A guy who is down on his luck sees a well-dressed gentleman walking down the street. He stops the well-dressed gentleman and asks, “Hey buddy, can you spare some change?” To which the well-dressed gentleman replies, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be – William Shakespeare.” The down on his luck guy doesn’t miss a beat by replying, “Up yours a**hole – David Mamet.”
This was my first introduction to David Mamet.
It’s an old joke and one that quickly and simply portrays Mamet’s style in the use of language. Many of his plays and screenplays use what has been termed “Mametspeak” which is very basically a form of “street language” that uses a mixture of blunt, truthful straight-talk and a sprinkling of profanity. Mamet’s own words regarding his use of colorful dialogue, “The people who speak that way tell the truth. They don’t institutionalize thought.”
Mamet’s Reunion contains only a few words of profanity and a whole lot of straight-talk between two people who have not seen each other in 20 years. The “Mametspeak” is used to great effect to create an uncomfortable atmosphere between these two characters – delves deeper into their respective experiences displaying a vulnerability and an honesty from this very personal interaction. Each character has overcome obstacles to bring them to this moment - this reunion.
For all the (positive and negative) attention that Mamet’s use of language receives, he is also equally masterful at creating elements of unspoken moments allowing actors to accentuate mood, relationship and build tension. Reunion allows ample space for these extremely poignant moments. Riikka and I have been working hard together to understand and create these moments and allow them to breathe further life into the play and the two characters. We are excited to present this challenging play in the first two weeks of May.
I’ve been an Alan Bennett fan for many years, and I particularly like his prose style. His monologues give us the best of both worlds: written narrative brought to life. The only other Bennett play I have directed was Habeas Corpus, for the Finn-Brit Players in 1983. Glyn Banks was in the leading role, and Mark Shackleton put in a sterling performance as Canon Throbbing: need I say more?
For me as a director, a good dramatic text is one that doesn’t lose its fascination no matter how often you read, rehearse, hear or perform it. Some of Shakespeare’s plays, much of Pinter’s writing, Bennett and Mamet immediately come to mind, but there are many more. The writing is right, and is seldom improved by actors’ lapses or directors’ alternatives. It’s the story, the rhythm, the characterisation, the wording, the pausing, the idiosyncrasy.
For the actor this loyalty to the text is not just a matter of principle, it is also a practical necessity when other people (fellow actors, sound and lighting operators) are involved. Where does this leave the performer of a monologue? Stranded, some might say! Apart from the odd sound effect you are on your own. There are no fellow actors to pick up forgotten cues or give you surreptitious prompts. You have to know exactly where you are going. You need a good script and to be able to hold the attention of the audience, alone.
Maggie Smith played Susan in the original BBC TV production of Bed Among the Lentils. The director was Alan Bennett. Undeterred, Anna Rawlings and I are building our own interpretation, influenced somewhat by the Puoli-Q setting and the fact that it is a ‘live’ performance. The play hasn’t lost its fascination. It is a good text!
You know that moment when you meet somebody for the first time? Polite small talk, awkward silences, hesitant smiles. And when that person you meet for the first time is your father? This is the situation in which Carol finds herself. She sees her father for the first time, with grown-up eyes. What does he look like? Is it the father she remembers from her childhood? What is he like? How do you start to establish a relationship with him?
It certainly isn’t an easy task for Carol. In this play Carol is not a person of many words, but her silences are even more powerful. As she listens to Bernie unfold his life story, she is observing the man sitting in front of her. She is determined to get to know him and is trying to read between the lines. What is Bernie really saying with his stories? These stories and words evoke different emotions in her and as she listens to him, she comes to understand how his choices have also affected her life.
At the rehearsals I’ve also been trying to listen to Carol and read between her lines, so to say. As I’ve become more familiar with the play, I’ve been able to fine tune into Carol’s emotional settings. Her life seems straightforward and uncomplicated on the onset, but as the play progresses, she delves deeper into her childhood memories and how they have affected her life. She presents herself not so much with words, but with expressions and emotional nuances, and this is where the challenge comes from. And what she does say has certain poignancy to it. The words themselves are easy, but when you add emotion behind those words, it changes everything.
We all have baggage from the past, some more, some less. Nobody is perfect. We would like things to be perfect, but in life they rarely are. I can recognize that trait in Carol, and in myself. The secret is learning to accept ourselves for what we are and then we can be more forgiving to others too.
Director and Producer. You see these titles all the time with regards to theatre, films, and television. Some people know the difference. Others think they have a vague idea. Most don’t even notice. So what is the difference? I’ll borrow a few terms used by others.
A Producer makes the creative idea happen logistically.
A Director makes the creative idea happen creatively.
It's easy to think of it as a kitchen analogy: The Producer gets the idea for a kitchen, finds the kitchen, and stocks the kitchen with food and tools. The Producer makes sure all is legal in the kitchen, and that the function of the kitchen is as it should be.
The Director is the chef.
Everyone in the room is working towards the entree, but it's the Director who has chosen the exact ingredients and who puts it together in just such a way as to make it a masterpiece. Or a fallen soufflé. Whichever.
Wishing to step back from taking a ‘major commitment’ role for The Really Small Reminiscences I offered to produce the show. Although I had previous dealings with aspects of the producer’s role, this is the first time I’ve actually done it entirely for a major production. Although it’s not hugely difficult, I am grateful for my many years of knowledge and experience of theatre to call upon. I am also learning the importance of To Do Lists. If you don’t make a list, things easily get missed, overlooked or forgotten.
