Sam Thorogood graduated from the University of Warwick this summer. He joins us as production assistant for Lear/Cordelia and shares his thoughts here on the process of producing a show.
THURSDAY 27 OCTOBER 2016
A couple of weeks have gone by since our first performances of Lear/Cordelia at Leicester’s beautiful Attenborough Arts Centre. It’s a good opportunity to take stock, reflect on what’s been and look to what the future holds for this experimental project.
So far, we’ve performed the pilot production of Lear/Cordelia three times. Our first (Friday night) was BSL-interpreted by the marvellous Sarah Gatford, live-streamed by the technical wizards at Pilot Theatre, and featured a Q&A which was wonderfully chaired by Maria Parsons, Chief Executive of Creative Dementia Arts Network.
Our Saturday matinee was dementia-friendly, which meant that house lights remained on throughout, sound levels were reduced and there was an open-door policy: people were free to come and go as they wished. We also had a standard performance in the evening on Saturday.
We received some wonderfully rich feedback from people whose lives have been touched by dementia, from lovers of new writing and from those with a passion for seeing Shakespeare differently. Their thoughts, testimonies and experiences showed us just how affecting this double-bill is. Much of this was generously shared by audience members in the Q&A. More came after the other two shows, or through tweets and Facebook posts.
How brilliant it is to be part of something that is resonating so deeply. Dementia is something that, unfortunately, unites so many of us. A recurrent theme in the feedback was that, whilst dementia is widely-felt, it is rarely discussed. Many therefore felt that there was something cathartic about Lear/Cordelia.
In terms of the production side of things, it’s been such a privilege to be part of a team that is precisely that: a team. This has been pure collaboration, and wouldn’t have worked nearly as well if cast and creatives weren’t willing to try stuff out, to play with the material and to collectively search for meaning. As we bring the show to Derby Theatre next month, we’ll be continuing that search.
Keep updated via the website and social media for what the future holds for this project too: the plan is for a national tour in 2018, so keep a look out for further developments!
FRIDAY 30 SEPTEMBER 2016
It’s the end of the second week of Lear/Cordelia rehearsals, which brings us to the end of the Cordelia-focused phase. Week One was all about Lear, Ben Spiller’s adaptation of Shakespeare which rips apart the language of King Lear and reassembles it to talk directly about dementia. It’s all there in the original, Ben stresses, but by stripping away the monarchic trappings to centre on the family drama, we have a very current and moving play about how dementia detonates complicated familial tensions.
In Week Two, Cordelia took centre stage. Farrah Chaudhry’s sharp, punchy, deeply political response to Lear paints a Cordelia who is principled, flawed and completely of the moment. A junior doctor who has provided medical aid amidst war zones, she is in many ways the antithesis of her father: an affluent ex-cabinet minister. His dismissal of her profession is just one of the starting places for the playwright’s brilliantly crafted (and constantly evolving) dialogue.
The evolution thing is worth noting. That’s part of what makes this project so exciting. The Cordelia that was read on the first day of rehearsals is different to the Cordelia that is now being put on its feet. And even that isn’t set in stone: earlier today there was a really detailed discussion about one word in the script that didn’t feel quite right. This is a collaboration between writers, cast and creatives to find the right Lear/Cordelia for its pilot production: one that has been created “by, with and for people who are passionate about seeing Shakespeare differently, excited about new writing and driven to explore the emotional impact of dementia on modern family life”, as Ben says.
Next week, we’re devoting our time to finding the links between Lear and Cordelia. So far, the two plays have been rehearsed in isolation (or as close to isolation as is possible), and it will be fascinating to discover – together – the images, lines and emotions that bind the scripts together. This is a double-bill, but absolutely one work: Cordelia responds to and develops our understanding of Lear, and vice versa.
