More Playhouse Creatures

September 11th. I’d wanted to direct this play for many years – the sound of the first actresses on stage, performing some of their greatest hits, and talking about their struggles was right up my street. It took a couple of years to get it programmed, and then it was earlier in the year than usual, and this meant, I’m afraid, that I turned down a trip to Hiroshima and to Mexico. as you know the career as such is pretty rock bottom at the moment, and it’s not easy to travel half way round the world to be cheerful about one’s career. The chance of creativity, even if it was unpaid creativity won out.  I really can’t exist without being creative.  The further twist in the narrative was that we were to do the play in the studio, with just an audience of 49 each performance, and supposedly no resources. I set to work back in april, working out what the different locations were, and essentially there was backstage, onstage, and limbo – and they had to be very different, quite an achievement in an acting space barely 16 foot square, but I came up with the idea of curtains – not only economical but swift to change scenes. Onstage simply had to be a red curtain, and limbo the colour of the theatre curtains, blue. The backstage area would have a permanent neutral coloured curtain casually and artfully draped and covered with theatre bric a brac. This would use the whole stage when revealed, the blue would be two thirds, and the red just a third of an acting space. I was very happy to show the mechanics of all this, as the play is as much about the mechanics of theatre as it is about the women. But there needed something to pull this space together, and like in Tchaikovsky, I added a battered old gold frame – a proscenium I guess. And candle, and theatre detritus. and voila, a very versatile space, and even on the last performance, I was still thrilled to watch the cast get ready ‘backstage’ and charge forward with the curtains shutting behind them, and there we were transformed to onstage.Never underestimate the power of a good transformation scene.

But with about ten extracts from plays of the period performed as if on stage, that meant, if we were being literal, a lot of costumes. Heck to literal – we could not afford it, and it would slow down the pace to have the ladies change – so underwear and corsets and nice shoes were the basics, with a simple single element of fabric added to denote an onstage character. And this was mightily effective. Fabric, as with the curtains, became the theme. Cleopatra’s asp was simply a length of green fabric; the muses draped themselves in a fabric shawl, Lady Macbeth had red ribbons ( oh yes, the Purves favourite) for the blood. Five bentwood chairs, doubling as thrones and chaise longues, and the visual language was complete.

to be continued…….

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