‘Should you move forward a bit?’ Tom asks Alison Bruce, who is lying in the middle of the floor.
‘I’ve drawn myself a line’ she replies. Nevertheless, she nudges herself forward a bit on the stage. A fraction of a second later, a sandbag falls like a stone and lands a few inches behind her body, before being winched back up again.
Soon after, Ella Becroft is handed a razor-sharp knife and is lifted high into the air. She slashes at the bag, letting sand fall like golden rain. It is a beautiful moment; the sort of moment that has made Red Leap internationally renowned. Within a few minutes, other company members are back with dustpans and brushes; to collect the sand, to sew up the bags, to set it all up again.
The play is inspired by the work of recently deceased Chilean writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and tells the story of a young woman, Panuelo, for whom the price of freedom is the destruction of her old life. It is about escaping the expectation of parents, of society, and finding the strength, first to run away, and then to come back and challenge the world order.
‘It grows and shrinks, grows and shrinks,’ says Ella during lunch break. ‘We whittle the show down to the important elements and then grow it again, exploring another level of the story’. It is hard work. They start at 7.30 in the morning with yoga, followed by strength exercises, chorus exercises, and walkabout, before starting the rehearsal proper, each moment honed to maximise the impact without unbalancing the narrative arc of the whole play.
As well as the actors, a props maker sits at her desk making various items; mermaid tails, hats that look like houses, ready to assemble anything should they wish to attempt something different in rehearsal. More ideas and props are discarded in a Red Leap show than most productions will ever use. If something is found that works better to tell the story, they will scrap weeks of previous work. The walls of TAPAC theatre are plastered with ideas on character, story and theme - everything the performers and creative team want to convey through the performance. It is how I imagine the kitchens at El Bulli in the off-season, pushing the boundaries, using years of craft and experience to create something exciting and new to bring to the world. The atmosphere is studious, collaborative, warm but serious, with the odd moment of hilarity. The expectations on this company are extremely high.
They run a sequence and the complicated pulley system works, sandbags crash on to the floor between the actors as they try to escape the bonds of the ropes. It is viscerally exciting, as if the characters are in a war with the Gods. Directors Kate Parker and Julie Nolan smile. It works.
4 - 13 June