Maison Foo Production Journal - Day 9 - By Seana Maggs Cooke
Again, Maison Foo arrives at Green Lane with a relaxed mentality towards the day, but is in no terms means complacency. The morning commences with a half hour stretching session; during which time Beth and Kate disappear to talk to designers, Kate and Tina. Matt plays some more ever infectious jazz music on the keyboard and the cast begin their essential warm up. This session is followed by a joint effort of pre-setting the space; a tedious but vital process. The day’s objective is to revisit the beginning of the piece and play around with clarity. The extracts of scenes I witnessed yesterday are slowly being conglomerated. Mick aids and advises the rehearsal and frequently stops the scene to throw in suggestions for the cast to play around with.
The characters in this opening scene have an excellent comedic pizzazz about them, and the convention of breaking the 4th wall will be, I’m certain, received with great reverence by its audiences. The improv of yesterday has been reintroduced; refurbished, and the scene is repeated numerous times. This is how the devised process advances; although there are scripts, these are not used as blue prints. Nothing is cemented, which makes the element of ‘play’ more important than ever.
A few ‘hand on head moments’ is a reassuring sign for me; it signifies that creative juices sometimes have to be opened by even the more experienced of actors and collaborators. These ‘hand on head moments’ are always indefinitely followed by an experimentation of techniques: Beth and Kate take turns to tag in as Matt’s character to try and unlock different ideas for the style of his monologue. A pattern is emerging: an evolution of trialling/doing/ thinking and discussing; and it seems to be an extremely efficient and productive way of working through each scene. Finally, Mick announces that, ‘that’s the one’ and no one disagrees...
Matt is not naturally an actor, although this was not evident to me until it was divulged. The work he puts into his acting is emulated through his character. The rest of the cast aid him in deciphering his ‘inner actor’ and the result is quite phenomenal. The Foo work as a support system; the encouragement that everyone contributes to this system creates an almost, positive multiplier effect- which leads to a rather reflationary portrayal of Matt’s character. He suddenly becomes a naturalistic protagonist, and someone I believe the audience will both sympathise with and believe.
In the next section of the rehearsal I am recruited as a sound technician, during which time the musical number that I now know to be called ‘The Desperation Tango’ is revisited. There is less scope allowed for improvisation in this scene because of its musical mature. As Mick says, “shall we just do it?”- This thought is shared unanimously. Instead, choreography is tested and blocked to determine the best way to start and end the song. I am then introduced to Oz, the ‘Magic Man’ and tech manager, who arrives and settles down to watch the remainder of the pre-lunching run through. After some diplomatic discussion and a few tweaks to the arrangement of scene, a well deserved lunch break is announced.
After lunch, I station myself back in the rehearsal room; once again there is a strong sense of diligence among the group. Props and set are being built by the design team, and the cast pitch in to help when needed. Matt occasionally relocates himself to his mac, or, his portable office, and when Beth and Kate leave to explore shadow puppetry with the designers, I stay put to watch more work on the characterization of the shoe-maker. For a suitable duration of time, Morgan and Mick watch tapes of the earlier rehearsal and Matt reworks the script to include all the new material. A fascinating one-to-one tuition then follows between Matt and Mick, whereby an exploration of tension levels is looked at between by Matt to help him understand the intentions and emotions of his character. The mentoring session is concluded when the rest of Foo rejoin the room, and now another polishing session for the beginning of the play is needed whilst Michael is available for feedback.
For any actor/ company, running through one section of a play over and over again it is a gruelling procedure. Maison Foo, however, perseveres for as long as they need; they aren’t swayed by any material they need to scrap or change. It is this openness and willingness to adjust their work without altercation that presents an extraordinarily well accomplished final result. No matter how many re-runs of a scene there are, the cast effortlessly enable it to feel fresh every time; even now that the scenes are more regimented in structure. I have already chosen my favourite catchphrases from the beginning of the piece, and these have only come about during the last couple of day’s sessions of play and ad-libbing. I enjoy them equally each time I see them performed, which is testimony to the quality of content within this play. When the ‘Desperate Tango’ is revisited, Kate trials an idea which involves turning the lights and music off simultaneously to see how this changes the dynamics of the scene for Matt’s character to adapt to. Amazingly, this suggestion results in the whole alteration to the opening of the song, and it works brilliantly! – This is Just another example of the company being able to find inspiration by adjusting the simplest of measures, and being able to incorporate their inspiration into the piece at such short notice.
By the end of the day the first section of the play has been worked and re-worked to high-heaven, which certainly feels to me, like a great attainment! Creating a play like this, I’m learning, is a difficult and sometimes tiresome process. The benediction of this is that out of The Foos hard work and indefatigability, perfection seems like an achievable target. It has been a day of breakthroughs and improvements that has been both engrossing and intriguing to note. I have no doubt that tomorrow; The Foo will return with the same semblance of positivity and continue to work as they have today; with an open-minded and tolerant stance, therefore, clearly, the best recipe for creating a tantalizingly catchy piece of Theatre!