Wow. Last night we had our preview performance of Free for All in Stratford-upon-Avon. About 25 friends and colleagues came out to support us, and it was wonderful to see the play on its feet, running to time, and inspiring just the kind of laughter and surprise which we knew it could bring out in an audience.
Afterwards, we held a talkback with the cast and crew which brought out some really interesting ideas, from our first viewers and from the actors who have made the show what it is today. Many of these were really helpful for my research into verse drama: audience members who didn’t know the play was in verse beforehand picked up the rhythm as the play went along, commenting that even when lines weren’t clearly iambic the whole show had a certain ‘atmosphere’ which made it feel different from other theatre.
We talked about how the contemporary nature of the dialogue made the verse feel less likeverse, both to audience members and actors more used to the distancing effect of Shakespearean poetic language. Some felt that having a poetic underpinning, however, could allow the language to be heightened whenever it was needed, giving permission for non-naturalistic transitions to occur. One Shakespeare Institute student compared the rhymed sections to ‘incantations’ – a term I’ve thought about a lot in my research, and which suggests the association of verse in theatre with ritual and the supernatural. It was great to have some hypotheses concerned by spectators thinking along similar lines, and others challenged by the way the audience responded.
Some of the most interesting contributions came from our cast, who spoke about what demands the verse put on their performance. Jayne, playing Kerry, mentioned the challenge of finding freedom within restrictions, and Chris, playing Torben, drew attention to the line-break (an aspect of the script I’ve been particularly hammering.) Chris felt that the verse dictated performance choices in a way that might otherwise be left to the actor or director, creating pauses which punctuated dialogue and made it necessary to find moments of thought or discovery within those breaks.
Some even wondered what difference laughter might make – is it possible for a shared metrical line to hold together when a comic moment calls for its own breathing space? I think so, and I’d rather have an audience laughing than bored by a metrically perfect machine. As the show has come together, what’s exciting is the way actors have found a balance between the two – respecting the metre while allowing emotion, comedy and conflict to conduct them through the metred lines. We’re looking forward to showing you how that works in practice in our Edinburgh run – but for now, here’s some pictures of last night!
Audience members were also invited to contribute their thoughts to our online feedback survey, and we’re hoping to see some of our first written responses soon. The survey can be found here.
We’ll have more updates during our first week of performances – see you at the Fringe!