The Odyssey Rehearsal Blog - Week 2

The Odyssey Rehearsal Blog - Week 2

Splendid's Associate Director Ben Hales gives us a daily insight into the rehearsal process for The Odyssey.

Kerry Frampton, Cordelia Stevenson and Genevieve Say as Polyphemus the Cyclops and his sheep
(photo: Lucy Cuthbertson)

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DAY 6 – Monday 25 August 2015

The weekend passes almost instantly in a blur of prop-making, script-tinkering, costume-buying and line-learning, and all of a sudden it’s a rainy morning in Kidbrooke and we’re rehearsing again.

It’s quite difficult to devise with a script in your hand, but annoyingly it isn’t possible to know you’ve got the script right until it’s on its feet being acted. You can’t get the words right without getting the action right, and vice versa, so everyone has to be very tolerant of the constant tiny changes. Hopefully each change is something that makes the story clearer; are we saying what we need to say, and is that what we mean to say?

This week’s director is our great friend Lucy Cuthbertson, Head of Drama at Corelli College, and a great expert in finding clarity in the storytelling. She is also a great advocate of animal rights, and seems a lot more concerned about the fate of the sheep and cows in the story than all the humans.

After a quick recap of what we did on Friday (which turns out to take nearly all day), we have a look at Penelope (a monologue), the Land of the Lotus Eaters (choral movement and speech) and get our first sight of the Cyclops (constant multi-roling). What a lot of choral speech these women have to learn…

Somewhere along the line, Cordelia’s name has morphed from ‘Cords’ to ‘Claude’.

DAY 7 - Tuesday 25 August 2015

First thing is to try on the costume, which after many variations, has been fixed as: big blue t-shirt, cut-off, rolled up jog pants, cream knee-socks and navy judo shoes, with a triangular bit of sheet over the top which can become all manner of character signifiers, like a sash for the warriors, headscarf for Penelope or weird gap-year cravat/scarf for the ultra-posh suitors.

Today has been designated PUSH ON TO THE END OF THE PLAY day, as there are still some scenes we haven’t blocked, so we start straight in with the Bag of Wind. How does one embody a bag containing all the power of the four winds? Well, you will have to come and see the show to find out, but one thing that is made very clear is that it is a drawstring bag of tanned leather with very fine stitching - a handsome artefact all round.

Next we have the family of giants, who seem to have come direct from EastEnders. Lucy tells us that there is an epidemic of the word ‘basically’ amongst her students, and some are physically unable to start a sentence without it. So we gave this attribute to the giant daughter, in tribute to the young people of Kidbrooke.

The giants are responsible for sinking most of the boats and killing most of Odysseus’s men, so out of that scene comes the Song of Loss. It’s a very simple, folky tune that has an inherent mournfulness, so even after the comedy of the giants and the tiny paper boats the tone changes completely with the song. At least, it does this afternoon. Hopefully it will happen with an audience there too. Sadly there is no one with hands free to operate the Shruti box, so it’s another item that gets struck from the stage.

We don’t quite make it to the end of the play today. Maybe tomorrow?

DAY 8 – Wednesday 26 August 2015

The wonderful Lucy Hopkins is back in today, so with stereo Lucys we look at physical shapes and movements, and Cordelia gets a go at Calypso, the lonely Goddess who falls for Odysseus. I say ‘we’, but actually I was at home waiting for the telephone engineer (which is a job title that sounds extremely quaint here in the twenty-first century).

We don’t quite make it to the end of the play today. Maybe tomorrow?

DAY 9 – Thursday 27 August 2015

Guest director for the next two days is Molly Bertrand, another fine member of the Corelli College drama department. She has a great passion for puppetry, so she’s on special lookout for how we use our paper boats, Odysseus-symbolising wooden spoon, and of course Claude’s cardboard Cyclops eye. She’s also here to see if anything makes sense at this end of the rehearsal process, because you can sometimes get so fixated on the detail that you forget the basic storytelling.

We only have the final scene with the Suitors to block, and then the actual ending, but we decide to try and work through from the beginning. Putting all the parts together requires a lot of remembering: where do the sticks go? When does the beard come off? How many boats are left? How did the obstacle course go? … But the shape of the whole thing is gradually appearing through the mist… It is surprisingly big.

By the time we work through the Suitors it’s the end of the day, so we don’t quite make it to the end of the play. Maybe tomorrow?

DAY 10 – Friday 28 August 2015 - the end of my blog, since the devising is done and the final few days are for refining and polishing

Last day of week 2. We’re running this sucker if it’s the last thing we do.

Again we work from the very beginning, which means tackling the pre-show section. The audience will be met by the Old Men of the Sea, who will be giving them various tasks and epic names as they arrive. This is the kind of thing that is very hard to rehearse with an audience of three, but we’ve learned a lot about using the audience over the years, and it always becomes a highlight.

After that Lucy and Molly have some important questions about the introduction. Are we being clear enough about who these old men are, whose story it is, and how the audience fit in? The introduction distils the intention of the production into about a minute, so it’s crucial that its meaning is precise. But this does mean doing a bit of painful rewriting with a lot of focus on every word. It’s like solving a crossword, except it’s a crossword that doesn’t have any clues.

Once we have solved it, we press on and tighten up some of the other flappy bits before attempting the first ‘stagger-through’ (ie, we’re getting to the end without stopping for directions). We’re aiming for a final running time of around 55mins. Of course, the stumble-through is not expected to be that slick as everyone is still just getting their heads around words and logistics. But if it’s much over 70mins we’ll know that there’s too much material and we’ll have to do some major cutting.

In the spirit of leaving you with the requisite amount of peril, the run takes 1 hour and 40 minutes.

HOW ON EARTH ARE THE MIGHTY TEAM SPLENDID GOING TO SURVIVE THIS EPIC SETBACK???*

*Here’s our tour schedule, come along and find out!

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