Merchant of Venice – The Final Five

Merchant of Venice – The Final Five

The Merchant of Venice is about to head into its final five performances in Singapore. By Sunday, it will have played to around 30,000 people over the month and the audience response has been tremendous. Directing Shakespeare in the Park is as challenging as it is rewarding. It is a huge task to build what is a small village to cope with more than 2,000 patrons and a hugely ambitious production for our month at Fort Canning. The challenges of producing a piece of outdoor theatre in the tropics are not to be underestimated. Lighting and sound equipment has to be able to cope with the daily rigours of heat and torrential rain. We have motorisation in the show to raise and lower the caskets which has to be checked daily. Conditions underfoot can be treacherous for actors and wearing costumes with many layers under powerful hot lights in a humid climate is a physical strain before you even move! Imagine wearing a 3 piece suit and coat in a steam room for 3 hours and you come somewhere close to experiencing what our actors go though on a daily basis. It’s tough. Add to that a 6 minute movement prologue created by one of the worlds best movement director, Frantic Assembly Artistic Director Scott Graham, and you know the actors are earning every penny before they say a word! I could not have been better supported by my wonderful team. It has been so rewarding to go back and work with so many people for the 2nd and 3rd time. From my tremendous company manager Victoria Lim and...

Working with Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham

For two weeks of the Merchant of Venice Rehearsal process I have been working with Frantic Assembly artistic director Scott Graham. Check out their website here. Scott is one of the most talented practitioners I have ever worked with and I have been a huge fan of work Frantic Assembly’s work. My fiancee played Dina Massey in the most recent tour of Frantic’s production of Bryony Lavery’s boxing drama Beautiful Burnout and so I regularly heard stories of actors being put through their paces rigorously by Scott and his co-artistic director at the time, Stephen Hoggett. That show, like so many of the other pieces Scott has worked on, was packed with incredible moments of heightened physicality as well as wonderful realistic detail. No matter how heightened the theatricality got, I went with it and was spellbound from moment to moment. Scott’s work is something that theatre craves and there is a place for it in classics as well as new writing. Whether he is directing the piece himself (such as Frantic’s current production of The Believers – currently on tour and receiving rave reviews, or Othello – which tours in the Autumn) or working as movement director (Port and The Curious Incident of the Dog and the Night time for the National Theatre) I am convinced Scott’s work infuses the actors and improves their performance immeasurably. Scott treats movement as a writer treats a line of dialogue. Every flicker, nuance and gesture are rigorously examined and explored. The actor is challenged only to move when they ache to do so. Only to touch when they can’t bear not...
Merchant of Venice: Rehearsals & Racism

Merchant of Venice: Rehearsals & Racism

Merchant rehearsals are off and going well so far. It is wonderful to work with such an open and hard working company out here this year. I am delighted with the dynamic in the cast so far and feel very strongly that we can delve into this wonderfully rich play and create a piece that is both potent and relevant to today’s world. The Merchant of Venice is a play that features many racist remarks and sexual innuendos. The play can be pretty on the nose at times, as we can see from lines such as Gratiano’s ‘Now by my hood, A gentle and no Jew.‘ There are several different ways of saying this; he could be pleasantly surprised at Jessica’s apparent willingness to convert to Christianity or he may well be remarking literally about a hooded cloak he is wearing. If we take it in the context that Jews are hated outsiders and ‘gentle’ is a word play on ‘Gentile’ then it becomes much more a sarcastic remark. Add to this that ‘hood’ also ferers to foreskin and it then becomes a slur on circumcision (one of the rites of passage for a Jewish boy taking place on the eighth day following birth) and the line becomes even more laden with meaning. It is at once a sexual reference, word play and a racist remark all in one line. Not only that, he says it in front of the man who is intending to marry this woman! Does this make him a bad and nasty person? Not necessarily. A person is capable of saying and doing things that...

The trailer for ‘NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage’ comes online.

It is no exaggeration to say that The Bridge Project: Richard III is a job that changed my life and the lives of all those involved in it. Working with a World class creative team, cast and crew headed up by Oscar winning duo Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey (in their first collaboration since the Oscar winning American Beauty). Richard III played for 192 performances in 12 Cities across 4 continents over 11 months over 2011 & 2012. Our journey started on the hallowed ground of the Old Vic rehearsal room where many historic productions were born. Working there was a huge thrill for me. Most of my theatrical heroes have crafted characters and create legendary productions for that famous theatre. Now it was our turn to create a piece of theatre that would live up to the reputation of that great theatre. This project was blockbuster theatre for a World wide audience. The production was sold out way in advance of our arrival in all the countries we visited and was met with almost universal acclaim. There were many high points to the tour as well as unique challenges that were all the more heightened by the pressure of the success of the show and the burden of recapturing and reshaping the magic of the Old Vic in venues ranging in size from 600 seats to 16,000! Performing in the Ancient Greek theatre in Epidavros was unquestionably the closest I have come to a spiritual experience in my vocation. It is one of the most special places for a person who works in theatre to go. It is...

