September 14th

The recent rehearsal was confined to the first two parts of what we regard as the first Act, which consists of an introductory scene and the first and second scenes proper of the play. We are now all more or less off book — some rather less than more and some rather more than less: I’m more or less in the middle somewhere, I more or less think.

Being off book means that we can pay more attention to quick changes within scenes, and transitions between scenes (and these transitions are very important in this play). It also means that we can think more readily about where characters are in scenes, and about where characters move in relation to one another within scenes.

There is no director for this play: we are all trying hard to be more or less democratic (a bit difficult for me, at least) and we are all proposing and discussing possibilities, but since Walter has only one very small part in the first scene (proper) of this Act, he took the role of director this time and made some very good suggestions. A director should be in many ways an eye, who can tell actors what their activity on stage looks like and make suggestions so that what they are doing may become dramatically and theatrically more effective. Dramatic interpretation is first of all the articulation in space of what is adumbrated in the text.

Another problem for the actor is getting inside the character, or letting the character get inside her or him. This is not a simple process and sinking into a character, or letting a character sink into you, takes time. You tend to start off with a fairly general idea, which is fine — you need that — but then, over time, you discover all sorts of details; this is why rehearsal is so important — it gives you the time to discover; for preparing a play for performance is not a matter of doing only as much as you need to do to fit the template of some pre-conceived notion about the play: that is a recipe for ‘deadly theatre’, to borrow Peter Brook’s words, theatre that is boring for both actors and audiences. And here again, someone standing outside can see things and make suggestions about particular places in the text that you may not yet have thought about enough or regarding which you may not have found a way of bringing out what you sense is there. And here again, there were some very helpful suggestions made.

Finally, there is the very important matter of ‘corpsing’. ‘Corpsing’, in case you don’t know, is when an actor (or actors — it’s contagious) collapses in laughter before an audience. The most famous case of corpsing that I know of was that of Peter O’Toole in a bad and over-the-top production of the Scottish play at, as I recall, the Bristol Old Vic, oh, hundreds of years ago. One night, as he staggered on to an otherwise empty stage in the final scene, dripping with theatrical gore, from far, far away in the night outside the theatre could be heard the sound of an ambulance, and the sound was coming closer, and closer, and closer… Some less polite and less cultured members of the audience began to titter, and finally O’Toole could contain himself no longer… and as the ambulance swept up, howling, towards the theatre, Macbeth corpsed before he properly became a corpse…

Anyway, rehearsals allow you — I hope! — to get over corpsing. When you’ve corpsed enough in rehearsal, you should be able not to do it on stage. I hope I shall be able not to do it! It’s all Justin’s fault. When he comes on stage as an elderly gentleman, it is a mixture of his gait, his pronunciation of a certain word, and the expression on his face that makes me corpse. The gait reminds me of those stout, elderly, and constipated dogs that certain neighbours of mine take out for walks in the evening: they (the dogs) walk stiff-legged along and then stop, squat and strain, no good, and they walk a bit further and try again, while their anxious owners encourage them verbally and at length, and bring out quantities of tissue paper and plastic bags to back up their words… And then there is the pronunciation of the first syllable of the word ‘multitude’; Justin uses a vowel that I have never heard in any language that I know of. It is quite indescribable, I’m sure it doesn’t, it cannot, exist, but perhaps the nearest thing to the indescribable result is ‘meltitude’. It certainly makes me melt down meltitudinously.  And the expression on his face — the nearest thing to it, I think, is the expression you might see, if you are imaginative, on the face of an anxious shrew, or, now I think of it, on the faces of those neighbours of mine as they encourage their straining dogs, or perhaps on the faces of the dogs themselves…

But, alas, an afterword:  Justin, having read the foregoing, has (more or less) kindly informed me — we met to run lines today — that his facial expressions towards me are modelled on mine towards him; so that it is perhaps I who look like a tormented shrew or a constipated dog. I am more or less speechless…

Blackbird

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Introducing BLACKBIRD, by David Harrower, performing at Trance Mission Theater in Sangubashi, Shinjuku, at the end of September. Directed by Paul Howl, starring Gini Benson and Antun Percic, the play will run from September 22 to September 24, five shows.

