Updated: Dec 12, 2018
On Sunday 1st July, 6 months before the planned rehearsal period and on the hottest day that’s ever existed, 15 Anglo-Swedes arrived at Theatre Delicatessen for the first R&D for Stones Theatre Company’s new play, SAGA.
SAGA is an exciting project in many ways. We will be working off an original translation of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play to develop a 60-minute, bi-lingual (Swedish/English), physical theatre adaptation of this classic text. The story line will remain the same, a daughter of the Gods comes down from heaven to find out why humanity is so discontent. She believes that with love and compassion she can help get people back on track but her heart saddens when she realises that people’s hopes and dreams are strong but they are held down by their fleshy existence. She returns to the Gods, sincerely sorry for the state of human kind. She can only apologise.
"Goodbye. Tell people
I won't forget them.
I'll tell the gods
what being alive is.
Because I'm sorry.
(The final words of the play from the daughter, Agnes, in Caryl Churchill's 2005 adaptation)
Yes, I appreciate this does sound rather depressing, but, the exciting thing is that the whole sequence of events takes place within a dreamer’s subconscious. Who is the dreamer? We don't know. But the form of a dream allows the play to expand and release like breathing and the impossible becomes a reality. When Strindberg wrote this play in 1901, he became a pioneer for surrealism and expressionism within theatre. The strange intertwining of locations and characters weaves together a compelling narrative with a strong moral underpinning. This is the quote from Strindberg’s Author’s Note that I will constantly be referring back to throughout the whole process:
“to imitate the disjointed yet seemingly logical shape of a dream. Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable. Time and place do not exist; the imagination spins, weaving new patterns on a flimsy basis of reality: a mixture of memories, experiences, free associations, absurdities and improvisations.”
The R&D (research and development) workshop did exactly this.
We started by introducing ourselves and played a number of team-building games to create a company of 11 strangers, working together in a shared space. The Company were incredibly receptive and excited and the Swedes especially relished a space where they could speak in either Swedish or English, whichever they felt was natural.
We then developed a number of improvisations in small groups of 3/4. I asked the groups to make a list of locations, job titles and problems occurring in our modern day society. At random, they each took on a job title, picked a location and focused on an issue as the theme of the scene. This lead to some wonderful, imaginative scenes! One group were on the Eurostar in a tightly compact compartment where a Banker, an Actor and a Teacher played around with the issue of mental illness. As the journey went along, the claustrophobia began to sink in. One passenger experienced a panic attack, the other two rushed to help, and when it was over they sat as though they had never interacted and awkward tension lingered in the cabin.
Another group were tenants (an Artist, an Activist and a Professor) who were notified of an increase in their fees which they could no longer afford. Their issues were overbearing landlords and the strains on the housing market. These characters became homeless and we watched their decline both in their morale and situation.
The improvisations provided a basis to expand the absurdities and create a dream. The third group explored the issue of mosquitos. So what did I do? I put mosquitos into the Eurostar cabin and the tenant's apartment. Suddenly it was all very stressful. It was realistic but surreal because actors literally played the mosquitos. This process is how I will eventually bring together actors to play and explore and craft out our version of A Dream Play.
We then moved on to some physical exercises after lunch where the actors were paired up and asked to move their partner as if they were made of clay. This creates a physical tension within the movement and builds trust between the actors. This slowly developed in to a group activity. We centered one protagonist in a scene who closed their eyes and any one of the company could move her in this clay-like manner. This led to some beautiful choreography as the company created a silent story line around manipulating this girl's body. It's amazing what the imagination can interpret from a sequence of silent events.
After repeating a number of these exercises, it brought our long 5 hour workshop to a close. We were all sweating in the 30 degree heat outside that seemed to be magnified by the glass windows and lack of air con, but despite this, the atmosphere was elated.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with these actors. It was a free workshop and I didn't previously know any one them. They gave up a whole day to help me explore what the vision could be for SAGA. They loved the style of working and I only wish every single one could become a part of the company, however, there will only be 5 actors. I will have to cross that casting decision when I come to it. I will also run a second R&D workshop in August to further explore the bi-lingual nature of the work and hopefully have more of a mix of genders in the room to see how that affects the process and the piece of theatre.
I would like to say a huge thank you to Julia, Marie, Olivia, Athina, Selma, Sofia, Ben, Frida, Linn, Chanice and Sophie. You will all be welcomed back to the next R&D and auditions (hopefully to take place in September). And to Richard and David who took the photos, stunning work.
Thank you for reading this and keep in touch if this play interests you!
Enjoy the heatwave!