by Dennis Pol fer
Don Gorb u tt discusses his pro
d ueUo n for the Caxton lay rS,
G n msby.
Cast: Seven -year -old hildrcn
- (5 boys, 2 girls) To be p layed by a dul ts. Location: The long su m me r hol iday - W st Co nLry J 40 . T ransItion from tdcYislon to the tagc. s ally the r crse. l"e p Ia' providl'Ci m el f a nd cast a wo ndc rrul oppo rt uni ty to ex plore new territory, a rn rl ly for a m ateu rs . No in h ibilions of s tage d ir c Uons: no doors, fur mlu rc a nd other Impcd lme n : we fel l -u nfe (ered", al mo s t to tal frel.: om r. expressio n. We ven lllr 'd .lpprch 'n 'ive yet cx cited . a nd our fc 'li n ' . were co mpletely just ified . the r e hea rsals bl'ca me a wonderful wo rld o f improvisa o n . Ncv<.: r have I " tood at schoo l rail ings s mu h : I received s ome odd looks howevcr. Two weeks, then the sc hool holidays began. As Den nis Po ttcr comm ents, being chil dren th<.:y are not allowed c1o qu nee, rhdo n e and rar' y con s"Ce u Live th u ghl. Th rc Is a lso no hind < ' l o f a l y seco ndary plo t. Chi! r l' rt dive rt very quic: ' Iy from o ne thought to anothe r, affe c ted more by mo od, atm ()sp h ere. r<.:a c ti ng ve ry qui<.:kly into remorse, escape. fear, laug hter and lean. , thdr ene rgy is bo und lcs~, vc r moU vati ng, c harging their 'mo tions and fed ing, of the moment. Exc i <': '!1<.:n l is gathe red from con nie t, desLru<.: tio n and some times persecu tion. As one in c ident fo llowed anoth<.:r w<.: quic k ly r<.:aliz<.:d the fallacy of "childlik ' innocence" . C heru bic, darli ng face s arc somdimcs not wha l th ey se<.: rn. I had a n insti nct fo r the playa few years ago and I am g lcful to the "Caxtons' that they fl na lly rck n Lcd and E(aVl.: me the oppor Lu n ity . I a lso rea lize d during rc I\mateur SI.age Pebruaty 19 0
hearsals how lmpor1.an Lit is fo amateurs to Indulge in 0PP rtu nl Ues such a th is. The p lay ro ughL out the bCSL in a ll of us, h oning our creative faeuille , playing children perhaps?
Plot No actual plot, Jusl a seriLOS of events, happ nings that encom pass that day. The scenario = fields, woods, undergrowth and an old barn. ConDieL, bl 'kerlng, are the order of lhe clay. Ris a nd fall of leader h ip, the
hounding a nd L"Ven tu a l k illi ngo f o n <.: poo r squirrel . An es a ped p ri one r of war from a nearby ca mp t riggers pH ni . a nd fear. Finally the dreadful p<.:rscc u Uon of one named, poo r abu sed <.:h fld , Donald Duck, whose burning to dea Lh In Lhc o ld barn , o n the final c li m a,'C, w r 'ak$ te r rible rc morl>C < nd gUi ld on the remain ing ch ildre n. C heerfui :;tuff you may Sily. Il o\Vevcr. Lh cr<.: j" eOIl]('Jy among all t hlo; may hem. I li gh co medy aqd Illm ost improbab l' farce , b '1, u lifu lly wrl llc n . Thc opt'ni ng scene be tween W'llie and I' 'ler il> high com l'CIy Indeed, a won derfu l prelude l() the su bse quenl hounding and ki [[ ing of
the poor squirrel. and how well illu s tr led is that thin line be twee n co medy and tragedy.
Character Willie: won de rfu l, lovable, scat ty lad. Peter. a probable psycho path , aware of his phy sical prowess . Raym o nd: stuLLcrer, a harmless mot her's boy. John : for Lhrigh t , boy-scoutish . Donald Duc k: much abuscd, cree py - sympathies ar<.: torn. Ang 'l a : a darling , s p()ilt. Au drey : shi fty and vindictive. A
gall an t c rew.
