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.
We become increasingly aware of the theatricality of the self, where characters will present a certain version of themselves depending on what they want from others within their immediate environment. This lends the play its heightened, carnivalesque energy and means it’s able to shift from the intimate to the epic and back again in quick succession. Indeed, Mary’s attempt to stake her claim to this portion of England’s lost land is an inherently theatrical event, one which is showcased most clearly in direct address to the audience in the way that Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, or Frank Underwood might employ. The fact that this style of performance has typically been afforded to an exclusively male collection of antiheroes, in the past two-and-a-half millennia of theatre making, isn’t lost on us.
In spite of the weight of the history of the Industrial Revolution, as we learnt in Week One of rehearsals, the vast spectrum of characters in Common are shown to be largely peripheral to it. As such, it’s for us to be aware of this social, historical, and political context, but then focus on the scenes DC Moore has written. What is challenging is to balance psychological truth with a heightened, poetic language, which is unique to this play. It’s why it was key to excavate the text previously, to analyse and understand before attempting to physicalise it – instead of trying to run before we can walk! As we move through, we are constantly referring back to the model of the set design, which will revolve to showcase the various locations described in the stage directions. In parallel, the actors have been visiting the Costume Department to talk about their characters’ clothes for the first time – in consultation with our designer, Richard Hudson, and Costume Supervisor, Irene Bohan – based upon those discoveries they’ve made in the rehearsal room so far.
There is a selection of props being filtered into rehearsals: a clacker, some rifles and pistols, and an eclectic mixture of masks. In fact, our actors do some mask work, in a session led by Jeremy Herrin and Joseph Alford, which culminates in a much more ritualistic interpretation of the prologue to the play, and the sense of a community who have kept in touch with the pagan traditions of their ancestors.
The balancing act of putting on a play involves a lot more than simply rehearsing it. There are a vast array of people associated with this production, all of whom have been working tirelessly behind the scenes over the past few weeks (and, in some cases, months), whether it be in the pursuit of construction, sound, lighting, music, fights, educational outreach, or press and marketing. These elements will fashion the show just as much as the costumes fashion its cast.