26th August 2011
Raz Shaw has previously directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream (tour) in 2009/10 and Romeo and Juliet in 2008 for Shakespeare’s Globe. In this post he tells how he got involved in The God of Soho and the process of directing a bold new play in this unique theatre.
Last year Dominic Dromgoole comissioned Chris Hannan to write a piece for the Globe. He sent me a treatment version of the play and asked me to read it. It was gloriously mad. It made wonderful sense, yet didn’t make any sense at all. It was brave and courageous and rude, and funny and moving. And yet, in some ways, indecipherable. I thought if this is a treatment of a full length play,well, there’s just so much in it. It’s bursting at the seams. I had no idea what the end result might be but there was something about it that was intriguing, exciting, unique and scary. I only like to do work that makes me scared otherwise there’s no point. This play has certainly made me scared for the last seven months!
Working with the playwright
I’ve worked on a lot of new plays and the joy of them is working with a living playwright and feeling like you can take a positive part in guiding the play to what the playwright has in his head. After I met Chris he started writing the first draft. He would send me ten pages; then another five and we’d talk about where it might go.
My job as a director with a new play is to facilitate the writer. I think it’s really important to step back and allow the playwright to do what they do best. Until we had a full first draft I very much was on the back foot so that if Chris needed help, advice or just a sounding board he would come to me and we would talk about it.
Once Chris had written the first draft, he demanded, in a good way, that we work together on discussing and pushing those parts of the play we both wanted to push. We did a reading and workshopped characters with first year drama students at RADA which was really useful. A lot of what we discovered there ended up in the rehearsal draft. We were very clear that we wanted to get the rehearsal draft to a point where big structural changes were not going to be made, but smaller changes, responding to what we were doing in the rehearsals could be.
Chris has such a unique voice and because of this he embraces and encourages you to be a proper sounding board. He has the strength of his own mind so if I, or an actor points something out and it makes sense to him he doesn’t have an ego about it and he will change it because it needs to change. Equally, I might think that something should go, or something should move, or be added to but he will be very clear if he feels it shouldn’t. I find that really positive and refreshing because he’s the writer, it comes from him and therefore ultimately we have to be true to his belief.
Learning to let go of the bits you love
Chris has been in rehearsals three quarters of the time which has been really useful for both me, and the actors. All the way along we’ve nipped, tucked and added things where necessary. Just before the last run in the rehearsal room we made a big cut which got a few gasps from a couple of actors, but we made it anyway. Sometimes you have to be quite tough in order to enhance the production as a whole. If they are great scenes, or great moments that the actors love, it can be hard to cut them. But you just have to hold on to your belief. It’s been a long process and with technical rehearsals and previews to come, the process of honing the play still hasn’t ended. It goes on and on!
The uniqueness of the Globe theatre
As we work through the technical rehearsals this week I’ve discovered doing a new play at the Globe means two things. One, you have to be very respectful of the words and two, you have to embrace the Globe in all its forms. Sometimes that means you have to direct a scene slightly differently to the way you would do in an indoor theatre. What the Globe gives any play, especially new plays, is extra resonance and relevance. They reach out immediately to the audience who respond right there in the moment, with the play, with the actors; with the themes of the play. We hear the words more, feel the emotions more and we listen to the story of the play more in some respects. So for me, the biggest challenge has been to allow the play to breathe and to imagine where it needs to sit in terms of its tempo, emotions and comic moments so that it works best in the Globe.
At the Globe we feel involved in the emotional stuff the actors are talking about because we are part of the same experience. There’s something really open hearted about the theatre and the audience that allow you to go somewhere that you might be slightly reluctant to go in other theatres.
I think the biggest surprise for me is that in a play which has so many moments that are funny, rude and sexy, it’s also about tiny emotional details. That’s why I love the Globe space, you can do both, almost at the same time. You can be raucous, riotous and anarchic, and within the next breath move people to tears. The juxtaposition of those two is what I think will make this play memorable.
It all comes down to love
The story of the play is three very real love stories. For me, I haven’t done my job with this play unless it’s very funny, very raucous, but also very moving because it is a love story. It’s about people trying to find love and trying to find what it means to love. It’s about people asking, Can I open my heart or does that leave me too vulnerable?
There’s some really moving little scenes between God and Mrs God. It feels, in the best way, very, very domestic. They have everything as a couple, they’re funny, rude; they’re dirty, moving and desperate. And at the same time they are just normal, down to earth people who happen to be God and Mrs God. I’m looking forward to seeing that relationship on stage. Additionally there’s some risqué scenes with nudity, rowdy goings on and mad carnivals which, let’s face it, will always be good on the Globe stage.