We are officially over the half way point! It’s amazing how quickly rehearsals go, and before we knew it we are about to head into our final week. This stage of the process is always exciting as everything begins to gear up and move at a much faster pace. We’ve now been through the whole play and we’re currently working through from the beginning again in more detail. The cast are doing brilliant work, and every time we return to something, they really push it on and apply all the thoughts Jeremy has given. This means the piece is really starting to come into picture, and we can keep digging deeper and deeper. We’ve also learnt so much from simply getting to the end and going back. We have a more tangible idea of the journey that the characters go on and where they have to get to, which helps us know how to pitch it earlier. The play requires authentic, complex relationships between the men that shift significantly because of their experiences. The more work we do, the more time we spend together as a company, the more I start to believe in the bonds between the characters and to see clearly how they need each other. As a result their stories become incredibly powerful and potent. It’s also unbelievable just how rich the text is and how much detail is packed in. So every time we revisit a section we discover something new. I imagine we’ll keep on doing this throughout the tour, never mind the rehearsals!
The play is full of incredible imagery, symbolism, poetry, beauty and brutality but Jeremy has reminded us not to get too lost in that. That is for the audience to experience, but for the company, in many ways it’s about keeping it simple and playing the reality of each situation. This is especially useful in the third section of the play, ‘Pairings’ which sees the men on leave in four specific locations, and the play jumps from story to story, weaving everything together in a complex and vivid tapestry. There’s hugely poetic moments that enter an abstracted realm and take us to somewhere totally different but Jeremy wants us to be clear and specific in our choices:
“The poetry is there, but we mustn’t play it. If we don’t play it, it will be released.”
We absolutely need to remember this so we can let the play do its work and we don’t overcomplicate it all.
We also had a brilliant visit from percussionist Rob Millett who did a session with Paul Kennedy (McIlwaine) on the Lambeg drum. It’s an enormous and deafening instrument that is used during the 12th July marches in Northern Ireland. It is a really symbolic and important part of Protestant Ulster culture. It’s played live on stage, Paul was learning a pretty difficult pattern and he picked it up impressively quickly! At full pelt it gets rights into your guts and is a rousing and powerful sound. Unleashed in a huge theatre, it will be really quite something!
The cast have also been doing sessions with Stephen Warbeck on the songs in the show. They are traditional, a cappella Irish folk songs and Protestant hymns and are most often used to remind the characters of home or to summon some comfort in great and overwhelming adversity. What’s lovely is that now they’ve learnt them Stephen is encouraging the guys to take ownership of them in a way that means they can be flexible within the show, and bespoke to each moment. They’re not ‘numbers’ or bits of musical theatre, but very real ways of keeping up spirits and showing solidarity. When the guys sing them during rehearsals and with a sense of spontaneity, they’re absolutely beautiful, and give me goose bumps.
We’ve now got our last week in Brixton, and it will be all about getting to the end again, colouring in the detail we’ve found. And then we’ll run it on Wednesday, which is always hugely useful, and in some ways, we’ll probably learn the most about the piece when we see it all stitched together. That will give us the opportunity to go back on anything that doesn’t feel quite right. We’re also looking forward to having Frank McGuinness and the creative team back in the room for the run through…it’s cooking!