The creation of Up Down Man

As Up Down Man starts its second week of rehearsals, Artistic Director of Myrtle Theatre Company Heather Williams, who also plays Odette in the production, explains more about the development of the play.

Nathan Bessell and Heather Williams in Up Down Boy at Salisbury Playhouse. Credit Richard Davenport..jpg
Heather Williams and Nathan Bessell in Up Down Boy ©Richard Davenport 2012.

Whilst Up Down Boy was largely autobiographical written from the mother’s perspective, we saw the sequel, Up Down Man, as an opportunity to create a piece of theatre that put the character of the son, Matty, and his thoughts and feelings at the centre of the play. To that end we placed Nathan Bessell (who plays Matty) at the heart of the creative process from the outset. We wanted to build on our learning through the development and performance of Up Down Boy, to work in a way that fully embraced and benefited from Nathan’s inspiring creative method.

An initial research and development period included a week in the rehearsal room at Salisbury Playhouse in July 2014. Six actors, a choreographer, a designer, a lighting designer and a composer were present. Nathan was encouraged to lead the process at every opportunity – from taking physical warm-ups, to guiding improvised scenes, choosing characters for the actors to play and deciding on scene content. The result was a freedom to create and play, rarely experienced by the actors – and a great deal of joy in the room. Also present was writer Brendan Murray who, through formal and informal interaction with Nathan and observation of the work, was able to get to the heart of some of the themes and theatrical conventions Nathan wanted to include in the play.

It also became very clear that Nathan’s greatest desire was to “speak” through his body – that dance and movement gave him the opportunity to communicate with depth and profundity in a way that he finds challenging with the spoken word.

It was thrilling to see how the time and extra resources allowed Nathan to express himself in a way we didn’t think possible. The speed he developed as a creative artist was remarkable.

We identified three areas of further research and development which took place throughout 2015.

Brendan, Nathan and I embarked on a rather unusual, but highly successful script development period – Nathan took us to the places he liked going – the funfair, the pub, cafes, restaurants, bowling, the sea life centre, country walks – giving Brendan an invaluable insight into his life.

We decided that for Nathan to truly have a voice in the play’s material the best way was through dance and he would benefit from broadening his dance vocabulary to do this. He had sessions with five exceptional young dancer/choreographer/movement artists, developing his skills in contemporary dance, street dance, ballet, line dancing, ballroom dancing and contact improvisation. Nathan relished these sessions but more importantly showed astonishing alacrity in learning new skills and techniques and new ways of moving and expressing himself. He particularly embraced dancing with someone else – to be in duologue, rather than monologue. It became apparent that to have another dancer to work alongside Nathan in Up Down Man would be creatively beneficial. Nathan was involved in selecting who that would be – dancer and choreographer Bryn Thomas. In addition, Nathan had sessions with two composers and it soon became clear he flourished when dancing to live music which also allowed for improvisational elements in the dance. Through this we decided it was essential to have live music for Up Down Man and this is composed and performed by Kieran Buckeridge.

The third area of research and development was Brendan interviewing Sue, Nathan’s mother, and the rest of his family, along with a number of other families to place Nathan’s creative input into a context.

As we begin the second week of rehearsals, the blend of Brendan’s sharp, witty and beautifully crafted text, coming together with Nathan’s moving and amusing extraordinary dance interludes is extremely exciting.

Up Down Man runs in The Salberg at Salisbury Playhouse from Wednesday 24 February to Saturday 12 March 2016. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit www.salisburyplayhouse.com.

Five questions with Deathtrap’s Kim Wall

Kim Wall in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse (Credit Laura Jane Dale).jpg
Kim Wall in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse (Photo by Laura Jane Dale).

What attracted you to the role of Sidney Bruhl?

An opportunity to play a genuinely evil character in a comedy homage to the thriller genre isn’t something that comes an actor’s way every day. It was a challenge I couldn’t refuse. And I’d always wanted to work at Salisbury and I’d always wanted to work with our director, Adam Penford, so it was a no-brainer really.

 

What do you think are the biggest challenges of playing this part?

Striking the balance (walking the tightrope – whatever the expression is) between horrifying an audience and making them laugh. It’s also physically quite demanding – there’s a fair bit of action and I’m not so young as I was.

 

What do you do to prepare before rehearsals begin?

Read the script (a lot). Think about it (a lot).  Adam also asked if we could learn certain sections before rehearsals started to free us up for some of the livelier sequences. I also started training my mouth to wrap itself around some of the more tricky American vowel sounds.

 

How do you find working on fight sequences – have you had to do much stage combat in previous productions?

I’ve done a fair amount of stage fighting of the swash and buckle variety though, to be honest, most of it was quite a few years ago, so I was quite rusty at the beginning of rehearsals.  We were really very fortunate to have an absolutely brilliant fight director in Rachel Bown-Williams, who through a combination of inexhaustible patience and steely determination got what she wanted out of us (swash and buckle it ain’t).  It was (and is) a very satisfying process, building up the complexity and intensity of the fights with each rehearsal and one I found very enjoyable.

 

How would you describe Sidney in five words?

Egomaniacal. Amoral. Repressed. Witty. Pathetic.

 

Deathtrap runs in the Main House at Salisbury Playhouse from Thursday 4 to Saturday 27 February 2016. For tickets or more information please contact the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the website.

Five questions with Deathtraps’s Beverley Klein

Beverley Klein in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse (Credit Laura Jane Dale)
Beverley Klein in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse. (Photo – Laura Jane Dale)

What attracted you to the role of Helga ten Dorp?

