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.

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From Document To Drama

Image

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. 

Just Like Dowagers: Mothers and Daughters In Vile Bodies

Our last and fifth day of workshops consisted of a return to some old ideas and an exploration of some new ones; with a pack of cards we explored power relationships, with Ryuichi Sakamoto we explored how the characters perceive themselves, what it is that helps them get up in the morning, and how they think. It was a fun day, an experimental close to an experimental week.

Since the week began the degree has started again and rehearsals have begun in earnest. Every rehearsal has differed so far as we tackle a different scene and different ideas fundamentally at their crux. Our first rehearsal visited The Shepherd’s Hotel, where our focus was on the lives of Lottie, Doge and Ginger. Our second looked into the world of Simon and Miles. Tonight’s rehearsal was an exploration of Mary and Martha and their scenes in the play.

There are some consistent themes throughout this play: love, money, fame, hope, change, redemption, corruption, but one of the most startling things about the characters we have in this play is the relationship of parents and children.

In the whole of the six main characters we have two parents, and out of the rest of them we don’t seem to have a whole family between them (with the exception of Archie, but then the day someone asks him about his home life is the day the world ends.) Agatha’s mother died in childbirth, an event that has placed a heavy burden on her father and her’s relationship and sent her into the care of a rich maiden-aunt. Miles’ father has eloped to Vienna with his mistress, leaving Margot Metroland to deal with an empty house and a need to fill the void with drugs and alcohol. Adam’s father is distant, his mother potentially dead. Nina’s mother has disappeared into the void of time and her father is far from the kindest figure in the play. And Simon? Well him and his parents don’t really talk anymore. That’s what you get when you’re a cat’s paw (and, you know, a prick.)

Therefore in the play we only meet two parents; the Colonel and Lady Metroland, both of whom serve comic purposes in the play. However the play is littered with surrogate parental figures- the Drunk Major, Lord Monomark, the Prime Minister and his wife, Lottie Crump and even Melrose Ape all step into the breach to fill a world with adults; a world that would admittedly have a constricted older generation thanks to the first great war.

Lily Brewer, who plays Lady Metroland, also plays Mary, who is the Saffy of this Absolutely Fabulous play. Mary is rich, but Mary is not a bright young thing; she is a dowdy and frumpy girl who’s mother has crushed all the fun out of her. When her middle-class and ambitious friend Martha finds her, it’s Martha’s chance to enter the circle of the fashionable set. As we see in the scenes in 10 Downing Street however, Martha may want the BYTs, but they don’t want her:

Martha
Oh Simon, how bogus!

Agatha
Miles, did you hear that?

Miles
I do believe I did!

Mary meanwhile hates this world she is thrust into, but due to a desire to be liked and a desire to do what she feels she ought, she goes along with the utterly disgusting people that are Agatha and Miles, and ends up in conflict with her stern and dour mother. Lily was quick to spot similarities between Mary and Lady Metroland.

Margot, like so many women in the play, was a debutante who came out at 18 and was quickly snatched up by the industrialist tycoon Lord of Metroland, Mr Malpractice. Within the year Margot was fully domesticated and lumbered with a child, and although she loved Miles very much she hated her parents bitterly for selling her into this life so quickly. When her husband ran off with his mistress (for he had an heir, and therefore no further need for Margot, whose youthful looks were drained by motherhood) she was left with her son. So when Miles went off on the grand tour, and then to Oxford where he met Adam, and then moved into the family’s London townhouse, Margot could not have dealt with it worse; needing to fill the Miles-shaped void, she took to drugs and alcohol in a way like she never had before.

Like Mary, Margot is a victim of doing what one ‘ought’, as are so many women in Vile Bodies, including Nina. Margot is not a good mother, but she is the only matriarch in the play who is actually benign, and in no way corrupt. Mrs Brown, played by the wonderful and scintillatingly-voiced Zoe Lambrakis, is a good mother but a cold and heartless dragon who turns her house into a clockwork asylum (intriguingly, the real wife of Neville Chamberlain was actually a feisty and ambitious character- more akin to Zoe’s last big role, Lady Macbeth, than Mrs Brown is.)