It’s the story of a woman, the survivor of childhood sexual exploitation, confronting her attacker after he is released from prison. Based on a true story, it also has astonishing echoes of a case in America earlier this year. It won the Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2007.

Due to the intense nature of the presentation (strong language and adult themes), we are not recommending attendance by children under the age of 18.
Reservations can be made on
blackbirdoftokyo@gmail.com .
For more information, go to the facebook page
/TokyoBlackbird/
or follow the twitter account
TokyoBlackbird

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See you at the show!
BLACKBIRD
Trance Mission Theater
Sangubashi, Tokyo

August 19th

Charactering…

 

Walter not being here, the last rehearsal was with Justin, Chris and myself, and naturally we concentrated chiefly on our scenes together.

 

Something that becomes very clear with a dramatised version of A Christmas Carol is that Scrooge is the only character who develops from what he was on his first appearance. For the actor, this presents the problem of how much he develops at each point of the play until the complete reformation at the end. Something for me to think about, and work upon.

 

But Scrooge is a wonderful character, intelligent, and with all the comic energy of the Vice in the mediaeval Mystery Plays — a figure that Shakespeare drew on in creating villains like Richard III, the difference being that Shakespeare’s villains go from bad to worse, and eventually we lose sympathy with them, as we do not with Scrooge. And of course the Vice stands behind the villains of pantomime, which Dickens enjoyed.

 

Dickens thought people were fundamentally good, which may not – alas – be true, but is surely the best way to think of them, or us, if we want to work towards a better world. And there are glimmerings of goodness in Scrooge from the beginning — he is pretty horrible, but he does allow Bob Cratchit the whole day off for Christmas, and then there is clearly what were strong feelings of friendship for his partner, Jacob Marley (feelings that were, or are — since Marley returns as a ghost to save Scrooge from himself, clearly reciprocated). Those are the seeds I start from. He is not a figure of pretty well unmitigated evil, as is the figure of Fagin in Oliver Twist, who also has the comic energy of the Vice, but whose portrayal is unpleasantly anti-Semitic and whose end is nasty.

 

The other ability an actor must have is that of presenting in a brief appearance a strong and well-formed image, so that the character makes an immediate impression on the audience. (Peter Lorre, the German-Jewish actor who appeared in the movie Casablanca, had that ability in spades.) This is what the other actors are working on, and it’s fascinating seeing what they come up with. But I shan’t say what they are coming up with, because that would spoil things…

 

Dickens is a writer who, like Shakespeare, wrote first of all for the voice, even in his novels, and in our acting version he even appears, and tells us how he would, when writing his novels, act out the words in front of a mirror. But his writing is far from being naturalistic; it is rhetorical, hugely eloquent, and has a wonderful rhythm and flow — qualities that, as with Shakespeare or Shaw, you have to trust yourself and go with, and possess the technique to be able to do so. A naturalistic approach is useless where this kind of writing is concerned, as you see from so many amateur productions of Shakespeare, as well as some professional ones. I mention Shaw, because Dickens, being a writer of prose, is perhaps closer to him than to the poet Shakespeare, and because I recall Janest Suzman (I think it was her, in her book on acting Shakespeare, which I no longer have) telling of when, as a young actor, she was having trouble with the delivery of lines by Shaw as a result of trying to make every syllable tell. John Gielgud sidled quietly up to her after one rehearsal and asked her if she would mind if he said something about delivering Shaw. No, she replied. I think you will find, said Gielgud (as I recall), that there are only one or two accents in each phrase, and if you go with those you may find it easier… She did, and lo and behold…!

 

Another thing that has become clear to me after working on this script and re-reading A Christmas Carol is that it is far from being the sentimental tale it is often taken to be; it is not a mawkish, Bill Reilly-ish lament for Christmas. It was written, as much of Dickens’s as well as Mark Twain’s work was written, out of anger at social injustice, and it is very relevant to what is happening in our societies today in consequence of neoliberal dogma about the primacy of the market over everything else. I was not surprised to hear recently that it has been attacked by Christian fundamentalists and followers of Ayn Rand.