Monday, 9 March 2015

After the bulldozer

I can't believe we've done it. After all those hours rehearsing, painting, thinking, worrying... all those nights waking up and not getting back to sleep. It's all done. And done very well, I think. The best thing we've ever done at Best.
The arrival of the bulldozer
The feedback from the audiences was something very different to the usual. No platitudes, no gushing, but real enthusiasm, passion and amazement. The cast managed to get across just how committed they were to telling this story and blew the theatre apart. It was infectious.

For my part, I watched them perform without my usual nervous churning - I knew they'd deliver.

So what made all of this happen? Is it a model that can be replicated? There were so many elements it's hard to say...

  • As any actor will tell you "It's the text, darling, the text!" And here we had a story that seemed to grow the more you read it. No big speeches, no real polemics. Just a very good story and one that touched on themes and attitudes that are totally relevant today for the cast and audience alike. Elinor Cook writes with such a light touch it was a pleasure to find the detail. She gave us the room to create the world in which this story could exist. Without this story to inspire us, everything else below would have been entirely moot
  • We had a compelling vision - that this story could be a chilling and exciting adventure and that is what we set out to deliver. And from the feedback from audience and National Theatre assessor alike, we achieved it.
  • We had a loved shared icon - the sunflower to rally us and to bring all the elements together
  • We had a cast that are close as friends and totally supportive of each other (and of me). Real talent matched with application and focus. You can't ask for more than that.
  • Bringing in a lighting enthusiast at an early stage meant that he was able to get to know the play as well as the cast - his designs reflected that and the (small) investments we made in kit were crucial
  • Asking our student DJ to compose and mix/play live was a huge gamble but was a thrilling and unique approach. The first time he played over the rehearsals the mood of the piece suddenly leapt levels. And there it stayed.
  • Asking one of the group to co-direct was perhaps the most difficult decision to make, but in the end, the most rewarding. She was able to deliver notes in a way that was so much easier to receive and the cast accepted her insights with alacrity
  • Putting time ( a lot of time) into designing and painting the set lifted the mise en scene significantly
  • I think we achieved some real 'coups de theatre' - the use of the scrim to make the girls appear/disappear, the sudden appearance of Adelaide centre stage into a scene, the bulldozer - these were risky but (I think) they all worked, and worked well
The scrim
So bearing in mind all of the above - no, it's probably not replicable, because only one of those elements had to fail to significantly alter the outcome. Who knows whether we'll find a text again that will inspire us as much as this one did? That was the basis of all of this.

But the confidence to take more risks is there for next time, and we do have a group of actors that I would work with again in a shot. I miss them already (even if I am their 'Principal') but it's clear there progress with their usual coach, Lisa, has been remarkable and they are in very safe (if challenging) hands.

So now we await the notes from our assessor. He was very friendly with the cast who warmed to him immediately. It will be so good to get some objective notes too - I've been so close to this I can't see the wood for the sunflowers!

Next - a few weeks off before we go to Northampton. I can't wait.