Casting the Merchant of Venice

Singapore preparation under way! Merchant of Venice prep is in full swing. We are almost cast now and the creatives are all on board. Casting a show on Skype is something I have got used to over the last couple of years. It is strange not to be in the same room as the actors but that is not always possible when you are casting actors who live 15 hours away by plane! Casting actors from the UK to go out to Singapore to perform can be a challenge too. I have been lucky to work with some fantastic talent on the last two show. Neil McCaul with Andy Tear and Adrian Pang in Twelfth Night[/caption]Neil McCaul was great as Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. He is such a lovely actor and a great company member. Full of energy and invention. He had also spent quite a bit of time in the Far East so he knew what to expect both culturally and climate wise. He was wonderful support to me. The younger less experienced members of the company struggled with Shakespeare’s language and Neil was very encouraging and would spend a lot of time with them coaching. Last year, I worked with Daniel Francis from the UK. Daniel was strong and driven as Othello. His performance was intense and meticulously crafted. It is a tough play on the actor playing Othello, lots of deep psychologically disturbing places for an actor to go. Daniel was up for adventure and rigorous in his preparation and routine. He had spent less time in the Far East than Neil and had a...

Rent – Closing Night

Sorry for the silence, 2014 kick started in an amazing way and this is the first chance I’ve had to put up the post I wrote on the closing night of Rent. Let’s get you caught up … What a week and what a run! The turn around on this show has been incredible. Feedback from the audience and members of the industry has been outstanding. I am delighted for all involved and very proud of what we created. Our first two shows were pretty rough technically but something clicked in the performances. The actors realised they were in a good show and the audience was with them. It never ceases to amaze me how much a show changes and improves when the performers and the backstage team take ownership of it. Confidence is key. The fact that they are all students learning and putting into practice a variety of new skills for the first time under pressure makes it all the more remarkable that they were able to pull off such a complicated show in terms of the piece itself and the technical aspects of the production. More than a kilometre of steel to construct the set, multiple sliding steel flats, 2 oil drums on fire during the show, spinning flight cases and shopping trollies, a live band and full company in radio mics, various animated sequences on monitors, a climbable Christmas tree made out of street signs, a snow machine…. The list goes on and on. The piece itself is an imperfect masterpiece. I have to say that I liked it but it wasn’t one of my...

Rent opens!

Well … we are open! The production week has been full of challenges and frustrations. It is a monster of a show. The actors are still settling in, the tech team are still working furiously to get the lighting and sound right, stage management are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and costume are dealing with a string of notes and changes. All in a days work really!! I am experienced enough to recognise that a lot of the best pieces of theatre are often difficult births. Large scale shows are almost always shaped and created with a lot of hard work, sweat, determination and (at times) tears. It’s my job to drive the vision through, to never compromise on quality and continue to drive the production forward to be the best it possibly can be. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by a team of experienced professionals in the staff (who have given up many hours of their time over and above their contracted hours) to help us create something special that all involved in the show can be proud of. This time next week the run will be over and the actors will be enjoying a well earned day off while reflecting on an exhausting, vibrant, challenging and wonderful eight week process during which we have created a production we are all proud of and our audience have enjoyed. We have had many incredibly positive comments from our audiences so far. I’m only sorry they can’t come back to see the show next week because the difference will be huge. I can’t wait to...
Rent Tech.

Rent Tech.

So, I’m sitting here in the dark during the lunch break of our tech. It’s eerily quiet given the riotous activity that’s usually going on in the space. Lights are shining through the steel frames of Hannah Dakin’s New York inspired set (the largest set ever constructed for a show in the history of Royal Welsh College and made of more than a kilometer of steel!). It stands as a proud testament to the college’s ‘can do’ attitude towards all aspects of a production. The team here are willing to push the boundaries of what is usually considered possible for the benefit of their students and for the production’s standards as a whole. While performing on stage is an incredibly challenging and daunting task, the work that goes on during a tech and backstage during the show are just as important and require a vast array of skills. Not only that, it’s a HUGE musical, meaning there are many more moving parts, actors, sound jobs and lighting cues than in most straight plays. It’s a big operation which requires people to be sharp and alert at all times. In addition to the challenges of doing such a big and ambitious show, many of my tech team (made up of students, are performing their roles for the first time, so they’re not only learning how to work on this particular show, they’re putting many of the skills and techniques they have been taught over the past 2 years of training at Royal Welsh College into practise for the very first time. As if that wasn’t daunting enough, we have a...