It is a very interesting experience having three separate plays, casts, and directors. In my capacity as producer, I am like the overseer. In this role, I don’t advise on how each play develops, but I bring them all together and in the darkness bind them. Err…well. We have our first combined rehearsals after Easter, and it will be my job to make sure these rehearsals run smoothly overall and that we are all on course for a combined show.
Unexpectedly (but happily), I offered to direct Joan in one of the three plays, A Cream Cracker Under the Settee, when the requirement arose. I vaguely remembered this monologue as part of the Talking Heads series on the BBC during the 80s. This is a thirty minute show with one actor. Had it been bigger, I would have declined directing. I have a very firm belief that director and producer roles should never be mixed. This is for reasons of commitment and workload. The director should be concentrating entirely on the artistry of the show, and not be distracted by logistics and incidentals. Combining the two can create huge stress and both roles can suffer. Directing one actor with a static stage set and basic lighting and sound is manageable with the producer-role. If I had to direct another three or more actors with set and scene changes and get the whole show on stage…O.M.G.
As with Greater Tuna I am really enjoying working with this bunch of people. The whole experience is quite hassle-free and everyone is eager to help and no-one is unduly awkward or attention-seeking. Long may it continue!
Imagine you haven’t seen someone in 20 years. Your daughter. Your own flesh and blood. In those 20 years you have heard only small tidbits of news about this person. Your only memories of her are when she was a toddler, little dresses, pink ribbons holding her pigtails, holding your hand for security as you walked together at the zoo. The absolute trust she had in you at that time. The way her beautiful eyes looked at you when she was happy. How she reached for you for comfort when she had skinned her knee and you dried her tears. Gone. Those years cannot be gotten back. You were missing from her life. She has been brought up by her mother, a woman with whom you want nothing to do and another man has acted as her father through many important years. She has her own life. A life that you have had absolutely nothing to do with mainly because of the choices you made and your addiction. Anger. Remorse. Pain. The continuously growing guilt and regret of not being there for her. The baby girl who you remember as a cute 3 year old is now grown into a young woman.
By all accounts you are a complete stranger to her.
There is a knock on your door. You are now face to face with her. Carol. What do you say? Elated by this opportunity this is Bernie’s time to take a chance. To try and begin to repair the damage that he has inflicted. To bridge 20 years of absence. 20 years of regret. 20 years of loneliness.
These are some of the perspectives I am using to portray Bernie.
We lived nearer to Sheffield than to Leeds, but it’s in the same neck of the woods - although the locals would dispute that. We had a detached house on Rackford Road, with a parquet floor in the hall and a garden that was bigger than a tablecloth, more like a tennis court. Mum polished the floor and everything else on Thursday. Monday was washing day, and on Tuesday she went shopping. Dad did the washing up and Sunday breakfast, and he cobbled our shoes. He kept meticulous accounts of the household spending: ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’.
We were self-sufficient in the vegetable department. Dad even had a cucumber frame. Mum had a thing about leaving the gate open, letting the dogs in. She didn’t want cats in the yard either, although a closed gate won’t keep them out. Dad fought a constant battle with the moles, and secretly cuddled the cats.
We didn’t get many callers. Our house was at the end of the lane so folks didn’t just just pass by. I remember the milkman and his horse and cart, though, and Dad on standby with his shovel in case the horse dropped him some manure for the garden. Doris wouldn’t have liked the muck. I don’t think Mum did either, although she didn’t say as much.
Mum always baked the bread, in a coal-fired oven. Woe betide anyone who opened the back door in winter when the dough was rising. I used to come home from school on baking days, sit on a stool by the fire and wait for a warm, fresh roll and butter. ‘Don’t spoil your tea, Joan’, she’d say.
She made my frocks when I was little. I’ve still got the one she ran up for my ‘big white Teddy wiv a gween wibbon’. The one I remember best was the ‘sweet little Alice blue gown’ I wore when I was five and a bridesmaid at Uncle Les’s wedding. Mum did embroidery as well. I’ve still got some of her cushion covers.
I’ve been drawing on these and other memories in my search for Doris. There are millions of women like her, but Alan Bennett made her special. All Christian and I have to do is to bring her to life on the Puoli-Q stage!
My part of The Really Small Reminiscences is the monologue of Susan, or Bed Among the Lentils. I am very fond of Susan: on the outside, she is a drab little mouse of a vicar’s wife, who apparently does and has done little to take charge of her own life. Behind the “cut-out-for-God” surface, however, Susan has the knack of spotting and describing in a piercingly-sharp fashion the idiosyncrasies and downright ludicrousness of people – most unusually, herself included. And as we will discover as her story unfolds, her verbal rebellion grows into her daring to break away from various roles that have confined her, and becoming the subject rather than the object of her own life.
On the surface level, it might appear that I don’t share a great deal with Susan. However, my firm belief is that we all carry within us every human possibility, and so, to create a character, one needs to dig deep inside oneself to— where the given character’s qualities reside. A hard enough task, to be sure, but just between me and you, gentle Reader: I haven’t had to dig all that deep to discover my personal Susan. Now, it’s more of a case of bringing her out, shaping her, making her live and breathe – of becoming Mrs. Vicar. This is where the real work lies…
After seventeen years of stagework, this is my first experience of doing a monologue play. It is also my first time onstage with RStC, but not with the gang involved in the production. Most notably, my history with Joan (directing) goes back sixteen years, when she directed me in my second-ever production, in the role of a young lad in Edward Bond’s The Sea. Since those ancient days of yore, all of us involved in this production have worked together many times and in different combinations. The long-term friendships and mutual trust are really the prerequisites for taking on a huge challenge such as doing justice to Bennett’s wonderful, witty, wistful script. I’m loving getting my teeth into this.