At 1623’s monthly Shakespeare Night yesterday at Derby Theatre, King Lear was the play being workshopped. It was wonderful to discuss our varied responses to the play, and to hear from Farrah about how she came to write Cordelia. We were also joined by members of the Derby Shakespeare Theatre Company, who are staging their own King Lear in November. This is clearly a play which inspires people in all sorts of different ways, and as we head into Week Three, that very fact will keep us driven to find the best route through Shakespeare’s and Chaudhry’s words.
MONDAY 19 SEPTEMBER 2016
Hello all! Sam here. After years of research, planning, fundraising and workshopping for the project, yesterday marked the official start of rehearsals. I’m only joining the process now, so it was incredibly exciting to dive into something that has already had a huge amount of love poured into it. What struck me on my first day was just how much integrity there was in the room, and how much of a shared purpose this incredible group of individuals has.
The project – 1623’s most ambitious to date – is using King Lear as a prism through which to explore dementia in 2016. It’s a double-bill of Shakespeare adaptation and new writing in which Lear is a retired Tory cabinet minister, living with dementia and visited by his daughters: both in reality and in his mind’s eye. It’s been created through participatory research with those whose lives have been affected by dementia, and will be brought to glorious life with Eleanor Field’s designs and Darius Powell’s digital projections.
Eleanor kicked us off with a bit from a Guardian article that had inspired her almost expressionist design for the Lear half of the double-bill. I think it’s worth repeating in full:
Day after day, I would see him: an old man in shabby clothes who used to stand at a busy junction near our house in north London. He held in his hand a piece of cutlery (usually a fork, I think), which he waved high in the air as the cars and buses roared by, sometimes with enormous energy and sometimes quite calmly.
He didn’t seem unhappy but he was certainly a solitary figure, unaware of the people who passed him by. He was in his own world. I assumed – rightly – that he had dementia. Then he disappeared. The obituaries that followed revealed that he had been a psychoanalyst and brilliant musicologist, whose research had added significantly to our knowledge of how Beethoven and Mozart composed their music. Only then did it occur to me that perhaps with his fork, his spoon, he had been conducting the traffic to the music in his head. This image has always haunted me because of the great disconnect between what we all saw – a demented old man weaving around on the pavement – and what he was experiencing, which I like to imagine was both the music of the composers he had so loved, and also a sense of centrality and of control over his world.
(Click here to read the article in full on the Guardian website)
Victoria Brazier (Regan), David Henry (Lear), Samantha Hopkins (Goneril), and Gemma Paige North (Cordelia) then read through Lear and the image of the shabbily dressed man conducting the traffic was on every page. Lear’s reality drifting further and further away from those around him, widening the disconnect between what he sees and what we see… It was very powerful to hear Shakespeare’s words – drastically cut by Dramaturg Ben Spiller, but still Shakespeare’s words – talking so directly about the kinds of dementia that we could recognise.
The read-through of Cordelia came next. The second half of the double-bill is new writing from the pen of Farrah Chaudhry. It serves as a prequel to Lear, and is a fascinating revisiting of the day that Lear is moved into his care home. It also fills in some of that ‘nothing’ that is so much a part of Shakespeare’s Cordelia. The play is much more grounded than Lear, something than will be evoked in a more naturalistic set design. Despite the perspective shift to Cordelia’s worldview, the play interacts beautifully with the themes of familial roots, broken communication and adaptation to new surroundings that are at the heart of Lear.
This is a hugely exciting project to be a part of. I can’t wait to see how the project develops as words are lifted off the page and put onto their feet. Ben (Lear Director) and Louie Ingham (who’s directing Cordelia) will be working collaboratively with the actors and creative team to help the project work for Shakespeare aficionados, fans of new writing and those living with dementia alike (there are dementia-friendly performances at the Attenborough Arts Centre and Derby Theatre, and the show will be live streamed for those unable to make it to the theatre). Many of the audience members will fall into more than one of these categories, and the challenge for us now is to inclusively welcome everyone into this world of an ex-politician and his estranged daughters. It’s a story worth rediscovering, I think, and day one of rehearsals has only reinforced that belief.