Dread And Abhorrence In Las Vegas by Finn Boyle

Dread And Abhorrence In Las Vegas by Finn Boyle

​It was around about an hour or two after the news of the Las Vegas Strip shooting broke that the confusion festered and stuck its grubby shriveled talons into the deepest recesses of my brain. It’s an unpredictable little imp, that confusion. You never know where you’re gonna go when you ride that high: it could take you down the path of existential self-discovery, or into the darkest pits of that nihilist abyss where only the most degenerate and grotesque thrive. And the deeper you go, the more cyclical the path comes, as you come face to face with the very thing that sent you into this dank old void in the first place. Thankfully the road confusion walked me down offered only a passing glimpse into that deep dark. Still, it’s unsettling to know that the same little djinn that I saw that day could come disguised as fear or loathing for another, and the paths those take you down are ones that you can never walk back from. The same paths that I’m certain that scum Paddock walked down on the first of October in that great ersatz city.

​The lies of Las Vegas know no bounds – a supposed celebration of the American Dream, standing as the last beacon of a triumphant empire at the end of its Westward Expansion. Let’s not mince words here – it’s a little incubus squatting on stolen land built by bloodthirsty gangsters whose deceit ran as far as to claim their casinos were the representation of the City of so-called Meadows, despite their repeated actions to prevent said casinos from being included in the city’s administrative boundaries as part of a tax dodge. It’s an urban centre devoted to the illusion of glamour and splendor so that its residents can sit there thinking “We made it” and forget about the fact that they’re bankrupting themselves living in a slab of concrete in the middle of some desert. The only place on earth where you can walk from the Sphinx to the Eiffel Tower, briefly stopping off at the Statue of Liberty before spending a night in Caesar’s so-called Palace. Actually, that last bit is pretty fitting. Caesar, after all, was the man who led a Republic into ruin.

​The hollow horror of Las Vegas’s postmodern identity can be enough to drive anybody into a wallow of existential despair and anger. But what makes the Las Vegas Strip shooting so terrifying, and the aftermath so tragic, is the lack of motive. Hatred can be rationalized, and often is; ‘the shooter hated this group’, ‘he was a racist’, ‘he was a sexist’ etc. But the absence of an incitement, a cause without effect, that’s where the real horror is. That’s why, in the immediate moments afterwards, conspiracy theories swirled as people, desperate people walking that same path I did, tried to come up with some sort of reason. Unfortunately, this is where the true evil of humanity came to the fore.

​Conspiracy theories, in the absence of any motive, wrought havoc on the survivors of the attack. Of course, these theories often reaffirmed the political beliefs of those making them, told tall tales of a rabid Hillary Clinton-supporting, Trump-hating ANTIFA member who, having enough, devised a plan to attack the God-loving, good-natured normal folk that made this country great. What a load of bullshit.

​Similar reactions could be seen in the media and Sheriff Department of Maricopa County’s naming of Paddock as a possible ‘lone wolf’. These fucking reptiles were quick to claim Paddock wasn’t a terrorist. Of course, how could he be? He was American. Americans aren’t ‘terrorists’, terrorists are the Great Other, that nebulous, horrific antithesis that encapsulates everything America hates and hates everything America encapsulates. Therefore, he had to be a ‘lone wolf’, a grizzled, rugged outcast, who strayed away from the flock, but was never beyond redemption. Hell, even the name makes him sound like those cool cowboys who settled Vegas long before while raping and murdering the local Maricopa Indians (who they later made amends with by naming a County and Sheriff Department after).

​The reason why Paddock had to be slapped with that label of ‘lone wolf’ was because he demonstrated what every American has the potential of being. Often when locked in a dialectic struggle hurtling towards oblivion, One runs the risk of becoming the Other they so fear. The American, in fear of falling to the terrorists, becomes the terrorist. The wolf separates from the pack, and wander into the abyss. And those who stare into the abyss for too long run the risk of having it stare back.

​Anyone who has been down that dark chasm knows that evil isn’t one size fits all. It’s amorphous, nebulous, a shapeshifter. Shifty little thing. Killing people is one evil, but spreading lies, deceit and disinformation about a tragedy that people are still adjusting to, that’s a whole other kind. Making the fragile, trauma-afflicted lives of human beings worse so that you can feel better about yourself is an act of a lizard.

​Often when descending into that abyss, you can be faced with a choice. Change or deny. You’ll be faced with a fundamental problem, an issue inherent in your essence. You can either resolve to end it, to adapt, or to deny that’s even a problem. Resolution is usually the last step that gets you out of that Godforsaken hole, whereas denial will only get you deeper. And the deeper you go, the darker it gets, and the more alone you feel.

