A very chilly run through and a real falcon

Yesterday we achieved our first full run of the whole play – hurrah! We rehearsed in a different venue to our usual lovely Meeting House, and my word was it cold? Yes, yes it was. Originally it had been down as a costume run but this was changed last minute. This ended up being a huge blessing – the room was so chilly that Alex and I were going to put down our collective feet and refuse to strip off for the apres nookie scene!

The run went really well. During the previous rehearsal I had been really annoyed at myself; I hadn’t felt ‘in it’ at all, and our run of the Winter scene had just felt all wrong. It was made doubly annoying by the fact that Alex was buzzing off the back of Autumn and had felt it went brilliantly. I was beginning to worry that I’d lost momentum, but after yesterday I think I’ve discovered that my issue was simply coming in cold. Winter is a highly emotional scene which deals with all sorts of betrayal and latent anger, but because Gruach is controlled and powerful, she doesn’t break and yell at Siward. The thing I struggle with most is controlling the massive desire to let the anger out and just scream at Alex! I found yesterday that after Summer, I have the whole of Autumn to sit and stew, and this gives me perfect opportunity to channel my emotions into something more manageable for Winter. Yesterday, the scene felt amazing!

It’s really wonderful to see everything coming together as it is. After all our hard work on transitions last week we now have some really smooth scene changeovers and everyone’s characters are really solid. It’s also very obvious how proud everyone is of this piece (or is that just me?!). It’s a really challenging piece of theatre – it’s very wordy and there’s a lot of politics involved, but I feel like everyone has risen to this challenge so wonderfully. We’ve definitely created a beautiful, entertaining, clever, and thought-provoking show, and I can’t wait to share it with you all.

We’re winding down to Christmas now which is scary because it means we’re even closer to the end! Tonight we’re rehearsing spring and summer, then runs on Thursday, Sunday and Monday. Then we’re off til the 28t then back on the 1st for a tech! So close!

Oh also, I saw a Falcon the other day and got very excited. Here it is, looking all falcon-y. Like a falcon.

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

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Nobody puts Harvey in the corner

Yesterday we rehearsed transitions. Those tricky little bits in between the scenes can really make or a break play like this. If you let you the action die for a second the momentum is lost and that can kill a scene instantly. The trick is run scenes seamlessly together so that the next one starts only a beat after the previous finishes.

It’s something that we as a company have learnt from Shakespeare in the park. In unusual spaces it seems even more important to keep the action going to prevent distraction within the audience. Because Shakespeare in the park is always performed in thrust we have the option of six exits and entrances, meaning it’s easier to overlap the starts and ends of scenes. Dunsinane is being performed in traverse (audience on two sides) and we have four entrances to play with. The issue in our venue is choreographing where you last exited versus where you’re coming on now. If you exit on one side and re-enter on the other, logistically you have to navigate your way down three flights of stairs, peg it across the visitor centre, run up three flights of stairs on the other side and appear on stage unflustered and non-sweaty. I suppose on the plus side, we’ll all be really fit come mid January!

Transitions sorted we moved onto some of nitty gritty stuff today including the rather brutal hen girl scene, some of the funny soldier sections and the seminal court scene. We’re reaching that really exciting point where everyone can start thinking about the deeper implications of some of the plot points and flesh out their characters accordingly.

The court scene was gorgeous today. Everyone really started to examine how their individual characters felt about the news that they were hearing and it made for some great tension and atmosphere.

We rehearsed the end of the court scene too where there’s a lovely spiky bit of dialogue between Siward and Gruach which runs into a section between Gruach and the boy soldier. After their little conversation the boy soldier is meant to run into the hall to tell Siward that Gruach is ready. At the same time Gruach and Malcolm are eyeballing each other and this leads into what is now affectionately termed the ‘sexy circle’ (all will become clear when you see the show). So, there’s me and Matt trying our hardest to pull off this angry/sexy/competitive/power struggle moment and suddenly out of nowhere Harvey pegs it across the stage between us to get to his position. Hilarious. Someone pipes up that he needn’t cross the stage at all and should just stay next to Siward. At which point Emma shouts ‘Nobody puts Harvey in the corner’. Well we did, good and proper.

So all in all, a good fun couple of rehearsals. On Thursday we run Autumn and winter together which I’m really excited about and then Sunday is our first full run!

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Double trouble

I wasn’t called to rehearsals this week (I’m actually offstage for some of this play – I know! The cheek of it!), so tonight you have not one, but two guest bloggers!

