centre stage.

The aim this week is to shape each scene physically and tonally. Jeremy’s style is to offer ideas, solutions and provocations to the actors to guide the scenes, and they take up these offers and allow that to inspire the choices they make. By the end of the week we have touched on every single scene, ready to come back and refine as needed in more detail next week. We are working with a physical language that blurs the lines between the company of actors and the characters they are playing. So at the end of a scene it is possible for them to wander up stage and hand props to a stage manager and walk straight back into a scene as a character. This is a useful and exciting construct for an audience because it doesn’t hide anything; it gives them a peak into the backstage world.

We are going to use video projection in the production, which is important. The Labour leader in the play has a tempestuous relationship with the press. As a result, the way the leadership office is run is determined by fear of press backlash. The play is set in 1992, pre-social media, when TV was the most important way to reach vast numbers of people quickly. The stage will be subject to an encroaching number of TV screens as a poetic narrative of its stronghold. More literally, we will also be using video projection to see the play’s incumbent Tory Prime Minister, Charles Kendrick and his wife, outside Downing Street. These visual moments will play on the TV screens while the actor playing him speaks live on stage. We repeat this construct with George Jones meeting supporters whilst campaigning: the stage and TV version happening simultaneously. The Linus Frank show, an important dramatic moment in the play, also needs to happen simultaneously on the monitors and on the stage.

A mid-week production meeting is where the show’s creative and production teams meet to discuss the needs of each department. The big talking point for The Absence of War being the changes needed for the tour. We will be moving from the deep thrust of the Sheffield Crucible to a classic proscenium arch shape stage for most of the tour, and ending up at the Rose Theatre in Kingston whose stage is curved, taking us back to a deeper stage shape again.