Monthly Archives: July 2010

Bilquis Bibi – what the press say

“Kristine Landon-Smith’s production strikes all the right faithful, tasteful notes”
Financial Times

“Delicately written and compellingly acted… Ila Arun makes a commanding matron whose threatening stare, tautly drawn lip, and downcast gaze send chills down my spine”
Spoonfed |  Click here to read the full review

“Class, complicated matters of the heart and the role of women take centre stage…  for powerful, thought-provoking drama, Tamasha clearly triumphs every time
Official London Theatre
Click here to read the full review

“This intricate play about honour, propriety and fear finds a perfect home in the house of Pakistani matriarch Bilquis Bibi. The life in a small town in Pakistan is beautifully etched in the play”
Asian Age
Click here to read the full review

“Pakistan is a complex country – but for anyone with an interest in this part of the world, it is surely required viewing”
Camden New Journal Click here to read the full review

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The House of Bilquis Bibi

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Bilquis Bibi rehearsals: week 3

Rebecca Morahan:

A few things stood out for me in the final week of rehearsals. One was the idea of recovering or finding a sense of carelessess in performance, in the most positive sense of the word; once there is clarity about what the actor is playing in each scene, encouraging them to let go and not be too ‘careful’ in how they are playing it. It made me reflect on the challenge of good acting – how to keep that flexibility and freshness in each performance, while not losing the detail that has been discovered. Another related point was the importance of really listening to the other actors in a scene. The company tried an exercise which illustrated brilliantly how a conversation can be compelling to watch if the actors are really listening and responding to each other, even if the words themselves make no sense.

I’m excited about seeing the production on the Hampstead Theatre stage and the intimacy it affords – I wish I could be a fly on the wall on tour as it will be fascinating to see how different audiences respond to the play. I really admire Tamasha for their openness in inviting observers into the rehearsal room and am grateful to Kristine for her generosity with her energy, despite all the other demands on her time during the last few weeks! It has also been fantastic to meet the other observers and members of the wider Tamasha family with whom I hope I can stay in touch.

Andrea Milde:

One of the themes that Kristine tried to get across within the last weeks was that the performers have to bring themselves to the work. I strongly agree with that and would think that it is essential for anything artistic and performative, and it is certainly important for me in my own artistic work. I realised though that not many participants seemed to be very familiar with this idea of bringing yourself to the process. Maybe one could even argue that this idea could apply to any collaborative working process.

If I, as an observer of this production, hadn’t been involved in the working process through little tasks such as writing blog entries, helping with the line learning, and carrying out other more directing oriented tasks, it would have been a fairly different experience for me. In that sense Kristine gave me the chance to bring myself to the process too and I accepted the invitation to collaborate with pleasure.

I was also wondering— isn’t this idea (of bringing yourself to the artistic process) similar to what Roland Barthes described in ‘the grain of the voice’?  It certainly reminds me of it and seems worth looking into —that’s what I think anyway. This production has certainly been very inspiring to me in all sorts of ways.


Bilquis Bibi rehearsals: gallery

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Photography: Robert Day


Bilquis Bibi rehearsals: week 2

My god, it is coming up to end of week two and I have simply not had time to write a blog until now. This rehearsal process has been very demanding, very precise and has required a lot of energy. I have also bought a bike and am cycling in and out of work and therefore that may have something to do with my complete exhaustion at the end of week two.

I wanted to write last Sunday night – sensing how different last Sunday was to the Sunday before we began rehearsals. Before we began, real anticipation and fear hoping that tubes go on strike so you can’t get in – and then last Sunday – waiting for the thrill of getting back to rehearsals on Monday morning to push on…

We have a wonderful and clever company and what a joy to have Ila Arun with us – a real talent, a true artist – hugely generous and with a sense of humour that makes everyone feel easy and calm in those high octane moments. And it’s a joy to be working with Indira Joshi again after some years (she last worked with Tamasha in Balti Kings) – she brings herself and her experience in a way that is so very effecting.

One more week to go before we get into the auditorium…


Bilquis Bibi rehearsals: week 2

The Observers’ thoughts on the second week of of rehearsal for The House of Bilquis Bibi:

Rebecca Morahan:

The second week has felt quite epic, even though I have only been observing for three days. I feel I am gaining a lot from just witnessing the process as it unfolds. Running through longer sections today the play was really coming alive, and it was possible to see the results of the work so far which was exciting.

I have been struck this week by how directing is akin to medicine. I feel at times like a junior doctor watching Kristine making a diagnosis – an accurate assessment of what might be blocking an actor or a scene – then proposing an exercise which gets to the root of the problem rather than just responding to a symptom in a state of mild panic as I know I have sometimes done! At the same time I am aware of the importance of not intervening too soon and giving space to the actors to find and ‘drop into’ a performance over time.

In this sense the actor-centred approach is really making sense to me. I am aware of how much I have focussed in the past on the text and my ideas about it, to guide my suggestions in rehearsals. Observing this process is making me aware of the need to shift my focus, at times almost seeing black instead of white – centering my attention on the actors in the room and how best to help them, rather than the characters as abstract entities.

The introduction of sound this week has really added texture and a sense of place. It is tantalising seeing the model of the set and the beginnings of costume and imagining the different elements coming together.


Renu Arora:

Well, week two has come to an end, and what an interesting and intense week it’s been.