Zoe is our resident player of mothers. Unlike Lily, who’s talent for playing desperation comes out so wonderfully in the rabbit-in-the-headlights Mary and who’s talent for aged flamboyance explodes like a firework in Lady Metroland, Zoe has spent her time playing Shakespearean roles at university, and steps into Vile Bodies playing three very different characters, but all, at heart, mothers. Mrs Brown is the stoic iron lady, whilst Lottie is a tart with a hart who mothers Adam but is, essentially, prostituting her motherly love; because if he can’t pay, he can’t enjoy it. However, there is no other woman in the play so protective of Adam’s wellbeing- she arrives to try and get Adam the money they both so desperately need, and leaves having been torn from his side by her Jewish heritage, only to be stuck with the woman he hates and she is little closer to- Nina Blount. Lottie, whenever she bustles about the stage, is a charming and warm character.

Quite unlike Melrose Ape, therefore. Melrose, Zoe’s third character, is the most wicked and disgusting woman alive. Not only a zealous evangelist and open nazi-sympathiser, she is also a complete hypocrite. Melrose is like the world’s worst stage mother; she has erased any history she once had, though we know vaguely that she crept up from a small swamp-ridden family in Alabama or thereabouts, and having experienced evangelism at a young age decided it was her calling. However, she quickly realised wicked men only listened to one thing; youthful beauty. Melrose began collecting beautiful young faith-filled and singing girls from across America, her ‘angels’, who have always borne five names; Divine Discontent, Prudence, Hope, Fortitude and Chastity (although other angel lines may have died out.) These five lines of angels, like the Doctor, or James Bond, have been ‘passed down’ whenever an angel ‘retires’. Just before the play begins, Divine Discontent has been thrown out, Fortitude has become the oldest member, and a new Divine Discontent arrives- a 14-year-old southern belle with a love of God that reminds Melrose of herself in younger days- played by the brilliant Elly Parsons.

Melrose Ape is the sort of woman with scrapbooks of photos and articles about her girls, maybe even collecting the odd scrap of hair. Her life is devoted to the girls she exploits and literally sells off to the highest bidder. When they inconveniently get old or pregnant, she ejects them from the safety of her act.

Although her underlings are exploited and quite frankly raped by her clients, they are safe in employment and finance with her. Though not given much freedom or money they enjoy a life of plenty in a time of scarcity. They have played for the greatest names and in the greatest halls in the world. Before the play, they have just finished performing for Mussolini himself.

But the angels are corrupt and twisted little women; wise beyond their years, music is now a strict job they must perfect, sex is life, and religion is a paradox they can’t understand- how can it be the thing that preaches the sanctity of the body can also desecrate their young forms via conversion? Melrose Ape is a horrible, twisted phantom of a woman. One need only look at Fortitude, a stuck-up Regina George who is 18 and on her way to the glue factory, aware she is on her last legs, ready to be replaced by the smart-arsed and contrary Hope, and how contorted her mind is to see what Melrose does to the people about her. Even Divine Discontent, who arrived with a belief in the goodness of the word of God, has become another victim of the fascist machine that is Ape. She is not a character to sympathise with; she needs no backstory, she needs no love. She is a hypocrite and a bitch.

Yet Melrose Ape is the holy fool of this tragedy. She is the first to speak out and say that the Bright Young Things are a hedonistic and foolish set. Before Simon, Tiger, Archie or Adam can even think the same thought, Melrose is already being silenced by Lady Metroland, a mother figure who, whilst loving, couldn’t give a shit what drugs her son is taking.

And also, the exposure and prostitution of the angels has horrid parallels to the idea of debutantes; whilst the debutante world is not as exploitative or ethically unbalanced, in both girls are sent into the world to find men, and if they don’t do their job as they wish, then a cruel state of pariah-dom may be all you can expect. Martha has had a few years with no male success, Agatha has too but she cares little for meeting a man. Mary’s getting on even at 19, Nina took the wrong man in Adam, and Margot regrets how quickly she entered the world of female servitude. In the end, what is so different from Margot and Fortitude, except that Fortitude knows exactly what she has to look forward to?

Choppin’ And Chopin: The Movement Workshop

After two days of character intense and improv-stodgy preparation, Chloe’s arrival lightened the process significantly with a bit of a changed mode of doing things, and it was super great fun.

