Thursday, October 10, 2002

This is (more or less) how this month began:
MONDAY: In London for Great Expectations Rehearsals.
They’re taking place in the Union Chapel, Islington. In the old Sunday school room. A huge room, very atmospheric, very Victorian. Obviously built as part of the huge philanthropic energies that Dickens himself did so much to inspire and harness.
I always mean to keep a detailed rehearsal diary, and never do.
This one’s complicated by the fact that every time I take part in a Company physical warm up I seem to get caught up in some profoundly traumatic memory that I had kept long suppressed... but what excites me about this production is that its by the Unicorn Theatre company, so it’s for young people, and in that sense in absolutely in line with the spirit of the original TAG production way back in 1988. I try to remember all its transformations since then - to the Lyric Belfast, the Salisbury Playhouse, the National theatre (where it was given several rehearsed readings in the Lyttleton as part of their schools programme) and Pitlochry.. and how it has been rewritten each time. A publisher has expressed an interest in publishing it; I am quite at a loss as to which version to send him.
This time it’s had a really major rewrite for its younger audience. And it’s back to being a more consciously physical production. Which is how it originally was; which why we all worked so closely together on it - myself, the choreography Gregory Nash, the composer Peter Salem, and the director Ian Brown. Alan Cumming played Pip. My elder daughter, who was about 3 at the time, came along to some rehearsals. And a few months ago we went to see Alan in a Hollywood blockbuster - SPY KIDS - projecting onto an enormous screen all the appealing qualities of vulnerability and innocence he used so beautifully in the first, such small scale, production.
That sense of this being a spiral, a twist in an upward spiral, pleases me.
TUESDAY I leave rehearsals at lunch to fly to Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is grey and full of bungalows.
On the road outside my guest house is a van proudly labelled:
Because that’s what he does. Cleans your wheelie bin. in an entrepreneurial kind of way. I try to imagine what it would be like to Mr Wheelie Bin Man. To dream of becoming Mister Wheelie Bin Man.
WEDNESDAY Schools playwriting workshop in Aberdeen.
It’s happening in an old secondary school in the outskirts of the city whose assembly room is so horrendous it fills me with terror.
Two really lively girls want to write a play about giants: the descendants of the angels who fell in love with men in some book of the bible.
Many other are mute: at least on the outside. The effect of it all is impossible to judge.

THURSDAY In office trying to make proper arrangements for my research students matriculation. And other office like things.
FRIDAY In Bristol. At an academic conference to perform GOD’S NEW FROCK.
This time I do it off the book. I deliberately leave the script in my room. It’s hard to tell how well it goes. But I’m proud to have done it.
SATURDAY: In London. I get lost on the way out of Bristol. Trundling my case down the side of dual carriageway. Out of place. Confused. And then at the station, as I stand a bit bewildered by some newly installed and rather fierce barriers, a man suddenly appears from nowhere and tells me how much he enjoyed the show the previous night.
And on the way to a meeting I meet a drag queen on Shaftesbury Avenue. I clock her, and smile, and she mouths: “I love you” before she disappears into her doorway, and it feels like a blessing.
SUNDAY: a meeting about a new possible radio play on the human voice. I go along wearing nail varnish from the previous night I suddenly felt unwilling to wash off. Have to resist an unaccountable tendency to sit on my hands.
Stumbled onto a beautiful book: Jan Kott, THE MEMORY OF THE BODY.
Outline to Northern Stage on HOMAGE TO CATALONIA.
MONDAY: At rehearsal for GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Matthew, the movement director, invited me to join the warm up. So I did. And something happened, I don’t know what, that unlocked some deep memory of the body - a memory buried so deep I had forgotten it was there.
I remember searching the house, the big old house I lived in as a child, desperately, endlessly, for a pair of angels wings I was utterly sure I had remembered seeing somewhere and had been too afraid to touch but which now when I wanted to wear them had utterly disappeared.
And I remembered the moment in the primary school play when I had said I wanted to be a flower and then discovered I was the only boy who wanted to do that, and had fallen ill with mumps I think because of the strain of it
And I remembered how in prep school it had been Mr. Fowler the singing teacher who was also in charge of the school play and so it had all got entangled in my distress about singing, my supposed inability to sing, and I never got any real part at all
And then I remembered how in public school, and I got given the girl’s parts, and it just got so hopelessly entangled in all my profound fears and distress about my own identity.
It was like uncovering the links in a chain of memories. Of wanting to act. Of wanting to perform. Wanting so desperately, so deeply, that I had hardly had the courage to articulate it.
And that had been interfered with all along.
But now I can. Begin. It feels like a huge gift.
TUESDAY, WEDNESDAY. What fascinates me about these performances is that the actors seem almost to have begun with the physicality of their characters and used them to understand the words. Generally, it’s the other way round. They begin with the words, as if from the neck up, and then gradually, haltingly, and often incompletely, find a physical shape to fit them.
Meanwhile I do a huge rewrite of act 2. In a single afternoon. And then can’t stay around to see if it will work or not.
THURSDAY: Students arrive. I start teaching.
I feel ill.
FRIDAY: To Pitlochry for the last performance of CHARLES DICKENS: THE HAUNTED MAN. I watch its success as if through feverish haze.
And that’s how the month is: feverish. Harried. Two more journeys to London.
One for the final rehearsals of GREAT EXPECTATIONS before they go into the theatre.
It’s as if the actors are using a physical intelligence - that is intensely physical and intellectual and emotional and intuitive and imaginative - using it to discover where they should stand, how they should talk, how they should move.
Somehow that is what actor training should be about: helping them discover that facility within themselves.
October 4th: GREAT EXPECTATIONS opens. It’s a tough audience: a full house of 9-10 year olds who have mostly never been to the theatre before. One coachload of 70 arrives late, about 10 minutes into the show.
About 25%, I guess, remain disengaged. But the other are held by it. I’m proud: proud of the actors, the sound, the movement, the set, direction, text.
And in the end, that’s all I can ask for.

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