Maison Foo Production Journal – Day 5 – by Christie Inman-Hall
Following the eventful evening I experienced with the team last night (more on that later) the group are in a somewhat relaxed and mellow mood; while I get demoted to coffee-fetcher the gang goes about their usual morning routine of stretches, warm-ups, songs and other 'actor-y' exercises.
The work today will be the last I see until the show begins to tour, and thus, I’m determined to absorb every possible iota of detail and information I possibly can today. It'll be fascinating to see in just a few short weeks how the show will evolve and change and, finally, be completed. Having worked primarily, this week, on the characterisation and the overall feel the piece, it'll be an interesting moment when, in March, I manage to see 'Pendulum's Bargain Emporium' in its' entirety. So far, in my capacity as Production Journalist, I’ve been privileged enough to have complete and utter freedom in my snooping; each cast member has been welcome and accommodating in the incessant tip-tapping of my keyboard and the ever-present “chi-click” of my camera's shutter snapping closed on yet another historic 'Foo' moment.
As these thoughts leave my fingers and dance across the keys, I hear Morgan decide to forego the tracksuit bottoms and trainers uniform of rehearsals and begin to compile a makeshift costume in which to work, a way of integrating himself into the fictional world more cohesively. Following suit (pardon the pun), Matt to dons a thrown together costume in order to aid his performance in this rehearsal; it's fascinating to note that that when a performer gets a costume, even such a haphazard one such as those I see before me, their entire demeanour shifts, changes. It almost evolves; what we see happen, when an actor performs, is nothing short of art.
Last night I had the extreme pleasure of catching up with each member of 'The Foo Team' at their rented accommodation; when the discussion turned to the character of the shoe-maker, Beth spoke of her understanding of the character, he own imagining of him,“He's from another era, but an era that, maybe never existed, do you know what I mean? It's nondescript.”, this certainly seems to fit with Matt's portrayal of him; in his performance it's easy to spot a strong element of wandering balladeer, a musical craftsman from the days of old.
Naturally, as Matt states, “I’m a composer, I write the music and then record it or teach it to the actors who are going to perform it...” so it must, surely, be an odd change to be performing on stage, “there's levels of being a musician on stage which involves not being a character at all, then sometimes you're kind of an extra who just happens to walk around.”, but in 'Pendulum's' Matt is the eponymous shoe-maker, he is, for all intents and purposes, the main character which is, as Matt states,“something I haven't done for a very long time”, looking at his performance, however, it seems as though Matt could be a regularly touring actor, an old-hat that fits perfectly.
The show today is progressing and evolving constantly. After such a productive session yesterday it makes sense that today should see a continuation of such heightened levels of creativity. The cast before me is currently trouble shooting some the logistics of locale changes within the narrative and, with the help of the design team, are making steady headway into the story arc. Yesterday, when I sat down with the design team, I asked them what their process is and how do they know when they've gotten something so inherently 'Foo'? Tina offers me the answer, “You know when it's right, you just know. It's really difficult to say what it is, without sounding really poncy... you just know it's okay.”. The younger half of team, Kate is a lot more verbal with her description, “it's just suggesting really wild ideas that you think might be really awful, and saying those things, and someone might see something else in that idea and think 'erm, maybe not that,' but 'really maybe this.' and just, having enough junk around you to show someone what you mean.”.
The partnership between the designers and the resident Foo's Kate and Beth is an interesting one and it's easy to draw parallels in their ways of working that makes the match of the quartet so perfect, especially on a show as industrially whimsical as 'Pendulum's', a show which seems tailor made for all involved and a better group couldn't be assembled.
Interestingly, the cast has opted to do a complete scene by scene walk through of the show, just to see how what they've already developed feeds into the overall vision of the piece. So far, it's looking good and, as the design team makes notes for the potential transitions, the show begins to show it's truest potential yet; the humour and wit is still in tact and at the fore, however, the cautionary nature of the tale makes itself, for the first time, plainly heard. When I asked Kate where this vision came from, she had this to say; “In terms of influences, I can't, personally, pin down a specific style that I like, I like the fact that we never say no to any style, because it's born out of play, it has to feel like there's a playground for everyone to play in.”, and play they do; the amount of creative experimentation which occurs within the Maison Foo rehearsal room is mind-boggling. The fact that the six-strong team, (four actors, two designers) never seems to run out of ideas is astounding and the desire to pull out all the stops on every idea, no matter how exhausted they might be helps to debunk the school-yard myth that drama is for dossers. I’ve yet to see anyone in this room give any less than their full attention to the work at hand.
Given the structure of this show, it's an engaging balance of male to female talent, especially within the scenario of the shop; with two female shop assistants and the talented Morgan taking the reins as store-manager “Hilary”, now would be a good time to mention how he came to be involved, “It was sort of out of the blue, really,” Morgan states, “Kate and Beth rang and said do I want to meet up for a coffee and maybe chat about their new project. I’d known them from the youth theatre and we'd worked together as adolescents, and never since. So it was lovely to reconnect with them.”
The cast today seems to be forging a strong path into the heart of the drama, focussing more heavily today than they have done so far on the issues, the core of the piece. The main elements that make up the concept of 'Pendulum's' are in the spotlight today and the aim of the group today is to precisely and delicately realise those issues with sensitivity and dramatic relevance.
Right now as I sit and observe the cast trying work out the theory behind making a paper bag look like the face of a crying child, I can't help but think how astounding creativity is when watched from the sidelines. The nature of my role is here to sit and watch and, in doing so, I’ve been granted a rare glimpse into, not just the minds, but the imaginations of these incredibly gifted and talented individuals that make up Maison Foo.
The mere fact that they see no impossibilities in anything that can be imagined is a refreshing and inspiring change to the world of modern theatre when, within a health and safety and budget conscious society, many inspired ideas will get lost in translation. However, The Foo seem to never be dissuaded or disheartened by failure, they do, in fact, seem spurred on by it, challenged and refreshed by the chance to try again.
By the time I see the show, many more ideas will been tried and thrown out, however, I trust that when it's finally put before the audience, only the truest gems will remain, the clearest images and the most original moments, for it is only moments of clarity and theatrical style such as those that will remain in the minds of the audience, and if one thing can be said about Maison Foo, it's that they are, without a shadow of a doubt, memorable.