Posts Tagged ‘After Electra’


Tricycle

Previews and press nights – After Electra

Monday, April 13th, 2015 by Tricycle

After Electra cast credit Steve Tanner SMALL

After Electra is now in full swing here at the Tricycle so today we give you the last blog in the series from Assistant Director Phil Bartlett. Haven’t booked yet? Check out the trailer on our website here.

Hello once again! After Electra is now open at the Tricycle Theatre after finishing our run to busy and enthusiastic houses in Plymouth, so I thought I’d update you on how we transferred the production from the rehearsal room into the studio and made sure it was ready for opening night. Following an invaluable final week’s rehearsal on the set at TR2, it was packed into a lorry along with the props and furniture and transported across Plymouth to the theatre. Once installed in the Drum, director Samuel West and I joined the design team there to establish the sequence of lighting and sound effects that would be used throughout the show – much of this had been planned in advance by the brilliant Malcolm Rippeth (Lighting Designer) and Adrienne Quartley (Sound Designer), but until you’re in the performance space with the set, furniture and actors it’s unwise to make any final decisions. There are a number of different bird calls incorporated into the soundtrack, and Sam drew on his own expertise as a birder to ensure the recordings used were of species that might realistically be heard on the Essex coast at the time of year each scene takes place. Twitchers, see how many you can identify!

Technical rehearsals can be a stressful time – if the show isn’t ready or not enough preparation has been done then things can quickly fall apart – but happily our tech sessions ran very smoothly, with Stage Manager Paul on top of things backstage and the creative team working as an efficient unit to ensure we managed to fit in two dress rehearsals before the first preview on Thursday 12th March. Previews are the first time a production is performed in front of an actual paying audience, and with new plays in particular it’s vital to have this opportunity to see how members of the public respond to it in order to then be able to make any necessary tweaks. Writer April de Angelis joined us in Plymouth for the three preview performances, and each afternoon we worked a little on improving or tightening sections – sometimes the dialogue, sometimes the staging – based on our experience of the previous night’s performance. We were pleased to find audiences responding positively from the first preview, however, so no major rethinking was required.

After Electra Marty Cruickshank 2 credit Steve Tanner

Soon press night was upon us and the show was properly up-and-running. I popped in to check on it and enjoyed finding out what audience members thought of the piece both during the interval and after the final curtain. From talking to attendees and listening to the questions asked at the post-show, it’s clear that Plymouth audiences really engaged with the theme of long-held family resentments which runs beneath the surface comedy of April’s script. For me, one of the joys of theatre is that its ‘liveness’ means a production will continue to grow and change across its run, and I look forward to seeing how the piece develops over the coming month.

After Electra runs at the Tricycle Theatre from Thursday 7th April until Saturday 2nd May. Let us know what you think of it by commenting below!


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Getting Ready for the Drum: After Electra Blog 3

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 by Tricycle

After Electra Kate Fahy & Neil McCaul credit Steve Tanner

After Electra opens at the Tricycle today and we are sharing the third in a series of rehearsal blogs from Assistant Director Phil Bartlett. We’re very excited to see the unique cottage made from railway carriages on the Tricycle stage!

Hello once again! A week has passed since my previous entry, so here’s a quick update on the progress we’ve made. Hours were spent working at TR2, Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Production and Learning Centre in Cattedown, where we arrived last month to find the set waiting for us to rehearse on. Having been Assistant Director at the Theatre Royal Plymouth for a few months now, I’ve become accustomed to this unusual privilege, but the reaction of director Samuel West and the actors reminded me how lucky we are to be able to familiarise ourselves with the set before moving to the theatre. Teching a show (that is, programming the sound and lighting cues once the set is installed in the performance space) is a complicated process and one that can sometimes understandably be slowed down as actors adjust the performances they’ve developed in the rehearsal room to fit the set; our week at TR2, however, means there should be far fewer surprises for us in the days leading up to first preview.