Casting '!he cas ti llg in our case was 'asy: five m<.:n induding myself a nd two lad ies only. II()bson's t hai e . 1!ow<.:ver, gloves could not ha ve fitt<.:d bettcr. The re was contrast in shapc, siz<.: and atLi Ludcs. Also w ' w<.:r<.: all practi ('ally wi thin a n ag<.: group, and this I found to be impo rtant. To ta l a ge ()f cast fell just s ho rt o f 400 yea rs - think about it. I lost s ix pounds in wCl gh tduri r'lg per fonnancc. Also John, who had it figh t scen<.:, was a liLtle asth matic - m asochists a ll. Denllis PoLL 'r rem rk s q uite <.:xplieitly that adults must piny th<.: parts
so as to truthfully measun:: . quakes and tremors of eh hood emotions. [also found tr the <.:omk qualities s prang Into vividly to life from adva n years.
Rehearsals Wc seemed to work harder on a conventional three act pl.._ Improvising, experimenting discussion. An ensembk p duction, everyone contribu ted it worked extremely well. 1 a. some of the reh<.:arsals were r so prolonged beca u se of ll physkal a sped. The theatre be <.: a m e our oy~ [(;' we endeavoured to use eve •. facet of it and, as our nueli 'n looks down on the stag<.:, '" wen; able t() encircle thefT through dres s ing rooms aP _ around behind them throu gh m ezzanine. This gave a varie . of exits and entrances, cnnbli r ~ us to link each s<.:ene togethc without h iat us, sust.aining th. pace and with it the intcres t. Ea<.:h charader s<.:emed to dl ' vdop thdr own mannerism.. idiosyncrac ics. J oh n be<.:a n t<.:ns e, emphatic - Raymond, tal kept his arms dosely stret<.:he down his sides : Pe ter Iik<.:d h I.!> hands in his pockets . I ga~ Willie a scatlin<.:ss, restlessnes Donald Duck seemed to tip to Audrey went into hcrsdf - dos and Angda, fingers in kniek ' r" s wift to change \vith authOrity We n<.:ver r<.:ally drew ouLline" wdrd at times. We rehearsed the sqUirrel a. bdng in a larg<.: tree abov<.: the audience, allo\ving Willie a nd Peter to venture a mong - a litllt shoc k treatme nt. The killing 0 the sqUirrel develop ed into .. ritual. an African War dancc' cha nting and stompi ng anc: then sudd<': l1 stop - remorSl' gUi lt. t<.:ars. fGiy rnonds s tUll er · ing obse rvatio ns hHd La b<.: ca rl" fully rch<.:ars<.:d to avoi d break · ing the traumati<.: <.:Cfccl. IL was the many varied <.:hang of mood and at titudes we had work on - Uming them to p<.:rft.'e lio n to avoid ma ki ng them s<.:elT disjoin ted . There wa:; the g irls' friendl!n cso PAG E I
· w ith Donald Duck tu ming sud denly Into almost vile p ersecu tion. Peter's scene with hi m, ever changing from abrasiv~ ness to a cajoling, wheed ling and almost confidin g friend ship. In these clrcumstan ces, it would have been very easy to overact and irritate. The fight scenes had their prob
they laugh at, giving them time to settle? Length 0 sllences. It would have been very easy to clown and react to them. In stinct plays such a part. Little boys crying Is no t an easy matter to apply with conviction fro m adults. We had aU to achJeve sincertty, of pUf1lose and char acters .
and boots . Costume depan ment took It in their stride. Angela - summer short dress, ankle socks, curls and ribbon. wLth Audrey co ntrasting dowdy. ill fiWng.
Ughting This becomes individual aecord Lng to dl!slgn of se t. Atmos p h e ric . highlighting mood~, menace and mayhc.."ID. Mai n problem Is the nre in t he bam, w hic h h as to be cffeCUve and Ue In \vith the horrific: s o und. We used altemate lamps of red and amber. Also use of revolving disc with alternate red and amber gels, reflecting garnst crumpLed kitchen (oi l. A lot here depe n ds on your available equipment. and expertise .
