Saturday, 18 December 2010

The show must go on

You know that saying, 'it never rains, but it pours'? You also know the one - 'a baptism of fire'? Well both these wise old adages are perfect for Jak's and my introduction to the world of backstage crew.

During final dress rehearsal for Darker Shores, the legs of a wooden doll (a prop) weirdly and randomly fell off and landed on the floor with a clatter backstage, during a quiet moment. Jak and I clapped our hands  to our mouths and looked at one another with wide eyes - 'oops!' we were both thinking. One week later, and we are both looking back fondly on the time when a doll's legs fell off - such a small and insignificant mishap. Oh how we laugh when we think of that crazy, crazy day.

This last week, during performances, we have had the lights brought up on set too soon, so we were still on stage doing a reset, a door on the set broke and wouldn't open at an important moment, and a large scenery truck decided to get stuck fast so we couldn't move it onto the stage. More troubling than the doll's legs, but still, we kept calm and carried on, because that is what you do.

Then last night, thanks to 'adverse weather conditions' as they are politely known, one of our leading men got stuck in traffic on his way to the theatre. "Did he arrive in time?" I hear you cry. No, dear reader, he did not. Eventually we decided to bring the curtain up anyway, slightly late, dressed a willing yet nervous director in the character's costume, handed him a script (which we hoped he would be able to see without his specs) and with a hearty amount of Blitz spirit and back slapping, shoved him onto the stage. He did very well, he has, after all, been directing the play for the last few months so knows it inside and out. But as I have mentioned before in other posts, there are magic tricks in this play, which he can't do, certainly not holding a script, so things were never going to go quite according to plan.

Eventually the missing actor arrived in a flurry of panic and snow, only to discover once half undressed, that he had no costume. So then commenced the most bizarre moment I've had for a many a year, as two grown men stripped to their pants in the dark of backstage and swapped clothes in a frantic high-speed manner. The actor resumed his rightful place on stage to applause from the audience, and the director was packed off for a stiff sherry in the bar. All's well that ends well, to coin another phrase.

The show has been cancelled tonight, due to those pesky adverse weather conditions, so I have a quiet evening planned of curry and Strictly - so much tamer than panicky men in pants. Hopefully all unwanted meteorological phenomenon will have cleared enough by tomorrow so the matinee can go ahead as planned.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The ghost of Christmas present

Well, I am now all up to speed on the backstage happenings of Darker Shores, which opens tomorrow night, and after a six-hour rehearsal yesterday I think we’re pretty much there. It’s final dress tonight, so Jak and I can iron out our final set-moving wrinkles.

Darker Shores is a Gothic ghost story set in the 1870s. Professor Stokes takes lodgings at the Sea House on a desolate stretch of the East Sussex coast, but the troubled history of the house comes to the fore with a series of disturbing and mysterious events. He enlists the help of an American spiritualist to try to find out what or who is haunting the house and whether it can ever be cleansed of the vengeful spirit.

Trickery is used to add to the mystery and spine-tingly drama, and the director, Duncan, got a professional magician in during the rehearsal process to teach the cast some cunning illusions. I can tell you no more as they were sworn to secrecy, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun anyway. Suffice to say – it’s all very clever and should keep the audience on their toes!

Jak is stage manager for the production and is therefore in charge of the backstage magic, and I am her trusty (I hope!) second in command – we have to move scenery, reset furniture and props during blackouts and, best fun of all, create a spooky atmosphere with the help of smoke machines. The trick with these is to puff enough smoke to set the scene, but not so much that you gas the cast, as Jak discovered briefly yesterday! There’s nothing quite so scary as a ghost with a hacking cough!

The writer, Michael Punter, came to rehearsal yesterday and seemed pleased with what everyone has achieved. I can take no credit for any of it as I literally only joined the team a week ago, but they’ve clearly all worked so hard and have produced a rather marvellous play that, I think, won’t fail to get the hairs on the back of people’s necks standing on end.

And Jak and I, both seasoned actors but neither of us ever having worked on the backstage technical side of things before, are loving it! We are utterly involved in the play, we get to help, in a small way, to make it what it is, but we don’t have to remember any lines! It’s truly wonderful – why didn’t we ever think of this before!

Production photos were only taken yesterday, so when I can get my hands on a couple I will post them up here so you can appreciate the ghoulishness and Duncan’s outstanding set.

(L to R) Mel, Mark, Fred and Matt get to grips with the seance scene in rehearsals

Amazing Skylight review!

By David Hare

19–27 November 2010

Reviewed by Martin Robinson

The Stables’ production of David Hare’s Skylight offered high-quality drama delivered with punch, subtlety and consummate skill by all concerned. The amateur roots of the Stables were completely invisible (not for the first time this season) and, but for the ludicrously low entrance fee, there was nothing to distinguish this production from the professional stage.

Skylight offers parts for just three actors, the chance to construct only one set, and precious little in the way of plot; but its focus on character, ambiguity, passion and regret sets a huge task, far removed from the mechanical delivery of lines and fulfilment of stage directions.

Kyra, played by Sarah Evans with restraint and absorbing truth, in her freezing, deeply unfashionable London flat, is a barely willing hostess to her former lover, Tom, for a single evening. The couple have plenty to discuss, but their communication is halting and fractured, veering from rancour to tender compassion, but with distrust and self-protection always sensed behind their words. Kyra’s emotions, and those of Tom, bubble and gush to the surface in a pool of recrimination, self-justification, painful insight and plain incomprehension. The currents between the pair force each to observe the other in full flow, and yet both actors managed to retain interest and sympathy throughout by carefully delivered gesture and facial expression.

David Morley as Tom, millionaire restaurateur, man of business, bereaved husband, abandoned lover and uncaring father, found the torture and loss which allowed the audience to empathize with a superficially unattractive character. Both actors delivered truly exemplary performances, and James Collins as Edward, in many ways the most likeable of the three characters, stood well in the company of his elders, beginning and ending the piece with the required blend of nervous flourish.

Jonathan Pitts, directing as well as designing the set, must take credit for assembling a pitch-perfect cast, but deserves far greater praise for enabling them to deliver the play in such a direct, personal and assured way. It is to his, and the actors’, credit that they clearly understood the complexities of the piece and allowed the audience to wrestle with the ambiguities on display without driving to a single conclusion or taking sides with either protagonist.

In bringing David Hare back to the town of his birth, the Stables has joyously reminded us that that we don’t have to travel to find theatrical excellence, simply appreciate what we already have.