This afternoon I was given the opportunity to chat to actors Beatrice Comins, Rob Goll and Adam Horvath all of whom are currently appearing in Nottingham Playhouse's rural touring production of Andy Barrett's new play The Second Minute directed by Giles Croft. This play is part of Nottingham's fantastic European Arts Festival - neat14.
Jo McLeish of Nottingham Playhouse facilitated the meeting.
Jo McLeish of Nottingham Playhouse facilitated the meeting.
Phil: I wanted to talk to you about your experience as actors in a touring production of The Second Minute and I'm aware that you are going on from Nottinghamshire down to Cambridgeshire with the tour. Primarily I'm interested in your general experiences of being on tour with this play and about the practicalities of touring and whether audience members have approached you about the themes of the play and perhaps how it has touched them personally.
Beatrice: Yes, absolutely, that's the thing about doing this play at the moment and why we are doing it because it is so pertinent. People are coming with their own experience and expectations and then relating to the play beautifully. It's going down really really well. We get quite a few people who come up and they've got, not necessarily their 'own' experience of course, but it may be within their family, some kind of connection. Yesterday we were just over the border in Lancashire and there was a very elderly lady who'd come and she'd travelled some way to come and see the show and she'd come because she'd recognised that it was about the Sherwood Foresters and her Grandfather was a Sherwood Forester.
Not only was he a Sherwood Forester in the First World War but he'd actually had experiences that were quite similar to one of the original letters that we use in the play. He'd been seriously wounded and ended up in a shell hole and his arm was completely blown apart basically and he was left abandoned there for a considerable period of time and gangrene set in. However, he was there so long that it got fly-blown and the maggots ate the gangrene and the result of that was that he survived his terrible injury. He lost his arm and survived and ended up in a German prisoner of war camp. Because the play is based on real experience it resonates with everybody else's real experience as well.
Rob: In Tealby in Lincolnshire we had a Sherwood Forester who came to see it at the Tennyson D'Eyncourt Memeorial Hall. Was he called Desmond?
Beatrice: That's right. Desmond.
Rob: And he came along along with his cap badge. He said he could provide his cap badges and was almost fiercely proud of his regiment there and he was thanking us profusely for telling him things about the regiment that he didn't know before. It's incredible actually to meet people who are touched in ways we hadn't thought of before and for them to tell us about these very personal experiences of something they've done/ something they known. Andy Barrett the playwright has done the research and written it in the play and he's done this really well because you find that it is reaching out to the people to whom it concerns and they are saying “Yes that's right – that's how we feel about the regiment”. It's been great and in the small venues it's a very intimate piece. It's ideally suited to the village halls and small theatres. (laughs) If they're big enough! We've had some tight squeezes!
Phil: Are they all front facing as at the Derby Theatre Studio where you opened the play?
Beatrice: Yes we pretty much have to do that because we are so self contained. We take two lighting stands and we've got a very simple set up but that means there's very limited scope for where the lights go. Therefore it needs to be end on. We can't do it any other way than end on.
Rob: Last night, for example, our dressing room was a cupboard. (They all laugh) A luxurious cupboard but still a cupboard. In most of the venues the dressing facilities are elsewhere so we have to 'hide behind the set' virtually for the whole thing.
Adam: Sometimes we get chairs!
Beatrice: I had a chair offered me backstage the other day but then I'm all right because I’m on stage most of the time and so I get to sit on stage and don't mind what's back stage.
Phil: Do you get many people asking you about 'the book'?
In the play Rob's character talks about a book titled The Second Minute. It is a fictional book.
Beatrice: Yes!!! Yes!!! People keep wanting to buy the book! We've had so many people asking to buy the book and they are often shocked that it doesn't exist. There are 'other' books but not a 'Second Minute' book that everybody wants.
Adam: We had some people who came to see it and they said that they'd come to see it because of the book and they claimed they'd read the book. We thought 'have you?' There must be a similar book around. Lots of people have asked and they want to know where they can get a copy?
Beatrice: Yes they have.
Rob: The programme is rather nice because it has the facsimile letters in.
Beatrice: I wanted to say something earlier and that is related to people's personal experiences and as an actor performing this play it gives you a very easy direct line into maintaining truthfulness because you know it is so immediate to so many people. The subjects you are dealing with I mean and it really is a short-cut to trying to maintain a strong line with truthful emotions. It really keeps you grounded. And having things like knowing when you are performing – I never see them but - having the projections behind of photographs of the real individuals who appear in the letters. Knowing that's behind you when you are performing is actually quite a profound experience.
Rob: In these less formal spaces people don't tend to act like theatre audiences would and you can hear comments in response to various bits of the play like “Oh, what a shame!” They are reacting immediately.