​Looking at this, and by ‘this’ I mean this, it can be tempting to just give up, stop your path, and sit right where you are. After all, it’s so isolating going down that path. But there’s a ray of hope, some tickling light in that tunnel. The survivors, despite everything, are going on. They’ve walked the same road we have, and some have made it out. They’ve looked down the sights of the same terror, hatred and confusion and have walked on. However, they don’t trek the path alone. That’s where the hope lies; in the fact that wherever they go, they can turn to their side and see someone else who can stare into their soul and say “I’m here for you”. Those travelers should be us.

Finn

“I had the distinct feeling that we were suspended not in water but in amniotic fluid, immersed in a massive multi-species miscarriage.” – Naomi Klein

“I had the distinct feeling that we were suspended not in water but in amniotic fluid, immersed in a massive multi-species miscarriage.” – Naomi Klein

This Changes Everything – Week 2 at East 15 Acting School. Blog by Dominique Dalton.

This week for me was quite a personal week. A theme that we kept working abound were the ideas of Life and Death and how they are intrinsically linked together; after all every one of us is born, and every one of us is going to die. On Tuesday, we had David for the morning only so he left us with a task that we revisited later on in the week.

The women had to research about the struggles of getting pregnant which also included exploring insomnia, IVF and miscarriage. We then used the research to create a movement sequence around the issue. And the men were sent off to research Auschwitz.

Within the first talk we [the women] had, we realised that 8 out of the 10 of us have had – and some still have – issues and struggled with contraception and our sexual organs, myself included. We found it amazing that in the 21st century, where we are producing more medicines and understanding more and more about ourselves, but still 80% of the women in my group are at war with their bodies and reproductive organs. I mean this was a slight tangent on what we were originally set, but I personally feel its 100% relevant still. When you understand that 84% of the female population between the ages of 20 and 24 have or still use hormone related contraception, and that 1 in 8 women struggle with fertility it doesn’t really take long to see the correlation between the two.

I’ve spent 6 years now pumping hormones into my body to prevent me from getting pregnant, and they are now increasing the hormones in said contraception. All those artificial chemicals – which aren’t meant to be there, they aren’t naturally occurring – eventually are going to cause an imbalance which could lead to worse problems. On a personal level, I can already vouch for this, for the past 2 years it’s been problem after problem which ultimately come down to the chemicals I’m putting in my body.

So, when we understand just how many women and young girls are being handfed these pills, and we see the effects they can have. It no surprise that all of the girls in our group had a fear that one day we might not actually be able to conceive. Obviously, there is a portion of women in society who 100% do not want to have children – and I used to class myself in that bracket – but when you are confronted with the fact that you might not actually have the choice to have children, it suddenly becomes very personal. After all we are all brainwashed by this patriarchal society – and women do it as well- into thinking that women ‘should’ have a child, so to have that option ripped away from you. Well, then you start to even question if you’re an actual woman. After all women are meant to have children, right? That’s the one reason we’re here, isn’t it?

So, then we look into IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) for those who the universe decided can’t – or struggles at least – to get pregnant, IVF is here to help. IVF started in 1978 and has been the miracle treatment that so many women think will answer all their prayers. But that’s not the case. In England, you can actually get IVF on the NHS if you fall within very specific guidelines, if not you’re looking at £5,000 per cycle. But even then, the actual success rate is between 32.3% and 1.9%.

These facts shocked us all, and we were almost in disbelief. We created our movement sequence by looking at Pina Bausch and Sasha Waltz for inspiration. After showing David on Thursday he took one of the images and got Elli to do it in a white nightdress through some leaves. Then he added Kim in who did it on top of Elli. When we were discussing how it made us feel as a class, a lot of us mentioned that it made us feel uncomfortable and in pain. Elli actually said that she felt like the was being exorcised and going through menopause.

We came back to the conversation of pregnancy and menstruation on Friday morning when we were reviewing our mind maps on ‘What Makes A Woman’. I was the only woman in the class who didn’t include periods/menstruation in her mind map. And a lot of the women said that having a child and pregnancy were central to being a woman. So, we are now living in a time where we are poisoning ourselves with chemicals and hormones, which affect our reproductive system; yet we still see women bearing children one of the central values of being a woman? That’s pretty much a recipe for disaster, isn’t it?

So, in conclusion, this week for me was very educational. I learnt so much and I feel that I am so much clearer in understanding my body and what should and shouldn’t be in my body. Women, and the capabilities of the female body are pretty fucking amazing. And to realise this amazing gift we have – the ability to reproduce whether we want to or not – is being threatened and affected by the world around us, is a clear parallel of the war between the capitalist society we live in and the natural world.

This war is not just happening in the jungles and the ice caps, it’s within us.

“I never thought I would sob over Nature. Never.”

“I never thought I would sob over Nature. Never.”

Week 2 –  ‘This Changes Everything’ at East 15. Blog by Marisa Foley.

