The Performance

I’m delighted to tell you that the performance on Friday was a great success: the actors gave wonderful performances, my services as prompter were only needed a couple of times, Professor Tiffany Stern’s introductory talk about actors’ parts and early modern rehearsal methods was fascinating and accessible, and the audience was enthusiastic and appreciative. We were amazed by how smoothly the play went with so little rehearsal time, and even more surprised by how funny the play was – the audience laughed heartily throughout, even at the most ‘tragic’ moments. As the onstage prompter, even I found it difficult to keep a straight face!

I’ll share more thoughts about the performance, the rehearsal process, and the disturbing interplay between tragedy and comedy in this domestic tragedy, over the coming weeks. I’ll also be posting a short documentary that explores how the actors found working with actors’ parts. In the meantime, anyone who wasn’t able to attend the performance (or anyone who was there and wants to re-live the evening) can find a rather rough around the edges recording of the play on our YouTube channel, here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUU_gqVIaFKKRZSUBOR5FYQ/videos

I hope you enjoy it!

Today’s Performance

After an intense fortnight of one-on-one rehearsals, a read-through, a ‘stage business’ rehearsal, a dress rehearsal, and much prop-buying and blood-making, the day of the performance is finally here. The programmes have been printed, the props are ready to transport, the actors are prepared, the drinks for the wine reception will soon arrive, and the prop corpse has been constructed – I just need to apply fresh blood to its wounds, and then all is ready. It’s all very exciting; I can’t wait to watch the performance from my book-holder’s seat…

If you need directions to the room, you can use the UCL Route Finder: http://crf.casa.ucl.ac.uk. The Jeremy Bentham Room is easiest to locate from the Gower Street entrance.

If you haven’t booked, but would like to attend, we’ve had a couple of last-minute cancellations, so there will be a few tickets available on the door; I’d advise arriving early to collect one.

I look forward to seeing you all later! If you’re unable to attend, a film of the performance will be posted on this blog at some point over the next few days.

As a pre-performance taster, here is James Phillips, in character as ‘Gentleman with a Spaniel’, describing what the play is about – as an actor using ‘parts’, the only lines to which he has access are his own, and you can see here how this has shaped his view of the play:

Dress Rehearsal

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On Saturday 15th March, we held our tech rehearsal – the first occasion the actors worked on the play as a group. We didn’t run scenes in full, but instead, ran only the tricky stage business – entrances and exits, music cues, fights, use of stage blood, props, and the jig at the end. It was a nerve-wracking experience for the actors, who found themselves trying to remember cue-lines without knowing what other actors were going to say or do. However, it all came together on Sunday the 16th March, at the dress rehearsal: we ran the play in full, and the actors did astonishingly well at remembering there lines while acting together for the first time, navigating the stage space, and making sense of character relationships, imagined place and plot developments. Although I was onstage throughout as the prompter, I was only needed a couple of times in each scene – for a first rehearsal, this was incredible! I can’t wait to see how the play works in performance on Friday – in the mean-time, here is a sneak peak of our dress rehearsal, from our lovely photographer, Niina Tamura.

Merry, played by Freyja Cox Jensen, contemplates his crime...

Merry, played by Freyja Cox Jensen, contemplates his crime…

Rachel, played by Eleanor Rushton, cleans up the blood

Rachel, played by Eleanor Rushton, cleans up the blood

A scene of convivial drinking, with Brian McMahon and Mike Waters

A scene of convivial drinking, with Brian McMahon and Mike Waters. Our lutenist, Sam Brown, sits to the side of the stage space, ready to play.

A boy with a hammer 'sticking in his head'

A boy, played by James Phillips, with a hammer ‘sticking in his head’

Kit Spink plays a man with a fearful secret; Jack Blackburn is the friend who tries to persuade him to tell.

Kit Spink plays a man with a fearful secret; Jack Blackburn is a friend who must persuade him to tell.

Two Watermen, Charlie Howitt and Becky Moore, have made a discovery.

Two Watermen, Charlie Howitt and Becky Moore, have made a discovery.

Elspeth North, playing the Salter, must recognise a killer

Elspeth North, playing the Salter, must recognise a killer

Two Lamentable Tragedies (credit- Niina Tamura) (30 von 113)

Brian McMahon, as constable, prepares to make an arrest, wit the help of the Watermen.

