So we are in our final week of rehearsals already, and the date of April 1st – the centenary of the start of the Burston School Strike and our opening performance – looms large on a very flat Norfolk horizon.
Myself and Georgia begin the day by devising a tune for our school hymn “I send my heart up to thee” having not been able to find a recording of the actual tune. We decide to adapt the lyrics to fit to the tune of an old English folk song “Down by the Sally Gardens” – adjusting the syllable count to achieve meaningful stresses – and eventually end with a rather beautiful little song of our own! We then set about consolidating our work on Saturday by running Act 2. A falteringly eggy run, but a run nonetheless. It goes some way to reassuring us all about our impending premiere. Alex’s lines are all but there now which makes me determined to step up my own efforts. Life is a race! Our stage manager Declan brought all sorts of great stylish sound effects when he arrived at our rehearsal in tiny Pulham Market in his restored Merlin. We then run the entire show! Again faltering, and I feel on my part completely devoid of any sort of attempt at acting, but we got through it. Declan busies himself during our lunch hatching plans for our set, before jumping back into the Merlin and thundering off to the workshop.
The afternoon is spent collating our ideas of what the ‘purgatory/limbo’ space that the characters inhabit in between memories looks and feels like and by developing a physical language that we will use in this space so as to clarify when we are in a memory, and when we are not.
We pick our way through Act 1 focusing particularly on our transitions to and from ‘memories’ and ‘purgatory’. We are also working on a motif of turning an hourglass on stage when entering a memory to further clarify the play’s transitory structure. Far from wanting to assign rigid blocking, Cordelia is all about change and overhauling a scene if something isn’t working for her actors. Today it was one of mine and Georgia’s argument scenes which was always resulting in a clumsy ‘chase me chase me’ figure-of-eight around our set. More stillness and clearer, more attainable objectives soon grounded us and led to a clearer but much more charged scene. Other scenes are picked apart and we end with a much tighter, more specific and higher energy Act 1. Then it’s back to the Stuff of Dreams cottage for sausage casserole, mash, ice cream and rooibos tea.
Wednesday: (100 years to the day that court proceedings begin against the Higdons)
A similar day to Tuesday is spent fine tuning Act 2. Myself and Alex get all rough-and-butch sorting out our fisticuffs, whilst Georgia cracks on with some heart-wrenching acting that leaves everyone feeling melancholy.
Outside of rehearsals I find the time to take a lonesome wander through the Semere Green countryside around and through Pulham Market where we rehearse. Food for the soul. I’ll miss the big skies and the sunsets this place throws around. Back at the ranch I play sous-chef to Georgia’s Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, prepping homemade burgers and butternut squash salad.
A film night with Baz Luhrmann’s Gatsby can hardly be deemed research for our play about rural unionists, but it is a beautiful film.
A day of running the play. We run the play twice in costume with almost all of our props. We take note of technical issues we have with prop placement and scene transitions and sort these out. Lots of debugging. Lines are becoming less of a conscious effort now so at last I am starting to have some room in my mind during performance for real thoughts. Pre sales are healthy and trains are booked to get the actors on tour!
Saturday: (100 years to the day since the Higdon’s final day at the manager’s committee hearing)
A DAY OUT!!!! Cordelia decided to reward our hard work (we won’t correct her) by taking us for a sunny day out and about in the Norfolk countryside. So, in my best year 3 voice; we fed the ducks in Diss, had Lindt bunnies bought for us by our director (I also got a spud gun!), we went for coffee in The Bank in Eye (one of our venues) and had a peek in their vault underground. We went antique shopping and cheese eating in Raviningham. We went to a country fayre featuring Jelly the Jersey cow and, to quote the flyers, a ‘big tractor’. A brief rehearsal in a cornfield with elderflower ice lollies rounds off a day beyond superlatives. I’ve had one of my best days. We open in three sleeps.
Whenever taking on an acting role I always like to ask, even if just to myself; ‘why we are putting on this show?’ In an industry generally associated with vanity, frivolity and sharp elbows it’s important to cherish any opportunity to perform for a reason beyond having the means to do so. ‘The Bricks of Burston’ will premiere at the Burston Strike School centenary celebrations on April 1st 2014. We will perform to relatives of the children who went on strike in 1914, unionists, labourers, teachers, church and village folk and local school children. The play itself is about the fragility of memories and the closure we seem to require as we fade as to whether ours was a good and kind life, that we left the world better than we entered it through even a little of our own action. Our aim is to celebrate the lives and achievements of the people of Burston – Tom and Annie Higdon, the brave school children, their parents – as well as the international community who united against injustice and inequality. Our mission has to be to inspire the next generation forwards to a bicentenary. It’s an important show. A truly valid show. It really does matter that we are putting on this show.