Tom Goodman-Hill in rehearsal. Photo:Ellie Kurtz
It has been another fascinating and productive week in rehearsals. There have been a number of parallel calls again. This is because the structure of the play being quite clearly divided between two plot strands and the two main relationships that run throughout. The first plot strand is concerned with what is happening on the drugs trial - the actual drug effect and the relationship that develops between Connie and Tristan. The second plot strand is concerned with the doctors' responses to the trial and the drug effect in the volunteers as the trial progresses, as well as the doctors' relationship and their backstory, which unfolds throughout the play. So, most of the scenes have two characters in them. There is actually only one short scene in the play in which all four characters appear together. It was great to finally put this scene up on its feet this week and to see all the actors and the different threads of the story coming together in this scene.
Rupert was aiming for a stumble-through of the first half of the play at the end of the week. In addition to lots of new line-learning and familiarising themselves with the later sections of the play, the actors have been re-capping a lot of the earlier scenes in rehearsals as well.
We found out at the beginning of the week that we needed to change the name of the fictitious pharmaceutical company that Lucy Prebble had chosen for the play. The name was originally 'Hexel', which is apparently also the name of a large stationery company in the UK and a healthcare company in India too. We had all been previously unaware of both these facts. Despite coming up with plenty of futuristic, sci-fi, and big pharma sounding suggestions, we still hadn’t chosen a new name by the end of the Friday afternoon. We left for the weekend with a few hopeful possibilities. Fingers crossed, a suitable new name will have been okayed and confirmed by the start of this next week!
Towards the end of the third week, we went back to the start of the play and began running a few of the earlier scenes together. This was partly so we could have a look at the transitions between scenes and see how well they flowed from one to the next – both practically and physically. It also gave us an opportunity to note the development of any appropriate character arcs and the drug effect that some of the characters may have through those particular sections. It was great to be able to step back a little and look at a larger chunk of the play in this way. It made it easier to observe any shifts in tone between scenes and to see how well they all fit together. It was really helpful in enabling a much better idea of the overall shape of those scenes as well.
While revisiting these earlier parts of the play, Rupert got the actors to try out different staging ideas for the beginnings and ends of the scenes. He also looked at how the actors got onto and off the stage. The actors were directed to walk through their entrances and exits in a number of different ways. It was fascinating to see which ones worked best and why. For example, in the first two scenes of the play, the doctor asks each of the two volunteers a number of preliminary interview questions separately. In the third scene the two volunteers meet each other for the first time after their interviews. The choices made about the staging of the first two scenes – for example, whether the actor not being interviewed at that moment should stay on stage while the other was answering the doctor’s questions - really affected how the third scene read.
At the start of the third scene, the two volunteers, Tristan and Connie, meet each other for the first time. In earlier rehearsals, we had talked about how important this first moment of meeting is. Rupert compared it to the first time Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet meet. The first time that Tristan and Connie meet should have a very strong impact on both the characters and the audience. So that moment needs to be very clear and staged in such a way that this first meeting is as powerful a moment as it can be. Therefore, it’s very important that the actors haven’t seen each other on stage before and that the audience, haven't seen them together on stage before either. The level of tension required for Tristan and Connie's first meeting is determined by the staging choices for their characters in the preceding two scenes. The process of finding the best choices for the first three scenes, through trying out different staging options, was fascinating and very enjoyable to watch.
There have been other references to classical texts throughout rehearsals for The Effect. Rupert referred to the first three scenes of the play as a prologue. This is because they are fairly clean, neutral and clinical in the way they set up the story. As a result, it’s a surprise when the play opens out into a very different, much richer and more lively theatrical language at the start of the fourth scene with sound, music, light effects and projections.
There is a scene in The Effect between Tristan and Connie in an abandoned asylum that they have broken into, after having run away from the medical trial centre. This is where we essentially watch them falling in love with each other. Rupert has previously compared this scene to the famous balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet. Rupert often refers to Tristan and Connie as 'The Lovers' and I have heard Lucy talking about intending the couple to be self-aware cliches of archetypal characters, like Romeo and Juliet, in classical plays.
The Effect is full of contrasts and dualities, such as mind and body, cause and effect, pharmaceutical and holistic approaches, drug and placebo effects, happiness and depression, the personal and the corporate, faith and disillusionment, the lovers and the doctors. There are also contrasts in tone within the play, such as the naturalism and delicacy found in moments between Tristan and Connie in comparison to the high-tech almost sci-fi style of the medical admissions procedure and the rhetoric and politics contained in the scenes between the two doctors.It’s interesting to hear Rupert talk about his concerns about how all of these different strands of the play will read when it is all put together. Will they balance each other out and be a good contrast, or will they jar and clash?
It’s also be fascinating to think about how moving into the actual theatre space might change things. For example, will a certain scene that has been rehearsed with a long pause at the start in the rehearsal room work in the bigger space of the Cottesloe theatre? There is a concern that the glances in silence between Tristan and Connie in this particular scene may be lost and won't read once we move in to the theatre space. I am looking forward to seeing how this move will affect what we have rehearsed.
On Friday, we ran the transitions between scenes in the first half of the play. Christopher Shutt (the Sound Designer), Sarah Angliss (the Composer), Jon Clark (the Lighting Designer) and Jon Driscoll (the Projectionist) all attended. They chatted with Rupert as we stopped and started between these transitions. Between the transitions, we explained what was happening to them and they discussed different options for each transition. They all found it hugely helpful and informative to be able to see the general shape of the first half of the play and the scene changes so early within the rehearsal process. I spoke to Jon, the Lighting Designer. He said that the process had really helped him to get to know the characters better and given him a good foothold on the play. This meant he had something to really concrete to work with before moving before technical rehearsals in the theatre in a couple of week’s time. I found it really fascinating to listen to the discussions between Rupert and the creative team at this point. The thought of bringing all these aspects together, and the beauty and joy that they will add to the play is really exciting!
On Friday afternoon, the company did their first stumble-through of the first half of the play. The actors all did brilliantly. It was great to be able to sit back and watch such a large section of the play. This gives you a greater perspective than is possible when you're working on individual scenes. Rupert and Lucy made notes while watching the run. Some of their main notes included: the importance of plotting the cumulative drug effect from scene to scene; the need for the actors to commit to the text more - to their characters' arguments; and that, as an audience, your main focus is on the fact that you are watching a play about a drugs trial, so you are highly aware of the situation and want to find out what's going to happen next all the time.
Rupert is planning for a stumble-through of the second half of the play towards the end of the fifth week of rehearsals, so we will be putting the last scenes of the play up on their feet at the start of next week. In addition to this, we will be re-capping the scenes that we have already rehearsed. The company will have the opportunity to visit a real medical trial centre next week and are really looking to it. As well as being absolutely fascinating, this trip will hopefully provide a refreshing break for everyone from the rehearsal room for a few hours!