Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Rehearsing A Chip In The Sugar

Rehearsing ‘A Chip In The Sugar’ written by Alan Bennett.

At the moment I am two weeks into my ad hoc rehearsal schedule in learning Alan Bennett’s ‘A Chip In The Sugar’ monologue. My pet name for this foolhardy project is ‘Chip’ and it is going to Germany in May alongside another short play called, ‘The Typists’. In my enthusiasm to perform, I blithely ignored the realistic fact that this humorous and pathos filled theatrical piece from Bennett’s original Talking Heads TV series  is actually sixteen pages long and forty minutes in performance on me tod!!!  Proverbial light comes on when Phil realises a monologue is one person talking! Alone! On stage! Without a script!

In this case, the monologue has the main character of Graham, an older gay man with mental health problems, living with his elderly mother who has met up with an old flame, a Mr Frank Turnbull , and is courting him despite her own problems with a failing memory. I have chosen to use differing voices for the various characters in the storytelling unlike Bennett who originally played Graham himself and all of the other characters with his own iconic voice. Both work equally well in performance and the writing is undeniably Alan Bennett in style; laconic, Yorkshire through and through and witty, very witty indeed, and also full of understanding for human frailties.

It is a joy to try and learn and even though there are lots of ‘she said – he said - Mr Turnbull/Mother saids’ liberally scattered throughout the piece they are a part of the rhythm of the theatrical writing and though these interjections seem odd  to an actor, at first, they actually work very well. They help create a rhythm, a pace and a balance.

Like any comedy, a lot of the performing does rely on being aware of where the laughs/chuckles are likely to occur and whilst rehearsing I have left a short space after the punch lines to practice, albeit sans audience, the art of remembering the pick-up lines or the proceeding passage and story development. To help me with the rehearsal process I have recorded the piece with my Dictaphone and put it on a CD to play again and again at home and get me used to the story and the pace of its’ telling. I have also kept a copy on the Dictaphone itself to listen to during the day via a set of headphones.
Consequently, I think that I am now the official ‘nutter on the bus’ who mutters to himself on the 6am Indigo bus to work each morning.  I am even getting brave and almost talking the script out loud as I walk the streets of Nottingham. I can almost imagine folk looking out for the ear piece and mobile connection. "Surely' he's talking to a friend on his blue tooth jobby. except he hasn't got a blue tooth jobby. Mavis, call the cops!"

Alan would be proud
I am often tired after a day’s work and don’t always feel inclined to spend the evening rehearsing and getting frustrated with myself because the lines aren’t coming out right, so I rehearse as and when the energy or enthusiasm is with me. I am enjoying the rehearsal process and the humour of the piece so I do try and find time to devote to learning it. The fact that I really need to be ready by the end of April (my deadline) spurs me on. Come June I will look back with astonishment that I managed to learn it all and perform successfully in Karlsruhe!

The script itself has a lot of repetition throughout and it is easy to find oneself verbally leaping on to another section in the story so concentration is paramount and doing one’s best to be true to every word and inflection helps build confidence in the piece. Without sounding immodest I often give myself a mental ‘slap on the back’ when I think that I am getting stronger in the recalling and performing without the script in front of me. Any actor would agree that these moments of freedom from eye-balling  or gripping on to the script are scary but also very satisfying part of the rehearsal process.

I mark up the script itself to remind myself of my own verbal errors (the odd word wrong or slight paraphrasing) and to illuminate links from one ‘idea’ within the storytelling to another. A good example of this last notion would be that Graham mentions his mother sitting on the cold pavement and in the next breath says, ”Come on Mother, we don’t want piles!” The link being that a cold bum might give her piles. The additional fact that pile and pavement both begin with P helps to cement the script memory too. Additionally, I often try to visualise the scene like a mini movie in my head and find this helps and I am prone to making little drawings in the margin to remind me of the thread and order of the prose.

At this stage of writing this up (mid March) I am confident in the first six pages. Only ten more to go!!!