by Sarah Binns, Live Theatre blogger for April 2015
It’s a Thursday evening and I’m struggling to get down to Live Theatre in time for the start of a rehearsal for The Day of the Flymo. The traffic is completely stationary along the quayside and I really don’t want to arrive disruptively late, so I ditch my lift and leg it down the hill to the river.
In the event, I needn’t have panicked, I track the company down to the main auditorium where Kalem Patterson (who plays Liam) and Tezney Mulroy (playing his sister Becca) are already on stage having an impromptu run through of one of their trickier scenes. It’s cold and quite dark in the auditorium, but I’m struck by the good humour and enthusiasm of everyone gathered there ready to rehearse, at a time when most of us are finishing work and heading home for the evening. With less than a week to go to opening night, there’s a calm sense of purpose and an enthusiasm for the work ahead.
Director Paul James calls the company of five together on stage and explains that he wants to start with some work on people’s voices and the volume that needs to be achieved to carry the words to the audience, wherever they’re sitting in the auditorium. The actors take turns to stand right at the back of the stage to deliver a key speech, while the other members of the cast and company are spread out across the seats giving feedback. This is a demanding exercise, and lines are repeated many, many times until Paul and the other cast members are satisfied that the words are clear and loud enough. It’s obvious to me that there is absolute trust between the actors and director – everyone is called on to be critical and offer opinions, and these are willingly accepted by whoever’s ‘on the spot’. It’s also clear Paul has worked with the group very effectively in order to achieve this level of security and trust. Slowly, slowly and with infinite patience, lines are worked and worried at; their sense is debated, along with the desired effect on the audience. The actors are encouraged to stay in role throughout, so that every time they make an entrance or speak a line they bring their character’s experience to life – no mucking about off stage between the scenes! And the three young actors who’ve come through from Live’s Youth Theatre are terrific, concentrating hard and delivering their lines with increasing perfection.
I was very struck by the skill of the two professional actors, Jill Delow (Mam) and Akemnji Ndifornyen (Ben, the social worker) and the way that they could completely change the mood of a scene by delivering their lines slightly differently – the words remain the same, but in the first run through the social worker is rather pushy and domineering and Mam is almost browbeaten into agreeing to a care order, whilst second time round Akemnji makes the social worker a much more conciliatory and kinder person, so Mam is not bullied into the decision.
The repeated snatches of dialogue give me an enticing glimpse into the play as a whole. I know Day of the Flymo is about families and the ‘care system’ which is supposed to safeguard children. I’m personally interested in this, as many years ago I worked in children’s homes and also with children who were fostered. From my own experience it seems to me that Paddy Campbell’s script has more than a ring of truth about it; the dialogue is natural, full of dark comedy and children telling it like it is (and like they do!).
After an hour of intensive group work on the lines and delivery, with Paul running a fiendish interruption exercise to test everyone’s focus, it was time for a break before the run through. Everyone grabbed some food and then they were off again, this time with places and props, movement and sound effects. I watched and listened, fascinated to see where those isolated scraps of speech fitted in. The story started to unfold, but I had to go.
As I crept out of the auditorium I was cross that I’d not arranged to stay until the finish. I really wanted to see how the story turned out; what happens to Mam, Liam, his sister Becca and his friend Clara? I’m pretty sure there won’t be a happy ending.
But lucky for me I will be back to see the play in its entirety when it opens this week. You can read about it in my review – or better still, you can get yourself along and find out, first hand, what happens. I bet you won’t be disappointed!
Day of the Flymo, written by award-winning writer Paddy Campbell is at Live Theatre from Wednesday 8 to Saturday 11 April 2015. The evening performances are currently sold out, but tickets remain for the matinee at 2pm on Saturday 11 April. For more information ring Live Theatre’s box office on (0191) 232 1232 or see www.live.org.uk.