Wildest Dreams Rehearsal – Weeks 3 & 4

Written by Daniel Sean Henry

During rehearsals for 2015’s production of ‘Private Fears in Public Places‘, there came a breakthrough moment, specifically in our approach to the character of Charlotte. A play with comparable themes to ‘Wildest Dreams’, ‘Private Fears..’ followed a cast of lonely London characters, each looking for companionship and an escape from the drudgery and alienation of their own lives. Charlotte was a particularly strange and enigmatic character, a middle aged woman who projected an image of herself as a humble, altruistic church-goer, holding down a simple job as an estate agent’s secretary and taking on home care work in her free time. In contrast to her squeaky clean persona, Charlotte also found time to make pornographic videos, torment her socially troubled colleague and (perhaps intentionally) hospitalise the elderly man she was entrusted to care for, by flaunting herself in front of him in dominatrix gear. Undeniably complex, the character proved so baffling to the original production’s actress that she dropped out of the role. After grappling ourselves, a simple decision helped us to no end.

My character – Stewart, the aforementioned estate agent – had an amount of affection for Charlotte and, hoping to establish more of a relationship with her, accepted her offer to borrow a video recording of a ‘Songs of Praise’ type programme. When he got home, he unenthusiastically played the video tape, only to find, tacked onto the end, one of Charlotte’s sleazy home movies. Stewart then spends the majority of the play tormented by the question of whether Charlotte intended for him to see the footage or not and – eventually deciding that it was her way of showing an interest in him – he expresses his affections, only to be rejected by the ‘deeply religious’ Charlotte. Halfway through the rehearsal process, the cast and director decided – unequivocally – that Charlotte knew exactly what she was doing and her engagement in unpleasant mind games was expressed to the audience by a subtle smile at a pivotal moment in the play. The audience reaction was noticeable each night and – I seem to recall – aroused a burst of applause one night during the initial Huddersfield run. Indeed, a certain ambiguity is essential in bringing such a character to life, but the actor must know exactly what the intentions are – otherwise, what’s the point?

Marcie in ‘Wildest Dreams’ is this production’s Charlotte. Initially bursting into the play with innocence and good humour, the effect she has on our band of role-playing misfits is monstrous; these characters occupy a world separate to the real one, and she tears it apart. The question is, how much of the destruction is intentional? Is Marcie as innocent as she initially seems? During our intimate rehearsal on Thursday, we found Marcie – or, at least, our Marcie – and with that, a most pivotal piece of the puzzle has fallen into place. Marcie is the catalyst of the piece, and the decisions made about her will steer the Dick & Lottie ship in a clear direction for the rest of the rehearsal process. I love D&L for many reasons – I mean, no other group I know throws in free vegetable chilli – but the fastidiousness and intensity of the character development is possibly number one. I’ve been in a lot of plays for various different groups, and have often been expected to just turn up and say the lines in the correct order. Dick & Lottie encourage you to live them – nothing is more exciting for an actor. Except chilli.

It’s all going very well, and the play is taking shape beautifully. What has struck me this past couple of weeks is how wonderfully rendered these characters are becoming. Each stands alone, with individuality and fascinating quirks, but their coming together to play ‘the game’ seems entirely believable to me. The play contains some wonderfully witty Ayckbourn lines and observations but – above all – it is heartbreakingly sad and real. The tender moments are astounding to watch .. the fragility of Hazel and Stanley’s marriage, the childlike tears of the ‘Silent Warrior’ Rick .. and the balance of humour and pathos will, I hope, create a special theatrical experience for our audience.

Scripts are starting to leave our hands, Richard’s fantastic props are beginning to materialise, and the final phase of our process begins. I spent time this week putting together props and costume for Warren, one of my favourite characters in recent memory. I can’t wait for you to meet him, and his unlikely acquaintances. If you find them half as fascinating as I do, you’re in for a stellar night in the Cellar.