So, it’s been a while since our last production blog post! In true 2016-style, fate conspired against us causing a delay to our planned October production. Thankfully this is only a postponement and will be staged in March. The combination of the production gap and a rehearsal gap allowed us to squeeze in a stage reading: April in Paris.
Anyone who saw John Godber’s Bouncers in Helsinki a few years ago will recognise his style immediately in April in Paris: taking everyday mundanities and characteristics of Northern England life and placing them into a humorous play. This time around he takes a normal, everyday, struggling couple from Hull and throws them unexpectedly into a European city. Neither of them have ventured abroad before...
I chose the play because the characters and their behaviour are immediately identifiable to most internationally-minded Brits. In slightly different ways, I’m sure they also are to internationally-minded Finns.
Also, in this current depressing time of increasing nationalism and fear of ‘foreigners’, it shows how exposure to environments and people outside your everyday life can broaden your mind and opinions.
Much as he did with Bouncers, Godber sets about portraying his story with minimal set and props. Focus is given to the characters, lighting, and sound to allow your imagination to be stimulated. This works to our advantage at Finnbrit, where our staging is limited by numerous factors. As the ability to adjust lighting is even more restricted, I have overcome this by the addition of projected images to help you recognise the scene locations.
I am very pleased to have both Riikka and Demian on board as Bet and Al. Riikka is an RStC regular but currently has limited availability due to the recent addition of her second child. Demian had decided to take a break from shows for a while to allow him to spend time with his young daughters. However, I was able to convince him to take this role thanks to the very short rehearsal period required for a stage reading. The rehearsals are made much easier when both actors have a decent amount of experience, as they do! Watching the initial read-through, I know I made the right choice.
Come and join us at Finnbrit on Saturday the 19th for a laugh-filled evening’s entertainment! Half of the 35 tickets have already been sold with a week to go. Although there is a chance that tickets will be available on the door, it will be much safer to book. I hear that we will have a wonderful café too, so make sure you take some cash with you!
Part of the beauty of doing theatre is that every show presents its own unique challenges and problems, and that although in the beginning one doesn’t yet know how they will be met and solved, one knows that by curtain-up, they will have been. Challenges met become rewards.
At the start of the production period of this stage reading of Ingrid, I as the director had three good actors and one good story. All good so far. However, somewhat more challengingly, two of these good actors were to play the parts of eight men important and influential in the protagonist’s life. Figuring out how to block this was my problem, and it had me playing with paper dollies (three marked "Christian" + another name, four marked "Daniel" + another name) over Epiphany. Finding the solution felt like winning a Tetris jackpot.
The main difference between a stage reading and a full production is that in a stage reading, actors do not commit their lines to memory – which means a shorter production period. Stage readings are also ever-so-slightly less "official" than full productions, so renting a theatre is not an absolute must for putting one on. The shorter production period and minimum costs make it possible for us to put on more than one or two shows a year, even if only for one performance. However, turning what is essentially a classroom in a language centre into an atmospheric performance space obviously presents some problems. I have totally loved the way we as a group came up with solutions to these problems, by using to our benefit features of our somewhat unusual premises, rather than being held back by them. I’ve had great fun with Ingrid – it’s been a highly rewarding challenge, and I’m really pleased with and proud of what we’ve achieved. Here’s looking at you, kids... oh no, wait, that’s not my line.
Ingrid Bergman was a world renowned actress. She won three Oscars, appeared in more than forty films and was most notably remembered as Ilsa Lund from Casablanca. Ingrid Bergman was also a mother. In Ulf Persson’s play I mostly explore her feelings towards her daughter Pia through her experiences with the different men in her life.
As an actress she made bold decisions, and as a mother she made great sacrifices. Making sacrifices is something all mothers are familiar with, but her sacrifice – to be separated from her daughter Pia in order to be with the man she had fallen in love with – was momentous. The feelings that come with such a sacrifice are not easy to face, or to explore, even decades later. In the play she is trying to come to terms with those feelings by reminiscing the different relationships in her life.
As a role 'Ingrid' it is a challenging one. The various emotions she goes through whilst trying to mentally prepare herself for meeting Pia, because this time she wants to explain. The insight into the emotional state of a mother, who has made such a life-altering decision. The understanding of its implications. But as Ingrid herself said, "I regret nothing". Her tale is marvellously human, in allowing me to see and understand that even the greatest of us are vulnerable and can make mistakes, but moreover, that it’s never too late and everything will be fine in the end.
I readily admit I knew very little of Ingrid Berman’s personal life. She was Swedish, was married a few times and four children. Her star persona was all I really knew. Many movies starring Ingrid are classics Casablanca and Notorious to name only two of many. Through Ulf Persson’s play Ingrid I have learned quite a lot about Ingrid Bergman’s background and her successes and failures in her public and private life. In Ingrid the focus is on Berman’s relationship with her first daughter Pia which Ulf explores from Ingrid’s perspective as she revisits many pivotal moments in her life with the men in her life.
In presenting this story and exploring the subject matter of Ingrid’s most important and sometimes turbulent relationships, the focus for me has been more of understanding the moments that Ingrid is going through and what aspect of the relationship (from each character) she is drawing upon to deal with her very real fear presented in the play. It is an easy trap to get caught in trying to do an exact impression of someone from real life and yet missing out on the relationship and the reason for which the person is present. There is our challenge: to bring the heart of the relationships to life in telling this touching story. I have enjoyed this experience of learning more about Ingrid Bergman and exploring how her relationships could have affected her life choices. I also would like to thank Ulf for allowing RStC the chance to work with him on this exciting project.
