By Josh Goulding
Towards the end of Toshiki Okada’s Current Location, a murder takes place. Though there are two characters in the original scene, FellSwoop Theatre have been experimenting with the entire cast of six, who in rehearsals have been committing the crime in collaboration. During a recent improvised run-through, which I sat in on as dramaturg for the piece, the climactic moment of the scene was given another chilling dimension by the audible children playing outside, situated as the rehearsal space is next to a primary school. The scene, already dreadfully macabre, was furnished with a nightmarish atmosphere: I was watching an incident taking place in total isolation, removed from the uncomprehending world external to it and, though terrible, ultimately inconsequential. In short, what was happening on stage was a grim distraction from the outside world, which was suddenly rendered with a sharp clarity I was unaware of before the death-blow was struck: the laughter of a child; the sound of a whistle; the kicking of a ball. What I was witnessing, though a fiction, threw the ‘real’ world outside into light. It was a very important moment as it achieved the subtle aim of our decision to stage Okada’s piece. Though Current Location is itself a distraction from the very issues going on ‘outside’ the theatre space that it deals with, it must be played to create that awareness itself. The lie is posited to reveal the truth.
Since writing the last article, FellSwoop Theatre have now progressed well into rehearsals for Current Location. So far it has been a process of discovery, as the ensemble work together to unearth the drama in the play and find the motives which drive the characters’ actions. The previous anecdote has been one of various moments in which an insight into the play has been revealed to us, and we continue to rehearse with an eagerness to encounter these revelations. A theatre company’s initial approach to a play is often a daunting task, fraught with false starts, hesitations, and frustrating disincentives. As such, ways must be found which inspire confidence and creativity in any group making their first steps towards performing a text; ways which do not necessarily have to be script-centred. By taking the essential themes of the play: isolation; escape; fear, and using these as a departure point for group exercises and play-based games, a wealth of material has be found simultaneous with a build towards working on particular scenes. Slowly, the group has been inspired to think of ways in which the script could be interpreted whilst feeling less intimidated by a play which, at first glance, can appear inaccessible and esoteric. By breaking down our process into issues surrounding approaching the text and character development, I can begin to present to you the successes and failures we have achieved as we move towards our first performance of the play in Bristol on March 24th.
With regard to our first dealings with the text, various exercises that do not make use of the script – but are directly related to issues at the work’s core – have been used.
What is clear on a first reading of Current Location is the isolation which afflicts both the village setting and its resident characters. Respectively, some of the villagers have a strong desire to leave the village due to a belief in its impending destruction, but feel incapable of doing so, whilst others are adamant in their apparent security: they cannot tolerate the fears and anxieties of their co-habitants due to their own fear that collective terror will lead to the village’s doom. Ironically, they are scared of their neighbour’s fear, and actively work to suppress it, in the aforementioned scene to murderous effect. To address these complex and integral themes, the cast were paired off and instructed to undertake an exercise in which person one attempted to leave the room out of fright, whilst person two, though similarly scared, could not allow their partner to leave. Meanwhile, both laughed to mask their fear. As the exercise played out, an almost palpable hysteria entered the room as the overriding sense of fear mingled with the laughter. The mania played out as the struggle of each cast-member betrayed the sound they made. Through this and other exercises, we have begun to excavate the conflicts which lie beneath the words of the characters and to slowly pull down the initial barrier of a truly dramatic play: the fact that what the characters say betrays what they really feel. Eventually, the internal fears and inner conflict of the characters can be made apparent to an audience beneath seemingly mundane dialogue.
In an attempt to further reveal the instances when the conflict within the characters are revealed, the cast have been re-writing scenes of the play using their own words, whilst maintaining the narrative check-points of each segment. The driving force behind the character’s action is their fear of the ominous cloud, and the rumours of it being an omen of the village’s destruction. Various methods were used by the cast to betray this fear: symbolic movement on stage, having the characters whisper a subtext, and physical neuroses being enacted during pauses in the dialogue being some examples. However, the difficulty in staging Current Location is making these unconscious fears, though obviously a fiction, translate into some real effect in the audience; making them aware that the fears they are witnessing are symptomatic of events which have happened in the reality outside the theatre space i.e. the awareness I had during the murder scene and its playground soundtrack. Hence, the play can be seen as a dream: a fictional vision that nonetheless has an impact. Like dreaming that you are drowning and waking up breathless, the symptoms of the nightmare are simulated and your own reality is put into focus. Ultimately, our aim as we continue rehearsing is to make the play to the audience the equivalent of what the cloud to the characters is: a trigger which makes us realise, at least for a moment, our own unconscious fears and what may be causing them. As the global population increases and the world’s environmental disaster continues to develop amidst our current technological revolution, something has to give. Current Location speaks directly to these fears.
Issues of character development have presented unique difficulties of their own. Though the cast is entirely female, gender is not an explicit theme of Current Location, and we have begun some preliminary work on the characters performing androgynously. The play is, after all, set in another world, and though the audience should not feel alienated from the piece, the characters exhibiting no recognisable or familiar gender traits is a device which can be used to make it clear that Current Location is a nightmare; not of this world. Costume will of course be one tool used to realise this androgyny and, though it is impossible to perform without identifiable gendered tropes, creating a dream-like world will be conducive to the play instilling the symptoms of the nightmare in the audience; if Artaud and his kaleidoscopic The Theatre and Its Double is to be seen clearly, “the audience will believe in the illusion of theatre on condition they really take it for a dream, not for a servile imitation of reality.” The contemporary fears our play trades in are too massive to be represented with any pretence to reality, so we must step away into fiction in order to see things with any clarity: the Earth can only be seen from space. Okada knows this, and his universal aesthetic can thus be transplanted into our own world.
As our six characters slowly grow and manifest into three-dimensional creations, the rehearsal will soon be upon us when the script and the cast’s subjects meet. This will be a critical moment. Here, the text will truly come alive, and I use the term ‘text’ in the sense that action, language, setting and other elements of the drama will come together to complete the dialogue Okada has gifted us. For now though, I hope I have given you at least a flavour of what FellSwoop’s progress so far has entailed, and that in some way you will be compelled to come and see, from the 24th onwards, the text as it lives, breathes, and dies in front of you.
Photo credits: Joanna Duncombe (@Jo_duncs)