“I feel like I wouldn’t be right, I wouldn’t be a woman. I was somehow created wrong.” – Dominique Dalton

I arrived at 9.00am to the studio ready for another week of devised work for ‘This Changes Everything’, the performance inspired by Naomi Klein’s book of the same title. I felt a mix of curiosity and tiredness, maybe a little bit of fear. Fear because I was tired from little sleep and as I learnt last week, it helps to have extreme energy physically and mentally for the intense themes we explore. Nonetheless, after a physical warm I was ready to work. The topic we would research and later devise a piece around was “Women who can’t get pregnant.” We got into a circle and started to discuss and, with a little help from Lauren’s iPad, research. We educated ourselves about IVF, miscarriages and contraception. Some of the discoveries were shocking. We found out facts such as those who have conceived naturally 1 in 6 will end in miscarriage before the 20th week. We discovered how many hormones are in IVF treatments, the painful process, the ridiculous amount of money that goes into it. Whilst discussing I noticed; the more we talked, the more anxious and uncomfortable we got as a group. What I also found fascinating was the amount of times the group and I touched our own bellies and groin unintentionally throughout the research. Kind of like we were protecting something or suddenly became very cautious and aware of our reproductive system. 7 out of 10 of us in the group have had problems with contraception. We also discovered that some contraception will be increasing some of the groups hormones and from my personal view, I felt so much more in rhythm and control of my cycle when I came off the pill. We started to question if these unnatural hormones were one of the problems woman can’t conceive? Is pollution a culprit?

Glass wanted us to make a movement piece inspired by Sash Waltz/Gecko/Pina Bausch/Mr. Gaga. He wanted the image of a woman in bed, struggling to sleep because she’s worried about not being able to get pregnant. He also mentioned to imagine what the hormones in IVF do to you. Our work involved repeated rhythm and repetition of movements. Because we have been devising together for 2 years, we have a tendency to want sleek and perfect work fast (who doesn’t?!) but Glass reminded he wanted as much materiel as possible, it can be as messy as you like. Great! Hearing that took off a lot of pressure and made us ‘play’ with it more. This sense of play helped me connect emotionally to the piece, I had a horrible feeling in my gut throughout the work but felt a strong connection with the other girls in the group, a feeling of sisterhood.

“I never thought I would sob over Nature. Never”

As I face one of my fellow actors, I hear Glass in the background. “I want you to be still, have eye contact with the person in front of you. No judgments just focus.” “Great.” I thought. “I can focus; I can do that!” As I stare into Gemma’s eyes. “Now, you are staring at a miracle, you are fascinated by this person. They shouldn’t have happened but they’re here.” As time went on I felt a feeling of sheer joy and happiness as I looked into Gemma’s eyes. I saw her soul, our connection grew, I saw how amazing she was…and oh dear…Here come the tears! “And now…” Glass continued, “I want you to imagine this person as a baby, to a child, to a teen, to an adult, to an old person, to slowly deteriorating into nothing.” I felt a strange feeling in my fingers, they felt numb and my imagination of Gemma’s life was so real and vivid it was painfully beautiful. I felt a mix of grief with a bittersweet feeling of acceptance that she would not be on this earth forever. None of us will. That is what time does. But then something strange happened. I had some sort of strange self-reflection. “Do I really care enough about the people around me? Do I really care about nature?” I think people need to go out and experience the world around us. I think people would find that compassion if we had to go and see the trees or the sea for just an hour a day. Everything has a life within it. As I wiped away my tears, I had a lot to think about.

MIND MAP

Over the space of half an hour we were asked to write down “what does it mean to be human?” and “what does it mean to be a woman?” We would later talk about this in more detail. We soon discovered what it means to be human. It is based around relationships. Family, friends, community. I never would have guessed it! Yet the more we talked about it the more connections we made to relationships.

BOX EXERCISE

At the end of the day We put a plastic box in the centre on the room. Gemma (who is quite small) was asked to go into the box and explore how she can move in the contained space. She was not allowed to come out of the box to move. As I saw her move around, I found it mesmerizing and difficult to watch. I saw struggle and hopelessness in her movement and face. She was a trapped animal.

I then repeated this. I am taller than Gemma so at first I felt I couldn’t move at all. I started to push myself to move. I’m going to try my best to explain how felt but I found the process quite intense and it was like I was in a trance. Glass asked me to continue to move and then realize there was no way out. There never will be. Suddenly feeling extremely panicked and claustrophobic it was like my body went into overdrive. I was covered in sweat and I could feel my whole body get hotter and hotter. I heard Glass in the background, But sometimes I didn’t hear, sometimes I didn’t even listen! He then told me to slowly get out of the box and stand. I had two minutes to do this. As I got up Glass told me to experience the pain. And oh wow I did! It was something I’ve never experienced before, where did this pain come from?! I felt like I had been hit by a bus! As I finally got on my feet I was asked to look up and reach to the stars, where I desperately wanted to be. This part of the process felt like a dream, I had no feeling in my body, no awareness of my breath. It unlocked something in me that day. A vulnerability that I never show to anyone maybe? Still in this state of shock I looked at the audience and saw shining stars in them… Was I on drugs? No, but it felt like it. I felt extremely scared but also somewhat accepting that this is the end of me. I felt an energy that made me feel I was going to explode. It was euphoric. I’ve been thinking a lot about it since, yet I can’t explain it in great detail. I woke up the next morning with cuts and bruises from the exercise. “When the F*** did this happen?!”. It was a beautiful F*cked up experience. What a wonderful break through. What an interesting way to end the week!

