I've only just hopped aboard the hurtling "Events train", with a short London rehearsal, one show in Southend-on-sea, a week in New Haven, Connecticut, and now a week into this month long run at the Young Vic. We were also about to have our press night in the midst of the Internationals. The press performance is a watershed night that , for better or worse, the whole enterprise is geared towards. So, in truth, I hadn't given much thought to the impending International performances, except to look forward to meeting my fellow actors on the day.
That day came a little sooner than anticipated, as we heard at notes on Wednesday that Heidi, the Norwegian Claire, was unable to travel, for urgent personal reasons. She had been due to perform with Clifford, Florian, and Rolf on the Thursday night. I was a bit anxious anyway about having a night off before press, so was happy to volunteer to play in the Thursday mash-up.
So the boys, Rolf and Florian, flew in on the morning of the performance, and we met at 11.30. We first spoke through the text, just sitting. In both their cases, it had been over a month since they had last played it, and now here they were together in London with a new Claire! The wild and bendy world of ATC. It became alarmingly apparent to me that while my grasp of German is profoundly tenuous, I have no reference point whatsoever for Norwegian. I truly could not tell when one sentence stopped and another began. I had to focus intently and exclusively on Rolf Christian, really listening in every way I could. Many of the cues are short and tight, often repeats. In normal circumstances I could presume that I would hear my cue from the other actor eg; Boy "..because he was weak." Claire, "Weak?", Boy "..breakable", Claire "People picked on him because he was breakable?". So I had learned it like that, knowing that I would repeat whatever the other said, but now I had to relearn it as I didn't have the aural cue. There are many examples of this in the play.
Listening in this way really brought further intensity to Claire's quest, with themes relating to understanding coming into particular focus. "How can I hate him if I don't understand him?", " If I can find it's cause and lay it to rest, then I'll sleep. Do you understand?". Incrementally, invisibly, I started to understand.
After speaking the play once, we started to move it. Many sections were identical (Ramin, our director, is also the director of the other productions), but others differed radically. For example, after a fight with Claire, Catriona(her partner), transforms into an abstract figure of hate. The male actor's face is obscured by his t-shirt. When Clifford and I play it, he cradles me, and there is a gentle, lilting quality to his description of bomb making etc, but when Florian played it, it was very charged and overtly violent. His face behind the t-shirt was a mask of hatred and terror. It was also overtly sexually aggressive. There were several such examples, and we made quick decisions on how to incorporate them into the performance.
It was proposed that Clifford take The Aboriginal Boy speech, The Friend, and the prison scene at the end, with Rolf taking the first four of five scenes, and Florian the rest. In all, we had about three hours rehearsal. Clifford and I then had notes on the previous night's performance, the surtitles were checked. Quick sandwich. Worked with the choir from 6.20 to 7.30, quarter hour call, and we're on.
The first thing to say is, it was really exciting. The choir kicked off with their song, and I played the first scene, in which I try to engage The Boy ("Do you speak English?). Rolf's blankness had a subtly different quality to Clifford's , and everything felt already quite different. The next scenes with The Priest and Psychologist were played more instinctively than comprehendingly, and I had the sensation of being in a dream; everything the same, but oddly different. I often felt that I was making offers before I had thought them, if that makes any sense. It's difficult to describe. Hanging on for dear life is a phrase that comes to mind! For most of the performance, I was never ahead of myself. I can only think that this must have been exciting for the audience too; a pair of actors trying desperately to communicate, while lacking one of the basic tools, a shared language. There were visceral highlights; Florian,as Catriona, trying to kiss me back to love. The three boys as Dave, the Shaman, in the ritual. The madness of three boys stoking the Choir during Gavrilo Princip.
It was wonderful to play with three consecutive actors for The Father, The Friend, and The Journalist. It was pleasurably plausible, too, that Claire saw The boy in such contrasting guises as our three men. The cumulative effect of such straining to understand ,and to be understood, was powerful; surely our endless attempts, successes and failures to comprehend each other is at the heart of The Events.
Playing the next performance, on press night, with just Clifford, I hope that I retained that drive, that lostness, that overwhelming desire. I felt that it lived on .
The boys played again on Saturday with Franziska, the Austrian Claire. This time, I was in the audience. What a fascinating experience! This Claire was deeply intelligent, forensic, relentless, extraordinarily nuanced. I admired the performance greatly, and was amazed at the fluency of this mash up. Of course, I know the play, so didn't need the surtitles, but I thought they were breathtaking in tune.
We played the final International performance that night. We had elected to intersperse the parts more, not quite a free for all, but a much faster hand-over. There were wonderful new things; three foxes, three Catrionas on the piano, a riotous Gavrilo Princip. Rolf and I played the last, prison, scene together. It was full of new offers and insights. We hadn't rehearsed at all. For the four of us, it was a great leap into the unknown. I'm addicted now.