Monthly archives:

SIXTY FIVE MILES – Rehearsal Week Two

Last week saw half of team PP decamp to Hull to continue rehearsals for SIXTY FIVE MILES by Matt Hartley – the first production of our Programme 2012.

Before Christmas we spent about 10 days working through the text, gathered around the rehearsal room table at PPHQ, building a shared understanding of the world of the play (Greater Sheffield in 2005), the backstory of the characters (from 1940 until 2005) and agreeing what actually happens in the course of the action of the play. From there we were able to build a detailed time-line that recorded key moments in the lives of the characters (starting with when they were all born) as well as the events that take place over the course of the play itself, alongside important social, cultural and political events that help explain and contextualise the choices Matt has made in crafting the imagined previous lives of the characters in the play.

Alan Morrissey and Katie West in rehearsals for SIXTY FIVE MILES

One of the central themes of Matt’s play is family. Nearly all of the characters are related to each other by one form of familial bond or another. As such, they have vast numbers of shared memories and experiences from the lives they lived alongside each other, many years before the beginning of the play. These memories and experiences, like in life, have a huge impact on how they behave in the ‘here-and-now’ of the play – the choices they make, the feelings they have towards each other and what they say and do to each other. In order to accurately capture the characteristics of the characters, to truthfully portray their onstage relationships and to understand their behaviour, we went through a process of identifying these past lives, so artfully built in to the play by Matt when he wrote it. In other words, we aim to understand the action of the play by clearly and continuously uncovering and articulating everything that pre-dates it.

With the bulk of that work completed before Christmas, and digested over the festive season (along with lots of turkey, wine and chocolate), we reconvened on Wednesday last week to begin rehearsing the action of the play. Heavily informed by our research in to the world of the play and the characters’ backstory, we started to practice the words, actions, intentions and spaces of the play, all with the purpose of making Matt’s story clear, accurate and life-like. These have been the ‘first draft’ rehearsals of the scenes of the play, with the actors on their feet, acting out the scenes with each other for the first time. We will have three or four rehearsals of each scene before we start running the play in full.

As I wrote about in my last blog from the SIXTY FIVE MILES rehearsal room, this approach to rehearsing a play is rooted in a Stanislavskian approach to acting and is pretty much common practice in one form or another, as I understand it, throughout Western Theatre. I remember reading about it in An Actor Prepares and Building A Character when I was doing my Theatre Studies A Level. Then a few years ago I was offered an incredible opportunity by the Young Vic to better understand putting the ideas in to practice – David Lan arranged for eight directors to spend two weeks at the Maly Theatre in St.Petersburg, where we learned from the theatre’s Artistic Director Lev Dodin how they used the Stanislavky Method to rehearse their work (with the most striking revelation being that the company often rehearses productions for up to three years before opening them). Most recently I have found Katie Mitchell’s book The Director’s Craft to be the clearest and most practically applicable way of using the method within a British production model.

Whilst we hope to have the chance to take the production  on tour at a later date, SIXTY FIVE MILES is currently scheduled for a limited run in Hull only. You can book tickets here.

Rehearsals begin for SIXTY FIVE MILES

We’re four days in to rehearsals on what will be our first production of ‘Programme 2012’ – Matt Hartley’s SIXTY FIVE MILES.

From the rehearsal room here at PP HQ, we’ve spent the majority of the week exploring the world of the play – Sheffield, Chesterfield and Hull in 2005 – as well as establishing what we know of the characters’ back-story: the situation that exists before the play starts. Having read slowly through the play, we now have around 12 pages of information that we know to be true of the characters, the relationships and the situation in the 30 or so years leading up to the beginning of the play’s story. To accompany that, we have about twice as many pages of questions relating to the same time-period that we will need collectively to answer over the next week or so of rehearsals. This process helps us as a company to objectively assess what is known and unknown and, with Matt, to jointly build up a clear shared understanding of the time, places, events, relationships and characters that exist before the play begins.

It’s a method rooted in Stanislavsky’s approach to text that is brilliantly broken down in to rehearsal activities in Katie Mitchell’s new book on theatre directing, The Director’s Craft.

Having the chance to direct this beautiful, funny and tender play is a true privilege. When I worked for Paines Plough as an Assistant Director under Roxana Silbert, I directed a reading of a very early draft of the play. At the time, Matt was a member of Paines Plough and Channel 4’s Future Perfect group. Future Perfect was an annual scheme that ran for four years, attaching 6 playwrights each year to Paines Plough and Channel 4, including Nick Payne (ONE DAY WHEN WE WERE YOUNG), Katie Douglas (DIG), Penelope Skinner (THE SOUND OF HEAVY RAIN), as well as Matt himself. There’s something thrilling about now directing the play, having begun a relationship with it at its inception.

We are co-producing the play with our friends at Hull Truck Theatre as part of their 40th Anniversary Season – a real honour after having worked with Sheffield Theatres this year on Roundabout in the culmination to their own 40th Anniversary Year.

SIXTY FIVE MILES opens at Hull Truck Theatre on Wednesday 1 February 2012. You can book tickets here.