Friday – Week 2

Work restarts on the second look at Act One.  It seems sometime ago since the Company worked through this, although in reality it is only 6 days.  This second pass through the play starts the process of bringing together the character choices into a cohesive and clear whole, establishing the pitch and tone of scenes and firming up the decisions on all aspects – practical needs, character through lines, intentions etc. The production is focussing upon creating strongly dynamic visual images, and the company work on creating visual images and moments is key in enabling this theatrical language to come to life onstage.

Thursday – Week 2

With act one and act two having had a thorough exploration, today is dedicated to a rehearsal walk-through of all the staging, characters and ideas of the production.  It’s not a full run, but rather a chance to see everything it its correct order and place, a chance for the acting company to consider the overall arc of their character and to establish the rise and fall of their character throughout the course of the show.  This is incredibly useful both from a practical perspective (providing for example approximate running times  – 48 mins and 40 mins respectively per act) but also from the point of view of the overall tone and impact of the production, highlighting key aspects of the connection between the production and the audience.

Wednesday – Week 2

With the completion of Davie’s journey, the conclusion of the story line turns back to his rightful inheritance of the House of Shaw’s estate.  The ‘kidnap’ plot of the novel forms the outer structure of the storyline, proving the opportunity for Davie to undergo his education, and the conclusion – his rightful restoration as Laird of the House of Shaws – provides the resounding conclusion.  Yet Stevenson leaves an alternative thought in the text: Yes, Davie regains his inheritance but, as Stevenson indicates, all he can really think about is Alan Breck Stewart.  His victory over his Uncle is welcome, but it comes at the cost of a friendship lost.  This counter-point is key for us.  The plot resolution is useful in concluding the storyline, but the more important aspects are: at what cost does Davie recover his Estate?   What have his experiences done to his view of Scotland and its future?  What purpose or role can people like Alan Breck play in Davie’s ordered Presbyterian world?  This is the sting in the tail of the novel, a question left hanging over a neatly re-ordered plot: Alan has shown Davie much, he has changed Davie, Scotland can no longer be as simple or as clear-cut as it was in his mind at the start of the novel.  His world view has been fundamentally changed to include new, radical, more dangerous ideas!

Tuesday – Week 2

Work continues on the staging of act two, exploring and discovering different options on staging the many different legs of the journey across Scotland.  Different approaches to presenting travelling are tried and developed, or discarded, according to suitability.  Everything needs to revolve around conjuring up the essential spirit of each place visited and each path travelled, each different detail is important: time of day, the weather, the landscape, season, passage of time, length of route travelled etc. all become key ingredients in distinguishing between just “general travelling” and “travelling with purpose from one place to another”.  The journey must change over time, the characters must know their environment changes as they walk through it and are shaped by it.

Monday – Week 2

With the key themes, world of play and characters established in the first week’s work on act one, week two begins with an exploration of the key creative challenges of the second act.  The main thrust of the plot in act two concerns Alan Breck and Davie Balfour’s journey west to east across Scotland, through glens and over mountains, pursued by Redcoat Soldiers.  The challenge here is to create this onstage pursuit, the sense of travel, passage of time, risk and danger, whilst remaining throughout onstage.  How to take the characters and the audience from Mull to Glencoe, Rannoch Moor to the lowlands of Lothian and all points in-between.  There’s a temptation here to make the journey overly comic, to have great fun with the running around, the near misses, the general heightened sense of emotion.  But this inevitably leads to a loss of the atmospheres and meanings of these places.  Instead, the pursuit/journey story needs to be taken seriously.  Davie’s physical journey across Scotland is a map of his intellectual and emotional story as his relationship with Alan Breck grows and he begins to learn more and more about the communities and people he visits: a Scotland, a language, a highland community, a way of life of which he knows very little.  His journey of learning is as important as the physical journey to escape the danger of arrest.

