I Have The Feeling I Get When A Party Is Coming To An End…

… I fear they may not be another for some time.  

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The last nine weeks have been utterly incredible. Just under a year since the first draft was written, Vile Bodies has performed its final show. Things are already underway on a whole new generation of projects, but I don’t think I can ever love a project as much as I’ve loved Vile Bodies. 

A massive thanks to Peter Marsh for the photos, to everyone involved in the entire project, especially my incredible producer Kate, and also to the wonderful cast who fill me with parental love every time I see them.

For now, I suppose this is sort of the end of the blog. It may be updated from time to time with explorations of themes and character, but for now the production diary comes to a close. Thank you for reading, and hopefully we’ll have reasons to update fully very soon.

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Past The Point Of No Return

Today is the first performance of Vile Bodies at the Warwick Arts Centre. Our wonderful photographer who has always photographed every show in the Studio had to say:

I thought the production was great, with some really brilliant
moments, such as the staging of Simon’s demise.

At long last, and quite symbolically, I got the following from the lovely man who had also adapted Vile Bodies for his degree, but who never staged it, who I e-mailed back when we got the slot:

I see you are at the point of no return for your own VB adaptation. All I can say is the best of etc, break several legs etc etc. I may even try to get along for the Friday performance if there’s tickets, in which case I’ll drop you another email in case you want to hear my instantly delivered verdict.

It feels like everybody is on our side. The dress went great, the tech was relatively painless, and everybody has reached the zenith of what they have been set to do with this production. Soon the blog will have reached its end (unless we do the show again) and I have enjoyed every second of this journey with the cast and crew, even at the deepest glooms of the production.

I hope you too, readers, have enjoyed finding out a bit more about the whole process.

~ David xXx

The Final Stages

The last week has been a stressful one, partially kicked off by an inability to do my bloody laundry as the washing machine was eternally taken up with the clothes of my housemates. In a week of theatre submissions, direction and rehearsals, it was not what I needed at all.

Sunday morning I attempted to bake a birthday cake for a cast member. Cake, maybe dinner at local fried-goods pub Varsity, a good run; it felt like perfect chemistry for a morale boost after a few difficult weeks. But it wasn’t quite what we had expected. Sunday was a stressful day of everything colliding quite spectacularly. Needless to say, although the show looked great, it was a draining day for all involved.

This week, therefore, has been a weird one. Monday we did another run of the show, of which I was very proud. But as people had to leave as soon as they were done, the show petered out by the end of Act 3. However, it imbued me with hope. Light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, tonight, I sit here on a buzz from a really great run. It was emotional, hilarious, energetic and stressful. Dressed in our hoodies with the phantom of the V&A on Friday, it filled everyone with exceptional confidence.

I’ve started thinking a lot about Sondheim’s ‘Into The Woods’, which is a great show and a spectacular one to stage. As a result of, of course, being Mr. Vile Bodies, I therefore think about it in regards to Waugh’s novel. One of my favourite lines of the show is from ‘No One Is Alone’, the penultimate song.

Witches Can Be Right, Giants Can Be Good

You Decide What’s Right, You Decide What’s Good.

There is something unspeakably beautiful about the heroes of the play announcing that yes, sometimes the villains know best. The thing is, in Vile Bodies, often the most malign figures do. As Miles says at the end of Act 2:

I wish you didn’t admire us so much. It makes us so very hard to see we’re not worth admiring at all. Mrs Ape, Balcairn, Tiger… We laugh at them but we do it because if we dare to look at ourselves…

At the end of the day, sometimes you need to listen to bad people, because they have vital truths somewhere in there. It’s a weird moral to take from the play, and certainly not one to universalise. But I think its important to say; sometimes the virtuous are idiots, and sometimes bastards hold gems of wisdom.

As we reach the end of the process, I reflect back on what I’ve learnt (a great deal) and what I wish I had done different (probably a similar amount.) The show is far better than what I could ever have imagined, but I have a lot of development as a director. I need to learn to explore the themes and ideas more, whilst I am more of a creator of aesthetic and context. This will come, of course. I also ask myself if there are any favourite characters, scenes, or anything. No, I don’t know if there are. But there are things I know the audience may not notice which I love a great deal. One is ‘There Ain’t No Flies On The Lamb Of God’, of which I wrote the lyrics:

There ain’t no flies on the lamb of God
He smites them with his tail
And never are his dugs unsafe
Our God would never fail.
There ain’t no wrongs in the mind of God
He cannot change his thoughts
He only thinks the things divine
All of our shoulds and oughts.

