The Deep Blue Sea | Pre-Show Talk | Chichester Festival Theatre

The Deep Blue Sea | Pre-Show Talk | Chichester Festival Theatre


Kate: Hello and thank you very much for coming to this pre-show talk. I’m Kate Bassett and I’m the literary associate here at Chichester Festival Theatre. I’m delighted, intrigued and fascinated to be talking about “The Deep Blue Sea” this evening to the director Paul Foster. His CV, as you will see in the program is impressively long and varied including musicals and plays. I wonder, could we start with a very basic question? How did you come to this play? Or how did this play come to you? Paul: Well I grew up halfway between Manchester and Liverpool. If you’re a rugby league fan – near places like St Helen’s Widnes, Warrington. My library, (which of course you know we need to hold on to them), the local library had (if people remember them) those Methuen Editions. There was “The Caretaker” by Pinter. There was “A Taste of Honey”. “There was “The Deep Blue Sea “. We didn’t have that many other plays. I remember reading that and “A Streetcar Named Desire” when I was about 16 or 17. I loved “The Deep Blue Sea” when I read it. I thought it was most wonderful, wonderful play. I’m not really going overboard about what I’m going to say to you now, Kate. But I might as well say – while I’ve got you here captive – I was a year below Nancy Carrol at university. We went to university in Leeds. Nancy was going to apply for drama schools and she was looking at set speeches that she wanted to do. She was doing something from “Richard III” and “Lettice and Lovage”. She wanted another speech and I remember being in my bed sit in Leeds. I recommended – there’s a speech that Hester does in Act 2 about love. We do it in this door-frame and then on this chair. I remember Nancy just going through that. I can’t remember if she ever used it or not but she got into all those drama schools and the rest, as they say, is her CV. So we had a conversation all those years ago about maybe coming together and doing this play. We haven’t worked together for 24 years. Kate: Were you directing at that point? Paul: We were both students. I was doing the English and Spanish. She was doing Fine Art and we just did a student show together. We were both in it together. We’ve been friends but we’ve never worked together in those years. She, (out of loyalty I suppose) was offered to play Hester Collier about eight or nine years ago and she declined. I suppose we were on a promise which is very nice and very typical of her. Her CV, you know, speaks volumes. I’m really thrilled that Daniel asked us to do it here. For those have you who have seen it or who will see it, I think it gains hugely from being seen in an intimate setting rather than a sprawling setting. In fact, I’m not going to mention social media much, but we had a lady who came on Saturday night which was only our second preview. She said how wonderful it felt to be in the room with them rather than distant and interplanetary from them. But that’s Peter’s design and Natasha’s design and George’s. Kate: It’s also kind of appropriate, isn’t it, for a slightly low-budget flat. A small space feels right. Paul: Exactly. When the husband – I’m sure a lot of you know the play – but it’s a woman who leaves a marriage that she’s found stultifying to be with an ex RAF fighter pilot. All that the thrill that he might offer her. The husband, for various reasons in the first half (the estranged husband) comes through that door. He comes in and you have to feel that he’s come from Eton Square in Chelsea and Victoria. He comes through here, this bombed out part of Ladbroke Grove, The disdain and the disbelief of why she’s chosen this life path when he was offering her so much of worth. I think when you’re doing that on a space of such acreage it’s very hard for that to be conveyed. Whereas here with just these tokenistic and emblematic things it’s very easy. Kate: You obviously read Rattigan very early. Did that lead you on to know lots about Rattigan and research? Or did this idea of working with Nancy Carroll lead you to do lots of extra research? Paul: It wouldn’t be my chosen specialist subject on Mastermind. I don’t know all the plays. I know “Separate Tables” and a couple of others. I read both the biographies of him. I’ve seen bits of footage of him. But I did a lot of work on that post-war era 1945 to 1951. We’ve set this on September the 10th 1951. The music that’s played from the wireless were all songs that were in circulation 1949, 1950 early 1951. There’s a prop there which is “Theatre World” from two months before this is set. It’s as if on a nice date they’d been to a theatre. That Wisdens Almanac is from 1950. He’s a cricket fan. The Festival of Britain was on on the South Bank. No-one here is old enough to remember it I’m sure. But a lady actually who was sat up there on Saturday said she was taken as a girl. She recognised the pamphlet when Nancy turned through it. What I steeped myself in was the play and London and particularly North West London and rationing. Specifics from that time. Kate: I was going to ask about this – but obviously the answer is intrinsically in this sense “yes”. Did you try to be really historically accurate? Does that extend to how people are moving and talking? Or are you also interested in freeing it up? I suppose I’m thinking about things like Noel Coward where in recent decades they’ve slightly liberated the cut-glass accent. How did that work for you? Paul: We’ve done a little bit of that. I didn’t see it but the late great Howard Davies directed a “Private Lives” with Alan Rickman and Lindsay Duncan about 18 years ago. That was one of the first to free it a little bit from the cigarette holders and the “clenched” and the very high RP where we talking about going “kemping” (camping). I think what we’ve done with this – I don’t know – I’m just speaking very honestly