“Thank you for letting me pour shit over your daughters head for 3 weeks.”

“Thank you for letting me pour shit over your daughters head for 3 weeks.”

Blog by performer Aimee Kember AKA poor unfortunate Jo in Bleak House.

“Aimee, please could you describe what it’s like working with David Glass?”

MESSY; beautifully messy. It’s physically messy with dirt coming out of every orifice, emotionally messy, and you know that messy… when your intoxicated and let go of all inhibitions and when you wake up the next morning, you realise what you have done and/or agreed to…. Yes, that!

It’s as if I blinked and time has moved on without me. We spent many many hours creating this wonderful beast that has been adapted from Charles Dickens 904 page novel. I was very fortunate enough to have witnessed and been a part of David Glass’ first adaptation of Bleak House at the Arts University Bournemouth and now feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to be completely consumed by it all over again.

It all began in the rehearsal room where the ensemble honestly built itself naturally and where we explored the world of Bleak House. I could already see the images David was trying to create, even without any set, props, lights or costume. Characters had been lifted off the page and I felt safe knowing that as an ensemble we had taken hold of the reigns and we all let David have the whip. Slowly I began to realise that none of us ever said “NO”, the directors dream right?

“Aimee, sniff the dirt.” Said Mr Glass casually.
“Ok”, Aimee replied.
“We’re going to pour this watery shit over your head.”
“No problem.”
“Climb that plank.”
“Yep.”
“Drop from there, slide down that, climb over that.”
“Yes Mr David Glass, anything.” Replied the ensemble, completely hypnotised.

But honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Being open to ideas and willing to throw everything we had into the process meant we were able to create some stunning imagery and really let the melodrama live inside of Bleak House. It has truly been an absolute pleasure working with the ensemble, and I have learnt so much from every person involved in the process. Being surrounded by artists of different ages, experiences and abilities lead to an organic and experimental devising journey. I have never felt so much talent, passion and warmth in a rehearsal room until this process and it was evident on stage how well we worked together. The best thing was, that the ensemble was not only the actors on stage, it also consisted of other very talented creatives: the director, designer, assistant director, the technician, the producers, the company ambassadors and even people who are working on other projects within the David Glass Ensemble. You could feel the passion and dedication oozing out of everyone.

Before going into this project I knew that I couldn’t hold back. I have had the tendency in the past to let my over thinking and insecurities get in the way of my development during rehearsals and my goal was to not let that happen. Especially when working with David, you can’t hold back, he is not a director who will tell you what to do or how to say a line, he will put you in a situation/scenario and guide you through, but the rest is up to you. Once you have explored the essence of the scene, it is then again up to you to apply it to the written dialogue. You have to bring something. It’s up to you how far you want to go. David has the ability to make an extremely safe space for actors to explore, and there wasn’t any point during the process where I didn’t feel I could express myself, burst into tears, or completely make a fool of myself. (However, there were points where I was afraid what he might chuck over my head next…) The biggest lesson I learnt was that I was the only person ever holding myself back and if I let go and trusted my instincts, I might just find what I was looking for.

Looking back, Bleak House was an amazing, crazy, dirty, exhausting, growing experience. Working with David is hard work, but the hard work every actor adores. Yes I got bruises, yes I got messy, and yes I was tired, but like I said to David near the biscuit isle in Sainsbury’s at 10pm on Tuesday of show week. ‘I want to go home knowing we have done our best to put on something visually spectacular, something moving and thought provoking. Not to go home to tell people “oh, I had a lovely night sleep, but the show was shit!”.’

If anyone gets the chance to work with David Glass I give you some words of advice. Prepare, prepare to not be prepared for what’s thrown at you. Be prepared to get a new line thrown at you during the interval of the final show (trust me it happened to two of us). Don’t think you can’t do it, you don’t know till you try (if he can get Penelope Diamond to drop from the top level of scaffolding, he can get anyone to do it). Always embrace his morning movement classes, they are extremely beneficial as an actor, getting to know your body and just being inside yourself is more than a warm up, it’s the time you are most aware throughout the whole day. Also class is where you will do the most strangest things with your bodies and make possibly the most sexual noises, but it will become the most normal part of the process. Never, and I mean NEVER wear your favourite pair of leggings/top/trouser/underwear to rehearsals. Lastly my advise is to embrace and really live inside every moment, I can guarantee it will be one of the most beneficial and enjoyable experiences you will have, which will fly past faster than a southeastern train not in service. Oh. And if you invite your grandparents to the show, warn them it will be loud!

