As I walk into the Royal Exchange Theatre, the first thing I notice is how enormous the ornate pillars that hold up the roof of the building seem and how small I feel in comparison. A nervous excitement turns my stomach as I anticipate what is in store for my first session observing Chris Goode’s production of Jubilee. Through replaying the scenario over and over in my head I’ve built this moment up to be something much more scary than it is. I am overwhelmed by the potential of being able to observe a process which to me seems not only unique but a direct opposite of everything I’ve been taught about directing so far.
After being greeted by Matthew Xia and Grace Ng-Ralph for a quick meeting about my role in this mammoth production, I am escorted into the Module where I am introduced to the cast and Chris in a much more informal, and relaxed manner than I expected. “These are people too!” I remind myself. “They are as nervous and excited as you are”. As I listen to Chris talk I am quickly reminded that I am sat in the space in which this production will be performed in four weeks. It is a blank canvas, an empty space that is ready to be filled with ideas and designs that are still being finalised and created by unseen forces. The room slowly begins to fill with more and more people and I learn that these are the ‘unseen forces’ - in fact there must be over 50 of them, all with their own roles to contribute to making this work. After each one of these people introduce themselves to the room, they quickly dart off to continue working on their area of Jubilee’s production, and the cast follow to be measured for their costumes. Before I can gather my thoughts, I am whisked away to my next destination.
I join the cast in the Green Room and after some more in-depth introductions, we begin our journey across the city to the Swan Street rehearsal space that would form the HQ for Jubilee’s first two weeks of rehearsal. As we arrive we are greeted by a large table and with it the first opportunity for me to hear the script read aloud by its cast and creative team. When hearing the play read and discussed in this way it becomes clear to me that there is an anger in Jubilee. An anger that breaches the mainstream with a sheer force of characters who are marginalised, ignored and even oppressed by 21st Century British society. Every single one of these performers plays a character that in some way reflects their own struggle and this seems to be very important to Chris. His willingness to say “I don’t know” or to give his creative power over to the actors when he feels it’s appropriate is testament to an open-mindedness that I have never really considered as a director.
Discovery is a word I would use to describe this process: the answers aren’t all there and it is only through exploration of the text in rehearsal that they will become apparent. The discussions that took place after the first readings and throughout the first week of rehearsal were like nothing I’ve ever seen in a rehearsal room. There was a liberality to suggest, improve, fix, and even outright change Chris’ text in favour of something more personal for an actor, or more reflective of the ideologies which need to be given a voice in Jubilee. Nakedness is an integral part of Chris’ process and as he states in his book The Forest And The Field: “creating supportive environments in which […] nakedness is possible, compelling, celebrated even, is of profound importance.” And although Chris does work literally with the naked body, he also works with emotional nakedness which is encouraged through everyone (including myself) being given the opportunity to talk about how they feel both at the start and end of the rehearsal day. This establishes a unique environment in which everyone feels equal and therefore able to speak openly and perform without boundaries, something I will be harnessing in my future as a director.
From my first week observing the directorial process of Jubilee, I can say that I have been given a new energy which is stripping me of the rigidity and steadfastness that I believe my directorial process was beginning to suffer from. I hope now to fill this void with newer and more alternative knowledge that I can apply to my own process in the future. Jubilee is a massive risk for the Royal Exchange to take, but one that not only needs to be taken but should be embraced with open arms by any worthwhile production house. Jubilee is gay, its trans, its queer, its offensive, its filthy, its beautiful, it is tragic and that’s just the beginning. It represents, at a most basic level, the mind-splatterings of two very different but ultimately similar artists: Chris Goode and Derek Jarman, the creator of the original film and story of Jubilee. I am very lucky to have the opportunity to see this incredible production evolve. It is unlike anything I’ve been involved in before and to quote Sarah Frankcom’s remark in the meet and greet: if there’s any play to “blow the doors and roof off” of the Royal Exchange, it’s Jubilee. Upon hearing this, Chris Goode did a little dance of excitement in front of the whole team which is when I knew that observing this production would be a uniquely rewarding experience.
Jubilee runs 2 - 18 November 2017, Theatre