“Everyone has had a hand in bringing the play to life…”
Miriam Battye, Assistant Director and recipient of a JMK Assistant Director Bursary reveals all from within the …Fanny Hill rehearsal room.
So, we’re at the halfway point, and after our daily group warm-up and the fondly named “blind orgy” movement exercise, we are ready to start our first stagger-through of part one. At this point, we are very much still creating, discovering more from the text and about the characters and their world all the time.
Today we discussed how Fanny could be seen as simultaneously a realist and a fantasist, two arguably paradoxical character traits. It struck me that the adaptation similarly demonstrates both traits: it is at once a fantasy, concocted from the collective imaginations of these characters, whilst also just beneath is a truthful portrayal of some of the experiences of the so-called “woman of pleasure”, and the men who engaged them.
Initially, I was unsure how it would be possible to make Cleland’s heady and somewhat relentless novel theatrical. The novel is all about the words, navigating around anything explicit, to conjure images in the reader’s mind and of course, to avoid censorship. Translating the energy of the novel into a compelling theatrical performance, whilst giving Cleland’s linguistic pyrotechnics adequate homage, is one of the real triumphs of April’s exuberant play.
The Fanny Hill rehearsal room is an animated and energetic place, and it is, as you might expect, full of laughter. Loads. It’s a very lively place to be, with the ideas (and the innuendos) coming thick and fast (sorry). Just as in the play the troupe of characters all muck in to create and imagine Fanny’s story, everyone has had a hand in bringing the play life. And beyond Fanny’s story, the stories of each of the surrounding characters are as meaningful to the play as the fantasy they make up. These are not merely players, storytellers or agents to deliver the play-within-a-play, but richly conceived people whose stories provide a truthful and often shameful backdrop to the fiction they create.
A key part of rehearsals has been finding a way to put the many sexual episodes on stage. The task has been to explore the character of each episode (there are nine in total!), and find their unique theatrical language. So, two weeks in, we have tackled a whole host of difference scenarios, many of which I would never have fathomed before I stepped into the Fanny Hill world: an unruly “cock sock”, a copulating machine, coat puppetry and a movement sequence with such obscenely named moves I couldn’t possibly repeat them here. We have taken inspiration from all kinds of sources: Hogarth paintings, street songs,18th century philosophy, and our extensive rehearsal room library, with books like the extraordinary Harris’ List, a directory of Covent Garden Ladies for the ‘Man of Pleasure’ (I urge all to read, unbelievable stuff). I have never been so simultaneously appalled and compelled by a period of British history.
It has already proved enormously valuable for me to be able to work on this production with Michael and see him realise his vision. This is the kind of theatre that I love, and seeing all the elements come together has been fascinating, and will undoubtedly provide a well of inspiration and motivation in my future work. I am looking forward to seeing how we can build on the foundations we have made thus far, to a very hectic tech period, and of course, to Fanny’s first outing on opening night.
The Life and Times of Fanny Hill
Bristol Old Vic Theatre
5 Feb-7 Mar