Hello Bristol! My name is Jack Johns and I am playing Bendigo Barlow in The Dog and The Elephant, which is coming back to Bristol Old Vic Studio this February. It’s a one man show about a Bare Knuckle Boxer in late Victorian England who suffers with Tourette’s syndrome – it focuses on his relationship with an Elephant that he meets in a Travelling Menagerie.
Both Matt Grinter (writer/director) and I are thrilled to be coming back to Bristol Old Vic as this is production very much started its life here – it’s home. The idea was born in Bristol, we rehearsed in Bristol and we had our first performance as part of Ferment Fortnight last year. Since then we’ve been to VAULT Festival, the Pleasance London, LATITUDE Festival and even recently shot a film version of the piece – now we’re back! Though I’m hoping this time round I won’t knock over the set, which shouldn’t be an issue given that the set is minimal, but somehow I’ve managed it before.
The show has grown a lot over the last year. Every time we have performed at a new venue, we’ve been sure to re-rehearse for a couple of days. There is always something new found in these rehearsals. I think its because there is often quite a chunk of time between them, so you tend to come at them with completely fresh eyes. I think this is a good thing for a one man show, as a normal rehearsal period is absolutely exhausting and you can very quickly loose sight of the overall objective, you often can’t see the wood for the trees. We are actually just re-rehearsing for our Bristol run, and we’ve allowed longer this time due to technical changes, and a few script developments.
We had an interesting development with the show when we were approached by FOUND Studio. They saw the show at VAULT and thought it would make an interesting short. Their background is in animation, high end commercials and music videos. When we saw their work we immediately agreed as we could see that it was going to be a quality product. We have spent the best part of the year developing it with them, firstly cutting down the script with Matt. This was quite a tricky process as, timing-wise, it needed to be cut in half, but it still needed to maintain the main narrative. Inevitably some characters and plot points had to go; this process went back and forth a bit but soon was settled.
With this came new challenges. The new script was an absolute nightmare to learn, as I’m now so familiar with the stage text. Thought it’s essentially the same words – they were now in a different order, lines that didn’t finish in the same way, things jumping all over the place. Hell. It was harder than starting from scratch. We got new tattoos drawn up for my character – they play an integral part in the piece, and the in film version some these will come to life through animation. I had to hit the gym, which I hate, because as they say ‘the camera never lies’, you can hide a multitude of sins on stage.
We shot the whole thing in one day a couple of weeks ago. It was the hardest days work I think I’ve ever done, 10 hours doing a monologue on repeat. Bare Knuckle Boxers with Tourette’s syndrome are fairly high energy characters to play. Needless to say, at the end of the shoot I was on my knees, quite literally. Post Production is now underway and in a couple of months we get to see the finished product which we’re pretty excited about.
This has been an amazing and sometimes quite intense journey for both Matt and I. Being a one man show – it’s just me as an actor, whilst the show is written and directed by Matt – so it’s a small team of us two. In terms intensity, this is about as distilled and potentially claustrophobic as it gets. There’s no cast to bounce off, no Writer/Director discussions. Just two people in a room. For a long time. A very long time. Luckily, we are close friends and have worked together many times before. It did definitely feel like the most creatively exposing process either of us have ever been through – there was no one else to take the blame if it went wrong, just us. There have been highs and lows in bringing this production to the stage, but all said and done, we had a fine old time. We’re working on other projects together, and I was still invited to Matt’s wedding, so it can’t have been that bad!
Now I’m sitting with the script in front of me desperately trying to unlearn the film script ready for rehearsals, and the show next week. So I should probably get on with that…
Would be lovely to see you at the show.
The Dog and the Elephant returns to Bristol Old Vic Studio from 3 – 6 Feb 2016. Find out more and book tickets here.