Final Words…

 This production goes from strength to strength.  Yesterday evening (fourth performance of six), we had a small group of people in the audience who were in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, and after the show, most of them stayed for the discussion.  The absolute honesty and integrity demanded of recovering addicts by their recovery programmes worked a step-change in the level of these discussions.  With no effort wasted in dressing up what they were saying, they started talking with an almost painful sincerity about how truthful the performances had been, and how accurately all the cast had depicted the individual roles associated with addiction.  The brief glimpses they gave us of their lives would break your heart, were it not for their absolute insistence that pity was not an option.  What they needed, and what our society desperately needs, is understanding and compassion.  Understanding that addiction is an illness, and that it can strike anywhere and anybody, whatever their background, whatever their social position, whatever their job, whatever their age.  Compassion and understanding for those who suffer.  They said that from our performance we had clearly understood this, and given a truthful account of a play written by somebody who equally clearly understood it.  One of them said  ‘All of us here will leave feeling better than when we came in’. 

 Add to that the discussion after the first night when, amongst others, three mental-health professionals spoke of how truthful and honest the play and our production of it were.  Many other people in all the discussions who spoke of how they had some direct experience of what the play was talking about.  For me, as the director, it puts into perspective any minor comments made about the ‘strong language’ used in the play.  The truthfulness of what we are doing, and what Polly Stenham is saying, over-rides all that.

 I want to praise every member of this cast for the work they have done.  At this level of performance the focus, energy and emotional exposure demanded is very great.  Every single member of this cast has unflinchingly faced all this and come through brilliantly.  Peter Reay asked me the other evening what I felt about the production, and I have to say that of all the productions I have worked on, this is the one that I am most satisfied with, the one I’d be happy to say ‘I worked on that show’.  There’s a caveat of course, there always is.  When you are touching people as we are in this play, you have to do it with care.  We’re not putting on an hour or so of light entertainment here, we’re touching people’s lives and to some extent helping to change them.  That demands integrity.  Everyone working on this show has shown that level of sincerity and integrity over and over again.

 When people ask me why I do this work, I would point to the recovering addicts, what they had to say and the way they said it, and I would answer that that is why I do it.

 So a very heart-felt thank you to Marnie, Peter, Sam, Jess, India and Hattie.  And to Ann, Elaine, Trish, Judith and Andy.  And to everyone else involved in this production.  We always say stuff like that at the end of every show.  This time I mean every word.

 And thank you to the Swan Theatre who had the insight and courage to let us do it!




Performance Week

So here we are…after a week of final run-throughs we are on to performance day three. No posts during the final week, as I’ve been battling the lurgy for the past ten days. Our first two performances have been a joy – we hit the ground running, and although the audiences have been comparatively small for The Swan (why???) the reception has been extremely positive. We run a Q&A session after each performance, and it would have been good to see more people taking part, but those who did raised many interesting points and clearly were moved by the whole experience. The Q&A sessions are a new concept for The Swan, but personally I think they need to be better publicised at the start of each evening. Perhaps audiences prefer to remain anonymous, rather than have the spotlight turned on them, as it were? Performance-wise, everyone has raised their game to produce an emotionally-charged evening – we’re even getting comments from the crew about how they can feel the atmosphere onstage – praise indeed!

Moment of the week so far: someone in the audience commented that they felt physically sick by the end…our work here is done.

Week 7

Scene 8

Where it all comes together, and it all falls apart…

Rehearsals are becoming really intense now. Scene 8, three nights  running. A taste of the real thing. We have taken this scene apart, resolved any glitches and it has improved greatly thanks to that. We’re now at the point where we can let it run and grow for another 10 days or so.

I wish I could see what it looks like from an audience perspective; when you get so far in to Martha and her weirdness, it all seems acceptable. And now I’m starting to sound like Mia! But the closeness, the protectiveness, the absolute love and familiarity she feels towards Henry make complete sense, while Mia and Hugh are, simply, strangers interrupting. Sam and Jess are growing so much; it’s a pleasure to see their performances maturing. Little moments, phrases that change slightly in tone; you can see that they’re focussed and really thinking about each word.

This is going to be really, really good!

