Thursday, 23 September 2010

Not Long Now

It's Thursday of tech week, and this is really the first chance I've had to sit down and write anything. When the show's as busy as ours, with such rich soundscapes and visual effects, the technical rehearsals take some time. And we're taking advantage of this to repeatedly run sections of the action in costume and usually at full performance pitch, so it's pretty draining.
It's a delight to see others' performances taking on lovely, vibrant colour though, as they do the fine brushwork on their characters. Sophie's characterisation of Madeleine is an ethereal, gorgeous creature, exactly the "romantic moving picture" designed to capture Roger that Ballard talks about early on. And when contrasted with the earthy Renee of Act II, the truth of their twin identity and motivations should keep the audience on tenterhooks until the very final moments. Pete's character was in pretty fantastic shape in week 1, but it's continued to develop and flesh out beautifully. I've also never seen such focus on stage when others are working - it's a masterclass in supportive acting, and I rely on him enormously.
Dan's ability to create a washerwoman by wearing a towel, or a dopey rural shopkeeper who steers perilously close to "Two Soups" territory (and is all the more hilarious for it) is endlessly creative. The only danger is the likely corpsing of the rest of us, but hey. That's our problem.
Today we'll finish teching, do a dress rehearsal and then another for a small invited audience of kind and generous guests. And tomorrow we pack the van for the first time...
Oh, and here's our fab set, freshly painted. Let's hope it all goes in.
Rear views L-R - Jake (Lighting/Visuals), Colin (SM), Karen (Director), Ivan (MD)

Friday, 17 September 2010

That Was The Week That Went...Quickly

Ilmo visits again this morning with his therapist partner Hazel, and this coincides with us running the last quarter of the play.This means that the first thing they see is the illustrative movement for Roger/Renee's physical relationship. It's a wee bit toe-curling in front of people in the psychoanalytic dodge.
The rest of the act bowls along reasonably well, though, and they're very insightful during notes afterwards and entertained enough to watch Act I too, which they clearly enjoy. Their practical notes about the hypnotism are, as expected, incredibly useful and we incorporate them into the first full-blown run of the show this afternoon.
During this I get a true handle on how tiring it's likely to be. It doesn't help that we've already run most of it today before we start, and I'm a bit fuzzy during the final couple of scenes - probably because there's a lot of notes from Karen and Heather to take in; Sophia says she feels the same. We overrun grotesquely to finish just as Laura, the designer, and her team start painting the set.
We open a week tomorrow. Sobering thought to go to the pub with.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

The Medium of Dance an area where I've never been truly happy - I don't so much dance as check all my limbs are in working order (as someone once observed of Ricky Martin).
The presence of a great choreographer will ease the troubled birth of movement even for me, though, and Heather Douglas has been wafted in from dance paradise to fill this role. Now, if you're over 30 you probably walked into a lamppost whilst gawping at a photo of Heather in the original cast of "Chicago" in the West End. I think I still have a bruise from that.
On the page there's not much to keep Heather busy, but on its feet there's plenty. We spend a hefty chunk of today getting the (quite dangerous) leap into the Seine right, looking at the vertigo moments and working the Madeleine death, working on a movement montage illustrating World War II and cracking the vexing issue of how to demonstrate the nature of Roger and Renee's relationship without actually demonstrating it, if you follow me. During this process there are casualties: feet - trodden on; fingers - trapped in moving parts of the set; the bed - clearly not designed for two people to descend on together at speed. Back to the drawing board, IKEA!

Expert Witness

When I did "Abigail's Party" I remember there was a big conflab about whether we should employ 1970's CPR or contemporary CPR for maximum realism. With the hypnosis in "Vertigo" we have a similar dilemma about hypnotic technique, so we were very interested in what Ilmo, an experimental psychologist working at the University, would have to say about it.
It's rare that the input of experts changes the entire landscape of your understanding of the show, but Ilmo's insights were global, and relevant to everyone. The most dramatic for me was a possible hypnosis echo in Roger's treatment of Renee, which gave me goose-pimples, but his observations about Renee's possible desire to purge herself of both her guilt and her terrible life experiences added a really strong motivation to the complicity she shows in allowing herself to be groomed as Madeleine.

Poor old Roger. Doesn't stand a chance really....

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Under Fire

We're very much at the "build it up, smash it down, recycle it" stage of rehearsing, where stuff which seems to be polished and ready gets scrutinised in the light of changes elsewhere and comes up wanting. Sometimes this results in favourite moments being lost, more often it's awkward or eggy moments that get ironed out. The Roger/Renee relationship came under some heavy artillery today. Tempting though it is to apply a thick veneer of romanticism, the reality of people damaged by war, tragedy, loss and the grim fight for survival means a stripping back, a whittling away to reveal the truth of the liaison.
Dan auditions for Little Britain whilst I fail to keep a straight face...