First up, Alex:

Sacks mean death

Autumn feels darker than the rest of the play, and I reckon it’s because it goes to all the grim places that come with occupying a foreign land. The writing doesn’t does shy away from some of the more brutal realities, but luckily, neither does the cast.

Having rehearsed the first half of autumn on Monday, we picked it up again from page 119 and what is one of my favourite scenes in the play. Siward and Macduff share a quiet moment of contemplation, where the former is struggling with his mission in Scotland, and ultimately, the things he must do in order to achieve that mission. More than that, Macduff is fleshed out as a character a little more in this scene and Kevin does a marvellous job of bringing him to life and it’s totally engrossing.

Now, all this brooding and middle ages bromance provides a much needed reprieve from what comes before; no spoilers obviously, but it is bloody mental! However, what comes after is no less horrific, and if it as difficult and shocking to watch as it is to actually perform then we are in business; it’s one hell of a brutal plot point which sets us up nicely for the winter showdown with Gruach. Also, the use of sacks to represent death is simple and ingenious; it has a touch of Banquo about it so keep an eye out.

I realised last night that every scene between Malcom and Siward is an argument, or soon descends into one, and autumn is no exception. Matt’s portrayal of the hedonistic, manipulative and dastardly Scottish King is a real highlight and we shouldn’t enjoy tearing strips off each other as much as we do…but it’s so fun!

The usual caveats, lines are coming along nicely and it can be frustrating when your mind blanks, especially when a scene is in mid flow, but it’s all part of the process and everyone chips in with support and ideas.

Siward is very single minded, and it’s with this stoicism that he digs himself a hole, and his way of escaping is to keep digging. I find I can relate to that more than I should do, but it gives you food for thought. When does a good man stop being a good man and is it possible for him to be redeemed? Heavy stuff. If you want to know the answer to that and other moral quandaries come and see the show!

And now, Tim:

The end of Autumn; My dad told me how to die!

Thursday 30th November – less than 5 weeks to go.

So tonight we had a small, but elite section of the cast to run the end of Autumn; and what an emotional journey we had. The dynamics of the relationships between characters are now becoming focused as lines are flowing more naturally and the actors are able to concentrate on acting.

Gruach’s ladies were in fine voice – the lament is hauntingly beautiful: Di, Jess and Becky’s harmonies were spot on, taking us into Macduff and Siward’s most emotionally charged scene. Macduff’s explanation of how war changes a country is both exquisitely lyrical and picturesque, making its conclusion all the more heart wrenching. Siward is taken to the edge of his soldierly identity and then wrenched back into the harsh reality of his situation. Alex and Kevin performed with a stillness and authority that matched the intensity of the scene.

Next up was the “confession”, which brings with it another death (no spoilers!). As with all of the violent scenes we walked through it carefully, but Jess brought a whole new level of intensity to the scene and its impact on the other actors was immediately apparent – it isn’t often that we are struck to silence by a scene, but for a few moments tonight this happened. I can’t wait to see the reaction of an audience to this scene, which may now be my favourite of the whole play (at least until the next rehearsal!). We have also had a chance to see how our ideas about dealing dead bodies work within a scene and  I think it would be safe to saty that we are quietly pleased with the result.

Autumn is topped with the final confrontation between Malcolm and Siward; Matt’s skin-crawling portrayal of the king wonderfully setting off Alex’s straight talking Siward to take us into Winter.

Not a lot of laughs taking us toward the end of Dunsinane: thank god for the moments of levity among the cast. Harvey was determined to join in the lament, at one point claiming, “I am Gruach’s woman!”; Matt was uncharacteristically struggling for the right words when it came  to explain what the term “swinging” means (though I’m sure Malcolm could have found a way to describe it)….and what should your reaction be when the answer to the question, “Have you died onstage before?” is, “No, but my dad told me how to do it”.

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Summer – putting things together

Today we rehearsed summer. It was great to get everyone in the room and start running scenes together.

This is the section in which Gruach has most of her scenes and goes on her biggest journey. She starts off resentful, angry and demanding, then by the middle she’s worked out a different way to get what she wants. At the end of the section her true power is revealed and we see just how bad an idea it is to make Scottish queen angry!

Today was really challenging. I’ve reached that point now where I know my lines so well that I need to be careful not to rocket through them. We ran what we call the ‘I am not comfortable’ scene and the first time we did it, it was pretty bad. Alex and I weren’t thinking carefully enough about what we were saying, we were just ploughing through the lines. The joy of being off book is that you really get to start acting and playing with the text that you know so well. The downside is that, if you don’t concentrate you just end up reciting lines instead of doing any actual acting.

