Thursday, 23 June 2011

Hard Times - Preview Blogging

Gosh - Well I've got a bit behind again haven't I? I have had a busy old time, and quite a few things to blog about, so expect a few updates over the next week in an attempt to catch up.
Right then, where to start? Well in my last update over a month ago I promised to post my second blog for the Library Theatre here - so here it is......

Hello again! They let me come back and tell you all a bit more about Hard Times.

Monday night saw me attend a preview of the show. The experience starts as you approach the building. Murray Mills is an impressive sight in the evening sunshine, rising up above you. At your allotted time on your ticket you are escorted into the Mill down some steps and are immediately plunged into the sights, sounds and even smells of Coketown. You are free to move around in this area and can observe the townsfolk going about their lives. This brilliantly sets the scene for the play. It’s dark, dusty and oppressive. You see glimpses of poverty, disease, revelry and despair. Bits of machinery left over from Murray Mills’ former life lie abandoned, adding to the atmosphere.

After a while we are taken up to the main performance area. This is a long gallery with a number of ‘sets’ and we do have some time to look around before the performance starts. The detail is amazing, clocks tick in parlours, someone has been practicing their alphabet in the schoolroom, paperwork lies on desks. The set designers and builders, lighting and sound have done an amazing job. It all helps to create this feeling that you are an integral part of the play.

The scenes of the play transfer between various sections of the large performance space and the audience moves freely to surround the action. As an audience member it was a very intimate experience, almost like you are an invisible observer, eavesdropping on developments. I remember there was one scene where the haughty Mrs Sparsit (Lynda Cooke) is peering through some trees to spy on a meeting between two characters, and I felt like I was across the other side of the clearing secretly watching her watching them.

One of the things that struck me, seeing the play in full, was that the sections I saw at rehearsal just gave me a snapshot of the overall journey each of the characters take. For example, the Louisa I saw at rehearsal seemed very cold and unemotional and a bit unlikeable. Across the course of the play I came to understand why she behaved in that way, how she had been shaped by her upbringing, and by the treatment of her loved ones, and then saw the complexities of her character emerge as she fights to understand her conflicting emotions. Alice O’Connell gave a wonderful performance as Louisa, and I was on the verge of tears at one point seeing the level of her pain and confusion.

Similarly, the snapshot of Tom (Gareth Cassidy) I saw in rehearsal, made me think he was a bit of a loveable rogue. But, when seen in the context of the play, in the way he treats his sister and others, he is an unpleasant and extremely selfish character, constantly focussed on his own gain, and not caring who he hurts along the way.

This truly was an unforgettable night at the ‘theatre’ for me and I am so glad I had the chance to experience it, I only wish I could do so again. I noticed on the Library Theatre’s website they had given you their top tips for enjoying your visit to Hard Times, so, in a blatant act of plagiarism, I thought I would round off by giving you Alison’s Top Tips for a Good Time at Hard Times

  • Make the most of Coketown – some of the people in our intake did the ‘museum walk’ - down to the end of the walkway, glancing at the tableaus, then gathering at the far end near to exit door and just watching what was going on there. You’ll miss a lot doing that. Take your time, revisit some of the areas you have already seen, especially once the mill workers return from their toils. Things change, people move about, there is so much to take in just hang about and absorb it.
  • Once you enter the main performance space there will be a little gap before the main action starts. Have a good old nosey round, take in the detail, it’s amazing.
  • Flat comfy shoes are good! As are comfortable and practical clothes. You might want to perch on a bench, lean against a pillar, sit on the floor – you want to be able to concentrate on the action, not worry about snagging your best silk!
  • Use the space, surround the action. There is plenty of room for everyone to see, you don’t have to watch things from a specified place.
  • Don’t be all reserved and dawdle from scene to scene, keep up with the action or you might miss something. But equally keep your eyes open, sometimes there may be characters away from the main point of focus that you might want to keep an eye on!
  • And finally, give yourself a massive pat on the back for being lucky enough to secure a ticket for this amazing event, they are like gold dust. If this is the standard of the site specific work the Library Theatre Company have in store for us we are all in for a treat. I hope you all love it as much as I did.

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