One of my favourite quotes ‘Trust me, I am telling you a story’. Jeanette Winterson opens her novel ‘The Passion’ with it and increasingly, that is what I feel like I am saying to a theatre audience.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveLast week we finished our three week run of August Strindberg’s ‘The Ghost Sonata’ at The Rose Playhouse Bankside.

It was a glorious experience I am so pleased with how everything turned out, as a production, for the company and for me as a director. It is possibly the most un-stressful production I have worked on and also the one that seems to best collect all the different aspects of what I as a director and we as a company want to work on. And as an added bonus, both myself and one of my actresses, Olivia Meguer, were nominated for Off Westend awards for Best Director and Best Supporting Actress respectively, which is a little bit amazing.

Everything is always a process, this is theatre, it is transient and doesn’t last long, but each thing leads to the next and, for me, The Ghost Sonata was so much a product of what we have done before and also so much a sign post for what we can do in the future.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveA bit of context: The Rose Playhouse is a lovely 50 seat theatre constructed as a platform above the remains of the original Rose Playhouse, Bankside’s first theatre. Before the Globe, before Shakespeare had bought himself into Henslow‘s good books, this is the place where it started – think ‘Shakespeare In Love‘, the theatre in that where Joseph and Gwyneth frolic about in backstage, well that’s the Rose.

The Playhouse was discovered in the 80’s amidst the building of a new block of Bankside offices and a partial dig was undertaken; the bulk of the foundations of the pit and stage were unearthed but money ran out and the trustees have been fundraising every since to complete the dig. Plans are in place to have this fully realised in the next two years, but whilst that goes on, the board felt that the space should still be a living, breathing theatre, hence our chance to go and perform on the site that Shakespeare started his career on.

It’s eerie and atmospheric in the of best of ways, the original space stretching out behind the stage almost as if it is going into the past. The harsh, modernist lines of the 80’s office build remind the onlooker of that wonderful thing about London, it’s life built upon life, each generation making their mark whilst still knowing it stands on the shoulders of something that went before.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveLast year Scrawny Cat staged a four women version of ‘Richard III’ here. It was the first time we had worked in the space and was a massive learning curve. It absolutely shaped the way we approached ‘The Ghost Sonata‘. Just knowing the potential atmosphere, the way and where the eye is drawn to, the chill that gets in your bones when you sit there too long, the brilliant, invigorating clash between the ghosts of theatre past and the possibilities of theatre now. All of it informed the shape of ‘The Ghost Sonata’ and I feel like I am walking away from a very whole production, one that sat in the space it played in well.

When I was offered the August slot, I had to think about what I wanted to do. There were things we found in Richard that we, as a company, needed to explore more. But it was about finding the text that allowed us to do that. I love the concept of a liminal space, a betwixt and between, and the Rose is nothing if not that. So ‘The Ghost Sonata‘, a suggestion from an unlikely source that took seed in my mind, seemed to fit perfectly. It is a late Strindberg play, set in Stockholm and is often sited as the best example of early modernist theatre. It is about what we do to ourselves and other people and how we live with the weight of that. It is about a group of people in an urban space jumbled upon top of us. But it is also about the ghosts we all have and the price we pay for what we want. It is about that cage in which imprisoned men and women destroy each other by the intensity of their loves and hates.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveWhen I first read it, I didn’t understand it. When I read it for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th time, I still didn’t understand it and would develop a minor sweat at the thought that I had committed myself to making a play of this bundle of words that I really didn’t get. But gradually it took hold. Slowly I began to see the way it exists in a sort of limbo, a threshold for the characters as they look at their past, regard their future and find themselves walking over the path from one to the other. Eventually I began to see how this could manifest itself theatrically, how the transitional context that the characters all exist within could be staged, and staged there, in a place where past, present and future all combine in one.

Strindberg, Shakespeare in Love, playhouse, bankside, archaeological site london, history of London, Off Westend awards, Offiies,  The Rose Playhouse, Fringe Theatre London, London Theatre Company, London Theatre blog, Olivia Meguer, Foss Shepherd, Sophie McKay, Charley Willow, Charlotte IveStrindberg is a writer of ghosts. Whether they are his or that of the characters or the people making the play, the ghosts are there and make themselves heard. He is so adept at looking at the human condition, the idiosyncrasies we all have that eat away at us. But he does so in abstract. Strindberg was a modernist, embracing the idea that the disjointed nature of our nature could be the shape as well as the source of the drama. His plays can feel fragmented and disrupted, yet there are keys, repeated signs and images and motifs. And this is how it felt creating our version of ’The Ghost Sonata’. There is a sense to the play, there are themes that run through it like coloured thread. But they do not lay themselves out linealy. They show themselves slyly, in unexpected locations, surprising ways and through repeated refrains and words. They seemed to offer a chance of saying to the audience ‘Trust us, we’re telling you a story’ and asking them to go with you, with patience and slowly be satisfied. However the ghosts are always there, the stain of the life that went before and haunts you now. ‘The Ghost Sonata’ is full of spectres, threatening to unbalance the status quo. And yet there is also the possibility of the future, of what will come, if only the past could be swept away, or cleansed and started a new.

All themes that lend themselves very well to The Rose. To me The Rose itself could be described in a similar way. And for us as a company, being able to explore that, pull apart the where and how an audience sees it was a remarkable experience. We were able to combine overtly showing how we were making the story, the mechanics and reality of the actors and the space, whilst still telling a story. It felt like we found ways of asking for that trust, that patience as the keys and themes present themselves. Everything falls into place in the end, it all makes some sort of sense, even if it’s not a conventional one.

So now, it’s time for a little time to digest, a bit of time to think about what we do next and how and then onwards and onwards and onwards, taking the past with us and finding a new story to tell.

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