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.

 

 

 

August 9th

Scroogin’ aroun’ 

 

Ain’t got no money, babe 

Ahm jesscrooginaroun’… 

 

(Victorian blues – it made the Top Ten in the London broadsheets) 

 

One great difficulty of being a small, impoverished theatre group is that you have to find places to rehearse that cost next to nothing, and if possible nothing. This might mean trying to find a cheap karaoke place – but this, we discovered in Shibuya where we have been meeting recently, is impossible in the evening (during the day it is possible – years ago we rehearsed much of ‘Kiss of the Spiderwoman’ at a karaoke parlour on weekday afternoons). What to do? Since we were at the foot of Tokyo’s Mons Veneris, its neon-studded nipple, its little tumescent tumulus (that is to say, Dogenzaka, with its sex-shops and love-hotels), we did briefly consider booking a room at a love hotel for a two-hour session, but decided that a trio of foreign men of different ages, including two blonds (one strawberry), might be too much even for the lax morals of Dogenzaka… Where to go?  

 

So the other night, we ended up once again at The Dubliners – I am pretty sure that a pub is not in the end all that much cheaper than a karaoke room or a love-hotel, since you have to buy drinks, and if you buy in rounds when there are three of you that’s at least three rounds, which comes to around the cost of a karaoke room and perhaps of a room at one of the cheaper love-hotels. But the beauty of doing things this way is that the institution known as Black Stripe Theatre or Theater DOES NOT HAVE TO PAY! Which it would have to do had some rehearsal space been booked… but drinks, no. So Black Stripe Theatre (or Theater) can sit back scroogily and soberly, satisfied that it won’t have to fork up, while the unfortunates who constitute it swill away, enjoy the rehearsal too much, and deceive themselves that since no rent is being paid for a rehearsal space, what they are doing is somehow saving money…  

 

Pubs, or coffee-shops (Chris’s favourite for some reason), are not – for me at least – the best places to rehearse, since the people at the neighbouring tables tend to get shirty, or at least surprised by these garrulous gaijin. With a previous play, Justin and I tried rehearsing our scenes together in the arm-chairs that many Japanese department stores thoughtfully provide outside the lavatories on each floor, but even that is a problem because the decorous and well-dressed patrons are shocked, as they walk by to relieve themselves, at the sound and spectacle of two gaijin having a ding-dong in such a place, and the many people who come to doze in these armchairs, lulled by the constant gentle sound of distant flushing, the soughing of the hand-drying machines and the twitter of the announcements, begin to wake and glower. 

 

But the evening at the Dubliners wasn’t too embarrassing to us or annoying to others, as we were not so much rehearsing as getting the script into final shape. This seemed to tire Chris in particular, and we, or rather Chris, decided, with one beer each inside us (nota bene), that we had done enough, at least in the way of broaching the play. But there were other things to broach. ’Right,’ said Justin, ‘I know a place just round the corner. We’ll have another drink there.’ So round the corner we went (I falling heavily on the way and pulling a muscle in my groin, having failed to notice a single treacherous step – I had had ONLY ONE BEER and hadn’t got near the Cocalero yet). Justin led us directly towards an establishment with a violent orange noren, the colour of Donald Trump’s hair, with two hands painted on it that were thrusting away anything that wasn’t male and above the age of 18. I began to be alarmed. But Justin turned at the last minute and led us next door, to what seemed perhaps an even more nefarious place – a large bar with a large circular cage within which a patron was trying, for a fee, to beat up a member of the staff who wore protectors on his arms. On the far side of this was a large concrete space in which various lusty lads were laying into punching bags and various nubile lasses were stretching themselves in interesting ways. Justin informed us in excited tones that they gave pole-dance lessons there… Had he taken any himself, I wondered to myself? Perhaps he might use his skills in the play? Would pole-dancing suit ‘A Christmas Carol’? Perhaps Scrooge, after his reformation, might take up pole-dancing…  

 

But these artistic meditations were rudely interrupted as I looked upwards for inspiration only to see above us a large screen on which a succession of thugs in circular cages battered each other, hugged each other, fell to the floor, and crawled and slobbered over each other in ways that seemed more suitable to a Dogenzaka love-hotel than to a martial art…  

 

I needed a drink! There on the menu was beer with Cocalero. What on earth was Cocalero? The bright young woman in charge brought out a large bottle filled with a liquid as green as sin, I was allowed to savour its smell (violently alcoholic and suffused with succulent, subtle, suggestive and surreptitious Brazilian odours), I could not resist… 

 

So Black Stripe Theatre (or Theater) may have scrooged around, but, by God, we didn’t! (But I did get home safely, and chastely, and certainly not too drunk or too late.) 

July 25th

A very amusing and productive rehearsal this evening at The Dubliner’s in Shibuya, a good stomping ground for hammy acting  – expect no less of my Dickens – and a few ciders.

Without Walter – now in America – and without a space at TUJ – now on vacation – we had little choice than to rehearse in a pub as cafes are too intimate and you attract too much attention.  We couldn’t really do anything other than read and discuss, which was probably sensible with the deadline for the costume list looming. Walter’s friend in the States has a fancy dress shop where we can rent costumes at a reasonable price for long periods and he requested the list by July 31st, so tonight after reading scene one we skimmed the text and compiled our list. Minimalism is the concept behind costume (and everything else) and costume items which can be reused in different scenes are preferred.  We’re going for a Victorian ‘feel’ so we’ll need a few tailed-jackets. I jotted down that 8 characters have top hats – hopefully we can get away with just 2. Keeping our budget low is a priority and having Tim in the cast really helps.  He already has several period pieces in his wardrobe including: a Viking belt for the Ghost of Christmas Present, a 17th century knee length shirt and long johns for Scrooge’s nightclothes, and a vast collection of caps, scarves, handkerchiefs, shawls and fingerless gloves.

After discussing why Marley unravels the bandages on his head in scene 2 and what Walter might wear, Tim recounted a story of a funeral he attended in Kyushu where a very old guest kept picking up his fallen jaw before opening his mouth to speak.  Tim reckons the man had leprosy.  Pity Walter wasn’t here for the character note.

We cleared up a couple of minor character issues.  In the jolly Fezziwig bit of scene 4 we are going have two Miss Fezziwigs rather than three. And the idea to merge Walter’s part of the Husband (scene 1) with the Neighbour (scene 4) has been dropped as we realized the former owes Scrooge a huge debt whereas the latter calls Scrooge an ‘old friend’. Clearly they are different characters – but a different colored cap should do the trick.

By the end of the rehearsal and two large ‘birthday’ ciders, I felt rather light-headed, but not as sleepy as the lad at the adjacent table who, to his date’s dismay, had his head flat on the table.  I hope we don’t have this effect on our audience.