We started week two of Pygmalion rehearsals with a much-anticipated visit from Bronwen Evans, an academic expert in phonetics (or a modern day Henry Higgins, if you like...) Bronwen spoke to us about her research into how accents change over a lifetime. She explained that our voices often contain ‘features’ of the accents we encounter so they are rarely ‘pure’ accents, and that our life choices and ambitions can shape the way we speak. We discussed the feasibility of the Eliza experiment; she thought it would be difficult for someone’s voice to be altered so drastically in the time frame, but that an incredibly controlled environment would aid that process. It was valuable to gain insight from someone with an academic and scientific relationship to the voice.
For the rest of the week we spent most of our time putting a general shape onto each act, and we now have a rough blocking for nearly the whole play. Sam uses a technique whereby we record the actors speaking their lines for each act, and we then play out a version of the scene with the cast listening to their recorded lines on the speaker. This gives the actors the freedom to move in the space without being hampered by their scripts. It enables us to play games to help unlock the structure of the scene and to crack the relationships between characters. The result is that we see the overall shape of each act more quickly, so that I feel like I have a growing sense of how the production works as a whole.
The most challenging and unusual part of this week has been introducing sonic experimentation into the room, and in particular, the mediation of voice in the first act. We are creating a tightly choreographed sequence, which involves us working with sound designer, Max Ringham, and sound operator, Matt Russell, in the rehearsal room to map a range of different voices from around the UK. The discoveries we have been making around this section have thrown issues around class and voice into sharp relief. I’m looking forward to seeing how all this work beds in and fits with the rest of the production.
We’ve been creating some improvisations to continue to explore character relationships, through looking at scenes that might have happened outside of the play’s action. In particular, we’re increasingly finding that the practice of changing someone’s speech is an incredibly intimate process, as our voices are closely tied up with our personalities. We have discovered that Higgins’ experimentation can be incredibly invasive and uncomfortable both for the person concerned and for an audience.
Next week we will continue to go into detail with each act, and to exploit the possibilities that the environment gives us. We are also spending some of next week filming the interludes, which will be projected onto the set in between the acts. Over and out.