Up until this point Curtain’d Sleep has only ever existed in ‘Safehouse 1’ in Peckham, as part of Basic Space Festival. Taking the piece out of a derelict Victorian house and converting it for a black box studio is the biggest creative challenge Entita has faced to date. Not only has this opened up huge design questions (which will be the subject of another post soon!) but the conversion will affect the whole tone of the show. Very few immersive shows have been reworked into more traditional studio performances, so to paraphrase Hamlet we are indeed stepping into “undiscovered country”.
From the very moment the audience pushed open the front door of Safehouse 1 they were stepping into a completely immersive adventure, able to freely explore the space and encounter our trapped Shakespearean women along the way. The audience had complete control to be surveyor and participant, stitching together narratives as they saw fit. First they may have found themselves at a dance hosted by Lady Macbeth and then suddenly in a one-on-one conversation with Ophelia about the death of her father. The expectations of an audience coming to a site specific or promenade experience differ considerably to those of a seated audience in a studio and this had been the subject of much discussion heading into our first day of research & development rehearsals.
Rehearsal Day 1 – Audience:
Our first challenge was to take out the audience as an active participant in the scenes, pushing instead the idea of the audience as surveyors. We also had to think about the change from the audience discovering a journey for themselves to having a narrative crafted for them, but keeping the same feeling of discovery and surprise as a shadowed observer and by-stander … well to begin with anyway (we won’t give you too many spoilers!). It was at this point that it became clear our actors would have to shift their focus in their loops of material. As directors we were constantly asking “where’s your gaze?” or “who are you talking to now?” as so much before had been directed at the audience. To counter this it became vital for us to start to create more detailed and colourful worlds onstage, surrounding the performers.
With this new focus we watched each actor’s loop to see just how much would have to change. With one of our Lady Macbeths we worked especially hard on day one to re-stage the majority of her scenes, adapting her previously conversational approach, but the challenge here was to not lose her openness! Although each actor’s loop needed tweaking and interrogating, interestingly we noticed our Lady Macbeths were originally far more interactive than our Ophelias. This seems to be the case probably because Shakespeare wrote so many gaps between Ophelias stage time in Hamlet and as a result our imaginative filling in of these gaps took on more of a performative and less interactive approach.
The scenes began to transform from the characters being in the presence of an audience to alone in fully formed imaginary worlds – these trapped women recreating memories through boredom and the necessity to understand or avoid where they are. Previously Ophelia had introduced her father and brother to the audience, but now her impressions were for her own benefit; routes to remembering their faces. Sharing flowers with the audience now became her arranging the bouquet she wishes to have had at her wedding to Hamlet. Both Lady Macbeths had feast sequences which were full of audience interaction, but these now became expressively mimetic in nature as she struggles to play the perfect host to her imaginary and unnerved guests.
This is where, as the piece’s Movement Director, I am in my element – allowing the imaginary worlds to affect the characters physicality, in turn fully colouring and developing them. Detailed movement work, however small, can reveal the chink in the armour of these strong yet vulnerable women. We are lucky to work with such talented actors who take all of this in their stride, switching their choreography, their focus and being open to play. For me this is the most important thing and a reason I feel this show will never get boring to perform; these fascinating characters still have so much more to explore!! So we will keep playing and keep delving deeper into these characters, bringing Ophelia and Lady Macbeth to the stage where they deserve to be.
Written by Katharine, Co-Artistic Director