One aspect of the staging which we were all keen to experience was the raked floor. The action of After Electra takes place in the living area of protagonist Virgie’s house on the Essex coast, which in Michael Taylor’s design is a strange and beautiful wooden cottage constructed partially from a pair of decommissioned train carriages. The layout and finish of the parts of the cottage we see on stage is basically naturalistic and wonderfully full of detail, but the floor has a fairly sharp rake to it, with the stage right side being considerably lower than the stage left side. This rake deliberately unbalances in the set, almost suggesting the house has careered off the railway tracks and crashed into the sands, but before arriving in Plymouth we weren’t sure how comfortable the rake would be to act on and both Sam and Michael were prepared to remove it from the design if it proved too problematic. Happily, we’ve discovered it only compliments the work we’d done in London, and so it stays.

The week at TR2 was also the time when much of the actual furniture that will be used in performance arrived for the actors to rehearse with. This is a furniture – and props-heavy show, but the stage management team have been brilliantly resourceful in sourcing chairs, drinks cabinets, and art paraphernalia to fill the room and create the impression that the cottage that has been lived in for many years. On the few occasions the furniture we’ve found is almost-but-not-quite-right, the theatre’s workshop have stepped in to make improvements for us overnight – the sofa you see in the show, for example, has had longer legs fitted, a new seat added, and a different cover sewn. Perhaps the most important props in the show are Virgie’s paintings, and for these Michael brought on-board an artist to create a series of artworks for us to use. In rehearsals we used blank canvases – and it was really exciting to see how the painter had used the clues provided by the script to influence the style and colour of the paintings.

In terms of actually rehearsing, the focus for week four was very much on running larger sections of the play together – we worked through the seven scenes in the first half of week, and then managed three full runs by Saturday lunch-time. Sound Designer Adrienne Quartly and Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth joined us for the second half of the week – this meant they were able to watch these final rehearsal room runs in advance of starting technical rehearsals today. Part of Adrienne’s sound design for the show involves her constructing what one of Virgie’s paintings ‘sounds like’ to a number of the characters.

After Electra is now on stage – click to watch the trailer and to book.

 


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Actions and intentions: Rehearsal room blog for After Electra

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 by Tricycle

A small selection of the books in the After Electra rehearsal room

Today we are welcoming back Phil Bartlett, Assistant Director on After Electra, for the second in his series of rehearsal room blogs. that plays at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May.

Hello again! With our rehearsal time in London at an end and the company back down in Plymouth for final rehearsals and the premiere of After Electra, I thought an update on our progress was due. Following a first week filled with research and discussion, the subsequent fortnight in London was primarily focussed on using the information we had discovered in those initial days to help give the seven scenes April has written physical shape. We haven’t had the set to rehearse on – that’s a luxury which will be waiting for us in Plymouth, where the workshop are constructing Michael Taylor’s design as I type! – but stage management expertly marked out the shape of the acting area on the floor with tape and the various items of furniture we’ll be using have gradually replaced the stand-in rehearsal room chairs as they’ve been sourced by members of the creative and production team.

During these two weeks we’ve worked through the entire play twice, and both times when arriving at each scene Sam has asked the actors to begin by reading it aloud from their scripts. From the start of rehearsals the actors have all had a good grasp on their lines, but this exercise has nonetheless proved extremely valuable – it both reminds everyone of the essentials of the scene (that is, the words the playwright has written) and highlights any small inaccuracies of vocabulary or syntax that may have developed since an actor originally learnt the text. We then gave the scene physical life within the confines of the performance space, finding moves to support the action and pausing as questions arose or if a moment felt false. To help them navigate their way through each scene Sam asked the actors to identify what their character’s ‘intention’ is at the start of each section. An intention is a prevailing ‘need’ or ‘want’ which drives a character’s choices until either the intention is fulfilled or a stronger intention takes its place – examples of intentions are ‘to find my wallet’ and ‘to stop my girlfriend from leaving me’. Intentions help prevent actors from feeling lost within a scene as they provide them with a concrete objective to work towards. Then, to prevent their performance of the character pursuing this intention from becoming repetitive or generalised, actors can assign individual lines specific actions, which together work towards achieving the section’s intention – examples of actions might be ‘to soothe’ or ‘to provoke’. Actions are also very useful for directors as they provide a means of shaping and refining an actor’s performance without prescribing how an actor should deliver a particular line or moment; the focus is instead on the impulses driving the character’s behaviour, which gives the actor greater creative control and encourages performances which are alive and ever-changing. ‘Don’t play feelings, play actions,’ Sam has said more than once, and watching him rehearse with the actors makes clear the value of using actions to clarify a character’s journey through complicated sections of the play.