Day 3 Log

Chloe started off the day with a quick warm-up of the whole body and then a focus on exploring the movement of every part of your body, from your toes to your elbows. Then she moved into exploring being lead by particular body parts in movement, and moving about the space. We also looked at characters meeting, and a blind character interacting with a still, seeing character.

Next, Chloe drew on Pina Bausch by asking the actors to think of the ‘I am…’ lists we drew up the day before/invent them if they had missed it. Actors thought of words for their character and started to embody those emotional states through movement. Even when people chose states irrelevant of character, there was something to be drawn from the exercise; one of the most fascinating was Lottie doing Fortitude. We began to see the desperation of an angel about to reach the end of her career, and what that can do to a girl who wants to be famous. Also noticeable was the birth of Floss, the second nurse in Agatha’s asylum, who formed under the careful command of the wonderful Lizzy Leech.

Having explored that, we took lunch and then began looking at how characters walk. Chloe asked the actors to consider the very anatomy of walking; what it is that makes their walk their own, and therefore what objective anatomical notes made Nina’s walk, for example, the walk of Nina. As walks were developed, Chloe then warmed up the cast and then had them walking about the streets of London and feeling, but having to hide, disgust, hilarity, offence or sadness at the people around them or at themselves. It was wonderful to see the ways one hides the way they feel, and showed the subtleties of how one masks their feelings.

Chloe then took the cast through a series of choreographed movements to help prepare them for the demands of posture and the dance of the time. Finally we sat down and talked character again, but finally placing the characters into a type of movement; whether they were absurd or natural or performing-natural or natural-performing-absurd or the like.

The final stage of the rehearsal Day 3 was my own creation (well, if you can call it that): an in-character dinner. We went to local student haven and curry heaven King Babas and from the moment poppadoms arrived until the bill was placed on the table, our actors stayed in character. For 90 minutes we met our characters in depth and saw the products of a great deal of work, and we almost didn’t get hated by the other customers. It was really great fun, really drunken, and lead into a wonderful cast social in my living room playing ‘I have never.’

Day 4

Day 4 started off with a return to the wonderful world of children’s playground games. My knees may never recover after a crawling game of bulldog. Ever. But leapfrog, stuck in the mud (or dizzy scarecrows, as Chloe called it- crazy Northerners) and normal bulldog also all made appearances.

Then the cast tried moving with an exploration of resistance, limitation and expression. It was a really wonderful thing to watch as Chloe played a good fifteen minutes of Chopin with assorted criteria for movement.

With this movement we then went back to exploring character walks, and choosing lines which were either emphatic or fake from the characters. Saying them both over and over again, louder and louder, with more gesticulation, and changing inflection, allowed them to find what suited the character best. It opened up a lot of questions about the characters as a result.

Next we tried performing scenes from the play silently, with only movement to express them; Archie, Nina and Adam at the summer handicap, Miles and Simon at dinner, and the angels and Melrose arriving in Dover.

Finally, we tried improv, in which the audience were allowed to yell out anything for the cast to adopt as part of their characterisation; this ranged from ‘hot’ or ‘itchy’ to ‘Nina is Alan Rickman’, ‘Adam can only move by shimmying’ and ‘Hope is now the embodiment of negative space.’

Yeah.

Actors right?

 

Helena Gumley-Mason’s ‘Etiquette and general possibly useful stuff’

A

 

Apologising: – More of a mea cupla (it was entirely my fault) attitude. Acknowledging the mistake you made – “sorry I am so late,” To put it far more eloquently as Debretts does ”The urge to elicit groveling self-abasement is both childish and offensive”

 

B

 

Banting- After the Dr Banting – how to get the new thin look by following a strict diet. You wouldn’t say someone was dieting – you would say they were “banting”

 

Bright Young Things. – . Usually too young to have served in the Great War. . Moneyed . Leisured.. dancing all the new dances. Driving new and faster cars. Inventing there own slang (different sets came up with different saying) For example the Inner London Set in the thirties described things as sweet or “do be a sweetie”

 

BBC – Monopoly. The only broadcasting company at this point. Aimed purely at middle classes and above . Hugely helping/ influencing the way people talked from Lands End to John O ‘Groats. What referred to as “received pronunciation” – basically BBC English.

