A week of rehearsals with Splendid Productions

Ben Hales from Splendid Productions talks us through a week of rehearsals for The Odyssey which will be presented in The Lowry’s Studio Tue 17 Nov.

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DAY 1 – Monday 17 August 2015

Hello stranger, and welcome to this Splendid Rehearsal blog. Our task is to build a fully realised production of Homer’s Odyssey from a sketched-out script, a handful of songs, and several bagfuls of random objects.

Beginning is a familiar combination of excitement and anxiety. Even though we have done this every summer for the last twelve years you can never quite shake off the fear that this time there won’t be any ideas and we’ll just have to call the whole thing off.

DAY 2 – Tuesday 18 August 2015

Some people probably arrive at rehearsals with a finished script, a fully-designed set, and perhaps some freshly-baked pastries. This is not the Splendid way. We do have a script, but for now it’s a kind of serving suggestion for how you might do a theatrical version of The Odyssey, and there is lots of room for it to stretch out in different directions. The only problem is we have two weeks to put the piece together, so it’s important to find the direction we’re going to go in fairly swiftly. Or we might just go round in circles.

DAY 3 – Wednesday 19 August 2015

It’s always nice watching things progress from horrible messy car crash to precise, joyful and effortless. Unfortunately we’re still in the car crash phase as Kerry, Gen and Cords (our cast) attempt to combine half-remembered words, movements, tunes and harmonies with disastrous results. But even now you can see the beginnings of the expert thing it will become.

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DAY 4 – Thursday 20 August 2015

In our adaptation of the Odyssey, no one is playing Odysseus himself. The story is told about him by the people that he encounters, like his warriors, the Cyclops, and Circe, and of course his abandoned wife Penelope. This is partly to evoke something of the storytelling style of Homer’s original, and partly to make the point that a person is the sum of the stories told about them, and that anyone’s life could sound as epic and heroic as Odysseus’s if their story is spun the right way.

Usually in a Splendid show, there is a chorus who are in charge of the whole experience, and these will be characters the cast come back to when they’re not taking on another role. We have a chorus of the ‘Old Man of the Sea’, a mythical creature who tends a flock of seals, who has the power to tell you the future if you can catch him. In this case he’s a kindly old man with a Barnsley accent and a massive woolly beard that reaches down to the floor, and he’s very interested in the stories he can harvest from the audience. Gen, Kerry and Cordelia are three manifestations of the same character, with identical beards and sticks, but they can move independently.

Today is all about finding the voice and physicality of The Old Man of the Sea. This means finding a quality of old-man-ness that can be both slow, warm and comfortable and excited and energetic, as if the act of storytelling makes them forget how old they are. It also means figuring out practicalities like how to whip off a massive beard in order to become someone else, and where do put it once you have?

It often seems to work like this. The devising starts off slow and feels difficult, but gradually you find a few solutions that work, and once you have got one element right, it seems to attract good ideas, until you end up pegging a paper boat to your big woolly beard, and then, like the sun coming out, the whole play suddenly makes sense…

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