Life Raft: Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

by Amy Kemp, Company Member

Day 7 – “I hope your hands drop off”

10th August

The weekend had barely begun before we all found ourselves back in the rehearsal room ready to move forward into ‘Day 2’ on the life raft. Most of the days are more than ten pages of script long, so it was the aim to finish staging the second day during just two days of rehearsal… can it be done?

Amy and Toby in rehearsals for Life Raft.

Amy and Toby in rehearsals for Life Raft.

The script for this show is really a beautiful thing. Not only because it forces these children to deal with these universal dilemmas, but also the narrative and the emotional development of the piece mimics a child’s emotional journey. We are only on ‘Day 2’, and even now there is a radical change in the hysteria and morality amongst them, with life changing decisions being made in a snap instant, most without a conscious thought for their repercussions. The nature of the play suddenly becomes unpredictable and insecure, reflecting a child’s erratic behaviour, with a more serious edge.

This slightly darker element to the performance naturally must be accompanied by violence and blood, and blood on stage brings the difficult task for the design and stage team of deciding how to make these moments of bleeding look effective. We are thrown into blood and injury in ‘Day 1’ where the character of Amy has shrapnel wounds horrifically cascading up her left side. ‘Day 2’ promises even more of this. From blistered hands to a bleeding temple, we used the blood packs and various other gore inducing substances for the first time, and through a process of trial and error, we produce the most effective, honest and frightening looking injuries.

At lunch time we were introduced to Chloe, currently doing work experience at the theatre, who will be writing a little section about each of the cast members for the shows programme. She is also 17, which means that both of us will be collecting our AS exam results this Thursday coming, which I’m feeling very nervous about. It’s a good job the rehearsals are intensive, for it means I don’t have time to anticipate my results day.

Melly had finalised the devised work myself, Zara and Fionn did the previous Monday into Ann’s dream sequence at the end of ‘Day 1’. The task was to somehow implement Ann’s superstition of the thirteen children into her nightmares, which was much harder said than done. Once again Melly’s brain came up with a rather brilliant sentence for the three of us to play out, potentially baffling audience members in the process.

A good start to the week; I cannot wait to see what we do next.

Day 8 – “We’re not savages”

11th August

After a shaky start to the morning for me, Melly kick started the day with a pep talk to boost the company – ready for our morning run through. It was one of our less successful runs, but we were reminded once again (by our resident optimistic Director) not to disappear, to focus on how far we’d come in just a week and how much more we will achieve. What would we do without you Melly…?

Melly with the company in the rehearsal room.

Melly with the company in the rehearsal room.

The first half of ‘Day 2’ was complete, now all we needed to do was finish the rest. Despite this day only taking up ten pages of script, the action escalates rapidly, and the lines become a frenzy of confusion and aggravation. One of the challenges of working with a company of thirteen is that in some sections you could have as many as ten lines, then not say a word for the next few pages. On top of this, many of the lines sound the same and often merge together to keep up the pace. In terms of learning the lines and then keeping engaged in the action, it can be a challenge as a company to follow through with that engagement and stay motivated.

We had an afternoon session with Dave Price, composer of the music and sound for the show. At several poignant moments in Life Raft, the children begin to sing chorally, highlighting the characters heightened state of reality. During our prior Saturday rehearsals, we choreographed, as a company, a somewhat futuristic, feel-good piece of dance using Moby’s ‘Go’ as a temporary track to move to. Using his musical expertise, Dave has composed his own music to accompany the rehearsed scene, adapting the beats in ‘Go’ to fit in with our dance. He even composed a melody for us, with harmonies and bass line to accompany it. The company had its first music session today, and for a first practice, we are sounding incredibly harmonious. On a personal note, I may have slightly fallen in love with Dave’s music…

Day 9 – “I thought maybe it was all a dream”

12th August

The day began with myself, Toby and Melly working on Ann and Allan’s dialogue at the beginning of ‘Day 3’. Upon first read, the scene reveals the great loss and sadness in Ann’s life but, to my surprise, the rehearsal proved the scene to be very funny. Underneath his sad reflections on the past, is Allan’s determination to convince Ann to marry him, just to plant the idea into her mind. The humour comes in Ann’s attempt to discourage him with morbid yet casual remarks about death anytime Allan comes close to being romantic. Compared to the other scenes between these two, this felt, for the first time, a natural conversation between two friends. This scene is slap bang in the middle of the play, after the initial meeting and before the chaos that ensues. I like to think of it as the calm before the storm.

Our full run of the script was the most eventful run-through so far. I managed to cut my hand on a tin (completely my fault) and when it came to the scene between Ann and Allan, the faint giggling from the sleeping children at the back of the stage filled the room – they were obviously finding the scene just as humorous as Toby and I had earlier! Melly soon sorted out the gigglers, and told them to go outside and run around until they had let out all their energy – she wasn’t joking either! My bad luck wasn’t over. When I decided to use some of the hand sanitiser conveniently placed on the wall, it hit me straight in the eye. It just didn’t seem to be my day…

To end the day, we revisited one of our very first pieces of devised work; our characters’ dream sequences. Back in March, which feels like a very long time ago, each company member used character analysis and information from the script to comprise individual dreams. Dividing up into groups of three and four, we helped to form mysterious worlds which revealed the desires and anxieties of our characters. For me, the most memorable of those was the dream I worked on with Courtnei and Callum Harrison-Deans (playing Sam)  – Sam’s dream centres on his strained relationship with his father, and we built upon this in the hope of exposing his anxieties.