Photograph curtesy of Robert Golden.

Aimee Pollock AKA Esther Summerson reflects on her time with the Ensemble

Aimee Pollock AKA Esther Summerson reflects on her time with the Ensemble

As I packed my bag on the Sunday following four wonderful performances of Bleak House, I only wished I was moving onto the next city, the next show… I was just starting to find my rhythm and the technicalities of the show were feeling embodied and I just wanted to keep going, I wasn’t ready for it to end! Although, being home, I have been able to reflect on what was a truly, brilliant experience.

Before Bleak House began, I spoke with a friend and mentioned I would be playing Esther Summerson, to which he replied, ‘oh god, she’s so pathetic and weak.’ Unfazed by this, I went into rehearsals, ready to work, with an open mind. Week one was very much about discovery and play, making bold choices, even if they were wrong, it was a time to make mistakes and try things out. During week two, the set arrived and it was like visually seeing the brilliant minds of David and Zoe slot together. The scaffolding which Zoe had designed provided beautiful frames for which David edited our visceral, beautiful melodrama. Melodrama and performing on scaffolding were two very new things for me, but it’s amazing how quickly the body adapts and David soon had us swinging upside down and hanging off the sides. Marvellous- a playground for adults!

Throughout the entire process I had my little notebook permanently attached to my hip, because David is always dropping nuggets of information that I wanted to remember. Something that particularly struck me, was after the dress rehearsal, he said that “in melodrama the emotion should not overwhelm you. It should be for the audience. If you weep too much, the audience won’t and you do not want to deprive them of that.” I needed to be reminded of this, as I have never played a character so like myself before. I feared I would get caught up in the characters emotion when reliving an experience similar to my own. David also often spoke about an actors need to be liked. Liked by their director, liked by each other and most importantly, liked by the audience (although we tend not to admit this). Esther is someone who craves love and desperately wants to be liked because she has never felt worthy of it. She is also openly fragile, naïve, indecisive, and melancholic; the parts of me that I try to keep hidden. Not your typical traits for a heroine, but to me that is what makes her special. Esther finds it hard to see herself as beautiful, especially next to her beloved Ada. As I delve further into this competitive world, full of beautiful actresses where their outer self is so often considered before their inner, it can be hard not to compare yourself. (Especially when you are the girl who leaves class like you’ve just stepped out of the shower because you sweat that much – thank you David!) But just like Esther, I have learnt to accept myself in all my forms and realise my own self-worth. It helps when you are surrounded by a generous, passionate, thoughtful cast of people, whom for a short time become your family, daily you are reminded that you belong, and that everybody’s unique in their own way. I see so much of my seventeen-year-old self in Esther and even though we are centuries apart, one being fictional, the other being real (I think) we are connected through a shared journey to discover oneself, which I’m sure everyone can relate to.

I learnt that in melodrama there are moments when the actor has complete power over the audience. As the narrator, I got to watch the audience gasp as Tulkinghorn rolled like a snake from the top of the scaffolding to bottom, hold back tears as poor, little Jo died and laugh as Madame Krooke self-combusted. The audience were taken on a roller coaster of emotions, never knowing what was going to happen next and constantly being shifted from one emotion to the other. Storytelling is a powerful art form and the theatre is a special place to connect people from all walks of life. I felt this during the last performance when I delivered my final line; “if she is a girl, we shall call her…”, and someone whispered “Esther” just before I did. It was an utterly magical moment. I felt the audience had been with us all along.

Bleak House may be over, but there is still work to be done. More voice work, more physical training, and more learning – which I realised with David, is at the heart of everything he does. Being a part of the David Glass Ensemble was a gift and I got to experience first-hand, not only how David works but how he is providing people with opportunities that can often be hard to be to come by. He is bringing together artists from all cultures and backgrounds… I met beautiful the Italian ‘Brides’ and lovely ladies from China.
After watching the performance, my friend told me he was wrong about Esther. As for me, I can only hope to meet her again in the future…
Thank you, David, Gavin, Zoe, Natalie, Hester, Robert, Kerry and the entire cast of Bleak House for an incredible experience I shall never forget!

 

Photograph curtesy of Robert Golden

Derek Elwood AKA Sir Leicester’s Epilogue/Epiblog, Bleak House

Derek Elwood AKA Sir Leicester’s Epilogue/Epiblog, Bleak House

PROLOGUE (or PROBLOG)

GAVIN looks at me and laughs, “Oh love, still looking knackered,” he says! And now ZOE wants me to wear a paper crown for SIR LEICESTER! Doesn’t she know my head sweats like a, like a, like a sweaty headed thing?

