2 October 2017 •
Suzy Storck rehearsals: Week 1It's June, the start of the summer. I'm having a pint with Jean-Pierre, who's directing Suzy Storck. We've just finished a week of auditions. Rehearsals aren't till September. 'Ca va arriver vite,' he says - it'll be here quick.
It's the end of September. Summer's over. I'm having a burrito in Brixton village with Jean-Pierre. He's just arrived on the Eurostar from Paris. Tomorrow is the first day of rehearsals. Déjà - already. It's the first time he's directing a play in English. The first time he's directing a play in a language other than French. How do you say 'le trac' in English, he asks. 'Nerves – nervous' I reply. It's my first time assisting too. And I'm translating. Jean-Pierre was going to spend the summer in Scotland to brush up on his English but ended up going to Avignon and Sardinia instead. Hard to blame him... His English is good, but not fluent enough to speak like he would with French actors. We have 'un petit whisky' as a nightcap before parting ways - 'A demain!'. Rehearsals start tomorrow.
In the rehearsal room, Jean-Pierre is pure energy. He paces and circles, jumps up and down on the spot, returns to his chair and leaps back up again. As the actors read their lines and start to block the scenes, he interjects with a stream of encouragement – 'oui! oui! super travail!' - 'great work!'. One moment I turn around and he's standing on the window ledge, the next, he's on the floor, demonstrating how a sheep is strung up by its hind legs, having its throat slit. He likes to speak too. As he speaks, I translate. Simultaneously. When I arrive home after the first day I lie on my bed and close my eyes. It's 8 in the evening. When I open them it's 11.30. I close my eyes again and sleep another 8 hours. But as the week goes on, I'm less tired. It's easier to keep up. Jean-Pierre is speaking in English more. We are finding our rhythm.
'Je veux pas entendre le rythme' says Jean-Pierre. Literally, 'I don't want to hear the rhythm'. What he means is he doesn't want to see the actor injecting pace, artificially driving the scene forwards. But he doesn't want to allow the audience the time to reflect on each scene either. Not until they come out at the end, at least. The most beautiful thing in theatre, he says, is to lose track of time. The most tedious thing in theatre is to be aware of time. In Suzy Storck, time runs backwards. In Suzy Storck we are immersed in naturalistic action one moment and listening to a chorus tell us the story the next. But we are always in the present (even when we are in the past, or in memories). Suzy's 'heart is a clock', relentlessly beating out every second leading to the inevitable catastrophe. Suzy would like to rip the pendulum out of her clock heart but she cannot, no more than she can stop time itself. At every moment, we are reminded of time, its passage and its oppression, and yet we are asking the audience to lose track of it it.
It's Sunday. I'm meeting Jean-Pierre at a pub in Islington, for Sunday roast – 'a meal traditionally eaten in England on a Sunday'. I'm not quite sure where the first week has gone. In France, they have seven or eight weeks to rehearse a play. Here, just four. 'Ca va passer vite,' says Jean-Pierre – it'll go quickly.
We take the Victoria line back towards Stockwell for me and Clapham for him (the Northern line is closed). 'Ils font la grève?' he asks – 'They're on strike?'. 'Just works on the line,' I tell him. We get to my stop. 'A demain!' Week two of rehearsals starts tomorrow.