Scene 8 – Martha’s state etc

Simplistically, I suppose where I’d start from is that she’s tired and she’s drunk, having been up all night drinking.  That’s going to effect how she thinks, of course, but also how she feels.  Let’s assume she’s a high-functioning alcoholic / drug abuser, by which I mean she can still function even when very drunk and very high / low.  That means we don’t have to mess around with over-slurred speech and silly walks, which is quite important.  So, I think her state of mind will be anything but simple.  Anger at Hugh for his desertion of her, his withholding of any affection, withdrawal of his love, his apparent wealth, and the extreme betrayal of marrying someone else and having a child with her,and so on.   Anget at Mia for choosing to leave her and go away to school, for interrupting her scenes with Henry, and generally getting in the way of how Martha wants to lead her life.  Fear about what will happen to her if she’s sectioned or volunteers for treatment.  Love maternal for Henry, and for what he represents for her in the way of times and places when there was genuine warmth and everything was all right.  Now of course, the (false, it’s a drunken illusion) warmth and comfort of Henry is threatened (by Henry sleeping with Izzy) -‘You’re not mine anymore, you’re hers’ – and doubly threatened by the arrival of Hugh (directly precipitated by the actions of Mia), drive her first to attempt to preserve the (illusory) warm state against these threats.  It’s important that she is ready to welcome Mia into the Martha/Henry arrangements – I think this is because Hugh is the greater threat, and the less predicatble one.  Mia represents a lesser threat, and one that Martha is used to.  After Henry’s breakdown, when Martha finally begins to appreciate how much damage she has done to Henry, and possibly Mia, all this will be overlain with a degree of guilt.  Martha, like all addicts, is fundamentally selfish, and she is also one of those people who always harks back to a golden past when things were wonderful, and also has to be the centre of attention, everything has to be about Martha.  This isn’t all meant pejoratively by any means.  In terms of the Enneagram she is a Four.  I am concentrating here on the unhealthier aspects of that charater-type because Martha is clearly not psychologically healthy.  Anyway, we have to see the realisation (of the damage she has done) dawning, and that I think leads to her decision to voluntarily go for trteatment.  The other thing would cause even more damage to Henry (and Mia?) and she will not now contemplate that.  As she leaves, it is important symobolically that Martha has to physically extricate herself from Henry’s grasp, especially after the immediately previous birth etc references.  This really matters, because it underlines that Henry is as guilty of keeping Martha in his world, as she is guilty of keeping Henry in her world.  We can’t just blame Martha; that would be wrong and an easy way out of the darkness that Polly Stenham refuses to let us take.  Nobody here is innocent.  Not even Alice, who let things be done to her instead of standing up and saying no.  Not Mia who knew what was going on and kept it a secret, partly because addict’s families always do that, and the children have to shoulder the weight of that secrecy as well as the absence of affection.  Not Hugh, because he deserted them and thereby made it all so much worse.  Not Izzy, who doesn’t seem to care for anyone except Izzy, who lives in a dream world where only what effects her matters (her UCAS chances are more important to her than Alice in a coma).  Not Henry because he makes the fatal mistake of thinking he can fix things, and inevitably makes everything so much worse.  And not Martha.  And not anyone else either.

Week 4: scenes 1-3

Sam always felt energised during Ian’s rehearsals…

Week 2 – Martha’s rollercoaster

Week 2, and I’m beginning to appreciate just how much Martha’s head is messed up…roughly three mood swings per page. Hmmm…

A useful discussion last evening about emotional thought and intellectual thought. This led me to consider that Martha is almost entirely ‘thinking’ emotionally by the time we meet her. Now I need to bring that into rehearsal!

Week 1

Directed by Ian White

Cast List

Alice          Hattie Eason

Izzy            India Rodgers

Mia            Jess D’Arcy

Martha      Marnie Doble

Henry        Sam Rich

Hugh         Pete Reay

Week 1

We are now fully cast, and had our first readthrough. It’s always exciting to see a naked theatre with a bare stage, and anticipate what magic we will work between now and opening night. It’s a gut-wrenching play to read, and I distinctly heard emotional snifflings by the end…

First rehearsal, scene 1

A long, intensive evening with everyone working hard.

This opening scene is so stark. Ian focussed on the power shifts between Izzy and Mia, and the need to create a physicality between the three girls.