DAY FIVE

With initial staging work on Act One almost complete, the morning session concludes the ‘first look’ at the end of the act, finishing the  staging and character moments up to the interval (when Davie is ship-wrecked).
This presents the opportunity to ‘run’ Act One in full in order to get a first sense of the overall shape of the act.  To consider what aspects are finding their mark, and which areas need additional clarity of intent.  It also allows a first glimpse into a running time.  This ‘first walk trough’ is important not because it reflects the likely end-point, but because it provides an opportunity for the acting company to begin to piece together the arc of their character journey and to find where to pitch the character emotionally.
The first walk-though goes well, but does also throw up a new creative challenge – the passage of time within the story is hard to interpret for an audience.  In the novel, the passage of time is extensive – some three months in total.  Establishing this kind of precise time structure is more difficult on stage and there is a sense in which the pure pace of the production (act one running time approx 50 mins) might mean that the time-passage is less clear, that everything seemingly happens ‘all at once’.
Further work on establishing the passage of time, and therefore the extensive scope of the play, will be needed.

DAY FOUR

Rehearsal development continues on a the overall ‘shape’ of the play onstage, creating a theatrical-dramatic language to support and extend the play text, and which can help establish the many locations and landscapes of Stevenson’s novel.  It’s a establishing particular challenge of working with Stevenson’s writing – his detailed and evocative descriptions and use of many locations do not immediately enable simple dramatisation.  The Company’s rehearsal work, including world of play and character, also includes developing an approach to ‘creating place by atmosphere’ providing just enough supporting theatrical detail to give the audience  a clear sense of place and/or period for the scenes.
There’s clearly two approaches to this kind of non-naturalistic staging.  The first leads a pastiche of the novel, using theatrical craft to essentially send-up the swashbuckling elements, creating a stage parody, a piece of knowing silliness in which the actors has fun with the adventure story in a creaky amateur-dramatics-company style.   The trouble with this approach is that it runs counter to the spirit of the novel – there’s little in Kidnapped which is overtly comic in intent.  The truth of the story lies in Davie’s coming-of-age, a young man learning something about his own country.  To send it up is to undermine it.
The second approach takes the drama more seriously, and actively avoids the pastiche element, aiming instead to establish the theatrical life of the production by respecting and enhancing the inherent journey of Davie Balfour – but to do so with clear images and a clearly defined theatrical style.  This is the approach we have been taking. Throughout Thursday, as staging rehearsals progress, the Company have been working on creating and establishing the sense of place and action through atmosphere, seeking a theatrical style beyond naturalism for presenting the scenes and discovering the imaginative possibilities of this story-driven approach.

Day 3 Blog!

The first week of rehearsals inevitably involves ‘getting the show on it’s feet’ – the first stage in moving from a script to a drama.  There’s in essence two ways of approaching this: firstly, to stage each scene according to a pre-worked out directors blueprint of moves, ‘blocking’ the play or alternatively, to investigate the ideas and potential of each scene through simple ideas, exercises, improvisations or games which attempt to discover the potential for drama and/or dramatic relationships inherent in the script/scene.
We are engaged in a process which makes more use of the second option – which means the Company’s creative experience is more collective, more discovery led, more detailed at an early stage but also ‘slower’, ground is covered less quickly, ideas are shaped in layers of discovery, altered or reformed successively.  It’s intrinsically a more open-ended approach to making theatre and one in which less is definitively fixed at an early stage, lines are sometimes chopped or changed to bring additional clarity to the scene or to draw out a new discovery.  Actors need a flexible and investigative framework in which the can bring the best of their ideas to the character portrayal.
By the end of day three we have established a strong creative approach which allows the script to move freely across the stage, liberally absorbing visual ideas and sound design elements into the work in idea form to help create the atmosphere’s of Stevenson’s writing, and to respond to the creative question how to evoke its places and rhythms, to set the many scenes for the characters to tell their stories: now an old rambling Scots manse, now a Borders country lane, now Queensferry, now the interior of an 18th century inn, now the hold of a ship….
It’s an exciting phase, one full of potential, and simultaneously full of creative challenges as our early ideas and responses begin to piece themselves coherently together.