BLEAK HOUSE BLOG week 3

Everyone is so impressed with RACHEL’s calmness during the technical storm of sound and light cues while the fog of London slowly envelops JARNDYCE’s Growlery. JAKE waits for HAYLEY to arrive while NEMO can only dream of his lost love. JADE is looking more and more like MARYLIN MONROE while LADY DEDLOCK looks more and more frantically for her hidden past. SIMON gets naked (much to everyone’s delight) and TULKINGHORN gets his comeuppance, after putting up a fight. CHARLOTTE chats about HIIT and boot camp while ADA only talks of RICHARD who is all consumed with work. TOMMY celebrated his birthday with balloons and cake while JO’s birthday is completely forgotten. NATALIE sends out emails and notices while MISS FLITE loses documents by the dozen. KERRY pops in to say hello while MADAME KROOK pops in for the rent. AIMEE K asks for more mud to be slung as AIMEE P takes on the mantle of depicting a heroine who is in turns monumental, observant, passive, strong, objectified and ultimately the humane heart of a huge huge story. And all this time DAVID writes, directs, laughs, drinks coffee, directs, re-writes, Skypes VAL (who always looks very glamorous), directs, has meetings, Skypes HESTER (who always looks a bit bemused), directs, pops onto Facebook, re-writes, drinks more coffee, goes offis  to speak to STEVEN SPIELBERG (though I think that’s a euphemism for, no, I’m not going to put it into words) and then he directs some more. The ENSEMBLE matures and characters deepen. Rest is required, vocal warm ups and biscuits are equally embraced. ROBERT takes beautiful photographs and the Ensemble takes a breathe as one. The AUDIENCE arrive and, as the lights dim, a beautiful young woman, an orphan named ESTHER, bathed in candle light, lies alone in the dirt of life. Bleak House by CHARLES DICKENS, adapted for the stage by DAVID GLASS, begins…

EPILOGUE (or EPIBLOG beyond week 3)

Show’s over, I’m back in London and in my own bed. I’ve slept like a baby for about two days and have woken up to find Facebook a swarm of photos, congratulations and emojis about Bleak House. I’ve also realised my whole body had become one massive bruise. Best skip the gym for a day I think. Then I notice there’s a message on my mobile. Half asleep I listen to it and wonder if I’ve woken up at all. “Is that MR GUPPY?! (laughter) She don’t want you!!! It’s Madame Krook here, Mr Guppy!? (laughter) Can you pass a message onto Gavin or GARETH or WHATEVERHISNAMEIS, “Where’s my bag!?!” (laughter) I left it in the kitchen but don’t know where it is now? Did someone take it, MR SNAGSBY, and, if so, who? And where?! I leave it to you to find out?! (laughter) I’ve got nobody’s address or phone number only yours. See you soon for our date!? You know it’s really me, PENNY, don’t you, Mr Guppy! Bye bye DEREK, bye bye Mr Snagsby!!? (laughter) Where’s my bag!? She don’t want you!!!! (laughter)”

The message ends but the story, the bigger story, continues. So many people, so many tales to be told. Just like Charles Dickens moving onto the next chapter of a new novel, depicting all walks of life, so many moment of humanity. Just like David Glass moving onto his next production, conducting his next meeting, seeking out his next adventure. God, how I already miss “Bleak House”! Oh, and it was Whateverhisnameis who had Penny’s bag!

 

Photograph curtesy of Robert Golden

Bleak House review by Finn Boyle

Bleak House review by Finn Boyle

Charles Dickens is a peculiar, and often difficult author to adapt. His tone ranges from childlike and optimistic (as in A Christmas Carol) to dark and Kafkaesque (as in A Tale of Two Cities) sometimes even in the same story (Oliver Twist). Any artist who even dreams of tackling the works of one of the UK’s greatest writers must first prepare themselves for the tonal balancing act lying on the horizon. Therefore, it is with both pride and admiration that I write that the Ensemble managed to not only successfully adapt Dickens’ Bleak House, but did so with finesse and honours.

​The initial tone was set as the audience was led in to their seats: performers walked around, in costume, acting like members of the Victorian-era working class – complete with swearing, yelling and more shagging than an old carpet. The audience was made to feel like they had just entered the streets of London circa 1852, with both the humor and discomfort that entails. In this aspect, the dramaturgy was spot on in its efforts of immersion. Its one area of falter, which I feel the need to point out, came through the use of an intermission. This isn’t so much a criticism as much as it is an open question about immersion: why go to such lengths to immerse an audience when that immersion is going to be broken by an intermission? Granted, the play is long – and intermissions prove invaluable in long plays – and the pre-play made the experience richer than it could have been, but it is still a nagging issue in terms of directorial consistency.

