A written account of practical work undertaken in year 11 resulting in a piece of drama presented for examination.
We started the Christmas term 2001 with group warm-up exercises, before even thinking about what we were going to perform in late November or who we were going to work with. These were fun class activities, used to build up group relationships. We did such things as human noughts and crosses, using nine chairs in a 3 by 3 square with the girls as noughts and the boys as crosses. We played 5 games, resulting in one draw and the boys winning 3 to the girls’ 1. It was fun and used really to warm us up. We then went on to play two games of winking murder.
We all sat round in a circle on chairs with our eyes closed while Mrs. Powles walked round the circle tapping someone on the shoulder, telling that person that they are the murderer. Then it’s all eyes open and we try to work out who the murderer is. Meanwhile, the murderer is winking discreetly at people, killing them. It was very enjoyable and it helped to build up group relationships. Following that, we were assigned the task of pretending to be a salesperson of some description at a drinks evening. We had to decide what we were selling and how to sell it. Once that was decided, we had to go around the class introducing ourselves to each other and trying to sell our product to them in under 2 minutes. It involved much interaction between us all and helped tremendously to strengthen group relationships.
Shortly after, we were asked to write on a piece of paper who we wanted to work with and who we did not want to work with if we thought that we would not produce to the best of our ability if we were with them. Finally, I ended up working with Elise, which was great as I had never worked with her before and we were good friends. She didn’t seem to complain either, which was a good sign. Then we spent an entire double lesson going through all of Mrs. Powles’ plays that she had to decide on one to perform an extract out of for the exam in December. We settled finally on an extract from the play “The Norman Conquests” by Alan Ayckbourn, as we both decided that we wanted to do a comical piece, but not farcical, so it fitted nicely. After searching through the book for a while, we finally came across a suitable duologue between Norman and Sarah.
Norman is a librarian, but this definitely does not define his character at all. He is a womaniser, married to Ruth, attempted to have an affair with her sister Annie who is engaged to Tom, and is now working his charms on his other sister-in-law, Sarah, Elise’s character, who is married to Reg. Sarah is a more strict, clean, and prim character. However, it is sometimes clear that Sarah is quite jealous of Annie because she is the one that Norman says he wants and she wants to replace Annie in Norman’s eyes. It does eventually happen, as in the second scene they kiss. The extract immediately appealed to both of us, so we decided to give it a try. The extract we did in November was actually two different dialogues taken from two different points in the play. The first is set in the living room in the house and the second is set in the garden.
Immediate difficulties we experienced with the exert were few, but as ever there were some. The biggest problem in my mind at the beginning was how to perform the kissing part of the second scene effectively and without embarrassment. It really needed to look convincing as it is the peak of Sarah’s life, experiencing the closest thing she will ever feel to true love. It was essential that this came across in the performance.
Then came the blocking of the scenes. First of all we just exchanged ideas and thoughts, coming up with a skeletal plan for how to go about performing both scenes. We discussed things such as how lines should be spoken, facial expressions and other small but significant effects.
Afterwards we concentrated mainly on the first scene to get that near-perfect before trying the second scene. Once we had familiarized ourselves with the scene and had fairly certain ideas about what to do, we started to really act it out.
Not long after, we did hot-seating as a class in which the person in the hot-seat had to answer their questions as their character. I enjoyed listening to other people answer questions with much thought, as they delved into previously unexplored regions of their character. When my turn came, I found it to be a very interesting experience, being able to answer questions as a different person. I had to capture his frame of mind and be able to answer the questions convincingly as Norman. It really helped me to get to grips with Norman’s character, behaviour and motivation and also to further my acting ability as Norman. When it was Elise’s turn, it too helped me to understand her character better than I previously did, which enabled me to respond to her better in the play.
Following that, we spent most, if not all, of our time concentrating on the first scene, filling in the gaps and finalising parts of it. Performing it in front of the class also helped a lot as it was open to criticism and any ideas from the class or Mrs. Powles. One idea that really affected what we had rehearsed so far was that at the beginning of the first scene, Sarah storms in and physically removes my feet from the arm of the armchair before she sits on it. We had thought this to be a good idea to convey that Sarah was angry with Norman, which she was.
The suggestion was that this was not a bad idea, just that it would be more effective if Sarah came in and stared at my feet distastefully, as if daring me to leave them there. When I then remove them, she brushes the arm with her hand before sitting in the chair. This, we decided, was much better than our original plan as it shows that Sarah is a less physical person, more prim and uptight. Throughout all the extract from then on, the amount of physical interaction Sarah did was kept to a bare minimum.
We started needing the script less and less and we started on the second scene – a definite sign of all-round progress. I found the second scene much more difficult to do than the first, mainly for two reasons. The first was that I had to act drunk, as prior to this scene, offstage, Norman has been consuming large amounts of wine. The real difficulty with this was that I had to appear drunk by staggering around and slurring my words. The staggering part was okay to act but the slurring was the real problem as I still had to be understood by the audience. With practice and advice form Mrs. Powles, however, this problem was soon overcome.
The second problem was the kissing part. We knew this would be difficult when we chose the piece, but we still chose to do it. Once the initial embarrassment of it was overcome, there was still an awkward feeling as Elise was my friend. But this we endured right up to the end.
As the exam date drew nearer, we spent our time polishing up the piece and adding finishing touches to it, such as sound effects and music. We spent a lot of time searching through the sound effects for some birdsong to be used at the beginning of the second scene, just to inform the audience that it was set outside. As for music, we originally thought about using “When a man loves a woman”, but in the end we decided on using “Irresistible” by the Corrs. For lighting effects, we used straw and golden gels on fresnel spots.
With regards to costume, we decided that I would look best in a pair of corduroy trousers with a check shirt. But unfortunately I could not obtain a pair of corduroy trousers, so we settled for a pair of chinos with a leather belt. This, we thought, conveyed Norman’s character quite well; not trendy or modern, yet laid back and charming. For Sarah, we both decided that Elise would look appropriate in a grey skirt suit, as it would convey Sarah’s prim and proper personality.
When the final day came, it went very smoothly. Neither of us made any real mistakes and our lines were as perfect as they ever would have been. Overall we were both very pleased with our final performance. And, thankfully the audience did seem to enjoy it as they laughed in all the right places, sometimes a bit more enthusiastically than we both had previously expected, which could have meant only good things.