and I’m going to do that – I think nowadays when we hear that very very rarefied accent, that very high RP, I don’t think our sympathies and our empathy immediately goes towards that. I don’t think so now – if it ever did. We have had a brilliant dialect coach to work through things. Freddie Paige has to have a very particular RAF slang. We watched “The Sound Barrier” that Rattigan scripted about six months around the time he wrote this. We looked at some archive video. Whilst the accents are very delineated they’re not in that kind of French windows 30s 40s… because you sometimes don’t feel the blood coursing through their veins as much. Of course the challenge for doing one of these plays is I’m sure there are people in this audience that might have seen seven or eight or more “Deep Blue Seas”. It’s been filmed twice. So the challenge for us to come and work on this new production is to make a case for it now in 2019 with these actors, this creative team in this setting. I don’t think – but you’ll be the best judge – that it feels like a rehash. I hope it feels that it’s something that’s landed in our inboxes or through our letterbox rather than just dust the cobwebs off and it’s preserved in aspic. Hester Collyer is hugely different to anyone I’ve seen before play it. Kate: I remember in the 1960s when I was a kid my mum had two accents. She had a phone accent so she went much more Noel Coward when she answered the phone. We children would say “what’s happened to mum?” Paul: There are three phone calls in Act 3 so you can judge. Kate: I don’t think Hester needs to be doing that. Generally about Rattigan or specifically about this play, what do you think is powerful for you or generally about him sociologically? I suppose I mean about the era. What is he saying about the era about women or about class or about human relations more timelessly? Paul: It’s funny when we were working on it, sometimes, because I have a background in musicals – although musicals like plays you have good ones you have bad ones of course you do – sometimes you’re responsible to try and gussy up a piece of text that isn’t really that robust. Working on this it’s the most exquisite writing. What you can say in person against what’s going on underneath. The two things and that’s very English almost in a way isn’t it? What I find so moving over the play is what he knows about the human heart. I don’t know how many of you have seen it. We’ve only done a couple of shows. To watch I’ve been sitting in various places. In Act 3, this section after the interval people are openly weeping. Men, women all ages, openly sobbing. They’re reaching for hankies, asking the person in front. That’s the play it’s not us. I think good working on a play is like a brass rubbing. It’s just letting it come up rather than – I’ve got the most wonderful idea let’s set it on a beach or let’s give her a limp or do you know what I mean? It’s only what’s there in the play so it’s the human heart. It’s the gallows humour of the play. It’s the near-misses of the play. So many of us have had our hearts broken. I think the play looks very long and hard about how difficult it is to love fully and honestly. Kate: It’s quite an interesting pairing with “Plenty” actually. It’s a mid 20th century play about a woman who is in a relationship and in the end walks out. She’s not able to love someone who loves her. Paul: It’s this thing isn’t it – I don’t want to do spoiler alerts – but it’s that difficulty of a seesaw of a relationship to be wholly balanced. When somebody loves somebody more or is more passionate I think there’s an interesting thing going on. Hopefully in this production the depiction of Freddie Paige (who’s the male lead in the play) – there was a lady (she’s here) who was brilliant about the play and said she’s seen it four or five times and she’s never seen a Freddy Page that she likes. I think in this production and this is a mark of how Hadley Fraser is such a brilliant actor. I think that Hadley shows you that character in the round. The character for whom the Second World War and all the high jinks of it and the heroism of it, to then be on Civvy Street six years later not finding anywhere to plug into. I think he plays that beautifully. The idea that he just can’t quite articulate it and you can be casually cruel to the person that you love the most. Kate: I saw a preview and I was interested by that idea about Freddie. Previously I thought he just totally doesn’t love anyone. Paul: It’s his tragedy too I think. Kate: But in a way I think he’s inarticulate and he’s more interestingly complex in this. People love to different degrees and don’t know they do. It’s very rounded on that level. It’s not black and white. Paul: I hope so. When you’ve got a character like Hester – I don’t think this about this particular play but sometimes these plays can be directed as vehicles. You’ve got this wonderful central part and everyone else is just ninepins around them. But I think this cast – and I have to praise Charlotte Sutton who’s our casting director – the eight strong cast – we would be the worst play without one fleck of that tapestry that they do. They play it almost as if they’ve got another scene that you’ve witnessed. They flesh it out. So I’m proudest of the fact that it feels like a canvas of eight post war characters rather than this incredible “Hello Dolly” role and everyone else frames her beauty. Kate: That slightly takes me onto what I wanted to ask you. Socially I asked you why Rattigan is interesting. Artistically – the program talks about his neat structures and his amazing choreography of space. If that were true, because I was thinking about that, In some ways there are lovely symmetries about who comes in once or twice or who frames the play. Is that something that you delight in? Is it easy to deal with that? Or do you also have to loosen that up at all? Paul: That’s a good question. Binky Beaumont was the original impresario who presented this play in 1952. He’s gone through at least six drafts and they’re all in the British Library The drafts and the incarnations that it went through. There’s a little bit of a challenge which is when when the key moment of the scene