There ain’t no waves in the sea of God
It’s tranquil as the sky
And only when the sailors sin
Do sailors sink and die.

There ain’t no sins in the past of God
He has no wrongs committed
We needn’t recall anything
For there’s nothing he’s omitted.

There ain’t no sting in the bee of God
He only gathers dust
To make the manna the Israelites ate
For he’s a guy we trust.

There ain’t no stain on the shirt of God
He’s always fresh to wear
But quite alike to stains he is
Because he’s always there.

I’m rather partial. Also, more invisibly, a scene that was cut featuring Archie talking to Nina at the start of Act 3. My favourite moment maybe being:

Archie

Everything’s changing. And I feel that if I don’t hold on, I’ll be thrown off like an old ball gown.

Nina

Archie darling… You can’t marry someone to remain in a social circle.

Archie

Isn’t that exactly what you’re doing?

 Sometimes, the most unexpected people hold the greatest truths.
And tonight, the washing machine was finally free.
David

The Metroland Marathon

Aside

With Beauty and the Beast over, life returns to Vile Bodies completely and utterly. With all my life devoted to making sure this show goes off without a hitch when it hits the V&A and the Warwick Arts Centre. The all consuming panic of a parent preparing their child for school hits one at times like this; the idea of sending my play into the hands of my team and cast in a venue where I will have no further control imbues me with excitement and also impeccable fear.

However, there is nothing more exciting than the sight of the play’s development. Even when people are tired and everything else, one sees the little moments of character finesse creep in. The Colonel’s laugh, Ginger’s card trick, the way Nina steals a cigarette, or the manner of Fortitude’s bearing; all the characters have taken on the most incredible autonomy. The world of Vile Bodies, as seen through the prism of my script, has truly come alive on stage.

Vile Bodies is a demanding show. Its physical, musical, emotional and a big ask of the actors more than anything. It is riddled with costumes and intricacies and I could not be more excited to see its complete form in under a fortnight when we do our dress at the V&A.

Today felt oddly cyclical in our rehearsal process. Whilst Henry focused on the angels’ singing and Chloe took to looking at the difficult Breakfast Table scene, I looked at Lady Metroland’s, the multi-faceted finale to Act 1. In the space of one party, Simon (Dan Hutton) is discovered dressed as an angel, Melrose’s singers tear each other apart over an opportunity, and Mrs Ape (Zoe Lambrakis) exposes us to a world of fascism, evangelism and horrifying truth. The scene ends in Simon’s scathing attack on the Bright Young Things, and a suicide ripped right out of Sylvia Plath’s life.

The scene is a difficult one because it combines all the disciplines of the show; dance, singing and acting. The angels have a hymn to perform, the cast have a dance number to sing and trip the light fantastic to, and there are some hefty moments of dramatic tension. However, the way to express the slowing down of the Metroland party and the genesis of SImon’s vision was difficult, but came about today with the use of an exercise Shubham used in our recalls- a Frantic Assembly thing called Contact Improv.

In Contact Improv, one creates a series of basic moves with a partner that can then be almost wallpapered with emotions and scenarios. Today we took to trying to use it to show the cyclical and mechanical nature of the party world of the fashionable set, and also to show Simon’s views of the world. His final dance with Nina as he delivers his monologue is nothing short of chilling to watch.

However, even now the scene still needs that final push to make it

Fantasies

Everybody has their favourite place. For Nina it is everywhere but on her own. For Adam its wherever he can write. For Archie it’s wherever the best people are, and for Lord Monomark he says its London but deep down its probably Necessity Manatoba. Mine, however, is the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. My parents first took me to see an exhibit of 60s fashion for my Mum’s birthday and since then I’ve been hooked. It’s Victorian build, its incredible food, its eclectic and ridiculous galleries that occasionally just make it look like an oversized curiosity shop, the incredible gift shop… The V&A has been one of my favourite places in the world for a while.

