The Misanthrope – An Assistant Director’s diary

From week 3 of rehearsals…

I thought to make the blogs seem authentic,

Each sentence should strive to be iambic,

But after hours of concentrated thought,

I’ll leave it to the intellectual sort…

Truth be told it is the beginning of the third week of rehearsals and I am, as I am sure most of the cast is, dreaming in verse. I am sat in the Bristol Old Vic rehearsal room with the cast and crew of ‘The Misanthrope’ as Simon Armstrong’s Alceste vents his frustrated disapproval of mankind’s wickedness and struts amongst the odd upturned bins and taped together office chairs which have come to represent Celimene’s plush Parisian attic room.

Over the past couple of weeks we, as a company, have been wading deep into Moliere’s philosophic comedy and trying to gently discover how it functions in 2010 and we are now just over half way through the rehearsal process. With numerous challenges still to surmount, not least of which is sending a cast of be-heeled females up and down a rather steep flight of steps (see the last stage manager’s blog below). Emily Glenister is also going to have to accomplish this carrying trays of glasses, champagne and hot coffee…good luck!  We are now drawing ever closer to what promises to be at the very least an interesting tech rehearsal for the health and safety team!

The first two weeks have been spent finding our way into what is a very rich and intricate text. The language is of course in verse and as an actor pointed out to me today, if you drop focus for a moment by the time you’re back in the scene a lot can have happened. Far from being a problem the text has proved to contain the answer to many of the questions that have arisen. Today’s rehearsal we spent a while trying to establish the exact nature of the relationship between Alceste and Celimene. One of the difficulties we have faced in modernising Moliere has been the transfer of 17th century values to 2010. The suitor system seems to have a lot in common with the American Dating system oddly but here in Europe we don’t seem to have its equivalent. We had some in depth conversations, the likes of which Jeremy Kyle would have been proud, pertaining to Celimene’s good name and the exact nature of her relationship with the countless suitors that she wears like accessories. Dorothea Myer-Bennett has been finding a 21st century place for a 17th Century femme fatale. It strikes me more and more the complexities that these characters have in what is essentially a comedy. Andrew mentioned that at times it almost feels like an observation on comedy. The outcomes of the various characters misdeed’s and uncompromising moral standpoints are genuinely bleak.

We kicked off today working on Byron Mondahl’s Oronte scene. It’s a corker!!! Byron seems to be able to skilfully skirt the line between character and caricature. Oronte’s theatrical enthusiasm countered with Alceste’s dry and unforgiving frankness is currently giving the scene a wonderful tension as we see Alceste unsuccessfully try and dodge giving his scathing appraisal of Oronte’s poem. Philip Buck’s Philinte stands by helplessly as Alceste manages to dig himself a career killer of a hole. We are cruising steadily towards hopefully being able to run on Friday and working through the play scene by scene, the text is actually fairly difficult to commit to memory simply because of the rhyming couplets. Where as in a contempory text a thought would continue and resolve itself over 3 or 4 lines within the verse thoughts are begun and concluded often within the couplet. The next couplet often reinforces the thought but there’s no real trick or short cut to learning it, you just have to know it inside out! This has become a little frustrating at times for the actors this week because we are at the stage where they are generally able to be playing with the scene and finding how they function. I’m looking forward to seeing the piece as a whole hopefully at the end of the week!

Philip Buck’s Simon Armstrong impression has been today’s highlight! Coupled with John McGrellis’s entrance as Dubois worth the ticket price alone!

With Tony Harrisons anthem ‘Enjoy the Rhyme’ ringing in our ears we truck ever closer to the end of the week. We have been working with Matt Barber and Piers Wehner on the Acaste and Clitandre scenes or the ‘Terrible Twins’ as Andrew has begun calling them. We also have a stand in sofa now so no more taped together office chairs, it also gives the chaps something to drape themselves over whilst quaffing. Watching Matt give us Acaste’s self appreciating monologue I can’t help but think it must be a lot of fun to play such an awful person. The one thing that has stood out today as we have run the first half is just how quickly the play moves. With each new character that finds its way up to Celimene’s attic a different energy sweeps into the room carrying onward. From the quietly tender and subtly played opening to act 2 between Philinte and Daisy Douglas’s Eliante, which alongside its humour both actors have managed to pack and awful lot of genuine feeling and history in a relatively short scene to the hilarious and frankly terrifying exchange between Celimene and Lucy Black’s Arsinoe.

Ah the ending, I’m often of the opinion that the play finds the ending for you and I’m sure that this will be the case but we aren’t there just yet. So much happens in such a short space of time and so much needs to be resolved that it can only really come from the journey we have undergone. I think the run has left us both pensive and focussed on what we need to achieve next week. We have a week of tweaking and running before tech week and previews in which hopefully we can discover where our play sits and exactly where Alceste journey lies!

See you in week 4!

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