End of Act I
It’s a Monday night, around 8.30, and the cast are taking a five-minute water break. This is a typical rehearsal for us – static, focussed, and exhausting. We’ve worked together for around eight months, now, but we’re only now approaching what it has all been leading to – opening night, 7pm, at the King’s Head.
One of the crew has connections with a small Fringe venue, and we’re in the main stage space – minimally-lit, a few parcans casting a soft yellow glow on the dance flooring. Whilst the cast step outside for air and space, I sit with Laura, our producer, and ask her how she thinks it’s going.
It’s what I’m expecting. Quiet confidence, albeit tinged with a flavour of apprehension.
“Will it work, Laura?”
She looks at me.
The cast trickle back in and take their marks on the stage. Johannes, our sound designer, begins the heavy atmosphere track for the start of Act II.
“Ok – well, stop us if you think of anything.”
I take my place alongside Chris, upstage-centre. Katy kills the lights, and in darkness, Act II begins.
There’s no blocking in the entire play. No movement, no props, no scenes.
“A passerby would see little as the tailor, a pair of worn scissors in her hand, stood by the door and watched the plaster flake from the jamb.”
The act begins, as the play’s heavy narration thrusts us back into the action of 1918.
Being a director and an actor is difficult at best, but when you’re attempting to write notes whilst standing in the dark…
A few minutes later, the lights hit Chris and Ollie. Chris is lit from the front, his face now visible in the gloom. Ollie from behind, silhouetted in black. Chris is playing Volker – one of the six protagonists in the play. The protagonists are the only people the audience will see. Ollie is playing a supporting part – a soldier called Gunner. The supporting characters are backlit – barely visible. I hear Julia’s voice next to me.
“Volker struggles to breathe through the swollen tongue and parchment-like skin of the inside of his mouth.”
Julia is narrating in this scene – a role we all share, and in a way, the main character.
“He’s delirious and weak and has no idea that he is getting lost.”
The sound of gunfire and distant avalanches, and the squelching of boots in a marsh accompanies the storytelling. I scribble notes – earlier with the anti-aircraft, Chris, keep still – on my script. I catch sight of Laura, cross-legged, and watching. She catches my eye. I raise an eyebrow. She smiles and puts a thumb up.
We’ve only a week or so to go, but I’m happy, now. I’m happy because our play – our strange play, not quite for radio, not quite for stage, cinematic in sound and tone, and literary in its complexity – works.