What a difference a stage makes! It’s not where I expected it to be. Curious. It’s moved and everything is suddenly so much better. The director, Anna (bless!), gives orders about ”stage left” and ”stage right” and here I am eagerly watching and learning. I am fascinated. It all becomes curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would have put it.
I’ve lived with Ingrid for a long time now and I think I know her. But do I really? Then I start thinking again about the impossible, unimaginable sacrifice. Pia, her own daughter left behind. Was it all worth it? That’s the question. Pia now lives in New York. A sudden and daring thought. Shall I invite her to the show? What would she think of my portrait of her mother?
Suddenly the characters come alive. I’ve seen them before - in my head - but now they are here. In front of my very eyes. Hitchcock, Rossellini, Robert Capa and the others. Thank you so very much Christian and Daniel! You’re doing a great job. And Riikka! You are my Ingrid! Not the movie star but the woman looking back, asking all the important questions. Thank you all! What a difference a cast makes!
The next rehearsal is on Saturday. I can hardly wait.
Ingrid is finally here! What a thrill for me as author and director. Can hardly wait until 30 January when I will see her on stage surrounded by all her men and admirors: Petter, Capa, Hitchcock, Rossellini and Lars Schmidt.
Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982) from Sweden was one of the world's most famous and loved film stars ever. She also went from saint to whore and eventually - but it took a long time - back to saint again. She left Hollywood - and her little daughter Pia - to go to Italy and work with Roberto Rossellini. She fell in love and stayed. Scandal! Moral outcry!
I fell in love with the story - and Ingrid - more than ten years ago. She originally started as an idea for a musical. I met a composer but - alas! - it came to nothing. Then I left her be for 10 years, moved to Finland, reread her autobiography, wrote a play in Swedish for a competition. Didn't win. Very strange! Now she is here. In English!
We've already had one reading (thanks all!) and I've had a very good (including the wine) meeting with my co-director Anna. And now? Back to the script. There's work to be done! Here's looking at you, kid!
Whenever an actor portrays a real person in a stage or film performance, it is very important to research that person outside the boundaries of a script. If a character really existed, there is a very good chance one or more of the audience will know about them and have certain expectations that you will give a reasonable representation. If there were photographs and recordings of the character, there are even more expectations. As a director, it is just as important to ‘know your man’ as the actor portraying him. You need to pull the real man out.
A few years ago I portrayed John Barrymore in another production and did some cursory research into the man. The play was much more light-hearted and didn’t require a great deal of detailed background knowledge. Barrymore is all about the man. It is billed as the man rehearsing for a comeback performance of Shakespeare’s version of Richard III, which he portrayed on Broadway to great acclaim earlier in his life. In actuality, this is really the back-story. Through Barrymore’s own on-stage banter, we learn a great deal about the man, his weaknesses, strengths, and downfalls.
My research revealed two families—the Barrymores and the Drews—bound to theatre and film for over a century. John Barrymore’s father was a theatre actor, his brother Lionel and sister Ethel were both equally famous film actors. Two of his children, Diana and John Drew, were film actors. His granddaughter is Drew Barrymore. The Drew line (his mother’s family) was equally prestigious.
The families had (and have) a penchant for marriage. Both lines show each member having married at least twice. Barrymore himself was married four times.
The Barrymore family also had a seemingly hereditary affliction with substance abuse. First John, then his children, then his granddaughter. His daughter Diana died prematurely from alcohol abuse. His son John Drew was a violent drunk and played a part in Drew’s substance abuse at a very young age.
However, in amongst all of this were the triumphs. John Barrymore acted in over sixty films, including several with Lionel and Ethel. He gave two much acclaimed Broadway performances as Richard III and Hamlet. His Hamlet won him praise as being the best portrayal of his generation. The same portrayal is also considered the second best of the 20th Century (after John Gielgud, no less).
His lifestyle eventually took its toll though. He collapsed whilst recording a radio show on the 19th May 1942 and died in hospital ten day later from cirrhosis of the liver and kidney failure, (complicated by pneumonia). His final words, characteristically, were, “Die? I should say not, dear fellow. No Barrymore would allow such a conventional thing to happen to him.”
Why not join us this Saturday (7th November) evening and experience a little of the Hollywood legend himself?
Anna mentioned the very quick turnaround involved with a stage reading. This has certainly been the case with Educating Rita. Under three weeks from selection and inception, through direction, to perception. I am very much surprised by how much the play has come alive, despite it being an advanced play reading. It’s pleasing to have the director use a word to describe an element of the performance, having to check the meaning of said word because you’re a dumbass, but then appreciating and agreeing that this is how it should be.
So, what about my character? Frank has spent a rather unfulfilled and disillusioned life as an English literature tutor in a university for a large portion of his life. He has lost his appetite for teaching and even his own enjoyment and encouragement for creating poetry – both in himself and in others. His joy of Somerset Maugham and W.B. Yeats has been replaced by Jonnie Walker and Arthur Guinness. They now navigate him along the delicate path through the frantic whirl of life.
Then Rita arrives. His life will never be quite the same again.
Unlike Anna, there isn’t actually a lot of Frank in me. That hasn’t meant that I couldn’t relate to him. Frank and Rita’s story is a familiar one in literature, and one I have rubbed shoulders with and enjoyed before. I know our audience will as well.
PS. The word was ‘avuncular’.
* Please note that the RStC reserves the right to replace the likeness of 'Frank' with that of a more handsome actor.
* Scousers are people speaking the very heavy dialect of Merseyside in North-West England, and are particularly associated with Liverpool. The Beatles were originally Scousers.
** Please note that the RStC reserves the right to replace the likeness of 'Rita' with that of another actress.