Maison Foo production journal - day 13 - By Séana Maggs-Cooke
This Monday morning marks the start of week 2 in my time with Maison Foo! The company and I arrive with buoyant spirits, and outside eye Mick Barnfather rejoins today’s rehearsal to be on hand to give some all-important feedback. Everyone seems ready to embark on another hectic week of rehearsals, perseverance and a lot of hard work! It is, of course, production week, and in 6 days time (including today,) The Foo will be preparing to perform their first show of Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium at Deda.
As usual, the day begins with a warm up. Here, no face is too ridiculous to pull! An energetic game of tag with a twist kick starts the morning’s proceedings, and Kate states that, ‘the plan of attack is to block the whole play’; an ambitious but necessary task. Over the weekend, Beth has clearly been busy editing and finalising what is now a full version of the script-there is no rest for The Foo. Everything I watched being modified and improvised last week has been consolidated, and now I’m watching a near full run of the show, in brief. (I should mention now that the revelation of last week occurred after I finished writing my Friday blog, whereby the end of the show was devised to great effect and of a unanimous felicity.)
This intended ‘blocking’ session transforms into a detailed run once the group’s directorial instinct kicks in; fuelled by Mick, Kate and Beth who take turns to tag in and out as actors and moderators of the rehearsal. More careful attention is being paid to Matt’s opening monologue, and it’s a beneficial practice for Matt to return to the naturalistic character of the Shoe Maker. With the input of the girls and Mick and a spured on momentum, the monologue once again becomes an absorbing realistic performance; an almost, Stanislavskian style of method acting comes into play. Matt is encouraged to become emotionally attached by however means possible, and this results in some aggressive handling of cardboard boxes and some aggravated grumbles. I can’t help but feel that Matt deserves his own blooper section in a Foo video; he has a tremendous ear for musical timing but sometimes not so much for performance timing. Having said this, the supervision from the cast, and Mick, as well as Matt’s determination to retake a scene and throw every emotion he can into his performance; once again proves triumphant in establishing another hearty, and extremely engaging performance. The rest of this morning’s run through predominately contains a trial and error of transitions; a lot of going backwards and forwards to finalise details of blocking occurs.
Next, the company skip the ‘Desperate Woman’ number of the play and begin to re-explore a scene I have not yet had the privilege to view. It is called ‘Pendulum’s makeover’, or as Beth refers to it, ‘demonstration corner’. This scene consists of Kate being, once again, volunteered as a cosmetic guinea pig; Beth becomes makeup artist ‘Beatrice’ and Morgan takes up the role of stylist, ‘Hilary’; It is a mockery scene and very funny indeed! Kate states that the scene is meant to become ‘grotesque’, and this cockamamie affair is certainly a useful attribute in establishing the nonsensical, absurd tone wishing to be established. It takes retail and cosmetic parlours to a new level of ridiculousness and becomes a step-by-step guide of how to give someone a horrendous makeover. Even Morgan (Hilary) gets a makeover, and after this point, I once again give up on my typing role to revel in this comedy sketch; it is masterfully ludicrous. After a couple of attempts at the scene, a walkthrough/write up follows; this delves into more detail of the movement and actions taking place... Even in a comedy sketch, blocking is integral. Some inventive speech is written to describe Kate’s character ‘Sue’ as a ‘plain Jane’. After some consultation of the costume case for more inspirationally awful shoes and accessories, Sue is given a truly unfortunate appearance! Kate then declares, ‘the idea is, you’re seeing something that isn’t there’, and this seems like a good metaphor for what the retail/ beauty industry in fact considers as ‘beauty’. Matt escapes the face painting by entering his oasis of instruments, consisting of a keyboard, xylophone, saxophone and accordion; wearing his headphones, he begins to tap away and play silent melodies- no doubt to be used somewhere in the show.
Even during lunch, Beth exhibits how much work is involved in the whole process of creating a show by tucking into some administrative duties. After lunch, Clare, the play’s Producer and ‘Magic’ Oz arrive at the Green Lane Foo abode, and now, the next song of the piece ‘Secret of Success’ is revisited. The boxes made into masks; which I first thought to represent opening windows, are now, in fact revealed to be gift boxes with doors that open to uncover the faces of Beth, Kate and Morgan. Physically these characters become anthropomorphic characters; this representation adds another dimension to the whole eccentric facade of they play, and it does lend itself to have an almost ‘south park’ effect, as Kate suggested last week. The ritual of putting the gift boxes on becomes a task in itself, but with a few pointers from Mick, Clare and Matt, some simple choreography and a slow-mo fade-in effect establishes this transition smoothly; The original problem being that this scene was intended to surprise the audience, (apart from this blog spoiling the suspense...)instead of secrecy, it is decided that the whole routine deservers to have an introverted, obvious reveal; due to its incontrovertibly cheesy- for the sake of being cheesy stance. The Foo are not dancers, as was stated last week; but they are masters of performing a routine whilst wearing gift boxes on their heads! The synchronicity of opening the doors on the boxes and moving heads with rhythm is highly laudable.
The character of the Shoe-Maker adds a grounded aspect to the whole play. Each comedy scene is broken down to involve Matt’s character; an equilibrium of comedic and serious tones runs through this whole play. There’s a foreboding feeling of something menacing taking place in the setting of the shop, and this becomes more apparent than ever during the infamous ‘secret of success’ scene, when the Shoe-maker watches the whole stand-up scene from a distance, giving a darker significance to the performance.
After ‘Secret of Success’ is refined, a run through of the play is attempted, to show both Michael and Clare the direction of the first half, (with me on music duty.) It goes very smoothly, considering that most of the final blocking has only taken place this morning. After a much deserved tea break (more by the company, than me,) Beth and Kate have a discussion with Clare about the show in general, and an attempt at blocking the next set of scenes prevails. Now an airport scene is being brought to life, and the mise-en-scene is being crafted from the props used in most of the earlier scenes: Beth and Morgan are now playing air hostesses and the trolley used earlier are now being used as aeroplane refreshment trolleys. Kate transforms from plain-Jane Sue to a pregnant, European traveller-looking character. It’s both a baffling and mirthful experience to watch this scene, again. After some practice of hoisting the now pregnant traveller, Kate onto a trolley, Kate displays some hilarious birthing skills. the scene is now blocked (or, a lot more so than last week) and now The Foo becomes ever closer to completing this Emporium of curiosity!
Today, a giddy feeling of suppressed realisation seems to settle among Maison Foo. It’s going to be a demanding and ambitious week ahead for the company, but I am fully confident that by Friday this rehearsal period will now be an impressive run through of the whole of Pendulum’s Bargain Emporium. Luckily, I don’t need a ticket to see it!