The heady mix of anticipation, apprehension and excitement emanating from the dozen-odd actors assembled at the foot of the stage in the Rhodes Theatre was palpable, infecting the audience.
Although about to play Shakespeare, they were dressed in their everyday clothes and there was no set on stage. But the tension radiating out of them placed them in the separate realm that full costume accomplishes. The audience were atwitter (the real twittering, not the online version), laughing, nervous for the actors, some of whom scanned the tiered rows recognising friends and then giving them that gallows stare; their eyes like black holes sucking sustenance and support from those who know and love them, smiles tight. Others were withdrawn into themselves, focusing internally.
For this is no ordinary rendition of Hamlet they were about to perform. It was to be a Tim Carroll version. No costumes, no set, and a lot of curve balls.
Once the audience, through some sort of communal telepathic agreement, quietened down, Tim gave a speech explaining how this performance of Hamlet would work. It went something like this: Actors often find moments of magic during rehearsals, moments when everything clicks together and you are no longer playing a character, you are the character. This often happens when a spanner has been thrown into the works somehow, and the way the actors adapt to them is exactly the way the character they are playing would have adapted if it was their real life. And then everyone gets goosebumps and says ‘that was cool, we’ve got to replicate that in the show’. But you never can, no matter how hard you try.
So Tim’s theory is to throw as many spanners in the works as possible so that the entire performance is subjected to vagaries the actors cannot foresee. He has a number of spanners up his sleeve. One of these is random casting, but in order to do this everyone must have memorised the lines of all the possible characters in the play. Given that he was working with this set of incredibly talented South African actors for a limited period of time, he compromised by having each actor memorise three roles. Additionally, the audience was requested to bring an object with them, these were then harvested as props, to be used as much as possible in keeping with the original intended use of the article.
Thus in last night’s once-off demonstration of this technique there was a hilarious duel in which Hamlet was armed with an empty old camera case and Laertes with a spanner.
Also, Tim shifts the space they are playing in around. Last night this mostly took the form of shifting he audience around and having some of the scenes played in the aisles and seating area.
This idea of Tim’s was born in Hungary and he works it at The Factory in England. Apparently a play by these precepts either works magically or it’s a complete, stilted frustrating flop.
Well, last night’s single performance was not a flop. It had many moments of magic, and offered an intimate window into the actors’ world.
All involved in The Framework in Jozi, the South African offshoot of The Factory, said the exercise stretched their acting abilities to the limit, pushing them to the next level of their art. Keep an eye on this bunch. They’re already so good, and they’re only going to get better. Exciting stuff.