Elsewhere there's more wonderful work going on. Dan's facility to make character snapshots colourful and memorable is extraordinary - sometimes with quite unprepossessing material. And if all else fails - which I doubt - he has a long career as a pantomime dame in front of him.
Pete's psychiatrist, Ballard, is a gentle and sympathetic portrayal, qualities of which there is very little on the page, but which detracts not at all from the showman, the circus barker almost, which forms the bulk of his part.
Pete stands ready to catch him should he fall. Or over-act.

I mean, acting is a serious business and all that, but today Karen, Heather, and I were all helpless at one of Dan's imaginings, and as Karen pointed out, it will need a bit of comedy.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

No Pun Intended

I've just found this quote about Roger that I jotted down ages ago - "One of those people who hate mediocrity without being able to scale the heights". Ha ha!

Friday, 10 September 2010


Today, after reworking the scenes with Roger and Gevigne, we go throught the rest of Act I - which we haven't really looked at for a week. And a very foreign country it feels, too. Some of it has been visited briefly with Heather, our choreographer - for example, she and Karen have reworked the climax where characters climb to the top of a church tower and the rescue from the Seine - but chunks of it haven't been touched because we've been busy with Act II. Then we run Act I after lunch.
I'm disappointed with what I do in this. Even in the scenes with Dan as Gevigne, which were shaped and polished this morning, I seem leaden and awkward. And the joie de vivre we worked so hard at getting into the part yesterday seems to have all but evaporated.
There's a lot of pressure to move seamlessly between scenes which doesn't help; just remembering what comes next is a Sisyphean effort at times but it's the looseness of the characterisation which bugs me most. There are moments which feel great - my character's near-stalking of Madeleine goes well, and our taxi scenes feel good. But overall it's a bit of a C-minus. Must Do Better, and See Me After Class.
But we're all off book, there are no serious pauses and only a couple of dropped lines after nine days' rehearsal. Maybe that's why we get sent home early - on condition we do our homework!

Post in Haste

God - the days are just tearing by. Which is why I find myself sitting at the kitchen table writing a post at midnight whilst lovely partner and MiniDineens are in the land of nod. My call's at 9.30am so this will have to be quick.
Spent a lot of time with my trousers round my ankles today, trying to perfect the art of clumsily dressing under a towel. I manage to do this with adequate clumsiness on a daily basis - heaven only knows why it's so difficult in rehearsal. The speed of the action in this show is just becoming apparent, and Dan (Gratin) and and Pete (Ballard) now resemble obsessive-compulsive furniture movers, as they create the scenes seamlessly whilst Sophia (Madeleine) and I drift about in them, occasionally jumping into taxis made of armchairs or strolling behind trees made of actors. All this and they also have huge speeches and many, many characters. Yikes.
One creative dude I haven't mentioned is Ivan Stott, who's our MD and who spends his day watching us intently (even when we're messing around) and furiously tapping away at some complicated electronics. Every now and then, he'll stop everything and fill the hall with some haunting melody which instantly adds colour and depth and sometimes foreboding to the scene you are playing. I've never seen this approach before, and it's so present, so beautifully tailored to the developing of the show that the end product will be astonishing.
Jo, the marketing guru, took some rehearsal shots today, so Karen drifted onto stage rather more than she normally would(!) and we all struck some creative and thoughtful poses. At least I hope so - some of my lines are so elusive that my face probably looks like a poster for "The Agony and the Ecstasy".
Up at the coal-face again first thing - Gevigne/Roger scenes. Speak soon.    

Friday, 3 September 2010

Love Is Where You Find It

We had rather a disjointed day. An hour's work on blocking this morning followed by a visit by the author, Jonathan Holloway, who heard a read-through (with minor changes) before lunch. Then costume fittings for most of us including a marathon for Sophia of about six separate outfits. Then an hour or so of blocking before end-of-day.
Very interesting talk with Jonathan after lunch. He has various firm convictions about the story which are based on close work on the novel - an example being that Renee never has any feelings for Roger save guilt and his usefulness as a financial support. This was originally my instinct also, although both Karen and Sophia argue that there are moments in the script which suggest that Roger and Renee are codependent, and there is definitely something in that. They are both damaged but they've survived, and whilst their relationship doesn't contain anything I would call love, there are probably many different ways of expressing and recognising love that don't conform to any romantic Hollywood notion. It's all Roger/Madeleine/Renee on Monday, so I'll take my Freud along. Or maybe my Charcot...

Thursday, 2 September 2010

And Then There Were Four

After a day and a half of the atmosphere on stage being soggy with testosterone, we finally get to Madeleine's first speaking entrance. This coincides with the off-stage dunking in the Seine I mentioned a few days ago, and the vexed question of her subsequent state of undress has been very sensitively handled. Downstage side of the hospital screen, however, there is nowhere to hide, and poor old Roger has to make do with a towel like a flannel postage stamp. I sincerely hope this is a temporary situation - it's meant to be Vertigo, not Nausea.
Our convention that the psychotic episodes are played out using only the props and costumes in the ward doesn't apply to the imaginary Madeleine, and consequently Laura, our designer, has a sheaf of costume designs for her. The wall in the Green Room looks like a 1940's edition of "Vogue" - with a very small men's section!