Meerkat, darling meerkat

The Earnest rehearsals are now moving into act III and the culmination of this masterpiece of wit, wisdom and manners. Wilde’s intelligent script takes centre stage, as always, but the dense dialogue leads to its own issues with direction and acting: where should we stand, when should we sit, how should we move? As the focus changes between the different characters on stage it is easy to see why the actors are moved away from their comfort zones and can feel awkward in their positions; but, hey, that’s what rehearsals are for.

The budding relationship between Cecily and Gwendolyn and the deteriorating friendship between Jack and Algenon give rise to wonderful opportunities for choreographed set pieces and it is great fun to watch these routines develop through the rehearsal. When I say “choreographed”, however, the actual movements of the actors may not always immediately live up to expectations. It seems unlikely that either Matt or Luke will be receiving offers from Strictly in the near future…but, hey, that’s what rehearsals are for.

Also developing is the Victorian “hand hug” between the lovers – far different to the 21st century cuddle we are used to. Unfortunately, it does seem to involve an disturbingly accurate imitation of the meerkat lookout stance. Put this with the word “Daahling” (RP pronunciation of the word, a million miles away from Charlie Drake’s “‘ellow, my darlin’s” *) and it is almost guaranteed to lead to several of the cast corpsing at least 50% of the time….but, hey, this is what rehearsals are for.

Other highlights: Cecily loudly and slowly repeating Algenon’s lines to Lady Bracknell because she believes that the phrase, “I beg your pardon”, must mean that she is deaf; the discussion on how to deliver utterly um-P.C. lines (I’m fairly sure they were meant to be sarcastic in the context they’re used) and the cast corpsing during the read through because, yes, the play is that damned funny!

If you want to see the meerkat version of Oscar Wilde’s famous play then you need to book your tickets early.

* Yes, this reference does age the writer of this blog and any reader who recognises it!

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Pith and Pastries, Movement & Muffins!

A cold, wet evening outside the Quaker Meeting House tonight, so it was a pleasure to be inside in the warm with Gwendolen, Cecily, Algy and our director Di Fox as we rehearsed the next few pages of Earnest – moving from Gwendolen and Cecily’s initial meeting, to the arrival of Jack and Algy and the effect of their ‘Bunburying’ on all concerned. We see Jack and Algy forced to reveal their true identities and how Wilde’s characters react brilliantly to each twist and turn in the plot.

Seeing Jo and Sam’s exchange over tea and cake really helped to set the tone for mine and Matt’s entrance into this hilarious scene. That feeling of rivalvry one moment, then sisterly affection the next is being brilliantly realised by Jo and Sam.

But tonight’s action was not without complications in respect to blocking. Wilde’s stage directions are specific and once the ladies have made their exit of righteous indignation, Matt and I are left to discuss the effect of all this Bunburying but with a plate of teacakes and muffins that variously ended up either in the wrong hands or the wrong place. It seemed like we were being upstaged by pastries at one point, the action pausing as we tried to decide where and who should have the plate of teacakes and who the plate of muffins!

But being a relatively short scene and with just the four of us there, we were able to run it and run it and run it. Di’s style of direction is relaxed; she observes, tweaks, suggests small changes, and then it works. We flipped places, tried different positions to gain the maximum effect of Jack and Algy’s entrances on Gwendolen and Cecily. Jo spilt tea down her top; the muffins and teacakes confused Matt and I, and we all corpsed at various points but by the end of the night, it was there.

The characters are really coming to life. The looks, glances, reactions are all coming in now, and if we’re having this much fun now, what’s it going to be like come April?

Brilliant, that’s what it’s going to be like.

With muffins..

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Minding one’s “p”s and “q”s, philanthropy and filling up on imaginary cake

Tonight, we rehearsed the meeting of Cecily and Gwendolen.

In this comedy of manners, this is, perhaps, one of the wittiest scenes (and, consequently, in the whole cannon of English Literature); pitting, as it does, two young ladies with impeccable manners against each other in a show of unrelenting one-upmanship……or should that be one-upwomanship, which is far more vicious and cut throat.

Jo and Sam are building their characters superbly – both slightly self-obsessed and shallow young women (the characters, not the actors), but given very different characters in their performances. Indeed, Sam is definitely moving Gwendolen towards “every woman’s tragedy” territory as the scene develops.

Every scene seems to have that one word – you know the one: somehow the pronunciation eludes you on first reading and then the more you repeat it, the less meaning it has and the more troublesome it becomes. Tuesday’s word was “peculiarly”, tonight’s was “philanthropic”.

