“who you are forces or you’d be someone else wouldn't you?”
(Caryl Churchill, A Number, Scene 3)
You can't pick your genetic material
You can't pick your parents
You can't pick your upbringing
You can't pick your society
- So what of who you are is actually up to you?
This - amongst a lot of other things - is one of the things A Number has me pondering at the end of week three of rehearsals. The notion of having free will, of you being somehow a collection of choices, is one we take for granted. As directors we are faced with a lot of choices. But what a play is forces or it would be a different play wouldn't it?
A Number is not a forceful play, that is to say it doesn’t dictate what the staging of it should be, the only stage direction is a single “Silence.” Nevertheless it does reveal itself, bit by bit with each directorial choice. The nature of it shines through and by nurturing it we are unveiling a very human tragedy. Just as at the first read A Number may have seemed like it was about cloning whilst now we see its subject matter expands way beyond that, seeing a run through now we don’t just witness a fascinating story; it is an emotional rollercoaster, bringing us from intrigue to psychological thriller, to utter heartbreak. It is very human and humans are complicated. Caryl Churchill doesn't shy away from that, she brings a smorgasbord of emotions whilst tickling the intellect.
One of the choices we have with plays is what cast we assemble to breathe it, live it whilst it unravels in front of the audience; and the crew we get to stage it. I can't think of a better choice for Bernard than Brian and I can't think of a better Salter than Peter, in fact we are at the point of not seeing them as coworkers but as son and father of sorts. Zinnie is also the perfect choice as director for this, confident enough to explore and experiment with the material whilst firmly rooted in her vision and reading of the play. Not every director trusts her cast or indeed the material like that, creating the collaborative spirit in rehearsals that A Number requires. It's a joy to witness. This trust extends to designer Fred, whose brilliant set has been unfolding its magical layers for us this past week; MJ (pictured), whose music is perfectly stirring and Ben whose lighting I cannot wait to see. Each artist has taken to heart what Zinnie set up with, which was to nurture this play by ‘not getting in its way’ - meaning letting the story be the star of the show. Whilst every artist will have their creation firmly on display, an unmistakable signature, it is not about showing anything off apart from the delicately woven plot, characters and world of the play. This has not been a process of meetings of egos but of a cast and crew collaborating to give their collective best to do a brilliant play justice - and I’m feeling very lucky to be part of that.
We are off to tech, ready to explore the nature of the piece once more in a new nurturing environment. More is yet to be revealed, I’m sure, but mainly we’re ready to discover how the choices we make will affect you, the audience. Come and see.
Insights from being an FST bursary assistant director to Zinnie Harris on A Number by Caryl Churchill at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival and being a JMK assistant director to Gareth Nicholls on Ulster American by David Ireland at the Traverse Theatre.