Sugar Water goes to Edinburgh

By Arthur Hughes 

Actor Arthur Hughes smiling, with Genevieve Barr in the background

Arthur Hughes in The Solid Life of Sugar Water

Plymouth is but a distant dreamy memory. Edinburgh looms, and I couldn’t be more excited.

The preview run of The Solid Life of Sugar Water at Theatre Royal Plymouth’s Drum space was a tough week, a test of focus and will, and in my opinion a great success.

Following a very successful (and ahead of schedule) technical run, we managed to even slip in an extra dress rehearsal. As the opening night loomed, Gen and I were gagging for an audience. The audience is the missing third character in this play, and we were very much looking forward to meeting them each night.

The nature of the show is a tricky one, dealing with quite raw and delicate subject matter, often confronted in a brutal and powerful way. Therefore it was interesting to gauge audience reaction, and hone our performance each night to which type of audience we had.

The first few moments as the play starts are crucial in determining this, as it would inform us what kind of audience we were dealing with, whether we need to put the brakes on and not push as hard, or let Jack’s writing canter along and take them with it.

Theatre Royal Plymouth were such a fantastic and accommodating team, so supportive and helpful. I think I speak for all when I say that we felt very welcome in The Drum, and that we had done a good job in their wonderful space.

And now, this week we are back at Graeae in Hoxton (London). Two days of catch up rehearsal, a few runs of the play, countless cups of coffee, and then up to Scotland on Sunday for a start on Monday.

It has been an absolute treat to be back on the Sugar Water trail after a 6 week hiatus. Personally, I have missed the gang, the play, the everything immensely. It has felt very familiar throwing ourselves back into the story and the characters, and the ArthurGenAmit dynamic is spinning its turbines again and we are taxiing to the runway, taking off next Wednesday at the Pleasance QueenDome.

It being my very first time at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I am giddy young pup, salivating at the prospect of seeing many different shows, performing to (hopefully) thousands, and exploring a wonderful arts festival for an entire month. It will be all hands on deck once we arrive I am told, and I’m sure lovely Gen will be filling you in next week about that.

See you in Edinburgh! 4pm, Pleasance QueenDome (venue 23), 5 – 30 August.

For more information and to book tickets, click here

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Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 4

By Genevieve Barr

“Yes it’s coming….AAAAHHH.”

Having never given birth myself, it’s probably not an equitable comparison to the insurmountable task of putting together ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’. But after many hours of…labour (sorry), we are now in Plymouth where the days counting down to Opening Night are in the single digits.

Deep breaths.

This week is “Tech Week” – where the set design, lighting, music, choreography and – of course – the acting, all come together. The days are long and the process arduous but for Arthur and I (or maybe just I) it is like hurtling through space through a post office queue, a cinema, a bridge on the Thames and crashing onto earth in a hospital bed. Monday is looming.

“It’s there…AAAHHH.”

Genevieve and Arthur in rehearsal

Genevieve and Arthur in rehearsal

It has an incredible privilege and experience working on this show, there’s been ribaldry, tears and hissy fits (but only one), and the extraordinary efforts that has gone into building this bed on a wall is truly remarkable. I have no doubt that the audience are coming to come into the auditorium and gasp with awe, and hopefully will continue to revel with the help of my masterful acting skills.

And if not mine, then certainly Arthur’s.

The challenges of tech week have brought about a new experience for me – that of having an interpreter. Being deaf and growing up in a hearing family, I’ve always been very well adapted to finding coping mechanisms when there has been lots of people talking or sitting around a bonfire in the dark or listening to music. But having the support here this week when a million different sounds, lights and movements have been thrown in my face on stage, it’s been really helpful.

Though people do seem to forget that I’m not very good at sign language. And so sometimes, I’m left even more clueless than when I started!

The other challenge has been really pulling together all those different elements to the character I’m playing to make one cohesive whole.

The number of people who have lost children whom I have spoken to since starting this play have given me a very stark realisation of the pain and grief that such a tragedy can bring and for me, the responsibility of conveying that has been very hard to shoulder. On top of that, so much of this play is comedy – a hilarity and playfulness that makes the entire ensemble smack of pathos.  This is a play about the love that two people share for one another through the good times and the hard times. This is a rollercoaster like one I have never been on before – steep summits and plummets, twists and turns and we will take you, the audience, with us on this journey from start to finish.