In the midst of this is Peter, our RP coach, reminding the principals of the principles of “correct” pronunciation: no guttural stops, pronounce your “t” on the ends of “that”, use long vowels, not short “a”s (at which point the un-named servant may jump up and ask, “’Ere, oo do yoo fink yer caalin’ short “a”s?!).

It’s a short scene, which gave us plenty of opportunity to rehearse over and over again, with the servants’ shenanigans becoming more polished and smooth, though I honestly couldn’t eat another slice of imaginary cake.

If you want context on the context of this blog, I’m afraid you will just have to buy tickets for this wonderful play.

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Dr Chasuble makes it up while Algernon picks his nose

This evening’s blog comes from our esteemed manservant and props manager Tim!

Tonight’s rehearsal took us into act II of Earnest, which introduces the characters based at Jack’s house in the country.

After a brief read through, the servants were taken into another room to begin putting together our silent routine involving setting out afternoon tea. This did involve a level of improvisation with various pieces of crockery and cutlery from the Friends Meeting House kitchen. I think it would be fair to say that as minor (and, in some cases, un-named) characters, we wholeheartedly agreed that we will not upstage our fellow actors with our shenanigans. By the way, if you believe that, I have some excellent bottles of snake oil that you may wish to purchase.

Back in the main room we have the characters starting to develop. Even at this stage, with scripts firmly clutched in hands for security, the comic moments are coming thick and fast. Some of them were even written in the script!

Terry’s Dr Chasuble is delightfully bumbling and his insistence on giving numerous alternative words to those actually written in the script, all perfectly timed and in character have the onlooking team in fits of laughter.

Of course, while this is going on, our dedicated stars are concentrating on preparing their own performance, oblivious to all around them, lost in the moment…

But before long the stage is filled and the interplay between the characters begins: the wonderfully self-obsessed girlyness of Jo’s Cecily; Luke’s marvellously pompous Jack matched against Matt’s mischievous Algernon; Jan’s switch from stern governess to outrageously flirtatious Miss Prism and Claire’s longsuffering Merriman.

Even at this stage the play is looking and sounding great, a tribute to a superbly witty script and dedication from the actors concerned.

The Importance of Being Earnest is at The Key Theatre April 11th – 14th 7:30pm nightly and a 2pm Matinee on Saturday 14th.

Book now – why not? We love forward planners!

The absurdity of flirting

You have two guest bloggers this week! Lucky you!

Jo Scott is playing Cecily:

“Thursday’s rehearsal saw the first interaction between the play’s second romantic couple, Algernon and Cecily. The absurd hilarity of upper class courting came out in full force with Algernon and Cecily trying to balance flirting with manners. ”

And Matt Robertson plays Algernon:

“This is my first time blogging and I’m sure it’ll show in the quality of my writing, but like most things I’ve done in Mask, you just give it a go and hope for the best, it hasn’t let me down so far!

On Thursday we did two scenes where Algernon first attempts to seduce/court Cecily, but finds she isn’t quite what he was expecting and the to and fro between them is wonderfully written by Oscar Wilde. This is the first time I’ve had scenes with Jo and it’s great to play opposite her, she’s full of ideas on how to make the scenes work, so between me, her and Di we got the broad-strokes of the scene down very quickly. I have a great feeling about this play, we have a wonderful cast and crew and I couldn’t be more grateful to be a part of it.”

The Importance of Being Earnest is at The Key Theatre April 11th – 14th 7:30pm nightly and a 2pm Matinee on Saturday 14th.

Book now – why not? We love forward planners!

Two entrances but no Algernon

Rehearsals have begun for The Importance of Being Earnest.  I will be stage managing for this one, so look out for lots of guest blogs amongst my boring technical blah!

Director Di and the cast have already worked through Act I, featuring cucumber sandwiches and that oh so famous “HANDBAG”.  The cast are really enjoying exploring Wilde’s characters.  At first sight you would think that they are caricatures, but we have been discovering that Wilde has written rounded and very flawed characters.   It is their flaws that makes them fun to play and brings out the comedy of the story.

One of our actors has been on holiday for the last two rehearsals – our Algernon has been missing but still very much present.  The two slices of the play we have rehearsed both ended with his entrances and some great lines to accompany them.  The first is the line from Cecily “I  have never met any really wicked person before.  I feel rather frightened. I am so afraid he will look just like every one else……. he does!”.  And in the second piece Jack exclaims “Good heavens” (seems appropriate – I think that every time I see Matt), so come back soon Algernon your stage awaits!