 

C

 

Cinema – Everyone goes. Several times a week – to “watch the talkies” Sound really came in with the 30s (first was 1927 but talkies really came into their own in the thirties)

 

Cars /Motor Cars – Quite simply – more of them although still very few though. Of course they were needed more in towns. As the thirties went on they became smaller, cheaper and faster..

 

Chivalry. During the thirties it was becoming more apparent that women didn’t “need “ help /rescuing. However a few things were still expected of men toward women. The three main things: acknowledging any female presence– doffing hat and standing up when females entered a room. Walking curbside as well when escorting women in the street (to avoid splashing by motor cars or trams etc. Of course opening doors for women was expected.

 

Cocktails. Abbreviated by people like Wallis Simpson to KTS – Savoy American Bar developed exotic and lethal cocktails and still do them today. KTS tied in with the nightclub culture.

 

Club: Men of a certain club would be part of an exclusive club in London. You could stay there if you came down to London for a night. A place where you would meet people – the phrase “Come to the club for lunch ” recurred often .

 

D

 

Diction: watch brief encounter and talk to david for a long period of time. Nuff said. Also any Noel Coward songs – “The Stately Homes of England?” Just remember clipped, pushing of words to the front of your mouth. The more restrained and correct you are the less you will have to use your mouth and draw any attention to any kind of sensuality. Think of words like awfully, frightfully, terribly. Lengthening of certain vowels – gone owfe – clawthe (cloth) short stupid (stoopid). Garrige not garrage. Reiterated words and phrases such as “I mean” and “don’t you know”

 

Divorce: Increasingly common. In some sets there were competitions to see who could marry most often and get the most money out of it.

 

Dancing – Charleston , the Black Bottom to name a few of these new American dances. Referred to as “The new Barbarism” with the underlying and somewhat disturbing influence of jazz and blues etc.

 

E

 

Edward VIII abdicates. Nation united in loathing of Wallis Simpson.

 

F

 

Fashion. Again this ties in with posture (see later). The Bright Young Things are trend setters but first and foremost – exhibitionists. Their harshest critics …each other.

 

Formality; First in terms of dress even when being casual . Men wold have had a jacket and tie, you would have been used to wearing black tie and occasionally white tie . They would have felt quite familiar with dressing more formally and.

 

(Small gestures while wearing clothes to emphasise the care and pride you take in your appearance. Possibly every now and then just check that your tie knot is jut so..your cuff etc. Sometimes Prince Charles does it in interviews! – More about the language of gesture rather than actually adjusting your tie. When going out not only hat would be worn but there would have been stick (again more for the purpose of accessory than practical function) and gloves.)

 

-Ladies – androgyny !! Move away from the restrictive corsets. Moving away from the frivolity of flappers. No need any more to be afraid of using your body.. Considerably greater sexual awareness. No need to wear dresses either – slacks came into fashion as did plain shirts and plain jackets. Not about relying solely on your clothes for self expression.

 

Fascism; Sir Oswald Moseley and his Blackshirts. It is a phenomenon which triumphs in Spain Italy Germany. Not necessarily a bad word amongst the aristocrats and the sets. Many aristocratic people thought it was perfectly acceptable – especially when it came to appeasement

 

G

 

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. She brought sex appeal he brought entertainment. Adele Astaire interestingly married into the Devonshire Dynasty – became something of a minor aristocrat.

 

Gramophone-Now small enough to be portable. No party should be without one. A portable band you can dance to in your own home. “How deevy!” (slang for divine – but when it came to usic – the thirties equivalent of groovy!)

 

 

H

 

Hair : Short., men using grease such as Brillliantine. KInd of lacquered look. Women leaving girlhood behind at about the age of seventeen or eighteen if you were upper class and had been presented to society.

 

Homosexuality: Obviously frowned upon. Although it was more tolerated in upper class circles – your friends would turn a blind eye. If caught “cottaging” (Hampstead Heath was something of a hotspot for the practice during this period) you would be sent to prison without question.

I

 

India and Empire. The notion of an entire peoples belonging to the crown and Britain still around in this period.

