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Pygmalion: Behind the Scenes with Natasha Hyman, Week 3

Tue 24 January, 2017

Pygmalion: Behind the Scenes with Natasha Hyman, Week 3

Assistant Director, Natasha Hyman, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at week 3 of Pygmalion rehearsals.

This week in ‘Pygmalion-land’ we have been looking at the filmed sequences in the show. Shaw wrote a number of these extra scenes, which were incorporated into the 1939 film version. For example, we see Eliza in a taxi, in her bedroom, and later, at a ball. Shaw writes that ‘a complete representation of the play as printed for the first time in this edition is technically possible only on the cinema screen or on stages furnished with exceptionally elaborate machinery.’ Sam’s vision, working alongside video designer Will Duke and film director Geej Ower, is for us to see these scenes via a series of filmed interludes between acts, projected onto the set.

To create this material for the show, we spent a day filming with Greatcoat productions in different locations around London. This included a bedsit in Earls Court, which was turned into Eliza’s bedroom at the start of the play, and location near Pall Mall to provide the outside of Henry Higgins’ house and the ball that Pickering and Higgins take Eliza to before Act 4. It was refreshing to spend a day out of the rehearsal room in a completely different environment. Geej worked closely alongside Sam to craft these interludes, navigating the audience’s relationship between the filmed material and the stage action.

Usually, costumes wouldn’t need to be signed off sometimes until as late as press night. A challenge that arose from filming is that this process had to be significantly speeded up for the characters involved. While it added some pressure, it was also great for the actors concerned to have a sense of their costumes at this early stage, as it helps them to build a picture of their character. Alex Lowde, our designer, has been in conversation with the actors in one-on-one sessions in the past weeks, giving them space to input their ideas; the result is that the costumes feel that they have grown out of the conversations happening in the rehearsal room.

Another feature of this week has been the arrival of some crucial bits of technology into the room. We now have the ability for the actors to manipulate each other’s voices onstage. Particularly, we’ve been looking at how Higgins manipulates Eliza’s voice in Act 2. The technology allows us to be really playful with the human voice, to surprise the audience and (hopefully) to provide some comedy.

Each of the five acts has a very different colour and texture, providing different angles on the conversation around voice, language and class. For example, Act 3 hones in on language as a social tool, and sits in contrast to Act 4, which illustrates how language carries emotion. It’s interesting to see how the play morphs in this way, and can hold the changing ways in which the audience is asked to engage with the action.

This weekend we move to Leeds for our final week of rehearsals before tech, where we open the show and where our set is being built … Goodbye Jerwood Space and hello West Yorkshire Playhouse!

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