Adam: Very in the moment. It's very touching.
Phil: That's great that they are so moved by it that they feel the need to say so out loud and to each other.
Rob: It's a shame that Ali's not here because she, as we're getting changed afterwards, she … hears the bulk of the audience reaction or the feedback about the people in the stories. Apparently, was it two days ago, in Oxfordshire, there was a whole family who were moved to tears at the end. They brought their children too. I see all this because I address the audience so much and there are varying degrees of engagement in their faces either listening to me or watching the projections or watching Bea (Beatrice). I see how fixed they are in it but also, the other day, up in Ellesmere Port we had a large GCSE school party in from Warrington I think. They had come quite some way to see this play.
Adam: About twenty miles I think.
Rob: That's right and it was the first time we had run it without the interval. So it was straight through – all ninety minutes - and they were sitting on uncomfortable squeaky chairs in a full theatre and it was quite warm as well...
Beatrice: Oh it was really warm.
Rob: Towards the end, quite off putting, someone left to go to the toilet and the kids at the front shushed them to be quiet in the middle of our final scene, but their own concentration held fast. Apart from the squeakiness of the seats they were completely focussed on the whole thing. Then we did a Q&A afterwards and the questions were good and this is year ten – fourteen and fifteen year old teens.
Beatrice: The kind of age that you think would be the hardest to play to and that is the really gratifying thing about the piece because it does work for the full cross section of the ages and demographics although our audiences tend to be quite a lot older and that's just inevitable in so many ways. I mean the nature of rural touring those audiences and the subject matter tends to appeal to an older audience. But, when we do get kids in its great because they are as equally involved as the older ones. We played another college in Lincolnshire and they were great as well and that was largely a student audience.
Phil: In practical terms do you all help set up the performance space on arriving at a venue?
Beatrice: Yes. There are only four of us on the road and out stage manager Ali Murray is in charge of everything and does a brilliant job. We unpack the van and build the set and the chaps do all the heavy stuff and I do the tweaking. (laughs) But it takes us about an hour or so to actually build the set but it has been very well designed for this kind of touring and they've really taken that on board beautifully so it is pretty straight forward. Ali does all the electrics and by the time the set is built she's usually ready to start focussing the lights. We need to be on stage for her to focus so we're in the right position. Actually that takes a fair bit of time. It probably takes as long to focus the lights and sort all that out as it does to do everything else.
Rob: It's because the lighting stands are placed in relation to the size of the venue and sometimes they're wide and sometimes they're deep and sometimes they're really really close. Sometimes we don't have the steel decks. In Chipping Norton the other day, for example, the stage was about six foot high with the audience low and a really characterful balcony. So we didn't have the steel decks because that would put us too high so we've got more space.
Beatrice: But these means, because we are used to stepping up all the timing of the piece can get thrown out if you are not careful..
Rob: At the Century Theatre in Coalville where the stage was lower and we didn't have the decks and the lighting was then hung on their rig so...
Beatrice: So we have to look at it and reposition ourselves on stage because sometimes the lighting is very sideways and so we are blocking each other so we do have to do have to look at it to make sure... it affects us significantly as to where we are on stage.
Phil: You wouldn't want to walk into that experience and think “there's 'something' wrong' and for that consciousness to throw you.
Beatrice: No, there's still, inevitably a sense of leaning backwards and forwards and thinking “Ah there's a big light blob on my face”. You still have to work around it.
Rob: We also have to watch that there are no bottoms in the projection either.
Rob went on to explain that the projections used in the piece are actually projected from a filing cabinet on set, not back projected as I thought when I saw and reviewed the show in Derby. He explained that if any body parts interrupt the line of projection you will have given away the trick so the actors have to be constantly aware of their position on stage. No random or rapid of hands or arms flung about.
I said that there was one thing that I did like and that was the visuals of the cascade of crosses/kisses that tumble down the screen at one point in the play.
Beatrice: Yes in the speech my character uses both words kisses and crosses and I'm sure that's quite deliberate. Plus the audience and particularly the children loved the projections because they were hand drawn and shaky and such. That was part of their charm. They were basic but actually that made them more effective. And I think for Sarah Lewis the designer her whole concept was that they were hand written letters and so she wanted very obviously hand drawn pictures in the projections but of course I never see them! I've always got my back to them so I never know when they are there.
Rob: Through the design process she did so much that were lost because of tweaks and cuts and I suppose we never got a chance to see them all and it was half way through the tour that I realised that there was a garden growing in one of them! I never even knew that went on!
Phil: Well that' s great. Thank you all very much for you time and al the best for the remainder of your tour and this afternoon and tonight in the Neville Studio at Nottingham Playhouse.
More touring dates and details HERE