Life Raft: Rehearsal Diary – Week 3

by Amy Kemp, Company Member

Day 13 – “If we all look out for ourselves we’ll be OK”

17th August

I was reading Max Johns’ interview about Life Raft, and a particular part caught my eye. He mentioned the design of the show felt ‘incredibly urgent and political in today’s climate’ with a ‘surge in media images of refugees drifting on makeshift rafts in the Mediterranean’. It was the only this morning that I was sat next to a lady called Susan on the bus, who asked me directions to the Watershed. After a while, she began to tell me her story, about how she had lived in Syria and then moved to the UK. She began to get very upset, describing how she had lost everything, remembering only harrowing images of her war torn country. I did my best to comfort her, both of us getting off at the center and parting ways. Susan’s story struck me in a way that I cannot shake, and has added a new level of understanding about what the children in Life Raft might have experienced that is just too real to remove.

Amy in rehearsal for Life Raft

Today was a difficult day of rehearsals. As a company we have not until this point rehearsed so intensely together, so tiredness and concentration levels are on the edge. Our work is still strong, but having a cast of thirteen brings difficulties in itself. Being focused and ready to pick up your lines is tough in such a large group, especially when we move into new sections of the script. It was a rehearsal full of giggles and chatty outbursts, but despite this the company worked extremely hard to get through into ‘Day 4’.

And we did. Toby and I had a session working on our scene together at the start of ‘Day 4’. It is a very intimate scene between Allan and Ann, for their relationship has built up to a moment of hysteria from Allan, who has become fanciful and opportunistic. Whilst Ann attempts to bring some gravitas to the situation, she too is swept away by his spooky yet captivating ideals. The connection between these two is so important, and I think Toby and I are both aware that when we are staging these scenes with Melly, that we must think carefully about what they represent. I feel very lucky to get these small rehearsal periods with Melly, because we really get to focus on the minute details. For instance, today we explored the levels of trust vs. manipulation in their relationship; finding out where the balance lies.

There were more tears from me as we heard some more music composed by Dave. During the funeral of Lilly, Zara poses as the Virgin Mary and sings a Eulogy. A peacefully solemn melody that caused me to tear up during the scene the first time. Most actors long to produce real tears on stage, but it is an even greater task for me to hold them back. This might be because it is very easy to get deeply invested in the emotional journey of the characters, I am sure my fellow cast members would agree that it is extremely hard not to do so. We were then taught an accompaniment for the song, giving it a mighty stance within the scene, and enhancing an atmosphere of unity.

I met my friend for dinner in the evening. It was nice to see a familiar face (as I am staying away from home for the month) and to catch up on all the general and results day gossip. But my adventure away is worth it – there is so much joy in being involved with Life Raft. The week ahead promises to be special and I cannot wait to begin!

Day 14 – “There are a pair of lovers on the boat”

18th August

I’ve only just released how privileged we are as a company, for we are getting to create these characters, along with Melly, almost completely from scratch. It is really exciting to shape and mold a character, so much so that you become very precious of them. Ann has become my little baby, in a fashion, and I feel as though I know as much about her as I do myself, which is weird and amazing all at the same time. I do feel very fortunate for having the opportunity to create Ann… Just a quick first thought of the morning.

I arrived super early as I had forgotten my script and revisited the lines for ‘Day 4’, which I was dreading slightly. My lines seem to multiply in ‘Day 4’ as Ann assumes the position of leader because of (spoiler alert) Allan’s injury. It is a very intense day, where we see the effects of hysteria in all of the characters. Many of the lines become biblical and preached, and sweet characters such as Archie (played by Llewy Godfrey) are overwhelmed with darkness. It was important to get that intensity exactly right, so for a part of the rehearsal we worked on the language, the warning in our tonalities, and the affect this has over the group.

The manipulation running its course through Allan and Ann’s relationship finally comes to light. Allan’s constant reference to marriage is shared by Ann in a moment of aggression, where there could potentially be bloodshed. What I have learnt about Ann is that she doesn’t like conflict, or mess and gore for that matter. She will do almost anything to prevent it, and her suggestion of marriage as a ceremony that will break the ‘thirteen curse’ is evidence of this. We all know that with a wedding, comes kissing…

Now, I cannot speak for Toby, but kissing on stage isn’t a problem for me. It is always awkward at first, as it is a staged kiss. Having had a cheeky snog on stage before, I was no stranger to the weird staged world of kissing in front of a crowd of people. What I hadn’t prepared myself for, which I should have expected knowing the company, the over the top hysterical laughter and uncontrollable excitement over the Allan and Ann kiss. Particularly from Callum (playing Sam), he could not help but wet himself at even the thought of us kissing, and would constantly ask probing questions. After the embarrassment of everyone’s giggling and getting over the first attempts, like true professionals, Toby and I were completely comfortable, and totally over it.