has been reached a door is opened or a door knocked. It can feel a little bit “wrapped at Fortnum and Mason” if that makes sense. It can feel very neat. We’ve chosen to muddy that slightly. It’s a shame that somebody can be pilloried for being a brilliant crafts person isn’t it? You’d never go and have a wardrobe made and think oh gosh this is wonderful it fits all my clothes. Kate: People say that about Arthur Miller as well. He was a carpenter. His (plays) were strongly “carpented”. In some ways that’s a strength. Sometimes it isn’t. Paul: It is claimed to be and I think it’s his greatest play. It is so profound it makes his points with great subtlety. It doesn’t hammer away. Some some of it is so heart rending. It’s because of what’s unsaid and what’s buried rather than what’s made overt and explicit. Kate: Actually when I watch it, it doesn’t feel like a tightly structured play. It feels like a boarding house where people occur. There’s almost a wandering-ness to it. Paul: I think it’s a real microcosm of early 50s society. How people can be outsiders. Fortunes can change so quickly. We have a lighting effect – upstairs at this window. This is the first floor of at least a two or three floor rooming house in Ladbroke Grove. So – I’ll just open this door for you – (noise of door opening) We’ve no light on it at the moment but this goes downstairs. There’s obviously a porch downstairs. Then there’s this off here that goes upstairs. There’s a massive argument in Act 2. Freddie and Hester having one of their “flamers” Rattigan calls it. Suddenly we just put on one of those lights. I’m not referring to the political events of this weekend but you know that idea – people with tumblers up against a wall. I remember it from my grandmother. She was born in 1911. She spent a lot of her life fearing what people might think. Her reputation, the shame. That’s in this play hugely. If you transgress from the social box that you should be in, how flayed you are, how judged you are for that. There’s a line that Miller says in Act 3. He says voices carry on the stairs. How much we were blighted. Loose tongues cost lives. Kate: I wanted to talk to you a little bit more about the directing process right from the start. Obviously I imagine you didn’t audition Nancy? Paul: No, I should have, done, yes. Then I wouldn’t be in this fix! Kate: In general how does the audition process work? One imagines people queuing outside and turning up with a set speech. Is it like that in reality? Paul: I can only speak for this production specifically. There are eight roles. From memory I think three of them were what’s called “offer”. We offered them. We thought an actor or an actress of a particular calibre and we thought this would be a good fit for him or her. So you put that offer out and then you see how that goes. Then you move on or you get those accepted. There were five other roles. Charlotte and I got together and talked about the play. We talked about the kind of actor or actress and what would bring something to that. Then we met and I think we did two and a half days of casting in London. They would come in and read the particular pages that had been identified for the audition. You get a good few days with those. The slots are 20-25 minutes. Charlotte would read the other character. They actor auditioning would read the set character. Then I would hear it and say: “OK what if we play that a little bit more glibly?” Or: “Let’s flick through that.” Then they’d go again. In that process you can see whether you have a rapport and an elasticity with that actor. It’s very clear. What I do – and this sounds like any basic human thing – but I used to act and sometimes in the process you just read the text. You don’t have any interpersonal dialogue at all across the table. I like to speak for three or four minutes about their journey or something to do with it. Because in that time I can tell (I think) whether that person’s going to want to be in a room and to be part of a company and to be collaborative. Or whether they want to be stiff or distant or egotistical. Because you’re making a good company that’s going to last for two and a half months. If somebody’s not going to get on with that, if somebody doesn’t feel biddable, it’s not going to be pleasant for him or her and for everybody else. I think we’re duty-bound to try and make sure that they’re nice and good. Kate: I wondered about the other pre-rehearsal bit. I particularly wondered about the design process and how that works as a timeline. How do you decide on the set designer – presumably often the costume and set designer is the same. Also the lighting designers. How do you or they get their teams together? Are there time stages before rehearsals begin? Do you change your mind a lot? Paul: Usually we’re driven to a white card. As you’d imagine you make the set in white card. It’s 25 ratio down from the full size. You can work out where you might have a wall or window. Also where (if you’re going to) do a rake or something. Then there’s a final model box which is usually about 12 weeks before the production goes into rehearsal. That’s with everything painted, realised fully, again in a maquette size. Peter McIntosh is our brilliant designer. We must have met about four times to talk through the play. The first time just we both read it across a table. What do we think what do we not think? In each of the subsequent meetings more would become suggested. More would be live and visible for us. I think the worst thing you could say about the production of a play is:- “It would have been as good on the radio.” So you have to