DAY TWO BEGINS

Kidnapped, like much of the best drama, is character driven – it’s the thoughts and feelings, the social world, the relationships between people which provide the mainspring into dramatic action.  Today, we begin to investigate the opening characters of the text: Davie Balfour and his Uncle, Ebeneezer Balfour.
Somewhat traditionally, characters in this novel are often perceived (And subsequently represented) as fairly basic archetypes: in this instance, the naive young man and his scheming, evil Uncle.  Whilst there may be an element of truth, and therefore usefulness, in keeping these basic ‘character types’ in mind, a more effective way into beginning this work is to understand something of the social and political milieu of 1750’s Scotland.  Characters don’t simply exist as a collection of personality traits, they exist in a particular place at a particular time and this is a key determinant in their beliefs.values/morals/concept of the world and subsequently how they behave in their world.
1750’s Scotland represents a completely different landscape of society to our own.  Young Davie has been schooled, and likely in the Church of Scotland tradition – a utilitarian world perspective with defined social codes and ethics, ways of being, a vision of Scotland with a strong Union relationship with England, a respect for authority (and the Law).   His knowledge of the Jacobite tradition, a Highland way of life and being, is probably non-existent, and limited only to a few historical facts relating to the 15, the 45 and Culloden as being a victory for common sense.
For this is play with two distinct worlds: the highlands (Jacobite, Catholic-leaning, A Clan and Extended Clam Family social structure, local clan laws, subsistence rural lifestyles, a Gaelic language) and in contrast The Lowlands (Unionist, protestant-leaning, Lack of clan structure, The Law as something delivered by the state and distinct from community law, a growing merchant class, a growth of cities, a movement away from subsistence farming into industrialisation, a predominant Scots English language).
1750’s Scotland is a nation divided by these two cultural and political traditions, the change in landscape from Mountains/Glens to valleys and fields as marked the then Highland Line is more than a change of topography or geography, its a change of world view.
Davie Balfour is naive, not so much as a character trait, but naive in his understanding that Scotland is two worlds, which are locked in a bitter battle in the aftermath of military defeat for the Jacobite cause to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Scottish throne.  Davie Balfour is naive because he knows little of his country.  His journey across Scotland is much more than one through the landscape, its one in which he comes to discover something of the competing ideas about what kind of future Scotland faces.

First day of Rehearsal

This is, perhaps more than any other, the most important day of the creative process of making theatre.  A collection of individuals, highly skilled actors, stage managers, composers, designer and director,  come together to try to form an exciting, working, creative group of artists that can engage and inspire one another.  They may know each other already, or more likely they may not.  Day One provides that first small glimpse into what it might be possible to achieve together as a team, a sum greater than its individual parts, in just 20 days from start to finish.

And so Day One is to some extent all about rituals and traditions: scarves and coats off, welcomes, introductions, conversation, tea and coffee, health and safety and of course, the first read-through.

A new play-script, a brand new adaptation of that much loved novel Kidnapped.  Its a weighty responsibility – this seemingly simple novel is much admired and continues to exert, even in our more cynical post-modern time, a powerful hold perhaps due to its evocative descriptions of Scotland, and young Davie Balfour’s kidnap adventure that sees him travel the breadth of this land.

And as with any adaptation, the question/dilemma of ‘faithfulness’ will arise.  To what extent can or should a piece of theatre be ‘faithful’ to its source material, the novel?  What has been kept? What has been discarded? And why? Of course, the process of adapting a novel for drama is inherently unfaithful – for the minute the form is changed (where the reader must become the audience, the individual becomes the collective) then we have become unfaithful by default.  Stevenson envisaged a novel, he wrote a novel.  And so by changing this very fact, we’ve become unfaithful to him by some large degree.

What we can seek is a ‘faithfulness’ to the spirit, the idea, the momentum, the creative purpose of the novel.  These things become central to the debates, discussions, and discoveries.  What was Stevenson exploring with Kidnapped, what did he seek to evoke in his reader, what passion, what questions, what thinking did he as a writer desire that we engaged with?  It is these central tenets that concern us as we grapple with the first read-through.  Our adaptation seeks to relate to Stevenson’s core ideas, the spirit of his novel, and thus to retain its faithfulness-in-essence whilst not being slavish or unduly bound, to a literalism in moving from novel to stage.

And as we  read this new play for the first time, some of these ideas begin to become clear.  Stevenson’s central character, young Davie Balfour, is the heart of the matter.  His journey in the novel is a hard, physical, journey from place to place, but the real purpose of this is that his journey represents that of a relatively naive young man entering an adult world – of injustice, of vengeance, in a Scotland rapidly changing its social structures.  Kidnapped is an adventure story, yes, but set in a complex world of social and political turmoil in mid Eighteenth century Scotland.   Davie Balfour’s’ boy-to-man tale is more than an enjoyable yarn of intrigue and mini-boys-own-adventures, it is also a complex morality tale of (some) good and (some) evil and one in which Davie learns, perhaps for the first time, what kind of country Scotland – or more precisely Highland Scotland – actually is.