Bringing out the dead

Posted: July 11, 2015 in A Bit of Everything
Tags: , ,

Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdIn a little under a month, our new production will be opening at The Rose Playhouse Bankside for a months run in it’s glorious, slightly eerie but utterly wonderful space.

Just over a year ago we staged a four woman Richard III and are delighted to be returning with a fancy new show.

The production in question is The Ghost Sonata by August Strindberg. This will be the first time one of his plays has been staged at the Rose and all in all, it’s a tad exciting.

We’ve written a new adaptation that’s hopefully all crisp and succinct (something new and different for me) and are being joined by some new people as well. Charley Willow, one of the fearsome four of Richard, will be with us again and is taking the normally male role of The Student. Charley is joined by Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay and Foss Shepherd. Foss has previously worked on a short film with myself and Charley and we know he’s a lovely, resourceful actor. But it’s been a glory to work with Olivia and Sophie, somehow we’ve managed to make a snug little dynamic where I completely trust what they do and they seem to feel comfortable to take that extra imaginative step and really put things to the test, good times.

Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdWe chose The Ghost Sonata for several reasons. It’s incredibly rewarding working on classics as there often feels like there is a level of freedom with them. Enough time has past that they can be re-evaluated for how we live now, but the simple fact that they’re classics means there’s a firm base of quality that has enabled them to stand the test of time. Our job is to work out how they sit now, what they have to say, what we want to say through them and how to do justice to a text that’s managed to survive at least a hundred years and still have things to offer. Yet I wanted to do something that wasn’t a Renaissance piece. I love Modernism and can see the ways it not only built on the theatre of the past, but dissected and re-imagined theatre for what it could be in the future. The Ghost Sonata is one such piece.

Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdStrindberg’s classic is often heralded as the prime example of Modernist theatre. That’s a lofty title to bear but it’s certainly given us a lot to play with. The narrative is dense and misty at the same time. It operates on symbolic and naturalistic plains in parallel – the same could be said of many pieces of older classical theatre, but with The Ghost Sonata, it feels like those parallels are rubbing together much more intimately, like they exist in the same world but are sort of shifting through each other like mist. Not the best explanation, you’ll just have to come see it to get the idea.

With Richard, we played with the mechanics of what we were making. We showed as much as we could and tried to construct the fiction in front of them whilst acknowledging we were doing so while doing it. Nothing new or original there, but it opened up a discussion for us about how we wanted to make stories, how we wanted the audience to watch them and how we wanted to allow the audience to construct some of it for themselves as well. So in choosing the Ghost Sonata, we chose something that would allow us to take that further. It is a script that already seems to be playing with those ideas, which gives us the space to play with them even more.

Ellen Terry, Lady Macbeth, Ghost Sonata, the rose bankside, strindberg in london, theatre in london, fringe theatre london, modernism theatre,  historic london theatre, london theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Sophie McKay, Foss ShepherdEach production I direct, there seems to be one word in particular that has the most resonance and generally gets massively overused by me. This time it is Liminal. We are actually keeping a tally of how many times I say it in rehearsal. My understanding of the word, or perhaps more accurately, the concept, is that it offers a sort of limbo space. A place that is betwixed and between. A friend once explained it by using Macbeth as an example. The witches exist in a liminal space, they are outside of the world of the living but their world exist amidst it, again like a mist. But certain other characters pass through a liminal space as well – Lady Macbeth, during her hand washing, out spotting, once thrice, tis time to do it moment is on or in a liminal threshold. At the very moment of committing the action, she is stood in a doorway that is the space in which she changes, irrevocably. When on the step of that threshold she is neither what she was before or what she will be, she is betwixed and between.

For me, Liminality is underpinning how I view this play and therefore how I and my actors are constructing the world we will eventually present. On one level, the play follows the journey of a student as he passes through a square populated by the kind of house he would like to live in and filled with people who have the lives he would like to lead. He has just come from rescuing survivors from a collapsed building and is existing in his own liminal moment of change where he must choose what he is to become. On another level, none of that may be real. Maybe he died in the rescue attempt, maybe he is passing through a sort of limbo, purgatory space, complete with a devilish fiend offering him what he thinks he wants for the price of his soul.

Who knows, these are all questions we are just beginning to answer, but it does mean that every rehearsal is a discovery, each one pulls the flesh of the play apart a little more and we get to chase the shards of light that come through the cracks.

More to come, but for now, it’s definitely exciting times.

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