Things will not end well for Merry and Rachel...

Things will not end well for Merry and Rachel…

I am holding the prompt script - an essential part of the process!

I am holding the prompt script – an essential part of the process!

Video

Cue-Script Workshop and Read-Through

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Prior to our read-through of The Tragedy of Thomas Merry at the weekend, the cast spent two hours reading, rehearsing and staging mini-scenes from other domestic tragedies: Arden of Faversham, A Warning for Fair Women, A Woman Killed with Kindness, Two Lamentable Tragedies, A Yorkshire Tragedy and Romeo and Juliet. Working from cue-scripts, they experienced a miniature version of the intensive fortnight-long rehearsal process for Merry: a read-through of their scenes, intensive work on their cue-scripts, line-learning, a single group rehearsal, and performance. This video captures dramatic, funny and memorable moments from this process. I hope you enjoy it!

Read-through

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I’m very excited about the read-through tomorrow; the actor’s ‘parts’ are now printed, although the majority don’t yet know which parts they will receive, and I’m just preparing the prompt copy, to ensure it has all musical cues and props, so that I can keep an eye on the action from my offstage position as ‘Book Holder’. Tomorrow, the actors will meet me to work on using cue-scripts from 2.30pm, and then the parts will be handed out at 5pm, at which point our intensive rehearsal fortnight will officially begin…

I’ll post the cast list this weekend; I’m so excited to announce the fantastic actors we have working with us. Many of them have worked together before, which I hope will create an instant company rapport, but I’ve also tried to mix up the casting, so that everyone gets the chance to appear in a scene with someone new. It’s hard to predict how the read-through will unfold, but when I sat in on a read-through led by Philip Bird at the Globe, with a group of MA Acting students from the University of Exeter, I was struck by how much cue-scripts transform the process. At a usual read-through, everyone’s heads are down as they scan the script for their next appearance and concentrate on how they’ll deliver their next line, safe in the knowledge that they know when they’ll have to speak. In contrast, at a cue-script read-through, everyone is listening very hard indeed to everyone else, unsure when their next line might come. It transforms a reading into a conversation.

There will be one tool to make things a little easier: the ‘platt’, essentially a plot that provides a ‘map’ of the play for the actors, giving scene numbers, entrances and exits, and any fights or deaths. The amazing Henslowe-Alleyn Digitization Project, which has digitised the manuscripts belonging to the theatre impresario and the famous actor, has posted a surviving example here: http://www.henslowe-alleyn.org.uk/essays/plot.html (thanks to actor Mike Waters for drawing this to my attention). All actors will have a copy of the platt, so they can follow where they are in the play’s trajectory.

So all is (almost) ready for tomorrow, when the rehearsal period finally begins! At the moment, there’s just one small problem – I seem to have lost my voice… This would be catastrophic for a modern director, but it may prove to be a blessing in disguise: as Book Holder, I mustn’t ‘direct’ in a modern sense, but simply ensure actors follow the script, and assist them if they get lost. If I’m forced to speak at only a whisper, I should be discouraged from giving ‘helpful’ interpretations of suggestions that may disrupt the actors’ explorations of their parts; I’ll be forced to take a back-seat, as last resort rather than guide. The great thing about cue-scripts is that they allow the actors to take the lead.

I’ll post about the read-through itself over the weekend; expect photos, videos, and regular updates as rehearsal fortnight unfolds!

Onstage Lute Accompaniment

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In adhering to Elizabethan rehearsal and performance practices, we want to accompany the performance with music contemporary to ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ and appropriate to the dark and bloody nature of the tragedy. I’m delighted to announce that the wonderful lutenist Sam Brown  has agreed to accompany the performance, drawing from his repertoire pieces by the Elizabethan composers John Dowland, Robert Johnson and Francis Pilkington. Our musical director, Dr Simon Smith, has assisted in the selection of pieces, and has worked with us on adding musical cues to the script, ensuring that our musical practices are appropriate throughout the rehearsal process and performance. Music will be used as an overture, in the act breaks, at moments of heightened theatricality, such as when the narrator-figure, Truth, appears, and to play the closing jig.