Sound A fIeld day for the sound
lems, mainly of age, overweight and general un-fitness - and h a d to be carefully choreographed . Comic yet piLiful. Finally, the climatic, horren dous fire in the barn, fu e lled with almost farce like b h av iour, instantly [oliowed by re morse and gUi1t or evasio n o f such. The backlighting of fi re glow, silhouetted bent. pi t iless figures of childrcn - stunned . No music, just the haunting verse of Houseman's ]Joem Dennis Potter uses as a curtain. Re hearsals were. so enjoyable be cause they were so difl'crcn t - so free. Wonderful cxercise In morc ways than onc. I reme mbe r how early rehears als were somewhat undisci plined, wandering about willy nilly and at times feeling rather foolish and self-conscious cn actin f seven year old kids. Fa cia l e xpressions and general in hibitions encouraged el-eativity and confidence. There was also the suggesLion of open improvisation. however, I thought there was sufficient opportunity within the general framework of rehearsals , springing from thc dialogue and discussion. Th e dialogue secmcd ideally suited for the stage as well. Conde nSing the action from outsidc into an area of 20 ' x 18' didn't secm to crcatc any major problems; imaginatio n has no boundaries. We tried to m.."lke ourselves aware of how the a udicn ~ would react. How muc h wou ld /\mateur Stage PebnlQry 1990
Bw.in ··s had to be worked out. It bee mt: ve ry easy to upstage and defer continuity - a plckJng of nose in a self Ind ul gent mo ment could cause tota! distrac Lion and puncture tension of the mome nt. ud ie nee reacUon fortu n ately was whal we ex pec t d Willie's fir t CI'I tranec ea Ung a large app l , th e expected reac tion 0 f . \au fhing at" was lhere a large a d ult . s pill ing, scratch · ing, pulli ng fae ·s . a luna ti c in disgu ise. Then the sound of an aeropla ne; Will ic's amlS ~p rea.d, imi tation, and the play begins. An ideal in troci u cLion to break the icc a nd the remaining crazy gang behavi n g alm os t deme n ted in their a t titu des. Very quickly the first co n fli t tak . 5 place and w hen Willie spal a fusill ade of chewed app le at Peter the a u dience became in· volvcd. They laugh With the lincs and obcy th e silence" of th ' nig ht. The sweat was worth the effort and applause .
·c.hni c iano The counLrysid . is [ull of wonderfu I varying so und s . p u nctuating the quiet ness. WhI~t1fng of w1nd. rumbli n' of th under La high light tht: murde r seenc-, Lwitlerlng of birds. rustl ing of u ndergrowth. Very help fu l in the P.O,W. escape scene where the pact: seems to flag. Also the crackle or llt fire a n d the final crescendo of bu mmg tim ocr, fil li ng the au ditorium .
Design I firs t visualised the set as seen through the eyes of ch lldren. almost surrealistic, linked to their virile lmagatnatfons. Local arts department cou ld have had a ball ; however, school ho lidays intervenc..-'d so I had to compro mis e . A c ut -away barn angled so you cou ld sc..'C inside the b ric-a-brac o f yesterday, du sly and cobweby (angel hair). Tne n [ obrnmed fi s h -nel Lin g fr om Gri m.s by docks (se n t of e North Sea). This J had suspended and swept around the stage Into which we inserted evergreen branches and leaves of varying shades of green. Evergreen keeps their colc)ur- longer life. Floor co vering was mo tlled J:lreen u nd l!rfC\ t. eoverc.."ci with strewn leaves , twigs . co nes , etc, A small hummock covered in branches p vided n hJdc(nll duri ng the P.O .W episode .
Music As the pla y is o nly 1 hour 10 minutes a pro logue was re o qU lred .. We proV ided mush'll items to commemorate the tfU e th an!vcrsary r the War 193 8 . Housman's hau nting poem. whieh Dennis Po Lcr uses at th .
Props Vc few - batte.r·ed pram - adu lt. not easy to find. Brl '-a- brae from local stalls fo r nstde of barn. IJl(: ide n tally, the pram h~.ls Lo squeak - ours d id so we had no usc for t he s qu cakly LOy wc bought. Asquirrcl · made o ut offur and SUitably blood i d G eh night.
Costumes A s tudy of t he evac u ees dUring th e war gave u s a pieLure . Braces - short baggy tro users
Effects A mall inj ello n of moke th rough the bam wo uld h <ve accenluated the dra matic con Len t. Donald Duck has lO strike m< tches; we d id thb i n semi darknc.ss ( vc r a bucke t of sand. I kept mv,\), J"rom the stra w baks alld anY lhl ng high ly in fl a m mable. L In! o n with the firc authorities is essen tial - I fo u nd them v 'ry helpful.
end of tht: play: In to my heart a n air that kil ls From yon far co un try blows What arc th ose Bl u e Rembcred I Iil ls What s pires . what farrns are th ose That IS th e land f losl conten t I sec IL shimll r plai n The happy high ways where went An d (;annot co m ' a ga in