Just a short one to start things off but I will be pestering the actors for at least weekly, if not rehearsal-ly (yes it’s a word….now) blogs to keep you all up to date!

The Importance of Being Earnest is at The Key Theatre April 11th – 14th 7:30pm nightly and a 2pm Matinee on Saturday 14th.

Book now – why not? We love forward planners!

Importance image

And so it begins

I’ve just got in from dress rehearsal and I’m a bit speechless. We had a great run tonight, everything just seemed to come together.

Being in the space and feeling the cast all pulling together, combined with amazing costumes, plus lights and a killer sound design, it suddenly feels very very real.

Waiting to go on at the start I got actual goosebumps listening to what was happening on stage. What an incredible feeling!

Cat said at the end, it’s something about how David Greig has so cleverly juxtaposed action and sorrow, and greed and desperation, it feels like the audience will go on a real journey.

God we’ve worked hard these last few months. It feels like we’ve been rehearsing for a long time, and I suppose in some ways we have, but I have enjoyed every single second. I’m sitting here on my sofa now, completely drained after tonight’s rehearsal – and I suppose that’s how I’ll feel after every show – but I suppose that also means I’m working hard during the show, so that’s good.

I know you know this, but I love this character, so incredibly much, and right now I’m a bundle of emotions; I want to do Greig’s gorgeous writing justice, I want to play this the best I possibly can every single night and I want to enjoy it. I also, still, never want this to end. Now I need to learn to savour every moment and really get stuck in.

So here’s to tomorrow, opening night of Dunsinane at the Knights’ Chamber, Peterborough Cathedral. We’ve sold out for Saturday the 6th but there’s still a few tickets for 3rd, 4th, 5th, 11th, 12th and 13th so grab them now, while you still can! http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

Goodbye 2017, hello show!

We’ve finished rehearsing at the Quaker meeting house and the next time we all meet will be in the Knights’ Chamber on New Year’s Day!

Last night we spent some time polishing some little bits of the play – what luxury! Just a few hours in a room to work on a handful of scenes to make sure they were absolutely as brilliant as they could be. And in the end they were – I watched a couple of scenes done better than I have ever seen them last night!

So, we’re there. This is basically it. On Monday we install everything in the venue and then have our tech rehearsal, then on Tuesday it’s our dress run, and then Wednesday we open.

I’m so grateful that we’re performing for 7 shows – it feels like we’ll have time to actually enjoy it. Often when you do a 4 night run you’ve only just started to enjoy yourself by the time it ends.

There’s some stunning performances in this play – and not a single actor that isn’t working their socks off. I feel like everyone’s found a common love for the gorgeous writing and we all just want to do absolute justice to this wonderful piece of work.

I’m more in love with Gruach than ever- stopping for a few days over Xmas has given me time to mull over a few decisions about characterisation and getting back into the rehearsal room yesterday was really exciting. I’ve continued a very in depth dialogue with Alex throughout this project and I feel like every decision we’ve made has been thoughtful and deliberate. And the nice thing is we’re still questioning and talking about things. In my mind it keeps the play, and our characters, alive. The more we can consciously think about the meaning of what we’re saying, and query and discuss the decisions we make, the more human our portrayals become. It’s so refreshing to work with someone who’s so happy to immerse himself in the world with me. It’s been an utter pleasure to work like this and sometimes I wonder if I won’t miss our Siward and Gruach conversations more than anything else when this is all over.

So that’s it for 2017, what a brilliant few months Dunsinane has given us. I can hardly believe that we’re finally here. But here’s to 2018, and I’ll see you sometime between the 3rd and 6th or 11th and 13th of January.

Happy new year!

Tickets for Dunsinane are available at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk

A little cry

This is it. We’ve done our last run before Christmas! And it was pretty bloody amazing!

Tom is designing the sound and he came along today to play some noises at us. Oh my goodness, it doesn’t half add atmosphere!

We finished rehearsal today and I had a little cry. I can’t even explain it. The play is so tense and the emotions run so high, by the time we reach winter we’re all on a knife’s edge. Siward’s exhaustion feels so real (literally Alex is hardly ever offstage – he really is exhausted!) and I’m finally managing to challenge some pain and frustration into the scene. Today was electric! When it ends it just feels so raw it makes me have a little weep.

I think also, I’m so aware that we’re so close to the beginning of the end. I know that you all know how much I love this play but every time we do it I get more and more attached to it. I just don’t know how I’m going to cope not having rehearsals to look forward to.