It was good, in a way, that we messed up – I needed to be reminded to keep focussing and concentrating.

We ran my favourite scene, Babies, twice, which was a joy. Gruach’s intention in this scene is fascinating. It’s the first time we see her realise the potential power her sexuality can bring. She’s not shy and she’s not afraid to play her power, she knows men, and she can read Siward. She’s clever and shrewd and takes every opportunity she can to win him over in this scene. I have to work really hard here. It’s important that Siward doesn’t cave too soon but he has got to feel temptation quite quickly, so I do have to turn it on pretty fast.

Summer ends with the Parliament scene and some dancing. Again, nightmare – but we made some progress today. I’ve really been struggling to get the dancing right, the rhythm is completely evading me, but today we managed a cycle without too many mistakes.

The more I watch this play the more I love it. We ran a scene today that I’d not seen before between Ryan and Tim and it was glorious. So clever, so funny, and completely joyous to watch.

Sundays have become Dunsinane days; Alex usually comes over in the morning to run lines and then we rehearse from 2-5. It’s so completely selfishly brilliant to immerse myself in the play for so many hours in one day. I’ve honestly found myself mid-week counting down to Sunday!

We’ve got about 5 1/2 weeks left til we open. I can’t believe it can be that close and I’m trying not to feel sad, because I don’t ever want it to end. But in equal measure it’s so exciting that we’re getting nearer and things are really coming together.

I have one post show event to look forward to; a pilgrimage to Iona with the gorgeous Summer Mooed (last seen as Lady Macbeth this July just gone – you see what we’re doing there? Two Lady M’s together!). We have some exciting plans to finalise and hopefully we’ll go up next year.

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Winter – the final scene

Last night we rehearsed the final scene: winter. Every time we rehearse I think ‘THIS is my favourite scene!’ – they’re all just so beautifully written! But winter is something a bit special. We have staged it before but last night was the first time off book and it really came alive.

The second time we ran it through and finished I nearly cried after seeing Cat’s face. She was so pleased and moved, her face was just one enormous smile! It’s a tough one to play because it’s actually a really short scene but goes through so many emotions.

Gruach and Siward haven’t seen each other for a very long time and he turns up, searching for her. I’m really starting to relate to this woman at this point. We all know that feeling, I think, when you’re suddenly confronted with an old flame and have to brave-face it. I know I’ve experienced that pit-of-the-stomach stab when you see someone you used to have feelings for. Maybe sometimes the feelings haven’t completely gone away, but have been mixed in with real resentment and anger.

I’m not usually one for the ‘emotion memory’ method but I’m managing to access a really specific memory for this scene. It’s sort of heartbreaking to go through but at the same time gives me some real emotion to work with.

By the time we’d finished last night we were all absolutely exhausted. As we congratulated ourselves on getting through it, it suddenly dawned on us that we’re going to have to perform this complex scene at the END of every show! Let’s hope the adrenalin is running!

Whenever I’m on stage I have my little posse of ladies with me, which is gorgeous because they sing so bloody beautifully. And in this scene they’re there as well. Last night Di said to me that it’s a privilege to be in the scene because it’s so electric! That meant an awful lot, I’m so glad that I’m not the only one who is so stupidly in love with this show.

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Autumn, nookie and dancing

We’ve had a busy few days!

On Sunday, we rehearsed Autumn. This play is split into four seasons, starting in spring when the English army arrive in Dunsinane. Autumn is a very troubling season for Siward; Scotland is completely divided, his plans have gone seriously awry and he’s falling out with the court and the King.

On top of this the soldiers are restless and there’s more dying than anyone is capable of handling. It’s an interesting section as it’s where we really start to see the mental strain of the young soldiers in a tactical, bitter war. Dunsinane was written as a portrait to Afghanistan and this season really examines the mentality of an army who have been stuck in a country for months and months but haven’t achieved anything. There’s only been one big battle and the rest is really just tactical warfare, picking off soldiers, snipers, lots of creeping around in dark and no hurrahs. And it’s taking its toll.

In this section we also meet the Hen Girl, played by the delectable Hannah. Another strong woman in a play full of male characters. I’m not going to tell you much about her because I don’t want to give anything away but suffice to say, it’s a breathtaking bit! On a side note, I love watching Hannah work. Her intensity in this part is bloody wonderful, it a joy to watch her throw herself into the scene completely. She’s not shy, there’s no holding back and I envy so much her ability to get up on stage and just produce a performance that’s so unabashed.

