On our feet!
Week two has been a cracking week.
There are well over 100 scenes in the play, many being short and sharp – almost filmic. Some scenes are less than a quarter of a page long. Scenes cut rapidly from one location to the next - either from the Government Whips' office to the House of Commons chamber or from the Tea Room to the Westminster archives.
The actors need to have a clear understanding of what their environment looks like and what is in each particular room. Particularly as often the only change the audience will see is the arrival of a corridor of light or a quick light shift. The cuts between scenes are like lightning, keeping the momentum of the play active and thrilling.
We've slowly staged a first draft of the play, building relationships between characters and understanding the physical geography of where each scene takes place in the Palace of Westminster.
Rae Smith's design is a thing of beauty. The auditorium in the Minerva Theatre is being transformed into a representation of the House of Commons. The audience sits on green benches on either side and the playing space is defined with the famous red lines and the Speaker’s chair. Within that, the main playing space is defined by light - with two offices portrayed - the Government Whips' office and the Opposition Whips' office - being clearly defined with boxes of light.
The Minerva theatre at Chichester is in a thrust configuration, meaning the audience is on three sides. With an equal amount of people occupying each of the three segments. This layout presents its own unique set of challenges to the company and requires clear and specific staging. We spent the week slowly breaking down each section of the play and looking at how to stage the scene to best facilitate the storytelling for the audience.
We’ve also spent time this week working on the movement sections of the play. These moments dramatise certain elements of the story. A particular example would be the election of the new Speaker of the House at the top of act two.
Traditionally, the Speaker is supposed to not want the job and is dragged to the Speaker's chair against her or his will. This dates back to the time when the Speaker was the Monarch's representative in the House of Commons and would often be beheaded if the business of parliament was not to the Monarch's liking. This changed after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 as the new King Charles II and later William and Mary encouraged the separation and impartiality of the Speaker from both parliament and the monarchy. Hence the tradition of a newly elected Speaker not wanting to take the job, if their head was literally on the line…
Today it is a purely a ceremonial exercise as the job of the Speaker is very attractive - with a private apartment within the Palace of Westminster on offer and a potentially guaranteed seat for life.
In This House, we dramatise this moment to highlight its presence in the day-to-day business of parliament and as a nod to the quirks that exist in the British establishment. Scott Ambler, our movement director, has created a sequence where the new Speaker at the top of act two is dragged to his seat and stopped by his fellow MPs who insist he takes the seat. It's a fun, theatrical way of telling this particular story and it's a brilliant visual opener to the second half.
Next week we continue to delve deeper into the play and the relationships that are central to the story. We also have a very exciting trip to Downing Street, which will undoubtedly make an appearance in my week three diary... Stay tuned!