Watching Kristine working with two of the actors at the beginning of the week to bring out a truth in the opening scene was fascinating to watch. One of the actors has a tendency to ‘play’ comedy, and sometimes caricature her performance. During an improvisation with both actors around the story, the actor found a vocal freedom, and as a result, both actors were able to find a lovely rhythm within the scene that grew naturally.

Kristine’s emphasis on ‘playing actively’ is fascinating.  She talks about listening and responding in the moment during a scene – this does help make extraordinary, engaging theatre. During improvisations, the actors are mostly free to listen and respond actively – and the key is to keep this quality whilst playing the scene. When, however, the actors dont have their ‘impro head’ on (as Kristine calls it), the scene often becomes flat, and the thread between all the actors on stage, gets cut. So each actor needs to bring this quality to the stage all the time, for there to be actively engaging theatre.

Another interesting moment for me was during the overture sequence which involves movement to create some beautiful ‘tableaux’. Whilst explaining to the actors how stylised this piece needs be (involving the actors making shapes with each other propelled out of their grief), she stated that the movement has to have the psychology within it for it to have meaning. I found this fascinating, as such a simple thought, can (and did) make such a huge difference to how fluid and connected the scene can become.

It saddens me to think that the rehearsal period will be over in ten days. I am already learning so much, and putting it into practice in my own show has felt very exciting indeed.


Andrea Milde

Actors, not characters.

Imagine a director instructing an actor to act in a certain way. Wouldn’t you expect the term ‘character’ to pop up sooner or later? In the rehearsals with the director Kristine Landon-Smith the term ‘character’ doesn’t come up and it doesn’t seem to be missing.

Her approach is rather to work with the actors and with what they can bring to the process, which shows some of Philippe Gaulier’s influence on Kristine’s way of working. She asks the actors to play with pleasure, and to play in response to what they hear in that particular moment. She has certainly created her very own way of stimulating the actors to play in a spontaneous ―rather bottom-up than top-down― manner. That includes finding, developing, and providing helpful tools for the actresses in their play in this particular process, if necessary.

It has been most interesting to see how Kristine has gradually developed these tools with individual actresses in a very detailed and careful way ―which might have been quite hard work at times for both the director and actor. One of those tools for the actors is the specific use of a particular language and accents in the rehearsal process which function as a key or door to their acting in this play. It’s fascinating to watch.


Bilquis Bibi rehearsals: week 1

Over the rehearsal period for The House of Bilquis Bibi, observers Andrea Milde, Rebecca Morahan and Renu Arora will be blogging their thoughts as they go.

Andrea:

Very intensive stuff! Kristine communicates with the actors in a very direct way, and she is open about it. One of the many things I already found impressive so far is the  way she makes use of improvisation. She quickly creates carefully chosen scenarios for improvisation to trigger the actor’s exploration for a particular attitude or relationship. I don’t know if I have ever met a director who is so determined to see each actor at their very best; and she is not willing to put up with anything less. Kristine knows the qualities and strength of each individual actor and might at times have to show them what they are capable of. The working process isn’t about following a ready-made concept and squeezing the actors into their character. It is rather about challenging and confronting the individual actor and make them open up to the working process.

And opening up is certainly what they all did after those complex and always straightforward rehearsals, interwoven with those very clever improvisation parts. Kristine wants to have a conversation with the cast and wants to explore things herself, which is very unique, I think. It’s amazing what comes to light during those highly energetic sessions, unpredictable and exciting actors and unpredictable and exciting characters.

Rebecca:

After just two days as an observer I feel I am already learning a lot about directing and the rehearsal process. I am struck by how Kristine injects energy into the room and keeps the pace going – it feels like every moment is being used constructively. At the same time, there is space for playfulness and for discovering the play through a very precise and creative use of improvisation. This is really valuable to witness, as I am realising that analysing and talking about the text in rehearsals is not always the most useful ‘way in’ to creating a performance and can be a distraction or even a hindrance for actors.  I’m really enjoying watching the cast work with each other and start to create the world of the play and live the relationships between them.

Another fascinating aspect is the use of different languages and accents in rehearsal. I understand that his is an integral part of the way Tamasha work. Using different languages in a piece of theatre is something I’ve been thinking about recently and it’s really exciting to see it in action.

Renu:

Kristine’s use of improvisation, and how she tailors her approach to each individual actor is inspiring.  Whilst working with one of the actors, she noticed that she needed to be more neutral. Through setting up improvisations both in her own language and in English but with a heavy Punjabi accent , the actor was able to find ‘more of a ‘neutrality’ in her performance. Kristine mentions that the more neutral we are, the more free we are to actually hear the other person, and to react truthfully.

I am particularly interested in how Kristine finds exactly what is stopping each actor being true to the text. Sometimes an actor’s preparation of the character can block them from being open.  An actor can have a beautiful quality of simplicity and presence whilst improvising, but when it comes to the text, unnecessary embellishments can sacrifice its simplicity.

I am also fascinated by Kristine’s use of imaginative exercises – in order to help one actor assume a more ‘active’ energy in one of her scenes, she set up an improvisation where the actor would copy and imitate the energy/body language/tone of voice etc. of the actor she was playing against – the result was very interesting as energy shifted in that moment, and consequently the scene became much more engaging and dynamic.

I am already learning so much from observing this process, finding ways in which this will help shape my own style.


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