by Dominic Allen, Company Member
We leave London in the early throes of autumn and arrive in Bristol to find the summer hasn’t ended. The days are still sunny, even hot at times, and our clean white rehearsal room (coffee most certainly forbidden) transforms into a sauna early in the week as we begin to rediscover our pelvises.
George Mann, Associate Director, who is in charge of the movement, points out that these Salem dwellers would have used their bodies more fully in their day to day lives. Their survival would depend on it. So it’s important for us to re-learn the strength of our bodies, especially our core and pelvis, that in our world of computer based industries and comfy chairs we may have forgotten. As predominantly farmers, it seems likely that the villagers of Salem would have strong pelvises from which their energies emanated. George also makes the case that activating this part of our bodies will prepare us well for the emotional rollercoaster the characters have to endure, as a strong, responsive core will help us access those emotions more readily.
So, throughout this week, we keep coming back to working through our bodies, re-engaging parts we may have lost touch with. George shows us a number of exercises to strengthen our pelvises, including dragging each other round the room, while the other person hangs from the waist, digging their heels in. It’s inevitably good ensemble-bonding too!
Dave Price also gets a chance this week to hear what we’ve been working on with some Puritanical singing. He also brings a host of possible Psalms to sing, that we split into parts for and slowly start putting together. Even after just a few hours’ work, they start to sound great; haunting, beautiful, disturbing – perfect for the play. It’s not clear yet how they’ll be worked into the play but for now we have a varied palette of music to experiment with.
Next, in the spirit of being pragmatic, we try to pin down how the characters sound and talk. This is an unusual and common problem for productions of The Crucible, as Miller has written the dialogue in a stylised way of speaking that, while evocative of an ‘olde worlde’ time, has no real bearing on place. To that end we have Gary Owston coming in this week to lend his ear and expertise on what sounds right, what makes sense and, most importantly, what tells the story for these characters. Here is another element that takes time, trial and error to get right. We are working on the premise that some of the characters emigrated from particular areas of the British Isles and that those characters in family units probably have the same accent as one another.
At first we try out the idea that Salem’s ‘next generation’ have some sort of amalgam accent. Naturally, our initial attempts sound confusing and even, at times, a little alien. However, it’s all part of the process, and Gary and Tom between them gradually siphon off the phonetic anomalies that confuse the ear until we can settle on one or two pronunciation guidelines that make a cohesive accent for the community. This proves very useful in telling the story as it becomes apparent that different accents help distinguish a character’s status, their origins and, perhaps most usefully, if they are in any way outsiders of the community.
Of course, all of this work (movement, singing, accent, etc) is in the wake of our work on the ever-mammoth text. Working through Act Two (of four) takes up a significant proportion of the week’s rehearsal, purely because Miller’s writing is so psychologically dense it requires some heavy-duty unpacking. The first step of this is always round the table, which Tom has taken to calling Arthur Miller as it’s the place we go to when we have questions about the play. Once we’ve mined as much subtext as we can, we put the work ‘on its feet’ and see what happens. Working like this in small sections at a time (Miller has only given us great big acts to work with) we manage to piece together Act Two by the end of the week, meaning that we have some grasp on the shape of the first half of the play by Friday, which is very exciting – both heartening and, somehow, intimidating that Act Three, the trial, is next week.
Before then, however, is the weekend and the Bristol sunshine before we get back to the Salem hysteria on Monday.
The Crucible plays at Bristol Old Vic between 8 Oct – 7 Nov. Find out more, and book tickets, here.