By Grace Andrews
Rehearsals begin. The start of a new project always brings such anticipation, joy and hope for the weeks ahead – it’s a golden few hours where anything is possible. We have the freedom and power to take the enormity of this text, Hamlet, a play with such a powerful pulse – and make it live. What an opportunity! I walk through the hazy Brixton streets on Day 1, clutching the crutch of my morning coffee, and take a breath.
I’m there early, and wait in the stillness of the empty rehearsal room. A space we have to fill with words. I’m struck by the fact that, somehow, the five of us have found our way here – brought together by the task to tell this story. Our lives, professional and personal journeys are unique and unlike each others, and will each inform the way we approach this work – each having already made many small or huge conscious or unconscious decisions about the way we think it should be told. With no comforting outside eye of a director, we will each have to lead, yield, shift, surprise each other and join forces – it is our job to form an ensemble. The words bring us together. The play’s the thing.
We’re off, and we start with a read-through. There is an undeniable passion, drive and care in the room. I instantly feel supported – which helps, as to be honest, I began this process overwhelmed by the stretch of playing Ophelia. I have lost sleep over how to speak her words with truth and integrity, from a place of honesty, and do her justice. In the months leading up to this week, I have had moments of stark realisation of who she is. Lines have jumped out at me with gut-wrenching clarity. And then occasionally I lose the sense, and the arc of her journey and madness seems so far from anything I know. But I do know what it is to be misunderstood. I know what it is to have strong men in my family. I know what it is to be in love, and I know what it is to lose it. So I have to trust that. And in doing so, I suddenly I see her as the most sane of them all.
Throughout the week we work, hard, and begin to unlock this play and discover a dynamic between us. Sometimes it’s glorious. Sometimes it isn’t easy. There is an atmosphere of joy, fear, courage, and play. We are all different, and stronger together for it. We are polite, but we also challenge, provoke and inspire simultaneously as we find our way of working. We have conflict, we share the brilliance of breakthroughs, and we laugh a lot. I can’t get the image of Chinese bamboo out of my head – which you water for five years with only stillness in the soil. Then suddenly, BAM! – a strong and beautiful bamboo grows at an alarming rate, up and out.
We share a sense of the political, unable to ignore the world outside our little room in South London. We talk about America, Trump, gun-crime, gender politics, misogyny, #metoo, the male gaze, female empowerment, technology, the threat of terror, war, mental health, betrayal, revenge, fake-news, global warming… as all the while the streets of London get hotter and hotter. We share our fears and our hopes. We bang a drum, and imagine and play out an under-world of this story – what Hamlet really sees in his mother, in Ophelia, in his father’s ghost. I shudder in imagining this in our lives, how we live so close to hearing a drum beat and our worst fears being realised. I share a Janis Joplin quote, that we must ‘Dare to go for the underbelly.’
We face week 2. We have marked out a circle on the floor in tape, which is our playing space. It sometimes seems like a boxing ring as we take on this beast of a play. I look forward to the wrestle.