This July, Sheffield People’s Theatre and theatrical innovators, Slung Low, have teamed up to create an unforgettable and unconventional production of Camelot, bringing one of the greatest legends of all time to life in the heart of Sheffield. Kemi Alemoru sat in on rehearsals to get an exclusive preview of the action and have a chat with Alan Lane, the artistic director of Slung Low.
Consisting of an eclectic mix of 130 performers, with the youngest being 12 and the oldest being 87, many of the actors have not performed in a production of this magnitude before. The rehearsals gave me an insight into this well-oiled machine as I watch 23 members of the sword fighting ‘Crack Squad’ practice their duelling skills. The younger actors confidently bonded with each other and developed their skills through playing drama games and humorously mimicking each other. However, when it came to rehearsing the lines the director ensures that even the youngest actors in the play know the entirety of the script and submerge themselves into the world of Camelot.
A detailed understanding of the story and dialogue is essential because, as is the case with other Slung Low productions, the actors are yet to know which character they will actually play. In order to aid a natural performance, the actors have the freedom to choose how they play each of the characters in rehearsals and eventually develop into one particular character. Alan Lane explained that although they have already auditioned he doesn’t feel like a 10 minute audition is enough to get to know each individual actor and their extensive talents: “It feels like there is a community of people trying to do this almost impossible thing”, and this notion of joint ownership of the play manifests itself in many ways. Everybody, including the directors, is expected to complete menial tasks such as cleaning dirty headphones and each sword fighter is responsible for the upkeep of the same sword from day one. “It is all of our jobs to do this show; I want the auditioning process to keep that in everyone’s minds by giving them the freedom to choose how we shape the play”.
In addition to aiding the performances and creating a sense of community, by helping actors develop their own characters and ensuring a deep understanding of the whole play the many elements of the production come together seamlessly. There are people driving on the back of vehicles, explosions, armed gunmen running around, and even more who need to come in at exactly the same time. When watching the Crack Squad practicing their sword fighting scenes the whole team is involved in every movement as they are required to shout the next steps to the actors practicing.
Audiences will be taken on a journey to experience this story in three parts in three different locations, starting at the Crucible and journeying into the city for an epic battle which will be relayed via headphones to each audience member. It certainly would be hard to not give this your full attention as the auditorium is evacuated and the audience is placed into the centre of the action. Artistic director Alan Lane remarked, “It’s important when staging a production like this to think about what the audience gets to see. We’re trying to create a memorable experience”. It sounds like this will be a play to remember – each location will be completely transformed and will no longer look like the Sheffield we know and love. In the words of the director, “Everything will have been brutalised by this dystopic future”.
How to stage a fight
Fight Director Liam Evans-Ford gives us his top tips.
- Think about the whole picture
“Two people going at each other with a sword will look OK but if you put a barrel of fire in front of them, a smoke grenade behind them and I’m holding a gun to the side of them then it will look amazing”.
- Be clear
“Everybody needs to understand what they’re doing. Don’t just say to an actor, “Kick out with your left foot” – that’s just an action. Instead say, “Kick him because he is a metaphor for government oppression – so they understand why that action is needed”.
- Work Hard
“Practice, practice, practice”.
Camelot: The Shining City runs from July 9 – 18.
To book tickets go to www.sheffieldtheatresonlinebrochure.co.uk
Images: Dean Stead