I’ve never played a character like Gruach before. She has so much about her. Strength, anger, frustration, sex, power, intelligence, a calm front. It’s such a roller coaster to go through. But I adore it. Every single second.

Planning is well underway for the Iona pilgrimage which will help prolong the joy of inhabiting Gruach for a while longer. And Alex and I booked our Dunsinane tattoos today for February ; I can’t wait!

This is not a long post – I’m sorry, I’m too full of everything to know what to write.

I’m so excited about Christmas and desperate for some time off but I also can’t wait to get back into rehearsal on 28th and then tech and dress!

Come and see us. We’d be so grateful! You’ll have a cracking evening. I’m sure of it. We’re on from 3-6 and 11-13 January at the Knights’ Chamber, Peterborough Cathedral Precincts. You can book tickets at http://www.masktheatre.co.uk and seating is limited so make sure you book!

Merry Christmas everybody, have a lovely, restful, joy-filled break, book your tickets and be merry!

Love x

Feminists, pilgrimages, and unnecessary mince pies

Last night we achieved a full run in costume. And it felt amazing!

This is the first time I’ve come to appreciate just how exhausting this play actually is, and I can talk, I’m offstage for a whole season! Poor Alex always looks wiped by the end, which he assures me is useful for the final scene, but I suspect will drastically reduce the amount of time we spend in the pub post-show during performance week!

We’ve been rehearsing for a long time, and I’m reaching a point now where some of my lines are so well trodden that I’m having to be really careful not to simply reel them off without thinking. I realised halfway through a scene last night that I almost wasn’t concentrating on what I was actually saying, but merely repeating parrot-fashion, and that’s a dangerous road. I’m trying to keep my inflexion fresh and even change it up a little bit in every rehearsal just to prevent myself from getting stuck in a rut.

The rehearsal we spent working on scene transitions a few weeks ago has really paid off. The changes between scenes are gorgeously speedy and the action just flies.

Now that everyone’s got their lines (almost) firmly down you can see actors starting to have real fun with the emotional arc . The play is so beautifully crafted, one minute you’re watching a really intense political power-play scene and the next you’ve got a bunch of cold, horny soldiers complaining about the shit food in Scotland. But then that scene will take a curveball and end with a tragic twist, and it’s like being on a beautiful rollercoaster. This is what makes the play so tiring to perform I think but it’s absolutely wonderful to see everyone embracing the journey and enjoying where the scenes are allowing them to go.

We were in costume again last night, which is always a highlight. I’m still waiting on one dress but the one I have is GORGEOUS. I just spent my whole evening just sweeping in and out of scenes. Slightly afraid that my middle is only going to get bigger over Christmas though (who booked a play DIRECTLY after the eating season?!), so if you see me holding what looks like an unnecessary mince pie, knock it out of my hands please (just kidding , mince pies are never unnecessary).

We only have two rehearsals left before Christmas, then one between Christmas and new year, and then we’re tech, dress and show. I could not be more excited about performing, but at the same time I just don’t want this to end. I honestly can’t believe how lucky I am to have the opportunity to play this wonderful woman. To know that she was a real person as well, just really ramps up the whole experience.

Gruoch seems to be one of the first women to appear in Scottish Royal history, which makes me believe she must have been something pretty special. We don’t know an awful lot about her, we don’t know who her mother was, or quite when she died, but her father’s lineage is traceable (don’t get me started!). Before her, no women are mentioned in lists of Scottish nobles, but she’s there. Because the story that David Greig tells in Dunsinane is what we essentially believe to be true. When Macbeth was killed, Gruoch really did fight to install her son, Lulach, on the Scottish throne, she really did stand up to an English invading army, she really was belligerent, and strong, and determined. She feels like a massive feminist to me, and that makes me enormously happy.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but there’s been more planning recently; Summer and I are going on a Gruoch pilgrimage next year. We’ve planned a route that takes us on a week-long trip into Scotland to visit some of the places that Grouch would have lived in and visited, and ultimately we’ll end up on Iona where we believe she is buried. Partly, this trip is just to prolong the experience of playing such an incredible character for both of us, but it’s partly an opportunity to try and learn more about her and ourselves. We’re hoping to meet with some experts and curators on the way, and you never know, we might even blog about it as we go!

Anyway, that’s enough emotional rambling from me for one morning. I’m told that tickets are selling well, so if you’re planning to come, particularly on a Friday or Saturday, I should get booking 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