Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Derby Theatre rehearsals of A Christmas Carol. Interview with Adam Horvath and Chris Price.

Today I went over to the Derby Theatre rehearsal space on Green Lane and enjoyed watching an early rehearsal of A Christmas Carol adapted by Neil Duffield. The professional cast and crew have three weeks to rehearse the show. Today was in week one. I watched an hour of the rehearsal and interviewed actors Adam Horvath and Christopher Price about their experience so far. Heidi McKenzie from Derby Theatre joined us for the twenty minute interview. It was all very light hearted and there was a lot of laughter throughout as the actors and I told our tales.

I explained that I had read Neil Duffield's play – a mix of classically referencing Dickens' well known words plus integrating a modern, perhaps less verbose way of expression and a style of sharing the text between several chorus characters that carries the story along nicely whilst keeping true to the classic tale. There is also live music and singing in the show.

Adam Horvath

The two actors confirmed that they had only been in rehearsal for a week and two days so far with three weeks in total followed by four days in technical rehearsal after that. I asked them if they came into the rehearsal process with a good understanding of the text and perhaps some of it under their belts.

Christopher Price

Adam confirmed that he had certainly read it a few times and made some notes about the play and his various characters but his acting experience so far was based on not presuming too much and unless there was lots and lots to learn he would come into the experience with a clean slate each time.

Chris said that if an actor learns something before they go into rehearsal then they have already shut down a couple of learning barriers which can lead to a difficult experience in learning the play along with the rest of the cast. He said it is different in an audition because you have learnt something in which you, as an actor, know what you want and also what you believe the casting director wants. He felt that it is lovely to be able to explore the play with the whole cast as well as generally to be comfortably familiar with it.

I asked if this way of working was the same with the Odyssey (a very successful Derby Theatre production which both actors were involved with). Adam and Chris both nodded emphatically and said that it certainly was. Sarah Brigham, currently directing A Christmas Carol, also directed The Odyssey earlier this year. Chris Price said that Sarah is a fantastic director in so much as she allows the actors the space to play and explore and if an actor has something that they want to explore she will give space for that. He emphasised that with her you always get a chance to put in your creativity as well and the play's journey is always adaptable, organic, a moving and a living thing.

I mentioned that I had seen on the internet that the actors had been playing Blind Man's Bluff in a rehearsal and I was interested to know how much traditional games and theatrical games informed the working process to the finished piece. Adam Horvath explained to me that they had been doing a lot of group exercises because a lot of the playing aspect rides along with the work the chorus do and that is the vehicle for the whole play. The play is really about a big group of story tellers and how they interact with each other and how they bounce of other people's ideas and expressions. Keeping the group alive and kicking is vital to the piece.

Christopher enthused that the chorus and ensemble are like a faultless seam of story-telling that illuminate and inform the story all the way throughout. In the structure of the script there are lots of little short lines. Although several people are individually saying them the interpretation of the writing by the actors feeding into each other and from each other means that the story becomes a character of its own and also becomes a flowing fluid poetic text.

I said that such a structure textually isn't an easy thing to do as an actor. You have to be acutely aware of the next line that can appear and ultimately disappear in a fraction of a second.

Chris agreed. “Yes that is right Phil and it is in the games we do in rehearsal that helps us to get to know each other very well in the ensemble. Yesterday we had, what was it? Five juggling balls? All five juggling balls were going at the same time so we were all moving around the space at the same time. We worked out some kind of system and it doesn't matter where you are - you keep going all of the time with awareness. There could be under the leg throws, over the head throws, straight to the other throws but you just keep these juggling balls constantly moving. You know, you make a couple of mistakes at first but then you find something quite unique within that particular energy of the group. It is unique for every single ensemble. Oddsocks theatre company are rehearsing next door doing Wind In The Willows and they'll have a completely different dynamic and a completely different energy about them and if you fused these two groups that would be a completely different dynamic too. That is the thing. It is almost molecular.” Chris laughs and concludes “Or perhaps we just all hot air!”

They explained too that in Derby Theatre's production of A Christmas Carol that as well as a small ensemble of adult professional performers there are also a total of twenty-four young performers broken down into three teams – A, B and C. I told them about the casting of Tiny Tim in The Lace Market Theatre's 2006 performance of my own stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol. There were two teams of children in this and in one team Tiny Tim was played by a sweet young girl (with cherubic boyish looks) and she was truly pathetic in the best sense of the word and utterly beguiling and totally symapethic as the crippled boy on death's doorstep. The other boy playing Tim was rather less than tiny. Rather Chunky Tim would have been a much more apposite description! He looked as if he had eaten half the set and dined out in the most glutinous eating establishments in Victorian London! Chris quipped that the big boy maybe had a glandular problem and that was why he had poorly legs because he was so obese that he could hardly stand on them!

I opened the conversation up to ask the actors, Adam and Chris what it was that they were enjoying the most so far in rehearsals.

Adam bashfully said that is just so nice to be doing a Christmas show and that he had watched The Muppets' Christmas Carol at the weekend! “ Got that (Muppets show) out of the way! No seriously, Christmas Carol is just a story that keeps on giving. It's timeless and in our production on stage it will feel different every night and however subtle the ensemble are we always going to find different things that audience give us each night. It's just a feel good show done with a nice group of people.”

I asked if their Scrooge was good and got a wave of enthusiasm back. Chris said “ Yeah, definitely! Jim's great! He's fun and has a very good command of the room!”

Christopher concluded the interview by saying something I totally agreed with: “ A Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas story. Out of all of 'em I absolutely adore it. At the end it has that special feel good moment. You go through all the trouble and strife and the greed and the poverty and then out of all of that gloom, doom and shovelled up black snow, the freezing blue cold there is that tiny little light of hope and warmth and love. And family! Every year, because I don't see my family as much as I'd like to, this show, in a special way sends you to that place where you can be with your family. Hopefully me Mam and me Dad and me sister from up north will be seeing this show at Derby this year and that will be very special.”

Adam is playing in A Christmas Carol through the Brian Weaver Fellowship and will be in the ensemble as well as playing the roles of Fred and Young Scrooge. Chris is playing Jacob Marley, Mr Fezziwig, Ghost of Christmas Present and Old Joe.

See Derby Theatre website for booking details.

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