by Grace Andrews
Week 4, and we propel into a new pace. We face the London Associates showing on Friday, and as this deadline looms we grasp the opportunity to tell this story with a feverish energy. The pressure of welcoming people into our space and embracing fresh eyes is daunting, as we have found a dynamic I feel protective of. We are direct, we challenge and provoke each other daily, all with nurture, support and championing our individuality at the forefront. Our occasional dysfunction often results in the most interesting discoveries. We push on.
Ophelia constantly throws up fresh challenges for me, and with the help of my fellow actors I continue to find new and surprising colours in her text. On first reading the part, I felt a confidence and affinity with her character, the words she chooses and her rhythm of speech. The clarity of her thoughts sung out, and I knew I could attempt to tell her story with truth – and enable her journey to support and fuel this play. I knew I could learn to tell her story with raw and fierce positivity.
But as the weeks have gone on, I feel I have lost some of that clarity to self-doubt, and I now feel a little at sea. Am I being too generalised? Painting her with too broad a brush? Will it ever be enough? Part of the magic of this process is the freedom of no director, but that is also a huge challenge as we lack an outside eye who can validate or critique our choices, and who rationally and objectively can keep a sense of the arc of the play. We are required to work alone, think big, and stand by our decisions – and at times it is hard to sustain the confidence to do so.
However, the brilliance of this company is that, more than ever, you are held up by the words. Shakespeare offers us everything we need, and the more trust that, and the more we mine this text the more beauty, pain and life we discover. Lines of verse you feel you have known your whole life suddenly jump out to arrest you with a searing honesty.
A particular challenge within my part is the doubling of playing both Ophelia and Laertes. As siblings, their relationship shares a tenderness and trust unlike any other in the play, and their direct and protective filial love is played out mainly through absence of each other in momentous life events; their father’s death, Ophelia’s heartbreak and loss of innocence, and Laertes’ violent revenge.
On a rushed and frantic lunch break in Brixton, I came across some sheer and colour-less organza material, which looked and moved mysteriously like water. Something about it drew me in, and I bought a few meters, slightly amused at myself and thinking, ‘How on earth is this going to help?’ Back in the rehearsal room, as I was desperately folding it in different configurations in an attempt to resemble some kind of dress, we discovered a face forming. If you gathered the fabric in your fist, doubled it over and with a little twist and allowed her body to drape down to the floor, suddenly Laertes seemed holding Ophelia as a puppet. It is remarkable how quickly something comes alive if you endow it with breath and care. In small touches, mischievous exchanged looks, and a shared sense of play, I began to find their connection. The quality of the fabric offered me a softness and grace to match, both vocally and physically. It was moving to find her being passed between her brother and her father, who in a way see her less as a person with an identity, but as a shape they can master.
Whether we use it or not in the final production, by discovering this puppet, I feel like I have come closer to finding Ophelia’s spirit.