Director Samuel West

Director Samuel West

Whilst scene-work has been the focus of the majority of rehearsals, we’ve also set aside time for activities we hoped would further our understanding of the story we are telling in other ways. Last week we spent an afternoon reading Sophocles’ Electra, the Greek tragedy which April drew on when writing the play. After Electra is by no means an adaptation of the ancient story – indeed, you don’t need any knowledge of it to understand and enjoy the piece – so I wasn’t sure how useful it would be to spend time exploring the original, but taking a pause from regular rehearsals to hear the actors read this classic alerted us to some interesting parallels. Both plays feature strong, complex and flawed female protagonists, and both consider the effect an absent father has on the relationship between a mother and her adult children. Numerous times Sophocles’ characters uttered phrases and articulated ideas that wouldn’t sound out of place in April’s play, and one phrase in particular struck us as encapsulating an idea central to After Electra:

οὐ γὰρ θανεῖν ἔχθιστον, ἀλλ᾽ ὅταν θανεῖν
χρῄζων τις εἶτα μηδὲ τοῦτ᾽ ἔχῃ λαβεῖν.

Death isn’t the most hateful thing –
Worse is when someone wants to die but cannot.

Reading Electra encouraged us to consider the complex relationships and ideas running under the surface of what appears on the surface to be a black comedy, and furthered our enthusiasm for the play April has written.

In the session after we discussed Electra, we had the privilege of meeting with the artist Tom Phillips. Given the central character is After Electra is a painter, we’d already done a lot of research into the art world and various movements – this photo [attached] shows just a tiny proportion of the books we’ve brought into the rehearsal room, and we’ve also watched documentaries on female artists like Sandra Blow. Hearing Tom speak first-hand about his life as an artist, however, proved especially helpful – there was a real lack-of-pretension in the way he spoke about his work, and he made clear that (for him at least) there was no separation between the ideas fueling his art and the act of creating it – it is all ‘labour’. We were able to ask Tom questions about the kind of experiences Virgie might have had as a woman artist in the ’sixties, ’seventies and ’eighties, and later in the week some of the cast went along with Michael to visit one of Tom’s studios. The knowledge they gleaned from this experience – the look of the studio and the way Tom works within it – will feed into our staging of the play as we continue rehearsing it next week on the set in Plymouth.

After Electra is on stage at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May. Click here to watch the trailer.


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Who is Virgie? Researching After Electra

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 by Tricycle

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Today we have the first in a series of guest blogs from Phil Bartlett, Assistant Director on After Electra that plays at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May.

Hello! My name is Phil Bartlett and I’m the resident Assistant Director at the Theatre Royal Plymouth, where I’m involved with the theatre’s extensive programme of new writing. Currently I’m in rehearsals for After Electra, a new play by April de Angelis which is being directed by Samuel West and premieres in Plymouth this March and will then play at the Tricycle Theatre. After Electra is a black comedy centred on Virgie, an ageing artist who refuses to grow old without making a fuss, and the fallout from her unconventional birthday celebrations. Over the next few weeks I’ll be using this blog to give you an insight into the rehearsal room, reporting back on how the play develops as Sam and the actors interrogate April’s script and translate her words into action.