So savour the moments we give you and cherish them with us. Live through our pain and our joy and bear with us sometimes – it’s a difficult journey to share. Although there are moments of abject terror and a brace of nerves, we can’t wait to start ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ next Monday. And if we don’t see you here in Plymouth, we hope you’ll catch us in Edinburgh!

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Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 3

By Arthur Hughes, cast member

And so, we are in Plymouth!

I am writing the 3rd instalment of our Sugar Water blog from the top floor of the charming Plymouth townhouse Genevieve and I are staying in for our sojourn down in the South West.

Opening night looms just over a week away, and we are ready for our intense 7 days ahead to get the show ready.

arthur in rehearsals smiling at genevieve who we can see the outline of in the foregroundThe past week has been a rigorous one. Rehearsals were moved from Graeae HQ in Hoxton, to the Half Moon Theatre in Limehouse.

This was an interesting test for Genevieve and I, to rehearse in an unfamiliar space and to bring the quality of the work we had been doing in the weeks prior to somewhere new. Great practice for when we move into the Drum in Plymouth!

Our focus on this week was understanding the full shape of the play, and tuning and tweaking what we had rehearsed to the next level, (and the next, and the next…). With a piece such as this, there is always more to be found, and the more we delved into the characters and what each scene meant, the clearer the journey became for Phil and Alice, and also for the audience watching them.

Amit was keen for us to discover the love between the two in the play. With the writing sometimes being quite graphic, and stark, it was sometimes easy to forget that, but with such a complex arc for our characters to ride, it was imperative to remember throughout; they are in love!

Moments where Phil attempts to sign ‘I like you’ to Alice, and fails miserably, or the scene where they both dance to Dire Straits were opportunities to really discover the love in the relationship.

The run up to Plymouth has been an intense one. We had our first run at the end of the week, and both Genevieve and I were physically and emotionally spent by the end. We took this as a good sign.

This week in Plymouth before we open will be one to get to know the space we are working. I for one am very excited to see the set, and to get up and have a play on it! With our trusty crew we will embark on a 3 day tech session to perfect all our lights, sounds, cues, and any other issues in the space. We have 2 days at TR2, Theatre Royal’s secondary rehearsal and production space, then come Wednesday we will be in the Drum for the rest of our time.

Bring it on.

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Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 2

By Genevieve Barr, cast member

Genevieve in rehearsals at Graeae. She sits cross legged on the floor of the rehearsal room with script and pencil laid out in front of her. She is wearing leggings and hoodie.

Genevieve in rehearsals at Graea

Exploding boxes, pyjamas, licking necks and lots and lots of baked beans.

After six months overseas, I returned to the UK last month to start rehearsals for a brand new play written by Jack Thorne, ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’. I play the part of ‘Alice’. My wonderful counterpart, Arthur, plays my husband ‘Phil’. And that’s it. There’s two of us. And sixty-six pages of script staring at us.

A tumultuous journey so far, we are finally reaching the end of the second week and gasping for a few days off – but there will be no resting on our laurels. Next week is the last week at Graeae before we take the production to Plymouth, and a dawning of dread is already starting to swirl around my ankles.

So let’s not talk about that.

I am fortunate to have some very supportive friends, whom this week, have kept me in reality check. For when asked about my day, the other day, I said:

“This morning I was experiencing the beginnings of foreplay in bed, this afternoon I went to the cinema, an art gallery and had a kiss on a bridge. I don’t know which one – the text doesn’t say.”

Bless them, because rather than get bogged down the details, they turned to me and said:

“Gen, what on earth are you talking about?”

And that’s the real struggle as you get more and more immersed in this beautiful play, you start to go slightly insane. Acting isn’t about playing the role, it’s about becoming the role. And so, every day ‘Alice’ becomes more Genevieve and Genevieve becomes more ‘Alice’. You might as well start calling us ‘Genalice’.

Thank goodness my character’s name is not ‘Tilda’.

(Try taking the first two syllables of my first name, and the first syllable of ‘Tilda’ and see if you get what I mean)…

Probably not that funny. Sorry.

