It is a week of changes. Primarily, there is a notable shift in pace and momentum. Now that the actors have lived with the characters and the script for a significant amount of time, each of the four acts starts to contract: where before there was a bit of excess “air” in between the lines, or even between thoughts within the lines, the language becomes fluent and fluid. The effect of this is that the play takes on a greater psychological truth. Like Shakespeare, if there are too many breaks in the line, or unnecessary emphases, some narrative clarity is lost and the dialogue can sound expositional or overly poetic. As we move through Act Three and Act Four, Jeremy quotes David Mamet when talking about the way certain characters are forced to face up to ‘surprising inevitability’ in the later moments of the play, referring to experiences they had feared but somehow knew were always going to happen. This is a notion we will continue to investigate.
We complete our first draft of staging early this week and return to the start of the play to anatomise each scene in detail. In parallel, understudy rehearsals are now in full swing. We have a brilliant session with fight directors, Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown, who are briefed to stage several moments in the course of the play, including multiple stabbings, a shooting, a bludgeoning, a disembowelment, and a brawl involving a large rock. Rachel and Ruth are shown the action leading up to and beyond each moment of conflict and are given some context for the specific scene. They then collaborate with the actors, drawing on their natural instincts and honing the ideas presented into something safer and more effective in accordance with the tone we’re looking to achieve.
The pace of things has stepped up this week. As the actors grow in confidence with their lines and the journeys of their characters, we start to explore Part Two of the play in detail, tracing its narrative arc. As such, the textual choices we are making are becoming increasingly clear. DC Moore’s writing has a very precise rhythm and, as we grow familiar with it, the sound of the play has started to take on a new, almost musical, quality. In terms of the blocking, it’s significant that the actors’ natural movements have informed so many of the staging choices we are now settling on. This was a bit of a revelation to us all: that the collective instinct can show us so much about the story we’re trying to tell.
The blueprints DC Moore drafts to set each scene of Common compel the cast and creative team to conjure a visual and sonic landscape that’s just as important as the purely linguistic one. The invention of a theatrical “language” incorporating these elements is at the front of our minds this week as we continue to dig down into the play to get to what’s subversive beneath its surface and put the lives of its characters, and their often-fractious relationships to one another, under the microscope. The more we examine them, the more they reveal about themselves.
On the first day of rehearsals for Common, the company gathers for a readthrough in Rehearsal Room 2 at the National Theatre. Fifteen actors, along with members of our creative team and stage management, sit in a circle and, together, we read the entire play. It’s a revelation to hear it lift off the page for the first time after several months of pre-production work.