​However, such a minor nitpick doesn’t detract from the dramatic direction employed in the performance. There is a maxim in cinema –attributed to Stanley Kubrick – all directors are told to strive for: “Every frame a painting.” The meaning is self-evident. The Ensemble managed to achieve this perfectly via Bleak House’s use of scaffolding. Construction scaffolding dominates the stage, dividing it into nine boxes; three at the top, three at the bottom, and three below the bottom. This division allowed for fantastic framing and visual explorations of both class and moral divides. A sense of awe filled the room as actors scurried to and fro and up and down and side to side and out and in above and below from darkness to light. Proud and powerful characters would glare down from the top of the scaffolding while deprived and destitute characters would cower on their bellies below the bottom most planks whilst the lighting would frame them as if they had stepped out of a Victorian painting.

​Little can be said about the acting, because little needs to be said. It’s superb. The cast managed to bring to life Dickensian machinations whilst simultaneously giving them a little bit of DGE flavor, as can be seen in the scene wherein three people represent the tenets of the Church (Faith, Hope and Charity), with Faith going on a racist diatribe about African children, Hope being sickly and complaining, and Charity masturbating maniacally. The actors’ subtleties and characterizations, much like the direction, walked the line between comedy and tragedy with flying colours, bringing to life this Dickensian-postmodern lovechild.

​The Ensemble’s performance of Bleak House at Bath Spa University was, all in all, masterful in its execution of Dickens’ beloved morality tale. Through its brilliant direction and outstanding acting, Bleak House manages what few Dickens adaptations do: a faithful, yet unique, performance of the great writer’s work.

Photograph curtesy of Robert Golden.

Melodrama in Bleak House by Simon Gleave (Tulkinghorn)

Melodrama in Bleak House by Simon Gleave (Tulkinghorn)

Once we received our playground: the scaffolding that comprises Bleak House, it suddenly felt like being in cinematic frames, both individually and collectively. A two-tiered structure that is both stable and skeletal, modern and period, monumental and fragmented. The opportunity for counterpoint and complex ensemble imagery became enormous. At the top it is precarious and the act of balance (together with the anxiety it induced) is equally to the triumph of scaling those heights. In a similar sense to circus’ capacity to impress simply because of the scale of its physical feats – people climbing and falling, the empty air performers spread into – here, the metaphor is physicalised on the social and symbolic level of Dickens’ story. Tulkinghorn becomes like a spider or panther scaling the frame of these poor people’s circumstances, and the scaffold becomes like the cage of the law itself.

Melodrama is an underused, misunderstood term, I’ve come to realise. First of all, it’s all around us (I watched 4 films last week which were all undoubtedly melodramas); secondly, as a culture we’ve derisively banished the original form to victorian theatre and early cinema as a sentimental, exaggerated, false style. Psychological realism has replaced the art of gesture with the art of neuroses or jaw tension.

What I studied at Lecoq were the basic principles of devising melodrama: that which moves us to tears, heightened emotion to a point where it could be sung, sacrifice for the sake of another, devastating departure and a return many years down the line, the elastic relationships which connect all families and communities, and the great social dark matter (pollution, bureaucracy, government control, the law) which threatens the personal ties of a community. All of this seen through the eyes of a narrator who is both inside and outside the action, moving from naivety to experience.

Evidently, all of these elements are in Bleak House (almost to an extent where it’s as if the principles of Lecoq’s pedagogy draws water directly from Dickens). Since the melodrama is so strong, one imagines it would be fairly simple (even sensible) to serve the story in terms of psychological realism… it’s what the BBC would do. Instead, we are physically and emotionally engaged in discovering the style of melodrama as it exists (or existed) formally, something which takes a different time scale and which is often danced. Much of our studio research has been in the language of gesture, conveying our emotional lives on the scale of the melodramatic stage or silent Gothic cinema.

Photograph by Robert Golden.

DAVID GLASS IS A BASTARD!!! Week 2 of Bleak House rehearsals by Derek Elwood.

DAVID GLASS IS A BASTARD!!! Week 2 of Bleak House rehearsals by Derek Elwood.

He’s cut most of my lines! Then he cuts even more! “We don’t need them”, he says. “Too much exposition”, he says. What about me? What am I meant to do now? “You can sit there, in your own tableau, while everyone else performs around you.” The audacity of the man. And I still look knackered!

But none of that, none of that, compares to what he did to actress Penelope Dimond (There’s no “a” as it’s French). He wanted her to ‘get all physical’ so he decides to throw her off the top floor of the set! On hearing this Ms Dimond, actress and cat lover, of Primrose Hill, London remarked, “(to be said with wide open eyes and in a coquettish, heightened RP voice) But David, darling! You can’t be serious! You don’t really expect me to jump off from up here?! I get vertigo! And it’s awfully hi – !” But Ms Dimond said no more as, with a helping shove from the Ensemble, she was sent hurtling over the side of our precipice of a set and was last seen heading down down down, in a swirl of petticoats and tousled hennaed locks.

And I thought to myself what is going to happen next?