And then today we rehearsed the morning after the night before, or apres nookie as it it now commonly being referred to. I won’t give the game away but I’m sure you’ve seen enough photos from the last blog to guess who gets down with who! It’s a quick little scene with a lot of emotion in it. Today’s the first time we’ve done it off book and it’s great to finally play with each other onstage more, now that we know the lines.

After that everyone piles in for a massive courtroom scene. Which is always noisy. But lots of fun! It’s the scene that ends the first half and it’s a bit of a cliffhanger. It features everything from horrible tension, double crossing and huge dollops of sarcasm, to singing, dancing, and ultimately treachery. Something for all the family.

As we start these runs of sections, I can feel Gruach coming together in my mind. Her story seems clearer to me than ever at the moment. That feeling of being completely and utterly betrayed, coupled with sheer anger at Malcolm for his insolence and arrogance. I can understand her desire for Siward, driven by a need to hold power in her own country. And I can feel her vulnerability as well. That sense of being, essentially, completely alone and trying desperately to cling onto some dignity. To use the one power that she has read it available; her sexuality. She’s complex, and beautiful, and I never want to stop playing her.

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

The Baby Eating scene

Believe me when I say, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds.

This scene is probably my favourite one in the whole play. It showcases an incredible range of emotion, a beautiful display of power tactics and some unexpected humour, all in one gorgeously crafted ten minutes.

It’s called the baby eating scene because it opens with the boy soldier asking Gruach: ‘Is it true that you eat babies?’ What an incredible (in the truest sense of the word) rumour. How scared would you be, as an impressionable young soldier who has been told to stand guard over a scary witch-like lady? You’d believe anything anyone told you in a strange, unfamiliar land. And I think that’s why the crux of this scene is so brilliant. Because it’s all about these people; Gruach and Siward, adjusting to this new situation and having to decide what they want to believe and what’s just a rumour.

Can we all just appreciate for a second exactly how angry Di is in this photo please?

And then we’ll readjust the balance by enjoying this dancing moment!

Gruach is mysterious to Siward – he really doesn’t understand her at first. He thinks he can win her over by force, and in this scene we see that Lady M streak coming through in her. She uses her sexuality to conquer him and stop his tirade of anger. This means, of course, that Alex and I spend half the scene yelling at each other and the other half fawning over each other. Quite a mix of emotions. And that’s why it’s my favourite – because it’s a real challenge.

There’s so much to think about in this play. Alex and I have been having some really illuminating conversations about our characters and their journeys (sounds wanky I know, sorry). But the most interesting thing for me is the roots in history. So, Siward and Gruach were real people. Gruach (or Gruoch) really did marry the ‘tyrant’ MacBethad after he killed her first husband, and Siward really was sent to Scotland to command the English army and take the throne for Malcolm. Alex even recently discovered that Siward has some connections to Peterborough and the land that the cathedral is built on via his wife. It’s fascinating stuff and it really feels so important to be telling a story that is based on something so viscerally real.

Just to balance out the serious tone of this blog, here’s a picture of us all corpsing enormously:

Speaking of visceral, we also rehearsed the soldiers scene where Tom dies tonight. It’s a really beautiful and really sad scene, which just highlights the horrors of war and the brutality, and the way that it affects the minds of the young soldiers.

It should be noted that this evening Ryan was played by a sack in a hoodie but we have the greatest confidence that his performance will be far less floppy!

I’ve blah’ed enough for this evening. Don’t forget tickets are on sale now!

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

I’m going to hug you until it’s not weird

And other stories.

This is your bumper blog. It begins with Sunday’s rehearsal, where we ran a huge chunk of the beginning. In one section Alex has to hug Harvey, and Harvey, being prone to giggling fits wasn’t taking it well. So Alex started a hug and didn’t stop, until it wasn’t weird anymore.

Personally I’m not convinced by the strategy. Harvey still doesn’t look impressed.

We went on after that to recap the first scene, which leads into the fight and this brought up the very difficult problem of how to remove a body from the stage. It’s a really tough dilemma because obviously the actor is alive, but needs to remain as floppy as possible while supporting as much of their own weight as they can, without being obvious about it. Tricky.

See?

We kept on powering through and it was brilliant to start to understand how things fit together. There’s some beautiful and gorgeous emotional moments in this play, and this photo below is one of the more stunningly subtle ones from Siward

Transitions are already becoming nicely speedy and it feels so good to get to a point where you can start to follow a through line. I’m really enjoying having the time to spend on Gruach’s journey. Now I know this sounds a bit trite, but it’s really useful to start doing scenes in chronological order at this stage so you can easily trace the emotional journey. Picking up a scene from halfway through and reading cold is fine, but if you’ve got context it helps you really bolster the emotion.