Rehearsals kicked off with a read-through of the entire script. As the name suggests, a read-through involves the actors speaking their lines aloud and is a chance for everyone involved in the production can hear the script as it stands on the first day of rehearsal. Read-throughs aren’t always useful, but with a new play it’s often helpful and in this case it was a delight to hear the actors together give voice for the first time to the comedy and drama of April’s dialogue. The read-through was followed by designer Michael Taylor talking those present through the model-box, which is a to-scale model of what the set will look like. I won’t reveal too much about the design at this point, but it was exciting to see how full of detail the environment is going to be and get some indication of the kind of furniture, props and lighting we’ll have at our disposal. The Drum and the Tricycle stages are different shapes and so Michael also explained to us how the set would be adapted at each venue to fit the spaces.

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After lunch, the wider production team left us and we began rehearsals proper. Rather than standing the play up straight-away, however, we gathered around a table in order to go back to the first page of the script and gradually work through each scene compiling a list of facts and questions. Facts are anything we know from the script to be true (for example, that the first scene takes place on Virgie’s birthday) whilst questions are anything left unanswered in the text (for example, the exact date of Virgie’s birth). It took us a few days to work through each scene in this way, taking turns to read a speech a time regardless of who will speak it in performance, but was an invaluable way of checking that everyone was clear of the given circumstances of the play and highlighting any ambiguities in the script we needed to fill in. Often these ambiguities are details the audience will never know the answers to, but deciding amongst ourselves the precise layout of Virgie’s house, for instance, ensures everyone is performing in the same play and helps solidify the world we are presenting.

At the same time as compiling our facts and questions, we took note of any dates mentioned in order to construct a timeline of events. Some of the characters have known one another for more than fifty years, and so whilst the action of the play takes place over just seven months the people concerned have a collective history which stretches back into the previous century. Using any specific references in the script to time as anchors, we filled in the gaps ourselves to pinpoint exactly when and where the key events in these people’s lives took place, and in so doing discovered clues linked to their relationships and behaviour. ‘Life did get a bit chaotic,’ says Virgie at one point, but establishing a firm chronology has already helped us hugely in understanding the memories and experiences the characters carry with them when they enter the story.

To help us find interesting and water-tight answers to the many questions our script work has raised we’ve collectively been carrying out lots of research outside of rehearsals – this has ranged from consulting maps to work out where exactly along the coast Virgie might live to investigating the movements of the tide at specific times and finding out the cost of a holiday to Venice. Much of this research has already been done once by the director or playwright before the start of rehearsals, but asking the actors to also research the topics related to their characters allows us to collectively decide upon the most interesting answers – provided, that is, that they are supported by the script. Research isn’t just limited to typing key phrases into google, either – actor Rachel Bell, who is playing Shirley, is arranging a tour of the House of Lords, for example, and we have plans to visit an artist’s studio. We’ve looked at paintings (such as the violently physical Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi, mentioned at an important point in the play), listened to poems (Ted Hughes’s Full Moon and Little Frieda, for instance, which cropped up in our discussions of an important offstage character and is definitely worth taking a few minutes to enjoy – link: http://www.fullmoon.info/en/fullmoon-poems/hughes.html, and even had a drumming workshop (as this video proves!) https://www.dropbox.com/s/ht36dppm1li4gzv/20150212_105044.mp4?dl=0.

This work is only worth doing, of course, insofar as it furthers our ability to tell the story well, and after four days we had amassed enough information to begin exploring scenes on our feet. Finding a physical shape for the story inevitably raises a host of new questions, but it’s great to already see the information we’d uncovered in those initial sessions support the actors in making exciting, convincing performance choices. The first week ended with us arriving at a basic shape for the first scene of the play, and having then had a couple of days off to rest and continue individual script work we’re all now looking forward to getting back in the room and continuing our journey through this extraordinary play.

After Electra is on stage at the Tricycle from 7 Apr – 2 May. Click here to book.