Have you ever been into a rehearsal room? It's a bit like stepping into an artist's workshop: frenzied chaos, shadows of fantastical shapes scattered, discarded textiles and splodges of paint underfoot; but you know, because there's that electrical charge in the room just like the final moments before a storm, that great things are afoot.
And so it was stepping into Black Sheep Theatre's rehearsal for Fear of Drowning this week. There was the rough outline of the set, the stand-in props, the story's arc and, best of all, the buzz of fired-up artistes.
The afternoon's rehearsal that I attended was split into two stages where the company focused on one scene at a time. They began with a run-through of the scene to get the overall arc of the characters' journeys and then the real work began.
The first scene I watched was between siblings, played by Keiron Self and Sarah Jayne Hopkins. The run showed their relationship clearly but Ryan Romain, the director, wanted to explore this further and so began with the first entrance. Where had they been? What had they just done? Why were they there at this very moment? This time when the characters entered they were euphoric, their cheeky grins reminding you of two siblings that had got into mother's make-up bag and smothered the walls in bright red lipstick.
Then Romain attached a piece of string between the actors. What will change if the brother is in charge and the sister physically has to follow him wherever he goes? Of course the dynamic of their relationship changed considerably, but so did the physicality of the individual characters. Self's chest puffed out, his shoulders drew back and there was a lightness in his step. Suddenly his character had pride, confidence. On the other hand, Hopkins' shoulders slumped, her head came forward and her tread became heavy. You could see how the character had substituted one dominance in her life for another.
The next scene I watched was between all four characters. Lee Mengo was electric to watch, his jovial menace something you would not like to be left alone in a room with. Ever. Michael Humphreys was also brilliant as the still, sparsely vocalised, mighty boss, his every word delivered and followed with the surety of absolute obedience. When the scene finished, however, the company discussed love, and what it's like the first time you ever get your heart broken, how the world falls apart and nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever be the same again. What if this powerful man had his feet well and truly pulled out from under him by love? If Othello can fall in the face of love and heartbreak, why can't this land developer do so too? This time Humphreys was a milkshake of powerful brokenness: we could see how love can conquer all, how Cupid's merciless arrow does not take any prisoners.
These scenes gave me a taster of how Fear of Drowning explores love, tribalism and the environment. It raises questions for the individual as well as humanity as a collective. When faced with having to choose family or a partner, do you remain loyal to the ones who helped shape who you are, or to the one who will help shape your future? Is two people's love worth burning 26,000 tonnes of CO2? Should we sacrifice our eyesight today for the lives of future generations?
From what the rehearsals show, I think next week's production by Black Sheep Theatre is going to be a great night out: it's funny, poignant and thought provoking. The company is solid and the outcome, like any good piece of art, layered. I wonder if you will be able to see the echoes of those character games on that stage? Will you see the two naughty siblings bursting through the door, the ghost of the string still haunting the relationships, the teenager's broken heart in that man's body? Fear of Drowning, ladies and gentlemen. Get your tickets.
Fear of Drowning runs at Chapter Tuesday 19 – Saturday 23 April at 7.30pm with a Saturday Matinee at 2pm. Tickets are available form Chapter’s Box Office on 029 2030 4400 or by visiting www.chapter.org
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