When I first read the play, two things became immediately transparent to me:

1) This would be one of the toughest roles I’ve had the fortune to play.

2) My granny was definitely, firmly, assertively NOT allowed to come and see it. Our relationship would never recover.

To pinch some of Jack Thorne’s words when he was talking about the play the other day, it is a story about recovery. The couple are trying to deal with a very traumatic event – with the death of a newborn baby and through their grief, their relationship has deteriorated. They have to rediscover why they loved each other in the first place and deal with having sex for the first time since it happened. We will take you through a journey of our relationship – flashing back into the past, but also trying to have sex- an uncomfortable experience both textually and literally.

At least for me – I can’t speak for Arthur!

For while Phil and Alice have been married for a few years, Arthur and Genevieve have only known each other a couple of weeks. The trust and amount you have to give each other in a very short period of time is immense. It isn’t always easy – but we are getting there.

Amit, our director, does a great job of keeping me sane (ironically, for those who know him). He understands which buttons to push with me.

At the start of the week, I was really grappling with with the physical aspects of the play – the movement on the bed (for the bed is upright against the wall, so when we are lying down, we are standing up and when we are standing up, we are lying down)…the mind just boggles. There are a lot of technical aspects to figure out – for the play jumps back and forward, in fact it just hops all over the place. During all of this, I have been trying to understand who my character is and why she feeling the way she is – in every word, sentence, paragraph of the play.

We are getting there – and I am proud of the amount of progress we have made – though there is still a way to go. So it is with excitement, tremulation and slight trepidation that I look ahead to next week and what it brings.

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Sugar Water Rehearsal Diary: Week 1

By Arthur Hughes, cast member

Black and white picture of arthur in rehearsals. In the background there is a blackboard covered with pictures and drawings. Arthur is in the foreground smiling, he is wearing a flowery shirt

Arthur in rehearsals at Graeae

This blog begins the first of many following Graeae’s exciting new production of Jack Thorne’s new play ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’.

I have the pleasure and privilege of playing ‘Phil’ in this play alongside my fellow cast member Genevieve Barr who is playing ‘Alice’.

Rehearsals began last week on the Monday 11th May. I have to admit that before we began rehearsals proper I was rather terrified. Genevieve, Amit Sharma (our wise-cracking director), and I had had 2 research and development days about 3 weeks prior to get the ball rolling, however with a play as complex, delicate and beautiful as this one, the lead up to the first day was a period of excitement, trepidation and, yes, some anxiety.

How marvellous to be writing from the end of the first week with anxiety replaced by hunger and drive!

This week has been an intense, focused and fascinating journey into the play.

One of the main directives of the week has been the three of us combing through the text to decipher all we can about the characters. Cue large A1 size sheets and colourful marker pens on the floor as we detailed all we knew about Alice and Phil.

These large reminders and discoveries are now tiled across the rehearsal room for our reference.

Another vital exercise was assigning each line in the script an active verb to play with the text. In order to realise the full potential of each verb we chose, Genevieve and I physically explored each verb to understand the range we have when playing each line in the script.

Due to the intimate nature of the play, with a lot of action taking place in the bedroom, in the bed; our set is a brilliant concept to make the most of this. With a full size bed vertically lining the back of the set, the actors will stand with backs to the mattress, giving the audience a birds eye view of the couple in bed.

It was therefore imperative that myself and Gen started to become physically literate with what this would entail. Following a session with our movement director Cathy, we began to experiment with different sleeping positions one adopts, and how to use tension and speed with our bodies to fully give the impression of moving around in bed. A lot more exhausting than simply lying in bed I assure you!

One of the most important things this week for me has been solidifying the working relationships with my colleagues. As the play features a cast of only two, each decision and discovery is informed by each other, and our director Amit. I feel at the end of this week that the three of us have forged a malleable, easy, but determined working relationship that has been incredibly fruitful so far. With such a great team around me in all aspects of the production, I am confident in the critical success and potential of the show, and look forward to diving further in over the next 3 weeks before our first preview in Plymouth. Goodness gracious!