Today we played with these dreams. We made each movement very limited, and the sounds strained and barely audible. Spaced out around the makeshift stage (marked out with tape on the floor), we began to recite our dreams all at once. These small movements were then contrasted with swift movements from Zara and Fionn, moving the chairs around the set into their positions for ‘Day 3’. These chaotic contrasts are reflective of the children’s fears for the days to come, and while it is not clear what they are dreaming of, the isolation and jarred movements clearly reveal their worries. We also did some devised work on interactions between Zara and Fionn, or as we like to call them, Zionn! Eventually Melly settled on a moment of us breaking away from our dreams as either of Zionn brushed past us. Marked with a sharp intake of breath, there would be a moment of stillness for a brief second, until we eventually melted back into our dreams.

Fionn and Zara in rehearsals for Life Raft

Fionn and Zara in rehearsals for Life Raft

Day 10 – “Who’s evil? This is democracy”

13th August

A Level results day…dun dun dun…

Due to rehearsals I was unable to pick up my AS results from college, so my head of Sixth Form Mr Roger Madge (shout out to Roger) rang me in the morning to reveal my grades. It is fair to say that I was extremely pleasantly surprised with them… I managed to do more than pass which was unexpected! This positive start to the day definitely made me even more ready for the day of rehearsals ahead…

Courtnei bought me a congratulations cake (which the company shared over lunch), and after celebratory hugs of relief from Zara and Melly, we got going with setting more of ‘Day 3’. ‘Day 3’ is full of tension. It is the day they ‘democratically vote’ for who deserves the remainder of the dwindling food and water supplies. They each must state why they are valuable to the boat. However, their voting system is significantly corrupted – it’s flawed with discrimination and strict rules. Despite most of the children objecting, they are silenced under Allan’s harsh dictatorship (which Toby Yapp portrays excellently, with equally brilliantly bullish performances from Enid and Alfie). With the only voice of reason having been mortally wounded, who will defend the weak?

What I love about Fin Kennedy’s script is the embedded modern themes such as corruption of government. The way Allan’s leadership evolves (from working as a unit to survival of the fittest) is incredibly complex. The play allows us to see the intricate journey of his leadership and how he is forced into the role of a hardened tyrant – at first respected, then feared.

Whilst it is unanimously agreed that Allan’s character journey is the most explicit, each individual is shaped by their experience on the life raft. We have to remember that they have each had a life before the play begins, growing up in a dystopian war torn world that has had equal impact on their personalities. I was discussing this with fellow cast member Tilly Bennett (playing Margot) towards the end of the day. We brainstormed a backstory for Margot and I’m excited to see the end result. Her character is driven by her religious beliefs, and she makes with continuous reference to the bible which all back up Ann’s superstitions about the number 13. It is also important to establish just how much of the war these children have experienced, alluding the psychological damage they have endured…

Day 11 – “Use your penknife”

14th August

Tiredness. It seemed to be the theme for the morning, myself afflicted too. The rehearsals are amazing and I am learning an incredible amount about the process of making a production, and I’m working with some amazing people. However, the emotional journey of the play is exhausting.

As I have mentioned before, the action of the play is heightened due to a number of the elements – the war, the lack of food… This makes the play fast paced and emotionally spontaneous which, as an actor, is a tough emotional ride to be on. I find myself, particularly at the end of ‘Day 2’, trying extremely hard not to get upset. Luckily it is in my characters interests to be upset over the shocking actions, but it is almost surprising how emotionally invested I myself become when I am living that journey. Producing real tears does give a natural advantage into adding realism into the character, but after a full run through I am drained emotionally as well as physically.

Some fight choreography was devised today between Llewy Godfrey (Archie), Oscar Adams (Alfie), Jacob Bishop-Ponte (Roger) and Toby Yapp (Allan). It was important to be extremely careful with the fight, and each individual move was assigned by Melly so that no one was hurt. It was exhilarating and yet scary to watch, for it began to look incredibly real. My chosen quote for today is “use your penknife”, and I have chosen it for good reason. I guess you’ll just have to watch the show to find out…

The company rehearse.

Our second musical session with Dave Price sounded even more beautiful than the last. He has composed an adaptation of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ that we’ll sing as a company. Melly was keen to include a Gregorian chant-style piece of music, and Dave’s compositions create an enchanting atmosphere that mimics that of being in a church, voices soaring and yet very solemn. I cannot help but sing his praises, Dave has done it again.

Day 12 – “Oh no, it’s Lilly, she’s…”

15th August

Only a handful of us were called for this Saturday’s rehearsal, which turned out to be extremely peaceful. It was only a short three hour call, specifically to rehearse the scene of Lilly’s funeral, and Allan’s dream. We worked separately on those scenes, with Tilly and Alyssa Thomas (Margaret) working on a ‘funeral at sea’ for the doll, and myself and Toby working with Zara and Fionn to create the dream that inspires Allan.

Max Johns’ set for Life Raft is draped in plastic and will be lit spectacularly on the Bristol Old Vic stage. Today was our first taste of using plastic, and Zara and Fionn created a gentle sail like wave, moving it as though it were blowing in the wind. Zara then had the task of maneuvering it into a veil, draping it over herself to embody a vision of the Virgin Mary which Margot sees during the heightened emotional state of Lilly’s death.

After a quick tea break in the green room, we headed back to the rehearsal room. I never thought playing with plastic could be so much fun! Fionn poses as Ann’s uncle in Allan’s dream, and the large plastic acts as a smoke screen, which only adds to the dreamlike atmosphere. But the plastic is extremely thin, and it does break the illusion slightly when you rip it…by mistake of course…

Photos by Jack Offord

Life Raft plays in Bristol Old Vic Theatre from 3-5 September. Find out more, and book tickets, here. Check back next week for more from the rehearsal room.

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