We managed to power through ‘Day 4’ with plenty of time to spare, so we took a short break, then started on ‘Day 5’. Due to many cuts and changes to the script, lines for today were rusty from everyone. Luckily we had already roughly staged this day during the Saturday rehearsals, so we were able to get through the motions, with help on the words when required. My makeshift sail veil came back into play, and Melly decided that Toby and I will be singing a duet as Ann walks down the aisle. I will now spend my evening learning the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ by William H. Monk.

Day 15 – “Let the world bear witness!”

19th August

Something unexpected happened to me today. Walking to the theatre, I bumped into Susan who I had met only this Monday on the bus. We had a quick catch up and she told me a bit more about her job. A pleasantly surprising way to start the day.

What an amazing day of rehearsals. The room was so positive and full of life, with a new found energy and excitement brought about by Melly’s absolute genius. Before we began, Melly sat us all down in a circle for a group heart to heart. She explained to us how she has worked on productions with a similar ‘solemn intensity’, and how living this journey as an actor, you naturally and unconsciously carry some of the plays tension into your own life, affecting your responses and relationships. We all agreed that this had had a strain on us as a company, with many of us being asked to carry a great deal of weight in terms of emotional intensity. So, Melly came up with a brilliant solution. Each of us would tell the person to the left of us in the circle three great things about them. This was a beautiful way to bring the cast back together, and it was so lovely to appreciate everyone’s brilliance as people as well as actors. I went last, and to my left was Melly. Due to my sensitive soul, I did get very teary, but I stand by everything I said. Melly is a genius, is the most incredibly passionate teacher, and we are so lucky to have her in the rehearsal room.

Amy and Melly in rehearsals for Life Raft

This positive start to the day worked, and the rest of the rehearsal was one of the best we’ve ever had. After one of Miriam’s super warm ups, we began work on the wedding scene and the dancing, or as we like to call it, the ‘Swan Rave’. We revisited the swan puppet work devised with Corina on the 8th August, as well as adapting the dance. Dave reminded us of the wedding rave song, and we loosely pieced all these elements together. This day is one of the most euphoric moments in the play. It is an attack on all of the senses, and is exploding with uncontrollable energy.

The company left the room for a while, allowing Charlie Leaver (playing Foxy) to stage a technically challenging movement in the play. The rest of us scattered around the theatre; the company rehearsing the dance whilst Toby and I practiced ‘Abide With Me’. We found a quiet room and began to practice. Little did we know that the meeting on the floor below could hear our rehearsals… apologies if we interrupted anything!

There was even more excitement in the air, as we were about to run the performance, from ‘Day 1’ all the way to ALMOST the end of ‘Day 5’. So close to finishing! What an emotional journey that run was, one of our best ones yet and certainly the most exhilarating. It is one thing to work on a scene, but it is another thing to piece them all together and see what has been created. We all shared cheers and a group hug, feeling proud of all we have achieved so far!

Finishing of the day with games was a fantastic way to celebrate such an amazing day, full of hard work and overwhelming happiness.

Day 16 – “He must pay”

20th August

Two weeks from today and it will be opening night! It’s all getting very real…how exciting!

I wasn’t feeling 100% today, but powered through the rehearsal none the less. We are so close to staging the whole performance, and the anticipation of having a finished product can be felt throughout the company

We started the day with a group session receiving notes from yesterday’s run. Our performances develop and get stronger each time we run the show, and to be able to share our improvement was a good opportunity to understand where we needed to collectively up our game. The main notes revolved around making the main moments of shock, discovery and excitement even more extreme, heightening these moments to their fullest capacity, in order to demonstrate their significance. Another piece of sound advice given, was that, each time we run the show, to imagine we were speaking our lines and hearing the other lines for the very first time.

The main focus for today was to finalize the wedding scene, making sure the puppetry was perfect. Corina came into help finalize these movements. In order to bring these animals to life we needed to focus our attention onto the puppet, to give it ‘center stage’ making it appear as an independent body rather than being animated to appear real.