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Blood Wedding at Beacon Arts Centre

By Alyson Woodhouse, Creative Learning Trainee

In some ways, this has been a much quieter week for me. I have been working from  Greenock, (a lovely, but extremely wet and windy part of Scotland), but there weren’t
any Blood Wedding Workshops as it happened. I was able to use this bit of quiet time, though to breathe a bit, and reflect on how the placement has gone for me so far.

Alyson with fellow Blood Wedding Trainees, Michelle and Nickie

Alyson with fellow Blood Wedding Trainees, Michelle and Nickie

If someone had asked me before the placement started about what I thought I would learn from the experience, I would probably have spoken about learning how to deliver educational workshops in a more refined way, gaining a clearer understanding of the practical, administrative processes involved in preparing a workshop, and even some more general information about how a show is produced. And, while I have indeed learned a great deal about all of those things, perhaps the area I have discovered most about is accessibility.

Before working with Graeae, I suppose I had an intellectual knowledge of the varying ways theatre can be made accessible for all audience groups, IE the integration of BSL or Audio Description in to a performance. I also had my own ideas about the types of drama that I find easy to follow as a blind person, and why, but I had very little experience of how accessibility is put into practice. I therefore found being given the opportunity to work with Jenny as an Audio Description Consultant for the show an invaluable one, as it has introduced me to the artistic value of accessibility in a performance instead of simply viewing this as a purely practical or intellectual matter. I feel that in a sense, this area of my training with Graeae has made the strongest contribution to my own vision as an aspiring director, as I am wishing to be given the opportunity to some of the skills I have learned in this area into practice.

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Michelle’s Blood Wedding Blog from Derby!

By Michelle Rolfe, Arts Management Trainee

The set of Blood Wedding on the stage at Derby Theatre. The background is dark with the letters LOVE lit up in the centre surrounded by pink light.

The set of Blood Wedding on the stage at Derby Theatre

I am writing this blog from somewhere over the sky’s of England as I return home for a couple of nights before back to Derby next week. Derby Theatre is the first theatre I have been to where the entrance is within a shopping centre, this meant some hunting to find it at first but luckily it is well sign posted. I came down for press night and the following few days. It was lovely to see the Graeae team again and we all enjoyed a night out after the show on Wednesday. As I have previously said a lot of working within the theatre (and many other professions) it is about who you know as much as what you know. Therefore I have been jumping at the chance to get to know people better.

I met Aiyana on Wednesday and caught up on the happenings of Monday and Tuesday. This meeting dictated much of my activity over the following days. Two of our cast members were not in suitable digs and we needed to find somewhere for them both ASAP; both for Derby and the rest of the tour.

It has surprised all of us (even those who have personal experience) in how difficult it has been to find accessible accommodation at a reasonable price. It seems unfair that for wheelchair accessible accommodation you are looking at paying double or more in comparison to dig prices. Most traditional digs are not suitable so you are looking for B&Bs, hotels, student accommodation or holiday lets. Staying in a hotel might sound nice but when you are there for a week or more it’s difficult not to have kitchen or laundry amenities, and it is costly to eat out all the time. We have also learnt that what one hotel considers an accessible room is not the same elsewhere.

Derby Theatre have been very welcoming and given me access to everything I could need while there but I am missing the team in Dundee to!

The set sits nicely on the stage in Derby. It’s a slightly wider stage than Dundee but it works well. Personally I also like the auditorium; it’s very open and lovely when lit. I’ve included a picture of the set from the interval of Friday’s show.

The polaroid pictures displayed on a red pillar as part of Ross Fraser McLean's exhibit at Derby Theatre

The polaroid pictures displayed as part of Ross Fraser McLean’s exhibit at Derby Theatre

Ross Fraser McLeans exhibition is an gorgeous addition to the show. Audience members and members of the team have been asking him if the pictures are for sale.  In Dundee he turned the cafe bar into an exhibition space that had a number of large prints plus 50 small black and white framed photos from rehearsals. These smaller images are my favourite as they give an unusual insight into rehearsals and show both the stresses and the fun in the process. At Dundee Rep’s press night Ross took Polaroid pictures of the team and collated them on one wall, this is a fun way for the audience members to see how many people have been involved in the development of the production. I am sure there are a few faces missing though of the camera shy.

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