 

J

 

Jazz – new daring slightly decadent. Knowing that your parents wont like it but you and your friends you do . Nazis and Communists also hated it.

 

 

L

 

Laughter – not too much – no more than an appreciative aha. Otherwise it could allude to drunken and unruly behaviour.

 

Ladies – withdraw after dinner to chat while men had whiskey and cigars and so on. Important to note there were two types of lady:

-the fast set (like Wallis Simpson) – sexually promiscuous, more practised in the “art” of ex and seduction. Drink, smoke, do drugs, dance and dress sexually. Delight in causing scandals.

-and the stay at home ones like HRH Queen Liz married to Bertie who was to become King George VI

 

M

 

Marriage – not necessarily on the shelf if not married (for a woman) by the age of twenty five. Still very much the thing to do. Sometimes seen as the only way out of a scandal.

 

Mistresses – almost fashionable after Wallis Simpson. It was understood in certain circles that once children had been produced a man could take a mistress with his wifes full knowledge. Of course if a married woman committed the same act she would be cast out and rejected by society, her friends and family.

 

N

 

Nightclub: Increasingly common. Names like The Embassy , Kit Kat and the Scarlet Peacock.

 

O

 

Oil: More Millionaires and more success stories. It was now more possible than ever (mainly in the US) to get rich quick and go from being a nobody to a very sought after somebody

 

P

 

Posture – women – elongate the body. This is where fashion and smoking come in as well. Lifting the head so you are almost looking down your nose – aware of your own self importance and self confidence without being rude. The more you bare your neck the more you show how comfortable you are (think when a wasp comes near – most push their chin down and hunch their shoulders as a self defense mechanism)

 

Politics: after a brief flirtation with Labour in twenties than it was Conservatives throughout thirties with Baldwin and and then Chamberlain

 

Pride – upper classes the words pride and patriotism recur often. Not a dirty word. All levels of society in their own ways were proud of where they came from and their country.

 

S

 

the Season. Something Nina, Agatha, Mary and Martha would have taken part in. Presentation at court at the age of seventeen. Learn everything from the useless (flower arranging) to the slightly less useless formal circulation of a party of people.

 

Smoking – this ties in with posture. One never smokes holding between finger and thumb always between index and middle finger. Treat it as a gestural tool and an extension of your fingers. Not only does it elongate your hand it also distinguishes you. By this I mean – servants and those in a lower position would usually hold cigarettes between forefinger and thumb so they could hide it from their employers at a moments notice. Similarly in the Army , if you were smoking on duty , you could quickly hide it from your commanding officer. Men always light women up with matches. When women can – use a holder. Pipes also optional. Cigars at big dinners. Everyone smoked.

 

Sex – Bedhopping among upper classes common. (obvs) marriages often contracted dynastic or land reasons and consequently more bed hopping continued after heir produced. Quite usual to have a mistress – “an heir and a spare.”

 

Scandal – upper classes try to avoid newspapers at all costs. In their opinion, “hatched matched dispatched” should be the only time a respectable family appear in news. The Bright Young Things love and loath the papers as we see in the play,

 

T

 

Tea – all drink tea – no one unless very upper class would have coffee. One would use pots and tea leaves not cups and tea bags.

 

U

 

Underwear- for women – no more corsets !! Easier to get on and off and increasingly scanty.

 

University – the only options would be Oxford and Cambridge and a few other mostly red brick places around the country.

 

V

 

Victorian – term of abuse used by the young swinging beings of the Thirties

 

W

 

Work – publishing houses would be the main respectable option for the young men of the sets. Anything which required very little specialist knowledge and wasn’t paid very well.

 

War – all terrified of it. Very recent memory.

 

Wireless no one listened to the radio – everyone listened to the wireless.

 

Y

 

Yachts – the new King Ed VIII goes on a naughty cruise with Mrs Simp – to gasps of horror across the empire. You may have a grand friend who has one.

 

Z

 

Zips – of course fewer and fewer ladies maids are around. Also about ease comfort and economy.

Let Us Go Then, You And I..

…Into a rehearsal room.

Not quite Eliot, but we’ll cope.

