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Like vampires in the dark

It’s tech day, which essentially means we’ve become like vampires, scared to step outside into the light. Tucked away in the darkness of the auditorium, with only the glow of the parcans and 2Ks from the stage, and the red neon glare of the control desk, it’s here that we will feel safe.

Sixty Five Miles, is a play that most theatre’s would put in their studio. It’s perceived as being delicate and intimate. Hull Truck’s main auditorium is colossal. 400 seats. It’s as far from a studio as possible. Amy has created a sweeping, multi level design, that embraces the opportunities the space provides and allows the action of the play to step out of the confines of being a traditional studio piece. The journey between Sheffield and Hull that is central to the play, and the multiple locations that the action unfolds in, are allowed to merge seamlessly into each other, the play now has an epic feel. Tim’s lighting, enhances and compliments this idea, using a palette of colors to stamp strong visual images on the action. Add to this Ed’s delicate yet bruising score, and the play, still retains the subtlety that I hoped for but also has found a bolder, tougher and searing quality.

It’s thrilling to see this. As a young writer I’ve often been convinced that the only plays I will ever have produced are in studios. So it’s great to see the play fighting against this notion. I hope that when we open tomorrow the audiences will feel the same! And I also hope that in years to come, I will get a chance to see plays like James Graham’s ‘Albert Boy’ or DC Moore’s ‘The Empire’ revived in spaces that go against the preconceived image of where such plays should be produced.

I spent three of the best years of my life in Hull. Between 1999 and 2002 I studied at the University, my time was spent living and drinking on Beverly Road, watching Hull City at the old Boothferry Park Stadium, learning and making my first mistakes as an independent adult, and regularly making the trip back along the M62 to my parents home just outside Sheffield. It’s a city that has defined me in many ways, in terms of the choices I’ve made and the people that now occupy my life. It fills me with joy that my first full scale production will be produced by Paines Plough and Hull Truck, it feels like a homecoming.

I started writing Sixty Five Miles in 2006. It wasn’t the first thing I’d written by any means but it was the first thing I was proud of.  I sent an early draft of the play to Paines Plough in order to try and win a place on their Future Perfect scheme. At the time I was doing a job in London, that bored me to tears and writing at night, so I was delighted when I was offered a place on the scheme.

It was whilst on attachment at Paines Plough that I met George Perrin, who was then the trainee director in residence. George, having been to University in Sheffield felt a connection with the play and we worked on developing it together. The play’s had a long and windy journey, hundreds of rewrites, several attempted productions, an award, some fantastic advice and guidance from brilliant friends and actors but it seems right that it has come back to the company and the director it began with.

I hope the journey, from starting this play to getting it staged, gives hope to other writers. Patience and perseverance can often be the most frustrating of qualities to possess, but when they pay off, my oh my they are worth it.

For those of you that make it up to Hull, thank you, and do please pull me aside and have a chat. I’m normally found at the bar with a pint of Guinness.

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.

A rookie’s eye view..

Hello there! I’m Kate and this is the beginning of my first full week as Paines Plough’s new administrative intern. Luckily, the lovely previous intern Sean Linnen was here last week to ease me in and make sure I didn’t book 200 quid’s worth of train journeys on the wrong day or something. We had a nice send off for Sean who we know is going on to bigger and better things.

I’m (hopefully) starting to get to grips with how things work here. As you may or may not know, the office is stuffed to the gills with cake and other sugary edibles. Today it was doughnuts – it never ceases. There’s a white chocolate cake hidden in a drawer.

So far I’ve been answering a helluva lot of phone calls. I was very excited to see my biography go up on the website which made me feel proper welcome (as well as delighting the folks!) Everyone currently in the office: Claire, Tara, James and Bernd have so far been only lovely. I look forward to meeting Hanna and George in the near future.

Right, so, what’s on the horizon theatre-wise?

Well, I’m off to see Haunted Child by Joe Penhall at the Royal Court tonight along with some other members of the team. Looks suitably spooky.

Also, am rather delighted to be getting the opportunity to see Matt Hartley’s Sixty-Five Miles up in Hull when it opens on the 1st February. As an Irish lass only recently moved to London I am extremely glad to have the opportunity to sample some theatre outside of the capital.

Hope you all had a good new year and watch out for Programme 2012 coming soon.