Every time I rehearse a scene I say ‘I love this scene, this is my favourite scene’. And I do love all of them, but my absolute favourite is the scene we’ve affectionate dubbed Babies – the one where Gruach convinces the boy soldier that she’s a witch who eats babies. We ran that first thing tonight as we’re doing a section of it on Wednesday #LoveTheatreDay at the Broadway. (Come down and check it out!) It went very well and I can feel it starting to work now.

Jonni I was in tonight with his wonderful Egham. His character brings another wonderful, comedic element to the play, which is just brilliant,

Then we ran into a couple of other crackers, including one scene which I am enjoying immeasurably, as all I seem to be bake do is make Harvey laugh with my face. God knows why…..

Finally we finished up with a gorgeous Malcolm, Siward and Donald scene (yay Laura!) and then it was home time.

Cat seems happy, I’m happy, Eunice said she could hear everybody, so I think we’re onto a winner! Here we all are…being happy:

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Getting your wood together 

This evening was the first ‘books down’ rehearsal. It’s always a stressful experience, giving up your script and suddenly having to find something to do with your hands, and tonight was no exception.

This is how Matt dealt with the whole situation:

Look at that face. Although in fairness it’s a darn sight better than the way Phil took it: 

Alright I’m being horribly unfair (in Phil’s case) – everyone was really on it tonight and although first time  books down is notoriously a horrible rehearsal, tonight went really well.

We started at the top, running the scene where the army becomes a wood. Hannah was very proud of her ‘tree-ing’: 

And then we moved on to a rather complicated bit where Harvey’s character gets forestalled by Macduff. And we had our first minor injury – only a cufflink to the arm but Harvey’s scream was enough to suggest it was something far worse. 


After some TLC and the threatened application of a Ben Ten plaster we were good to carry on. There were some hysterics (to be fair he does have an arrow in his arm): 

There were also some serious moments: 

But most importantly there were some very well behaved soldiers (I feel like Rich Baker would have been so proud): 

And a bloody brillant wood: 

Essentially, it’s all coming together, and prett quickly too! We’re starting Sunday rehearsals this weekend which is such a brilliant feeling. Having that extra bit of time just to run things together is so valuable and useful and it’s on of my favourite moments in the whole process.

That’s enough slushing for tonight. It’s time for bed.

Peterborough Mask Theatre will be performing Dunsinane in the Knights’ Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral from 3-6 January and 11-13 January 2018, you can get your tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Body building and the final scene 

There are no steroids in Dunsinane. It’s not that kind of body building. Yesterday we spent the day at Cat’s farm creating dead bodies, cows and  heads for some of the more grisly scenes. There was paper mache and so much pva glue!

Here are our heads hanging out to dry. It should be said the drying process took a lot longer than originally anticipated – in fac of them are probably still soggy now!
One of our dead soldier heads even features a lovely scene from All Wrapped up in Westwood – hi Jan! 

There were also some mannequin body parts, ably transported here by Alex and Ryan:


And of course, there was food, including self saucing pudding, which is too long a joke to explain:

It was a really successful day. We made tons of stuff and it all looks just like we hoped it would so far! Big thanks must be extended here to all the cast and crew that came along to help and all the other Maskies that pitched in! Fabulous to see some lovely faces. 

Tonight we staged the final scene. And it’s electric! It was everything I hoped it would be and maybe even a little bit more. Some gorgeous tension, lots of lovely opportunities for Gruach to play with Siward and really enjoy his pain. When we get it right I really feel like it’s going to be a breathless ending. 

I love this play. I mean I’m guessing you’ve got the gist of of that already but I really do. Tonight the ladies sang for the first time and it was just beautiful. I’ve also been lucky enough to hear some of the first bits of sound design and it’s going to be chilling and gorgeous and atmospheric and just wonderful.

On Wednesday 15th were performing at #LoveTheatreDay at the Broadway Theatre in Peterborough. We’ll be doing a tiny of bit of what is probably my favourite scene sometime around 7:30 in the evening. You should come, I think you’ll love it!

Here’s a picture of our faces looking happy after a successful day yesterday!


Peterborough Mask Theatre will perform Dunsinane in the Knight’s Chamber at Peterborough Cathedral, from 3-6 and 11-13 January 2018. Tickets available soon!