(This blog post began life as part of the Tower Theatre Company newsletter and was first published in late May 2015)
Last Sunday saw Tower’s Dreamteam for the Royal Shakespeare Company project A Play For The Nation back at the Barbican for what was, essentially, our recall audition. The RSC spent the weekend seeing three teams from Kent, three from Norfolk and four teams from the London area of which we were one (SEDOS, KDC and the East London Shakespeare Company were the rest). From these they are going to cast one team for each area to appear as the Mechanicals in next year’s touring production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – so high stakes, then.
While Adam (our Flute) hotfooted it back from a wedding (not his) in Yorkshire, the rest of us met in the morning to put the finishing touches to our preparation and then it was on to the Barbican for our early afternoon call. Arriving to find Adam had thankfully made it, we had one last run through in one of the Barbican’s foyers. In hindsight we probably should have chosen a better location than next to the loos – not easy emoting one’s way through Pyramus and Thisbe as the general public wandered past but good for the concentration. Peta’s sotto voce roaring drew particularly puzzled looks!
The Barbican is, of course, a notoriously difficult set of buildings to find one’s way around. Turns out it’s just as confusing underground/backstage. Passing through the stage door (something I never dreamed I’d be able to claim) we entered a veritable rabbits’ warren of corridors. This was made all the more surreal as everywhere there were temporary signs and hand written directions in Japanese – the Ninagawa Company from Tokyo were performing a matinee of Hamlet in the main auditorium and the Barbican needed to make sure the actors could locate the stage and their dressing rooms.
Our audition was in the small Pit Theatre in front of project director Erica Whyman (Deputy Artistic Director of the RSC) and her team. So straight into a performance of Act 1, Scene 2 of The Dream. This was our successful audition piece from round one and we had done little by way of tinkering with a winning formula. Nevertheless Erica challenged us to try parts of the scene in different ways – for reasons that are too complex to go into I had to channel Simon Callow, while Adam had to find his inner Hugh Jackman. Then we moved to our second piece from Act 5 – the play within a play. Realising fairly early on in preparation that the piece would be difficult without props/costumes we had opted for a minimalist rough theatre approach. Thus we used an umbrella for Pyramus’s sword, a mop for Thisbe’s hair, a rope for the lion’s tail and so on. Again the piece went well and even raised a few laughs from our audience. Al’s turn as Snout/The Wall was comprehensively examined, the double death scene was rerun giving it more heartfelt sincerity and (for me) concentrating on the language. Our director, David, remained for a Q and A session with the RSC team and the rest of us retired backstage for a post mortem – we decided we had probably done all we could do and felt quite elated by the experience.
After a very brief break it was then back to the Pit Theatre for a three hour movement workshop; Tom’s highlight of the day! This wasn’t quite as physically intense as it may sound; anyway, I missed half of it as “the Bottoms” were removed by Erica for a separate discussion session. This consisted of examining our Bottoms (sorry!) by concentrating on his speech at the end of Act 4 (“I have had a most rare vision”). Although David and I had prepared a performance of the piece I was only required to give a reading – the preparation was still extremely helpful as I could visualise what we had put together and this helped to inform the way I put it across. Unfortunately some prepared business with donkey-like snoring and me taking a selfie of my own backside – clothed, I hasten to add – had to be dropped but that’s show biz, folks! We also discussed Bottom’s character within the play as a whole. Again some preparation work where we had already discussed Bottom’s back(side) story (sorry, again!) proved invaluable.
Once the “Bottoms” were finished with it was time for the “Quinces” to go through the same process, this time concentrating on the notoriously tricky Prologue to Pyramus and Thisbe – look it up and think about how you might try and deliver it! Maria is available for coaching sessions if you wish to use it as an audition piece.
And, suddenly that was it. Back along the passageways, through the stage door and blinking into the evening sunshine. Momentarily floored by a crowd of autograph hunters at the stage door (not for us, you understand, for the Ninagawa company) we headed for the main part of the Barbican for a final debrief and a swift libation. Our journey, which had started in February, was finally over. Or was it? We’ll know by Friday!