As Toby and I are not involved in the puppetry, we had a session with Dave, with Toby learning his new harmony for ‘Abide With Me’ as well as teaching us a new section of song for the ‘Swan Rave’. This new song uses a verse from the Hymn, but the melody is adapted to fit to Dave’s music from the wedding, where it will sit alongside singing from the rest of the company. It was great to get to integrate even more of the music into the performance, for it really set the tone of the piece, and enhances the already beautiful atmosphere.

After an unusually relaxing lunch, we marked through the end of ‘Day 5’. So near to the end (only one more day to complete)! I have spoken about the fast paced nature of the play and the sporadic number of lines any one character can have. In order to get perfect fluency of the lines, we do what I like to call ‘the circle of lines’. We all stand in a circle and pass around an object from person to person (in the past we’ve used the tin opener, Allan’s scarf… today we passed around a plastic tub). The idea is that every time you have a line, you grab for the object. The next person will grab the object from you, say their line, and so forth. This then mimics the idea of the lines urgency, almost tumbling over each other, not only adding to that childlike spontaneity, but making the scene much more engaging. It is also a fantastic way to learn the lines! Not wanting to reveal too much, I will leave the end of ‘Day 5’ for you to watch in the performance. However, what I will say is… we successfully completed ‘Day 5’!

The Life Raft company in rehearsals.

That only leaves one final day to go, which we began setting towards the end of the day. We improvised with the plastic sheets, imagining them to be waves that bob as the children throw their items into the sea. All will be revealed tomorrow!

Day 17 – “You can’t even say his name”

21st August 

What an emotional day. Finally the journey is complete, and the whole play has been staged! What an incredible feeling to have been able to work on such an amazing project, that is truly beautiful in all aspects. The most amazing thing is that there is still so much to look forward to!

To say we have finalized and polished ‘Day 6’ is something I only dreamed of doing. It is such an emotionally demanding day, which barely spans four pages of script. But its intensity is rattling. I personally love this day, and have been looking forward to it since we started rehearsing way back in February. The ending itself has been changed and flipped several occasions, much like the rest of the script, but the premise has remained the same. This is the final altercation between Allan and Ann, and this scene was both a physical and emotional struggle for Toby and myself… but also pretty fun to do as well. I really don’t want to reveal too much, so bear with me.

We started the day working on the transition from ‘Day 5’ into ‘Day 6’. There is a moment at the end of the play where the children throw all the remaining items on the raft into the sea. The symbolic gesture of throwing the objects out into the audience (not literally) was brought into play again. It is used at several moments in the piece, with Ann’s flask etc. So it was unanimously felt that this metaphorical throwing should be mirrored once again, this time with the help of Zara and Fionn, but again, you’ll have to watch the play to find out more…

Toby and I then had a session with Melly working on the final dramatic moments of the production. We were given some extra dialogue to run with, which will be drowned out in the production by loud music, wind, and the sound of engines, but it gave us clear intent as to what are characters were feeling. Despite the noises, the way the characters are feeling will be clearly expressed to the audience, resulting in a much more harrowing display. After the rest of the company joined us, we ran the whole of the final day, and there were many tears in the rehearsal room due to the distressing nature of the ending. This is by far my favorite movement in the whole production and I cannot wait, even more so now, to get to performing it.

Melly Still in rehearsal for Life Raft

A significant moment happened when Melly made the comparison between the way the children view the character of Foxy (played by Charlie Leaver), and the current political spark in the news about migrants coming into Britain from the Mediterranean. One of Allan’s lines in the final moments of the play refers to Foxy as lazy and greedy. There’s a parallel to the thought that Britain are only allowing ‘useful’ people to enter the country, and because Foxy is clearly shell-shocked and incapable of speaking, he is deemed useless and unworthy of food and other privileges. Think for a moment of the trauma this child must have been through, the violence of war, surrounded by death and ultimately fighting for his life on a ship that was supposed to give safe passage. The comparison made with his character and the people seeking refuge from places like Syria, is reflectively unnerving.

Dave had a session with us in the afternoon to add and adapt some of the vocals. We also were lucky enough to have a visit from a fight director, who worked on some of our more violent scenes, as well as the final moments of struggle in ‘Day 6’. Great day!

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 final week in the rehearsal room before tech.

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