Today’s sessions are about tone and fine-tuning. As Matthew predicted Act 2 took far less time to work through than Act 1. The whole play is up on its feet now but it’s running slightly over time-wise so today’s first task is to make some cuts to the text. Matthew goes through each cut that is to be made asking the actors in the scenes to read it out to check everyone’s got them down correctly. At one point one of the actors suggests an alternative line of their’s to cut as they feel that would make more sense for their character. The idea is discussed, Matthew agrees with the actor’s reasoning and the alternative line is cut instead. It’s a moment that highlights how developed the actors’ knowledge is now of the characters they are playing. The actors have an unique perspective of their characters, of how it feels ‘from the inside’, which Matthew embraces and uses.
Being able to observe rehearsals each week has enabled me to see how the pace of rehearsals shifts and changes through the rehearsal process; from the table work of Week 1, the walk and stagger-throughs of Weeks 2 and 3 to today, at the start of Week 4, when the pattern of working is quicker, swifter. Today, instead of focusing on small, individual units the company works on longer sections, roughly 12-15 minutes of action at a time. The tone of the section is discussed, the section is run, notes are given to help fine tune it, thoughts are discussed, it’s run again and everyone moves on to the next section to be worked.
This morning the company work on the first section of Victor Frankenstein’s story and spend time looking at the tonal shifts within it. For much of the time this character is on stage they are in a state of high distress, drifting in and out of a fevered nightmare, recalling the horrors that have taken place. Matthew explains to the actor playing Frankenstein that he wants to find some moments of levity for this character so that the audience can see and understand how this character was in happier times, before the Creature was created. In the first section of his story Frankenstein talks about the members of his family and Matthew gives the note that “It’s like flicking through a family album. There’s a warmth to it.” This is a useful note; it’s specific, an action most of us will have experienced and understand and it offers the actor something concrete to work with.
During last week’s rehearsals music tracks were played when scenes were being worked on which seemed to help the actors find new ideas to play with. Interestingly, the actor playing Walton, the other character in the section now being worked on, notes that he feels he is getting pulled into the tone of the music that is played over this section and that he needs to remember he is not in Frankenstein’s story he’s just listening to it. This observation starts another conversation about how to clearly and effectively communicate that Frankenstein’s story is being told to Walton but also visualised for the audience. Matthew talks about setting up a contract with an audience and how important it is to not break the conventions or storytelling devices they are using. The actor comments that he will try to pull against the tone of the music to help clarify who is in the story and who is outside of it.
This point is worked on again later on in the day when Matthew sets up an exercise for the actors playing Walton, Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s friend Clerval. First the actors run through a section as it’s written in the script; Frankenstein and Clerval in conversation, Walton also on stage, listening and responding. Matthew then asks the actor playing Clerval to sit out and the section is run again with Walton looking on as Frankenstein talks to, and moves around by, himself. It’s fascinating to watch (not only for the concentration it must take for the actors to run a section with one of the characters missing) and it reminds everyone of the reality of what Walton is actually seeing in that moment as opposed to what is happening on stage and what the audience sees. It looks like madness. There is a real sense of the fractured, fevered nightmare which Matthew spoke of on Day 1, right back at the beginning of rehearsals and it makes me further appreciate the tightrope that is (successfully) being walked by Matthew and the rest of the company between creating a very real atmosphere of madness and not losing the audience through confused storytelling.
• Listen to your actors. Actors get to experience characters from the inside and their insight on a character’s logic and how and why they behave in certain ways can offer new perspectives. Allow opportunities for these insights to be discussed.
• Give useful notes. When working on tone and shifts of tone within a scene aim to give notes that contain a specific, tangible idea that gives the actor something to actively work with.
• Clarity of storytelling is paramount. Be clear about the rules of the storytelling devices being used and adhere to them throughout. Otherwise you risk confusing (and losing your audience).
Frankenstein runs 9 March - 14 April 2018, Theatre