Sam Brown will be visible to the audience throughout, at the edge of the playing space, in line with the theatrical conventions of indoor theatres and court masques. Although ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ is likely to have been performed in an outdoor theatre, our own performance is in a smaller, indoor space, and so we aim to adhere to the conventions appropriate to the size and circumstances of our playing space. We are therefore using a single lutenist, rather than the group of musicians that would be necessary in a larger, outdoor space. Sam will be involved in rehearsals from the read-through onwards, to ensure that the actors are comfortable with the musical accompaniment, and that it becomes part of the performance, rather than a last-minute addition. I can’t wait to hear how his playing interacts with the text at the read-through!

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Sam Brown accompanying The Tragedie of Cleopatra (directed by Emma Whipday, produced by Yasmin Arshad, March 2013)

Our Supporters

I’m delighted to announce that our production is generously supported by the Malone Society, the UCL Arts and Humanities Faculty Institute of Graduate Studies, and the UCL Centre for Early Modern Exchanges.

Thank you very much to all our supporters for making ‘The Tragedy of Merry’ possible.

Booking is now open; please email twolamentabletragedies@gmail.com to reserve a ticket. All tickets are free, but space is limited, so book soon to avoid disappointment!

‘Parts’ Workshop

In November, I worked with two actors, Beth Eyre and Elspeth North, on three potentially tricky scenes from the play: one where Rachel discovers her brother’s act of murder, one where Merry must decide how to dispose of his victim’s body, and one where two waterman find the dismembered remains. All three are complicated to stage: the first because there is a considerable amount of to-ing and fro-ing, as the siblings move between the spaces of their home; the second because it requires onstage dismemberment; and the third because it is a farcical, slapstick scene on which the tragedy of the play hinges. In workshopping these scenes with Beth and Elspeth, I wanted to explore whether using actor’s parts helped the actors get to grips with the complexity of these scenes, or whether they were a hindrance.

In line with Elizabethan rehearsal practices, we plan to rehearse these scenes only once or twice: the more complex stage business, such as dismemberment, will be rehearsed a week before the performance, with props and stage blood on hand, whilst the full scenes will be run through (with lengthly speeches omitted) in a single full cast rehearsal. The workshop was essentially a dry run: an attempt to run the more demanding scenes, with scripts in hand, with two members of the cast before the formal rehearsal process begins. The cast are unlikely to be playing these roles in the full production, so it won’t affect their preparation for the final performance. We found that, while limited knowledge of the overall action of a scene and the characters onstage can be challenging and distracting for an actor, it can also give verisimilitude to actor reactions, which often mirror those of the character. This can be seen in the Watermen scene, in which the two watermen discover the corpse, but neither actor is fully aware of how the scene will unfold:

To see Beth and Elspeth’s experiences at the workshop, and hear how they found working with parts in these scenes, take a look at the Two Lamentable Tragedies YouTube channel, where you can find all three scenes, as well as an interview with the actors.

The Tragedy of Thomas Merry at UCL

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I’m delighted to announce that ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’, from Robert Yarrington’s Two Lamentable Tragedies (1601) will be performed in the Jeremy Bentham Room at UCL at 7pm on Friday 21st March.

The play will be rehearsed in line with Elizabethan rehearsal practices: actors’ parts (also known as cue-scripts); a rehearsal period of a fortnight; and a single group rehearsal. The first time the cast will perform the entire play together will be on the night of the performance; a rather daunting task for the actors, but it should make it an exciting, if unpredictable, experience for the audience!I will post more details, as well as rehearsal photos and videos, as the rehearsal period progresses…

Philip Bird will lead the cast in a workshop on working with cue-scripts in a couple of weeks, to prepare the cast and get everyone used to working together as a company. A lutenist, a musical director, and a cast of ten are now on board, including Dr Freyja Cox Jensen, a historian at Exeter University, who will be both performing in and producing the play, in the tradition of the actor-sharer. I’ll post further details about the participants in this project over the coming weeks.

A version of ‘The Tragedy of Thomas Merry’ was performed by the Admiral’s Men at the Rose in 1600, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, so we will be using Philip Henslowe’s Diary as a guide to our theatrical practice, alongside the research of Professor Tiffany Stern, who has kindly agreed to speak at the performance.

To reserve a ticket, email twolamentabletragedies@gmail.com. Tickets are free, but space is limited, so tickets must be reserved in advance.

More details to follow shortly!

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