Day 1. 9am. Get onto bike. Bike has a puncture. I panic. After a brisk, sweaty jog to the train station, armed only with my lunchbox and an impending sense of dread at the “sorry I’m running late” text I may shortly have to compose, I'm on the train and all is well. And so begins rehearsals for Stink Foot. In a rehearsal room in Aldgate - not on the train.
Stink Foot has been adapted from Sophocles' lesser-known tragedy Philoctetes - owner of the play's eponymous appendage. In this story a young man is ordered by a rather Machiavellian Odysseus to go to deserted Lemnos and steal a magical bow from the castaway who has been abandoned on the island - a man who ten years ago was bitten by a snake and whose foot as a result, well, stinks. See what we did there?
Our rehearsal room is essentially an entire floor of a disused office building. Perfect for the way our director Jeff James - whose adaptation it is - likes to work. From day one we were building caves in one room, recreating a war zone in another, fashioning a ship in what was once the photocopy room, and practising limping down the corridor - all the while performing reccies for which room would best suit our lunchtime four-square needs. And so it was on day one, just before home time, that the T-word was first mentioned.
|Daniel Millar in rehearsals|
As a standalone piece of drama Stink Foot is perfect. The futures of two nations are at stake, innocence is corrupted, enemies reunited, a broken man is broken even further, and a military hero will do all she can to keep her hands clean. And it all happens in almost real time. It's a window into an often overlooked - but crucial - episode in the middle of the Trojan War.
My task is to bring the play's tragic figure Philoctetes to life. He was once a soldier. A Greek-Hero-in-the-making in the mould of Achilles, Ajax and Patroclus. A man who was given an extraordinary gift from a god. A man whose future was bright. Until a snake bit his foot. Now he's nothing. Forgotten. A castaway. Betrayed by the people he was fighting for. And by God, does he go on about it. This guy has been living alone on a desert island for ten years. So where to begin with bringing him to life? Why, by recreating the middle hour of the Tom Hanks film "Cast Away" in the rehearsal room of course. Even down to drawing a face on the four square ball as a crude biro Wilson.
The T-word hasn't been mentioned for a few days.
Day 9. Get onto bike. Make it to Vauxhall before a new puncture appears. Panic. Sweaty jog. Train. Stub toe on the stairs up to the platform. Yet it's an injury that proves useful, for today we are investigating 'The Seizures' - Philoctetes' sudden, unbearable fits of excruciating pain that punctuate the drama. Exploring how these spasms could be presented was heart-wrenching, grimly hilarious, and knackering in equal measure. Where does this pain come from? Is there a build-up or is it sudden? What effect does it have on the people watching? And how does it physically appear?
For the answer, you need to join me on the evening of Monday 11th November. The rehearsal call came through as usual. 10am full company. 1pm lunch. 2pm Treacle run.
Treacle. The T-word.
For, you see, dear blog reader, our production is staged in a massive pool of sticky blackstrap molasses. It's a devastatingly effective aesthetic, matched in its boldness only by its messiness. The dynamic of our work changed dramatically during the treacle run as we struggled manfully to stay upright on the slippery floor, battled to avoid snorting the stuff during the more emotional outbursts, and tried in vain to contain a whelp of pain whilst peeling ourselves off each other during a sugary floorbound wrestle with Joshua Miles' Neoptolemus. The price of liberally dousing two* actors in treacle for an hour every night - it just looks brilliant. Creepy, weird, ghastly and just...brilliant.
Day 18. Get onto bike. Hands stick to the handlebars. They're all treacley. Try to get off to jog to the train. Can't extract hands. Welcome to the next four weeks.
*There are actually three actors in this piece. It has not gone unnoticed that Rosie Thomson as Odysseus leaves the play largely treacleless. This has been duly noted and will be addressed by her two acting colleagues in due course.
Stink Foot runs at the Yard Theatre from 18th November 2014 until 13th December 2015.
Please visit www.theyardtheatre.co.uk for further information and tickets.
Photo Credit: Jack Sain