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Charlie Peace rehearsal room blog, part four

Posted on 10 October 2013

‘Glooomee Moo-d, Glooomee Moo-d!’

We finally got to have our first glimpse of the set, which has been under construction for the past 4 weeks. Having previously only seen the model box and the design pictures, for the first time the company could get a real sense of the size and scale of the set they would be working on. Peter Duncan was of course straight away asking Jasper to guide him around the set and the different levels.

This is an incredibly vital time for the actors and creative team to see up close what they will be working with. It is an opportunity to look at the space where the scenes will be played, upstage, on the forestage or on the upper level. We can look at the doors for entrances and exits and where the pillars are. We can also begin to develop an awareness of sight lines in relation to the actor and the audience. All these aspects have a direct impact upon the staging of the production.

Later that week Jonathan Girling got to work with the company on the music. Starting with a vocal warm up he reiterates the importance of breath support and use of the diaphragm, opening up the throat, breathing through the mouth. He points out, as you sing higher you tend to think higher visually. However, to stop yourself going flat on the note, as the notes go higher, if you visualize going down this will keep you in pitch.

We also have a new arrival in the room today; the harmonium. Mia Soteriou who plays Charlie’s wife Hannah, will be playing it during the show. A harmonium, or pump organ, is like a piano but pedals pump air through the instrument creating a very specific sound. These instruments were very popular during the 19th Century in small churches and private homes and Charlie Peace was known to have had one. This gives you some idea of the attention to detail throughout the production.

It is clear that over the weekend Jonathan has been burning the midnight oil working on the arrangements and fine-tuning the compositions. As I work closely with Jonathan on this production I have become very aware of his expertise and the challenges of the composer’s process. Similarly to the playwright, with new writing and musical compositions it would seem vital to have an element of flexibility during the rehearsal process. Initially the composer may have to adapt his music to suit the singing voices of the actors that are cast and then the arrangements to suit the instruments available to him.

As rehearsals evolve, scenes may be lengthened or shortened, sections have to be extended or cut. An actor playing an instrument may be needed within a scene where they were previously available and this will immediately impact on the arrangement. It is not until you hear the voices and instruments together that you get a real sense of the sound of the show. Creating a diverse piece of theatre such as Charlie Peace: His Amazing Life and Astounding Legend Giles, Jonathan and our choreographer Dan have a balancing act on their hands; acting, singing, musicianship and physicalisation. If they get that balance wrong during this rehearsal process you could be in danger of overwhelming the actors, unbalancing the production and not giving enough attention to specific elements and detail. And this is where it is essential to have a strong collaborative team with open lines of communication. I have seen that very clearly throughout this process. At the end of his session, Jonathan gathers his sheet music together, pleased with the company and how things are taking shape and we break for lunch.

The action of Michael’s plays covers Sheffield, Nottingham and London and in it Charlie is not only a master of disguise, but is also well adept at accents. With an attention to detail Gile’s has called in Kathy Wheat, a dialect coach who will spend this afternoon, the first of two sessions, working with the actors.

On our return from lunch the cast began by looking at the Sheffield accent. Kathy talked about the placing of the voice (back of the throat and tight), the use of the tongue and the pitch and glid. ‘Glooomee Moo-d, Glooomee Moo-d.’ They all repeat, ‘Glooomee Moo-d, Glooomee Moo-d.’ She spoke of the clear ‘L’ and the dark ‘L.’ In the Sheffield accent the clear ‘L’ is made at the front of the mouth, dark ‘L’ at the back of the mouth with the tongue raised. The ‘T’ sound, ‘country’ becomes ‘Cun-ree’, swap ‘there all’ for ‘dare all’, ‘Mother’ to ‘Moder.’

After an extensive workshop we move onto the Nottingham accent. Kathy points out that this accent is on a minor note, and slightly off the note in pitch. She gives us some examples and when it is pointed out, even to the Nottingham born and bred in the room, it is an interesting revelation. You suddenly hear it. ‘February’ shortens to ‘Feb-bre’, ‘library’ to ‘Lie-bre.’ Kathy continues to look at the form and shapes of the mouth and its impact on the accent and how to reproduce it. She asks the actors to select particular lines from the script and we all listen as they experiment and Kathy guides. With her trained ear even when all the cast are trying lines at the same time she still manages to pick out slight anomalies that need correcting.

Next up is London and specifically south London. There is a debate of what a south London accent is and how it is commonly confused as cockney or what we call Ray Winston Cock-a-nee!

It is suddenly 6 o’clock and time to finish. We all need to get home, do our homework and be up early as we all have an appointment in court first thing in the morning!!

Neil.

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