Updated: Mar 4, 2020
2019 is coming to an end, and over the course of 3 blog posts, I will be publishing a series that casts a critical eye of the last year of ETC, looking at what we did well, what we could have done better, and what we would like to do again.
We met up in May to begin reading scripts and finding something to perform. We were keen not to rush into anything, but we were well aware of the fact that Ezra was leaving us for university in September, and we wanted to try to do something with him before he left. We spent a few weeks reading different things, spit-balling ideas and trying to find something that fitted the group. With myself and Rhian extremely busy over August, we were looking for something with a relatively small cast. It was then that we stumbled upon Ibsen’s “Ghosts”.
A lot of us had known about “Ghosts” for a long time, but it wasn’t until we read it that we realised just how well our group fitted the casting. We had our very own Mrs Alving in the form of Paula, and it seemed that Ezra was made to play the part of Oswald. With Tom, Chris and Elise on board as well, the decision was made and “Ghosts” went into production.
We felt that the audience were relying on a twist with this production, in a similar vein to “Murder at Redrum Manor”, so we decided to update it, and make the play more relevant to a present-day audience, whilst still being shocking and controversial. (See my previous blog post “Updating Ghosts” for more info on how we did this!).
Despite that, we were very keen to make “Ghosts” the exact opposite of “Redrum” – we wanted it to feel like a proper kitchen sink drama, with the audience a mere fly-on-the-wall, observing the breakdown of the Alving family. With this came some difficulties. Whilst trying to stay true to our naturalistic approach, some of the scenes became very static – two characters sat having a conversation did not appear very interesting to watch. The drama of the piece had to come from the characters themselves rather than dramatic “gimmicks” – and this was something that ETC was not used to.
This led to lots of extremely long-winded discussions about the characters and their motivations, mapping out the complex emotional journeys of each and every character and how they reacted to each revelation as the plot moved forward. For some members, this was a great opportunity to properly get into the head of another person – to understand what they were feeling and thinking and why they were acting the way they were.
Other members found this process a little tedious, however. Rehearsals were often overshadowed with long conversations ranging from topics of sexual assault to genetic diseases – not exactly the type of thing to look forward to after a long day at work!
“Ghosts” played in September to decent-sized audiences, and earned an excellent review in the Dispatch courtesy of Denis. Audiences loved the twists and turns, and there were several heated discussions during the interval about the direction in which the play was heading.
At our recent meeting, we discussed our approach to “Ghosts”, and how proud we were to have put on such a production. There are not many amateur groups who attempt Ibsen, and we went one step further – not just performing his play, but completely reimagining and rewriting it! It was a major achievement, and another clear hit for ETC.
We decided it was nice to do a regular, no-gimmicks-attached, performance that properly allowed us to drill down into our characters, but this was difficult to sell to audience members, who appeared to enjoy the light-heartedness of our previous productions a little more. The techniques that we developed for characterisation will definitely help us in the future, but we believe that it is a mix of these and that trademark Elemental “weirdness” that will allow us to put on the best productions in future.
Tom Morley, December 2019