In the latest edition of the Creation Podcast Charlie grabbed 10 minutes with Director Deborah newbold to talk all things Bleak House and get the view from inside the rehearsal room. There’s more chat in the full podcast, which you can listen to here.
Deborah Newbold: Olivia Mace the writer has done an amazing job of cutting down this really dense novel into a play, and now our job is to almost streamline that and find the muscularity of it when you put it on its feet. Not only that, there are only 5 actors telling that story, they’re multi-rolling and I daftly said ‘oh no, I don’t want recorded music, we need to provide all the music’ because that’s my taste, to declare everything. So they’re also having to play and sing, so yeah, it’s a logistical and energetic and narrative sandpit that we’re playing in at the minute!
Charlie Morley: Everything barrels through so fast, which I think might be the opposite of what you expect from a Dickens adaptation. When we first started looking at this Lucy said ‘there’s a BBC adaptation you could watch and it’s eight hours or something’ and I thought ‘I can sort of picture the pace of that, I can picture there’s going to be a lot of still shots of dusty rooms and carriages’ and this has none of that, this is all human beating hearts, and lifeblood of this story; there are so many great characters in it.
DN: There’s not a ponderous moment in it really, and you’re right, the scenes are quite short, they whip along really fast, and that appeals to me massively. Both myself and Liv the writer have worked at The Globe a lot, and we know that style of ‘let’s have one scene ending as another is beginning’ and that speaks to the way I like to work, and also to the space. It’s worth mentioning Blackwell’s Bookshop – there’s nowhere to hide, I’ve chosen to do it in the round so again everything is totally and utterly declared, I’m having to find a way of framing the way we tell the story, so not just the story that Liv has given us, but I’ve got to try and find a way of framing the act of telling story. Because we can’t pretend we’re in Bleak House, we’ve got to know we’re in Blackwell’s Bookshop and we’ve got to acknowledge and celebrate that. I feel like my job, as much as staging the scenes that are there, is also to stage the act of telling the story, which these five actors are going to do amazingly because they’re absolutely brilliant.
I want the audience to feel like they’re part of the fabric of the act of telling the story in some way, and that sounds a bit ‘artsy’, but what I mean, is that in the most sincerely practical way.
CM: These guys went to Blackwell’s this morning and had a look round and a lot of the cast have never been there before, and Sophie commented “it’s amazing, when you’re on the stage you can see into the whole Bookshop, and I said “the funny thing about Blackwell’s too is because you’re standing on the stage the audience are seated you’re at eye level, you’re so so close.” It’s incredibly intense that experience, because you’re all on top of each other!
DN: Absolutely, and I think it will feel really intimate. Also, it’s got the ability, that space, because you’re aware that there are other rooms leading off, big rooms, there’s also a possibility to make it a big, sonorous, celebratory space as well. It’s got a lot of scope, even though it’s got loads of restrictions. But restrictions are really fun, they make you think outside the box, which is why I’m tired – I’ve been doing that for two and a half days!
CM: The music as well is really exciting; we’ve never done live music and singing in Blackwell’s.
DN: You see I didn’t know that when I suggested it, and I’m really excited by that. It never occurred to me do it any other way. I’m quite excited about the logistical issues that are thrown up by the actors having to do so much because it means, ‘right, we really have to find a way of dramatizing the act of telling the story’, and that, for me has become the mantra of my thoughts, whenever I’m veering off or wondering how am I going to do this bit I go back to that thought, and actually I just find it dead exciting.
CM: It is exciting. It’s really fun as well, there are so many fantastic characters and things that are about to pop up. And then you add in that someone is about to sing, and someone will play the viola! I think the audience are going to be really engaged all the way through, because there’s so much going on.
DN: I think so yeah, there’s a lot to look at, even though there are only five actors, and a lot to listen to. It’s going to be a treasure box really. We’ve just been doing a bit of stuff with the songs this morning and it’s sounding great. Joe Atkins, the MD is doing an amazing job, he’s been getting the actors in to singing, helping them learn them, but also you can see him painting a picture with them, that’s been beautiful to look at and to listen to. So yeah, I’m dead excited!
Scandal. Secrets. Obsession.
Watch Dickens’ classic tale of inheritance, mystery and obsession, surrounded by three miles of bookshelves in Blackwell’s subterranean Norrington Room.
Esther does not know who she is by birth, but when her Godmother dies and she is sent to Bleak House, that’s when her life really begins…