There’s probably an old Chinese proverb that says if you’re going to put on a play you’ve written yourselves don’t make the central character a cat who’s as big as a village. It says something about our lack of pragmatism that 6 months ago when we first dreamed up the project, this problem seemed completely surmountable. All we needed was a building-sized inflatable cat, 3 or 4 enormous actors tied together inside a lycra catsuit, a sea of living, breathing, cat material complete with wind machine and a cat projection the size of hyde park. We hit earth and the budget at roughly the same time. We realised that not only could we not afford a projection the size of Hyde park but we couldn’t actually afford to photocopy anything bigger than A3. Typically undaunted, Ceri slipped away and produced 5 cats of varying sizes which looked great in her front room. But it’s fair to say that when the freshly grown Cat 2 made his appearance today, not even the Ruth Calkin effect could make him appear anything other than rueful.
A few other frustrations. We’ve blown most of our budget on 4 boxes which were designed to be manipulated into any location. They would be all singing, all dancing, all supporting multi-purpose set solutions. Sadly, once built, they are all but immoveable. Ceri finally succeeded in screwing wheels onto them and I have never seen her so close to tears. Our kindly donated rehearsal space does not include night time storage so we have to gamely dismantle and remantle the boxes daily. By the end of the week I have no doubt they will be managing the dismantling bit by themselves – it quickly became clear that we would not be dancing on them any time soon.
There were huge compensations. During the read-through it was obvious that we’d bagged some delicious acting talent. Emma Manton brought with her a portrayal of motherhood right from the centre of her own experience which was delicate, real and a beautiful grounding counterbalance to Ceri’s flighty and determined Linnet. Ruth, the puppeteer breathed life into the motley assortment of objects with shocking speed. They became not the friendly caracatures that I’d optimistically imagined but detailed carismatic human beings. She looked anxious when she first saw the 2 dimensional cat but by the end of the day announced it was her favourite puppet ever. It was clearly mutual, David Bowie was here to stay – a living, breathing scrap of feline indifference and indignance stealing each scene with a tiny shake of his head.
And it’s increasingly clear how lucky we are to have Harry Sever’s music, so affecting that the mantra of the day became “oh just put the music on and it’ll make it better.”
Our lighting designer, Sherry Coenen arrived and managed to hide her dismay that we were in a room with no lights whatsoever – she had thought by “studio” I meant “studio theatre”. However she was quickly indispensable marking up the Little Angel stage and constantly reminding us of how unusable certain areas of the stage (such as the floor) were. Luckily Ruth manages to make a flying cat perfectly plausible.
Ceri arrived with a new giant cat which she’d whipped up over breakfast. He’s a lumbering beauty and makes us all feel much more cheerful. We are eating a hell of a lot of biscuits.
It is Sherry’s birthday. Ceri tells me on no account to buy her a banana cake. Emma, who is squeezed into my house, runs to the shop and brings back a carrot cake. I veto it, having mixed up carrots with bananas. We return to buy a chocolate cake. Midway through the morning, Front of House arrive with a crate of cupcakes sent by Sherry’s doting husband. We now have 2 packets of biscuits, one large box of biscuits, one box of French fancies, a massive box of cupcakes and 2 large cakes. The mountain of cakes seems somehow relevant to the play and my state of mind.
Harry (composer) arrived and for the first time I felt conscious of how feminine the room has been up to now – although Harry is hardly a clumsy specimen of manhood. There’s no harm in the odd generalization – there is something work-horsey about a room full of women, a rigorous attention to detail. On several occasions I have suggested we move on only to hear a chorus of “can we just do it one more time”. We are relying on a lot of goodwill from the cast – breaks are a virtual impossibility in such short days, biscuits have to be eaten on the hoof. The day is only broken up by visits from my mother and 5 month old baby who needs feeding. It’s the first time in her life that I have been guilty of occasionally forgetting about her. Both the cast and the baby are remarkably accepting of the situation.
Our magnificent clarinetist, Oli Pashley arrived and it turns out that he can act as well – although he claims he’s never done it before. When he came in as Linnet’s dad at the end of the play with his mellifluous “Hello little friend” I felt that sort of misty tingle you get when something starts to add up to more than the sum of its parts.
It seemed insane but we had to do a run sometime. In the event we did two. The first was a panicked jumble but the cast managed on the whole not to bump into the furniture and got things mostly in the right place. The second was more settled and the story started to take shape. There were definite tingle moments and moments of sheer joy and release such as when the black cat appears and prowls around the room. It is incredible that a cut-out head can look so over-fed. The afternoon was spent working on relationships and journey, both which have suffered a little from the juggernaut advance of our short week. After a series of watery jokes about what a good place we were in for the end of the first week, we parted cheerfully. Ceri and I to a weekend of the oddest jobs list ever and the others back to their real lives. When I got home to feed Lara I felt more exhausted than I think I’ve ever felt. But exhilarated. Definitely exhilarated.
For information on all of the shows performing at FIRSTS Festival 2014 and to book tickets, visit the Little Angel FIRSTS website.