have something visual. The performances, the costumes, the hair and the props that make it live vibrantly for that audience at that time. We hit on the idea that six years after the second world war Ladbroke Grove was still slum clearance. You’ll see that the set is founded on wreckage. There are pan handles, chair backs, spokes, there’s an Airfix aeroplane. There’s a missal, a holy missal because of course she was very religious with her father. She kind of stepped away from being a clergyman’s daughter in many ways. It also means that it gives the audience the sense that there’s a life outside these walls. Also how recent that war and it’s experience has affected and stymied these characters. Then we wanted to give the idea of height in the Minerva. We could just as easily have done the set without the upstairs but we liked the idea of the voyeurism. Then you want it to be as realistic as possible. In our production we wanted very much to suggest that Hester was a talented artist. Nancy and Peter and the props people had a very early meeting to say what kind of painter she would be at 17 and how naive that might be. Then what her latest style would be. So you’re not going around antiques markets and just throwing in anything. She feels totally bound into that. So on the picture from 17 which is being worked on at the moment we invented a maiden name for her and that’s signed in the corner. Now Joe Public can’t necessarily see any of those things but the actors who have to make it fresh throughout the run feel on much firmer ground to have “actuals” if that makes sense. Yesterday I noticed there was a New Testament on the set. I don’t think she would have that faith at all. I was trying to get out of the theatre slowly in the interval and I noticed it there. So of course that’s been changed now. You’re always trying to make it – if not naturalistic, as realistic as possible. You’re in the room as much as we are. Kate: Presumably the actors like that as well. There are very real tangible objects that are their past. Paul: 100% yes. There’s this gas fire for those of you that know the play and the workings of that. There’s the cash box and the way the rings happen on the telephone and the cradle being picked up. I’m all for experimentation and the play is robust enough to take that. But I think me setting this in the 1980s in Melbourne wouldn’t have helped hugely. Let me give you one example. There’s a brilliant program essay which refers to some of the sociological things in place. Rationing was in place and actually worse in the immediate post-war years. Freddie has forgotten her birthday. The play starts as you know with a suicide bid. For various reasons Hester has made an attempt on her life. This is on the first page. I really am not spoiling anything. Later on Freddie comes back, he’s been playing golf over the weekend. He realises he’s forgotten her birthday and says:- “Oh I would have got some cigarettes if the shop was open as a gift.” He says:- “You didn’t do anything special for dinner did you?” She says:- “No, steak and a bottle of claret.” Now of course that would have had to be achieved on the black market at that time. So actually research shows you the heft of the line. There’s no foot-note saying:- This is important because…” Research can be your friend. Kate: Once you’re up and running, I’m intrigued by whether your experience as an actor also feeds into that. Maybe it doesn’t. Paul: It may well do, yes. Kate: But getting it up on its feet I was interested by the program talking about indoors and outdoors. How how do you go through that process? Do you do table read it? Paul: For me it depends project to project. I was very lucky a few years ago to work with – I think our greatest director – Marianne Elliott as an assistant director to her on a production. If I didn’t know this before I certainly learnt it after working with Marianne. To prepare. To prep, to prep, to prep so that you can throw it all out if you want to. But when the actor turns to you and says:-
“I’ve got a question.” (You don’t want to be) absolutely clueless about it when you’ve only got a full week rehearsal period. You can wear it lightly and the actors are absolutely free to collaborate. So I did a lot of preparation for it. What was your question again? Oh, about the move. Now, the thrust, of course it’s written for prosc-arch stage, The Duchess Theatre near The Alwych. That was where this premiered. It is a prosc-arch. You would be looking end-on. We knew that Daniel had programmed it for the Minerva. We knew that the audience would sitting on three sides. Of course I’m very grateful to have worked at the Sheffield Crucible a few times. It is this on a bigger scale. 900 seats on three sides. We did do some table work and some research. But sometimes you can only try the ideas out on their feet rather than:- “who’s most academic in this company?” It can feel like you do a dissertation on the play rather than do the play sometimes. We knew that we wanted to make sure that a person sat there had as good an experience as there. That is do-able if you keep it moving. If you’ve had Hester on this side or Sir William on this side, in the pages subsequently I know that I want to make sure that he’s available here and here. Because I grew up near Manchester, The Royal Exchange was my home theatre. You’re very used to watching acting with your back. You can be very eloquent totally in the round. One of the reasons we wanted it on it’s feet quite early is because it felt that we could pace things like that. Also we were mindful of trying to make sure that the 270 degrees of the audience had as good an experience. I feel that’s what our job is. Kate: I’m just looking at my watch. I think we better wrap up and let the actors prepare. Thank you very much and thank you so much to Paul for giving up your time. (Applause)

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