Cast of “The Lady’s Not For Burning”. BACK ROW:
Chris Coculuzzi (Thomas), Ian Orr (Matthew Skipps), Christopher Kelk (Mayor Tyson), Rob Candy (Tappercoom), Paul Cotton (Humphrey), Chris Whidden (Richard).
FRONT ROW: Andrea Brown (Jennet), Elsbeth McCall (Alizon), Carol McLennan (Margaret), Peter Higginson (The Chaplain).
NOT PICTURED: Ryan Armstrong (Nicholas). Photo: Dahlia Katz
As is traditional on the second Sunday of the run, yesterday’s matinee of The Lady’s Not For Burning was followed by a Talkback. About a third of the audience stuck around for an informative Q&A with director Jane Carnwath, sound designer Angus Barlow, set & lighting designer Ed Rosing, and of course the cast. Costume designer Margaret Spence was unfortunately not able to make it. The Q&A was hosted by one of the producers, Barbara Larose. Scenic artist Cathy McKim took pictures of the set which will soon go up on her blog as a slideshow, and of course I will re-blog for Alumnae. Following is a sort-of transcript of the questions and answers during the approx 30-minute Talkback.
Q: It’s mentioned in the press release that Jane has loved The Lady for a long time. Can you tell us why?
A: Director JANE CARNWATH – It was instinctive – before I knew better! I heard the recording of the original production – 1949? 1950? [according to my research it was actually 1948 – bloggergal] which starred John Gielguid as Thomas and Pamela Brown as Jennet, and fell in love with the language. At first I wanted to play Jennet, and then as time went on and that became unlikely, I wanted to play Margaret [the mayor’s sister, mother of Humphrey and Nicholas]. And then when that didn’t happen, I decided I wanted to direct it. Why do I love it? I love the themes of hope and the possibility of redemption, and I love the characters.
Q: The language shifted from almost Shakespearean to modern. Was that in the script?
A: Director JANE CARNWATH – Yes. Christopher Fry wrote the play just after World War II, and the language is full of intentional anachronisms. Fry states that the period is 1400, “either more or less or exactly” – he’s not very concerned about it. We decided to just do a tip of the hat to the period, and not worry about exact period accuracy.
Q: There are a lot of doors and exits – was that specified in the script, or a production decision?
A: Set Designer ED ROSING – It was necessary! People are constantly going and coming through doors and windows. The concept for the set was a house built around a stone room, like a church. That’s why you’ll see the walls are stone on the inside. In those days, fabric was used as insulation – we went a step further and put fabric on the walls. The set in the original production was very Gothic – church-like with lots of arches. I never forgot that original, but wanted this set to be much more humble and down-to-earth. [bloggergal’s note: in the original 1948 production in London’s West End, a then-unknown Richard Burton played Richard, the mayor’s clerk!]
Q: To the actors, what was it like, working with this text?
A: CHRIS COCULUZZI (Thomas) – I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare over the last 20 years. This was more challenging! Maybe because Fry’s language is not so much a part of our culture and consciousness as Shakespeare’s is.
A: CAROL McLENNAN (Margaret) – They key for me was I found it was essential to e-nun-ci-ate! You can’t just garble it all together – it has to be understandable to the audience when they hear it for the first time. Even now we’re still finding things. When I first read for Jane, she said “You were very natural – this play isn’t.”
A: PAUL COTTON (Humphrey) – Jane insisted we get the language down first, then work on making it natural after. Which is a reversal of the usual process.
A: ANDREA BROWN (Jennet) – It’s a journey and a quest with every performance! The challenge was how to honour the beautiful and poetic language while making it engaging to the audience.
Q: The cast did a great job in getting the comedy across.
A: IAN ORR (Matthew Skipps) – This is a comedy??!!
Q: I noticed in her bio that Andrea has now played an accused witch in two shows.
A: ANDREA BROWN – Yes, I played Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible just a few months ago. Spoiler alert: it does not end well for her! Jennet has a much happier ending.
Q: (Jane calls the audience’s attention to the sound design)
A: Sound Designer ANGUS BARLOW – There are about 25 sound cues. Some are so subtle, it’s like Margot [stage manager Margot Devlin] calls the cue and nothing happens. We can’t hear it in the booth, but it’s audible to the audience. It was a challenge to build and run the sound. We recorded some of the cast to make the noises of the angry mob and the party, and a professional cellist was brought in to record the awful sounds of the viol tuning [actor Peter Higginson, who plays the musically untalented Chaplain, interjects: “it wasn’t me!”].
Q: It’s a big cast [11 actors] – was everybody at all the rehearsals?
A: Director JANE CARNWATH – No, we had a few reads all together and then I broke the script into scenes and tried to bring actors in only when they would be used. When we finally get to run all the scenes together it takes a huge leap forward. This was one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with – a lot happened onstage; the actors made it come together. I had a great time with the production because I was also working with people I’ve worked with before – Ed, Angus, Margaret, Margot… it’s been wonderful.
The Lady’s Not For Burning runs to Saturday Feb 8. Four more performances: Wed – Sat at 8pm. Tickets are 2-for-1 on Wed, and $20 Thu – Sat (unless you purchase day-of tickets at half price at the T.O. Tix booth!). firstname.lastname@example.org