I thought it would be really fun to play. She’s quite an eccentric and has a remarkable gift. She’s in and out of the action quite quickly, but I think she makes her mark!  Also I wanted to work with Adam Penford, our director.

What research have you been doing to help develop your character?

To be honest, I’m not much of a researcher. There are times when it pays dividends – to deepen your understanding of the genre, for example. We watched some clips of movie thrillers from the mid 20th Century, to give us an idea of the style Ira Levin was drawing on. I think it’s most valuable to really explore what’s on the page in as much depth as possible, because in the end that’s what the audience needs to see.

Beverley Klein in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse 2 (Photo - Laura Jane Dale)
Beverley Klein and Lesley Vickerage in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse. (Photo – Laura Jane Dale)

 

What have you been doing with the dialect coach to work on Helga’s accent?

Well, I hope it’s not giving too much away to say that, with our director’s encouragement, we have moved our accent northwards, to a different continent from the suggestion in the play.  Part of the reason was because one of the lovely people I’m staying with in Salisbury is actually from Helga’s original homeland of Holland, and I would be too embarrassed to merely approximate his accent. Also we thought it was funnier the other way!

Do you have any rituals or superstitions linked to the theatre?

I don’t go in for rituals, but I do like to adhere to the old actors’ superstition of not quoting the Scottish play (Macbeth) backstage. Some younger actors tend to find this tiresome, but I insist they leave the dressing room, turn round three times, knock, enter, swear and spit before the curse is lifted.

How would you describe Helga using five words?

Gifted, concerned, passionate, ruthless, ambitious

Deathtrap runs in the Main House at Salisbury Playhouse from Thursday 4th-Saturday 27th February 2016. For tickets or more information please call the Ticket Office on 01722 320333 or visit the website.

Five questions with Deathtrap’s Julien Ball

 

Julien Ball in rehearsals for Deathtrap at Salisbury Playhouse (Credit Laura Jane Dale)
Julien Ball in rehearsals for Deathtrap. Photo by Laura Jane Dale

What attracted you to the role of Porter Milgrim?

It wasn’t so much the role as the opportunity to work with Adam [Penford] again, after being directed by him in a short play last year.  However there is more to Porter, like all the characters in this thriller, than meets the eye so the fun is working out what to reveal to the audience and when.

What preparation did you do before rehearsals began?

I started listening more intently to American accents on the radio and TV, having not done one for a few years. I also watched the 1982 film version starring Michael Caine and Christopher Reeve.

What is your favourite part of the rehearsal process?

“Digging potatoes” as my wife says; the beginning of rehearsals where you pick away at the play around a table and work out what the character’s motives, or in this case apparent motives, are.  Because the play is, in part, about the writing of a play call Deathtrap, it is important to know who knows what and when.

How does rehearsing for a play differ from rehearsing for TV or film?

It is rare to get any rehearsals for television, other than a quick line run and a camera rehearsal, as much for the technical crew as the actors.  You are more likely to have your conversations with the director at audition than “on the floor”. Much can be done in the edit for television; by contrast in theatre you have several weeks to try things out and hone something that is convincingly repeatable for the run of the play.

How would you describe Porter using five words?

Business-like

Dull (according to the other characters)

Pedantic

Frustrated-artist

You’ll have to see the play to get the last one!

Deathtrap runs at Salisbury Playhouse from 4th-27th February 2016. For tickets or more information please call 01722 320333 or visit www.salisburyplayhouse.com.

Stepping Out cast blog #4

Stepping Out” – A fond farewell to Salisbury

Cast member Adrian Grove talks about his time in Salisbury

As our time here in Salisbury comes to an end, we the cast firstly want to say a massive thank you to everyone at the Playhouse for making us so welcome.

Good regional theatre is incredibly difficult to maintain, particularly in these times of economic hardship and just getting audience members through the doors can be demanding. It takes a great team to make great theatre, but get it right, as I believe Gareth Machin and his team are doing, and what you produce is the beating heart of a community. A place where friends and family can meet during the day to enjoy coffee or lunch, or where you can relax by yourself, check your emails and read a book. In the evening, have dinner before seeing a show in the main house or the studio.

With the new meeting room, rehearsal space and restaurant, writers groups, community groups and businesses can assemble with all their requirements catered for under one roof. The main theatre also provides the perfect conference venue should the number of people be slightly higher. Finally, and most importantly, young people can flex their own creative muscles, learn about all aspects of the theatre, make friends and build confidence in themselves. After all, aren’t these the next generation who will keep the heart beating?

The combination of all these elements with great marketing and a fantastic season of plays puts “bums on seats”, smiles on faces and makes a town proud of its theatre. Salisbury Playhouse, we salute you – the Olympics may have finished but you are Gold!

One final note: I was asked to mention the cast’s favourite things to do in and around Salisbury (away from the theatre) so here they are in no particular order:

1. Salisbury Cathedral Spire Tour – a 2hr tour with incredible views and wonderful guides

2. Best breakfast goes to “Boston Tea Party” (but can be very busy at times)

3. Best lunch goes to “Cote

4. Salisbury Odeon is worth the visit just to see inside this wonderful old building

5. Best Wine Bar is the “Cosy Club

6.Best day trip – Hengistbury Head. Walk then go around the coast to Mudeford for Fish & Chips

7. There are 3 fabulous Vintage shops in Salisbury

8. Endless trails to walk and cycle in The New Forest National Park, or just head out along the river West of the Cathedral (great pubs and stunning views looking back at the Cathedral)

9. For the friendliest pasty in town go see the boys in “Pasty Presto

10. Best Thai food goes to “Thai Sarocha” on New Street

11. Salisbury Museum