So the rehearsal process has finally begun. This is the week before term starts at Warwick (aka ‘Week 0’) and so a great week for messing about; it’s a week of exercises to have fun with the play, to generate a feeling of openness and confidence, to grow into the characters in the script, and adapt to our way of doing things here in the Vile Bodies team.

The first day was a slow, talkative day between the cast and myself.

Day 1 Log

Drama Games

The usual favourites- ‘Evolution’ or ‘Ameba’, Kung-Fu Ninja, and the utterly brilliant new version of assassins called ‘Vile Body’, in which everyone is a Body, one person is Vile, and they seek to kill the other blind, crawling cast members. Hilarity with an office ensues. We also played ‘Bash Says Concentrate’, a game passed down from the lovely Bathsheba, in which the cast must try and perform simple tapping and naming tasks quicker and quicker until people begin to drop like flies. It’s great fun, works a treat.

Themes, Context, Timeline

As a cast we sat and talked themes; the ones emerging being excess, war and love amongst others. We talked about the era, about what it meant for our casts, referencing a very useful list of etiquette details compiled for the cast. Then we created a timeline of important dates for characters- birth dates, children, marriages, cotillion, etc.

Characters

With the dates decided we started chatting about characters in depth; some fascinating new details emerged about the hilarity of the characters- about times in Edinburgh, about Miles and Adam going on the grand tour before uni, about Agatha sleeping with everyone, about Martha’s characteristics. It was superb.

Day 2 Log

Drama Games

The usual- Vile Body, Kung Fu Ninja, Amoeba

Emotional States

The actors all had to remember moments from their lives equating to all-encompassing emotions in the play; we had Desperation, Excitement, Bitterness and Hope. Talking about those non-raw moments and how one moved, we then played scenes with the characters using new pragmatic displays of emotion; we saw Miles learn that Agatha was in Bedlam and have to call Nina and Adam whilst Archie asked him if he really liked him or not, a scene in which Simon tried to tell Nina he loved her but it was interrupted by a long anticipated call from Adam, revealing they wouldn’t be getting married. The moment Adam and Nina agreed to marry, and Adam telling Miles and Nina telling Simon over the phone. Melrose Ape and Prudence meeting Tiger at a Ferry port and trying to convert him, only to discover he’s gay. And Mary talking to her family at breakfast about going to her first divine party that evening.

What we got from this not only were ideas of ways to express the emotions these characters feel, but an overarching theme of the play; the theme of change, so present in the play, is balanced with a theme of hope; a theme of austerity and optimism that things will be better, and also people’s attempts at security (Nina’s marriage, Chastity’s new job, Tiger sleeping with Miles etc. etc.)

Drama Games

Another two rounds of Kung Fu Ninja; one excellent round being performed to a ska medley of Tetris and Ghostbusters.

I am…

The actors walked about thinking of five words their character would use to describe themselves. They then walked about embodying one, trying to embody a multitude, seeing how their physicality felt in a natural sense.

Then we broke down their emotional and characteristic words, and performed improvs in which the actors took on pantomime versions of these states; the elements of Tiger (salt-of-the-earth, ambitious and cautious) had a financial and sexual discussion on a submarine. Lottie’s hostess, manipulate and warm elements talked on a railway platform. And Nina’s spoilt, fickle and sad nature coped with a plane crash in the desert.

After each, we asked the actors what these words provided for their characters as well as what it provided for the actor who chose the words, and if they changed these words.

Spaces

For a quick break, we took a look at a few spaces in the play and, in groups, drew some floor plans; Miles, Nina and Adam’s rooms and homes (Miles’ townhouse, Nina’s flat and Adam’s hotel room) and also the breakfast room of 10 Downing Street.

Finally, we did a quick wind down with everyone lying on the floor. We played Glenn Miller’s version of Rhapsody in Blue (originally a 16 minute orchestral piece by Gershwin) and watched as the characters all woke up in the morning, and how they functioned first thing.

As I said to the cast at the time, these exercises are all a bit eclectic and testing the waters to see what people enjoy and don’t; it gives us a chance to test things out with the text and begin to develop things before even touching the script.

I’m sat here tonight beaming, and very excited for tomorrow. Yay for theatre!