Storytelling. That is what happened next. Devising. Creating. Storytelling.

Grab the audiences attention. Make a bold statement – ‘he’s a BASTARD!’ It may be wrong but things can be changed. Begin to understand the psychology of your characters – ‘What about me!?’ ‘You can’t be serious?!’ Show physically their inner turbulent emotions, passions and needs – ‘Still look knackered.’ ‘Tousled petticoats.’ Dialogue is written, edited, said, learnt, re-written, re-said and re-learnt. Images, tableau, fixed points and sequences are created, deconstructed, remade and reordered. Scenes begin to take on a life of their own as we, as a group, discover new voices, walks, intentions, impulses, laughter, trust and the understanding of the story we are trying to tell. The story comes first and the ensemble takes shape.

It has been a very busy week and everyone is tired. But we are also well into the second act, the set has just been painted and we have got a day off on Sunday. So all is good. And as for Penny, well, let us just say that with a lot of time, support from the Ensemble and with a gentle coaxing from David, Ms Dimond was descending from one floor to the next with a flourish and a smile. She even gets to have her own little dance too.

Oh, and lastly, I don’t really think David Glass is a bastard. I think he’s a Sagittarius!

Élan, Alfalafels and Ensemble.  Bleak House blog by Aimee Pollock.

Élan, Alfalafels and Ensemble. Bleak House blog by Aimee Pollock.

I’m so happy to be back in Bath again! It has been just under two months since I graduated from Bath Spa University and I’ve missed this beautiful campus and of course, the city. Bleak House is my first professional job out of Uni and there is a real safety in rehearsing in the place I just spent three years training in; it’s familiar and I‘m comfortable in these surroundings. Although, I don’t feel like a student anymore! David said, “the first few rehearsals are like the beginnings of a new relationship” and it’s very true. It’s delicate, exciting, and full of so much potential…
During the first week of rehearsals we have focused a lot on ourselves, especially during the morning class work. We start always with the body, connecting with a deep sense of self, and from there the ensemble is naturally emerging. I can feel us being pulled together organically, which is interesting when we come to do scene work, because I can see how the relationships between characters are developing with such detail and sensitivity.

This my first time exploring melodrama, and I feel so immersed in this vivid, impassioned world! There are so many layers that must be woven together. It really does feel like we are making a film for theatre, except we don’t hide the magic behind the camera, it is all out in the open for the audience to see. It’s amazing how melodrama can go from one extreme to the other. One scene can be utterly grotesque, absurd, hilarity but then shift into tender, emotional heartbreak. Whether its huge ensemble moments or simple story telling between two characters, it is always compelling. I have realised how technical melodrama is. It requires specificity in every movement and gesture, otherwise it all becomes generalised and the style is lost. Something as small as moving the eyes or the hand can be just as powerful as moving the entire body if its specific. It often feels like a series of cues which different emotions are bursting out of. If you take away the words it should feel like you are watching a silent movie. Penny gave me a few silent movie suggestions – my favourite so far is Lilian Gish in The Wind.

We also focus a lot on élan (the French word for ‘life-fullness’) and how it needs to be continuous all the time. If you listen to the élan of the scene when you enter you can pick it up and continue with it, passing from one actor to another. The rhythm of the story is very important and if dropped, is very noticeable. I can really see the ensemble starting to find the rhythm, nothing feels forced. We just have to listen to one another.

I have learnt so much already, in a short space of time. These are just some examples that have really made an impact on me this week;
– Don’t have taste, be truthful.
– You don’t have to prove anything. Just work with the language and the situation.
– Fail all the time in rehearsal. (It’s always good to be reminded of this. Out of failure you can find new discoveries).
– Frame the noun. Punch the verb. Stroke the adjective.
– In theatre, you should: misbehave, not be polite, go for it, sweat, and spit everywhere.
– You must start where you are. Don’t think about where you want to end up. We will get there.
– We are made up of our past experiences, they live with us in the present but we are being pulled into the future.
– The plot is the spine of the story. Each scene is the vertebrae all being held together. The story is the main character and we are there to serve it, to bring it to life for the audience.
– It’s all a game. The audience want to be manipulated. They want to be entertained, to discover themselves, to forget reality and be taken on a journey. It’s a constant roller-coaster of making them think and feel, think, and feel. Never relenting.
– The best inspirations for melodrama are babies and animals!

Finally, it is such a joy to be surrounded by generous, brave, vulnerable creative people. It’s an empowering environment to be a part of and it already feels as though we are creating something very special. Not only is it important to have group discussions during rehearsals to reflect on our experiences, and remember always that we are learning, but to spend time with each other outside of the rehearsal room. Building the relationships between ourselves help to form stronger connections within the ensemble. Which is exactly what we did on Saturday night… Prinks followed by a night at The Common Room which ended up in Alfalafels. Because it’s not a proper night out in Bath unless you end it there!

Tickets can be bought HERE