Working magic – making Wishbone
“A hill…sticks…Tom has my old walkman from school.” Really?
“Something unspoken…like a recording of the past on repeat.” Err, ok.
“Clever director…generous writer.” Right.
“Bluidy McKenzie…being a teenager in Edinburgh is gruesome – Rosie and Laura said so…bodacious…was rad a thing?” Sorry, what?
Sometimes, when I read my hasty scribbles back, it takes me while to work out exactly what they mean. These slightly odd notes were taken during a rehearsal for Wishbone, the fourth one-act play in the BITESIZE season presented by Queens Hall Arts.
The first three, The Next Train To Depart, A Dog’s Heart and Love and Red Tape were quality theatrical offerings. So Wishbone, the second after The Next Train To Depart to transfer to Live Theatre’s Studio, has a bit to live up to. I want to make sure the blogosphere knows what to expect.
Damn my crazy notes!
Of course director Rosie Kelligher’s note taking was far more organised. She orchestrated the Wishbone rehearsal with subtlety, drawing out the play’s emotional levels, all the while annotating thoughts in a tidy wee notepad.
Writer Laura Lindow’s arrival, an hour or so in to my visit, brought an infectious energy through the door…and a considerably larger, even neater, notebook. Fine actors Tom Booth and Joanna Holden wielded scripts as they played Laura’s intriguing dialogue on a gentle green rake, decorated with a hefty sprinkling of sticks.
Ah-hah! First note explained! Hill + sticks = set. The retro cassette Walkman was a prop for Tom’s character.
During the rehearsal that minimalist scene became a fascinating world, where the relationship between teenager Jamie and older woman Meryl gradually unfolds and raises dozens of questions.
Why does Meryl rake through leaves, OCD style? Why does Jamie ignore Meryl then desperately try to stop her leaving? What’s the cause of Meryl’s frustration, her sorrow? Why does Jamie seem oddly out-of-place and prone to repeating himself?
What appears a chance early morning meeting, sometime in winter, steadily builds into a captivating mystery of memory and loss. Ahh! There’s the context for my second note.
Oh yeah, and all the way through this rehearsal of scene one and two, Tom and Joey made margin notes with pencils. Everyone had pencils. Except me! I had to borrow one. I felt so ill equipped.
Actually, my feelings of inadequacy weren’t due to my lack of writing implements.
It was the impressive theatre making tools on display that did it, the kind of sharp intellectual tools that leave even the most capable of us feeling a bit short.
Little note pad – a.k.a. former Live Theatre Literary Manager Rosie – approached blocking, questions of textual meaning, studies of character intention, and strategic stick arrangement (it’s an art form) with assured calm. She chose her interventions carefully, giving her actors room to find an intonation or the shape of a movement for themselves. That allowed Tom and Joanna to achieve perfect synchronicity when ducking from flying swans…among other things.
Those two script wielders had very decent tools of their own. Joanna has a formidable record of top performances in new drama at Northern Stage, Soho Theatre and numerous other companies. Whilst Tom, relatively early in his career, has shown he can breathe conviction into characters, especially younger ones in productions for Live Theatre and Curious Monkey.
I enjoyed watching both find the voices of their characters, even when that meant changing lines a little. Which is where big pad – a.k.a. Laura – comes in.
Laura’s worked with Live Theatre, Chicken Pox Fox, Dance City, Monster Theatre, Open Clasp and Theatre Tantaraa, won awards and bursaries aplenty. She’s what you call “established”. Some might expect such a credentialed writer to cling ruthlessly to every line of her script. No! Aspiring writers pay attention: you become established by listening to collaborators.
And active listening is a tool Laura displays in abundance.
She wanted to know what Rosie, Tom and Joey thought. What felt natural? What would give characters more resonance? Would a change here, a trim there, strengthen the meaning? She didn’t baulk as lines were dropped, agreeing with Rosie: “we’re losing things but I don’t miss them”.
I guess those last half-dozen paragraphs explain the third of my scribbles above. When I talk about these talented people and their tools, I’m not talking technical wizardry. I’m not talking cunning drama games either. No animal work here! What I’m talking about is…err…talking.
Acting, thinking and talking. Running scenes; debriefing; putting heads together to find the underbelly of the story and reveal the heart of the play.
So what about that fourth scribble of madness? Well now…
This was a proper rehearsal processes. And as surely everyone knows, all proper rehearsals require both meaningful discussion and utterly random chat. “Is that your coat?” asks Laura. “Yes”, then quickly, “NO! Just bought it at Oxfam for the show! Shoes are mine though.”
Shortly after that, a chat about why Jamie was on a hill in a t-shirt in winter (he hadn’t just come from the Bigg Market) morphed into a story fest of teenage outdoor drinking, dodgy nightclubs, and underground tunnels. Someone mentioned Edinburgh, Bluidy McKenzie’s tomb in Greyfriars, and Rosie and Laura were off!
Along the way Tom started playing with his Walkman prop (don’t worry, not saying what happened with the headphones, secret’s safe). He discovered an old Christmas mix tape inside. Bodacious said me (I own that word now) which prompted: “was rad a thing?” We never answered that, because discussion quickly evolved to the language gap between Meryl and Jamie and how it represented the simultaneous connection and distance in their relationship.
Evolution! A good word.
It’s not in my scribbles but it’s a decent summary of what I saw at the Wishbone rehearsal. This was a great company of actors, writers and directors developing a play through honest collaboration. Wishbone wasn’t so much being rehearsed as tested, debated, grown and constructed.
I didn’t get to see the end of the play at the rehearsal but I’ll be making certain I see it in performance. I’ll be bringing my own pencil…though I reckon I’ll be far too busy enjoying the quality of the production to make any crazy notes!
By Ben Dickenson
Live Theatre blogger