Yesterday I got a phone call to say that the V&A wanted us to do a dress rehearsal of Vile Bodies in February in the museum. I don’t think I have ever been so excited about a piece of news in my life. My play is going to be in London, watched by strangers, and we’ll be fed and transported for free. A day in London with some of my favourite people sounds most welcome indeed.

The play is beginning to take shape, and I hate the fact I have to step back so much for the next two weeks even though I’m very excited for Beauty and the Beast. I feel incredibly close to my cast and my team who are the people who are genuinely making this show happen, not me. I’m just the one throwing out ideas they make happen.

A new scene is being added to Act 3 to help bridge the fairly intense rift for Adam and Nina with something else. The scene occurs in a party on a zeppelin, in which Mary Brown has got her tongue down the throat of a Maharajah, Nina and Ginger are parading about, and Lord Monomark and Lady Metroland have a conversation on the topic of Miles.

Monomark

Maybe not today, but soon, everyone will know. Tiger… Has bridges to burn.

Metroland

Don’t we all.

Monomark

It’ll be fine. Like all fires, we may get away with just the lingering scent of smoke.

Metroland

And if not…

Monomark

Then your butterfly’s wings may prove to be little more than feathers and wax.

Metroland

My boy isn’t like the Runcible girl, he’s strong.

Monomark

I wish I wasn’t the only one who could see it. Because I won’t help him. It’s not my place.

Today I went to an exhibit of art in Leamington inspired by the horrors at Terezin. It was fascinating, and as always humbled me by remembering how great my life is in comparison to some. But most importantly it made me think about the fact this was all just following on from the play. The holocaust was beginning to take shape right under the Bright Young Thing’s noses, some of them even supported the third reich, as we’ve discussed before. It is easy for us to mock them in hindsight for their stupidity, but retrospect is 20/20. How could they possibly know what was occurring just outside Prague or Krakow in fortresses of gas and hatred? We can laugh at them now, yet we advertise the rebirth of the Sloane in Made In Chelsea and the Gap Yah videos. We mock them, but we also envy them. Just like people did back then. When another disaster hits it will be aristocrats like them that will be hated- very possibly rightly so- but only to hide our own inability to see the truth. It’s not like anybody in England was going out to Europe and trying to make amends.

From Document To Drama

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By Ashmore Visuals and Peter Marsh

The last two weeks have been filled with rehearsals all over the ruddy shop, and on Sunday we had completed most of Act 1; only a few scenes remain to be finished in there; the Colonel and the Breakfast Table and most of the Metroland Party need to be finished. Simon’s monologues need some coverage. Bits here and there need work but, over all, a successful run considering most of the cast were unavailable.

Above is a photo taken by the wonderful Peter Marsh of our first run of the opening scene, a version of ‘Sing Sing Sing’ involving dance, a cappella singing and dialogue. In the above extract, Miles (Euan Kitson) and Agatha (Alice Whitehead) gaze down upon the dancing masses and announce them all too, too sweat-making.

One of the most electric parts of the rehearsal process thus far- beyond getting to know the cast and the combination of art forms coming together- has been developing the script. When one mind sits and writes a script there is bound to be discrepancies. With 17 further minds, each taking one, two or three characters and filling these people out with everything they need to become real people, the script takes on new life. Part of the fun of a student-written script is also the liberal way one can edit dialogue. Several times actors have turned round and said they don’t feel a character would say that line. Syntax is constantly being edited. New jokes and levels and elements to the play are added in regularly. In tonight’s rehearsal, we sat about for ten minutes as we tried to find a suitably cutting line for Adam to end a scene on. 

More than anything else, however, it is startling to see the words already on the page come to life. Although the book and the film both lent themselves hugely in the conception of the project, the speed of its completion required me to usually write scenes entirely of my own, as did the theatrical staging of the book. 80% of the script is effectively my own work, and to watch these words come to life feels as it does in any play that I have created from scratch. Slowly but surely a land of aristocrats, brusque Americans, racing cars and sexy jazz music has begun to appear from the murky pool of a script, and it is thrilling beyond compare.

As week 4 nears, and my role in the show will have to diminish slightly as I finish another project, I cannot wait to see what happens by the end of this intense three week period.