Breathing new life into a Ravenhill play
Our latest guest blogger is Troy Chessman: a brand new SUP member and director of the upcoming GHOST STORY
Although I’ve trained as an actor, I’m no stranger to directing. I have directed a number of one act plays for drama festivals in Surrey.
I made my debut in 2015 with an abridged version of ‘Macbeth’ which went on to compete at the next round of the All-England Theatre Festival in Oxsted. Since then, I have directed ‘Brighton Beach Scumbags’ by Stephen Berkoff and co-directed ‘Almost Nothing’ by Marcos Barbosa, which I also won ‘Best Actor’ for.
Beyond the festivals, I have also directed a new modern contextualised version of Titus Andronicus, ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ by Adam Peck at NST City, and my own original brand new play ‘Won’t Fade Away’ about Alzheimer’s disease and memory.
When I heard that SUP was looking for a second play to enter into the Totton Drama Festival, my ears pricked up. ‘Ghost Story’ had been on my radar for a while. I then heard they were ideally looking for an all-female play and I knew I had to put it forward.
When choosing a play to direct, I always like to pick something that stirs something within me (and that can mean an array of things).
I ask myself, does this play make me think? Does it provide me with an opportunity to challenge myself as an artist? Are the themes relevant to me? Will it provide opportunities for my cast to create interesting characters? Is the message of the play something I advocate? Or is it something that bothers me, that I can address?
‘Ghost Story’ by Mark Ravenhill is, in its essence, a dark play with moments of comedy and embers of light.
Although the play is centred around the subject of cancer, it is NOT ‘a play about cancer’.
Rather , it’s a play that explores three women’s responses to having/dealing with/loving someone with cancer.
The play also goes against the conventional ‘Mark Ravenhill’ content that one might expect. There is no swearing, no profanity, no sex, just a stark insight into the characters’ responses to cancer.
The play questions the lies and truths that we tell ourselves and others in times of adversity. It offers three fascinating characters, each with their own motives and objectives.
Meryl is now a healer and a strong woman who had once overcome cancer but it is back (is she a con women?).
Lisa is suffering from cancer and is looking to Meryl to coach and heal her to wellbeing (did her success in pushing Meryl to ‘cross the line’ impact Meryl’s fate?).
And there is Hannah, Meryl’s younger, naive and doting girlfriend, caught up in the impact of Meryl’s cancer (is her need to lie masking other issues?)
The play is not straightforward, the narrative leaves a lot to be deciphered, which is what makes the play so interesting.
As a director, I am free to unpick, explore and interpret the text as I see it. The text raises a lot of questions, which was exciting to discuss in rehearsals.
Who is the ‘villain’ of the play? Why does Meryl do what she does? Why is this character lying? Why is this character telling the truth? IS this character telling the truth? Who is dead? Is anyone dead?
The more you delve into the writing the more questions appear, more opportunities to make the performance interesting and dynamic.
In my rehearsal process I like to play with and explore new ideas.
I draw a lot of inspiration from the work of practitioners like Berkoff who choose to utilise the use of body and physicality, lifting the language of the text. I have tried to incorporate the use of breath and pace into the world of the characters.
The dialogue in this play is very important. I have stripped the set back to a minimum, giving us a suggestion of Meryl’s home in order to allow the performances, the dimensions, the chemistry of the actresses to be the focus of the piece.
I am incredibly lucky to have been able to cast three brilliant actresses who have taken on everything I have thrown at them and created three wonderfully compelling characters.
I can’t wait to share this piece with you and I hope you enjoy it.
SUP is proud to present GHOST STORY on a double-bill with Tennessee Williams’ AND TELL SAD STORIES OF THE DEATHS OF QUEENS for one night only.
SUP presents STORIES OF GHOSTS AND QUEENS at Totton Drama Festival – and FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh on Sat 6th April – 7.30pm
Tickets from just £9.50 – no booking fee payable