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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 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 ··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 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 ( 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


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Blue Hills Remembered - February 1990