03 December 2012

After Hamlet: last week of 5pounds of Rep

The 5Pounds of Repertory Theatre troupe are in their last week. For the last five weeks, they rehearsed a play during the day and performed the play they rehearsed last week at night. It's fucking mad, but what a process and what an experience for everyone involved, including the audiences who have made sure that The Owl and the Pussycat has been full each night.

The idea was to create a repertory theatre experience: same cast and very different works created with the pressure that an audience is going to be seeing them in a few days.

I admit that my first reaction was that this is going to be great for the performers, but not so much for the audiences. I love being wrong.

Watching how actors Jason Cavanagh, Susannah Frith, Sebastian Gunner, Tom Molyneux and Freya Praget have adapted and changed each week has been fascinating. Back in week one, there was still a layer of "acting" around their performances. When we can see the acting, the characters are always hidden by the actor. This protective layer has fallen off more each week and, even though they are performing as well as they were in week one, their performances are so different.

The ingredient that's taken this process to such a delicious level is bringing a fresh director in each week. This has freed up the performers, who have to trust where they are being led, to focus on character, and freed the directors, who have to trust that their actors can find the characters, to focus on story.

Most theatre is story and too often the telling of the story gets lost in the theatre making. With only a few days, no nights and a budget that extends to what's in the wardrobe or the back alley, each director has found their tone, trusted their cast and and told the audience the story.

Director Daniel Lammin cut Pgymalion into an intimate tale about Henry and Eliza, and he put the audience around them so it felt like we were eavesdropping. It was as far from My Fair Lady as it could be, which let them create a new telling of JB Shaws's famous story.

Photo by Sarah Walker

Celeste Cody let everyone have a hell of a lot of fun with the 1920s musical Sally. She created a space that let the non-singers feel safe enough to sing, and let everyone adore the cardboard and paint props.

I sadly couldn't get to Danny Delahunty's week three developed piece (mostly because I was at the Short and Sweet theatre festival, directed by Celeste Cody), but I've heard all good about it.

But I wasn't going to miss Robert Reid directing Ben Ellis's play Falling Petals. Geelong-born and Melbourne indi-theatre bred, Ben's been living in London for many years and this production has already created a new mob of fans. I saw its Playbox production and this was just as good. Good writing tells good story. So, we'd love to see a new Ben Ellis play in Melbourne, please Ben.

There's one week left to be a part of this experiment and they're going out with an easy task: Hamlet. Rehearsed in a week by very tired actors who were performing their guts out each night. What could possibly go wrong?

I know that it's been cut by director Trent Baker and I've heard there will be songs. I recently watched Trent at Simon Callow's Shakespeare masterclass. It took him a while to drop the acting and tell the story, but he did. I'm looking forward to if this experience has changed his approach to Shakespeare.

A day out from their final opening night, I asked Jason Cavanagh, 5 Pound co-founder, how he felt about being in the last week.

 "It’s still hard to see the bigger picture because while the light at the end is getting tantalisingly bright, we are still very much in the guts of this project. The oh-so modest task of putting Hamlet on the stage tomorrow night is casting quite an impressive shadow.  But the thought of an opening night without 9 am rehearsals, not to mention the wider ambition of having an actual closing night – don't get me wrong, the whole thing has been absolutely amazing – but there will be quite the party when that last curtain falls."

After Hamlet (cos it's not the whole work) opens tomorrow (Tuesday) night and runs until Saturday, including a matinee.

Book here. It's a tiny space, so worth booking instead of trying for door tickets. And the easiest way to get to the thearte is to get a train to Richmond. Walk out the Swan Street entrance, cross the road and you're there.

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