28 August 2018 • Jessi Clayton
The Human Voice Rehearsal Diary: Week 2This week was our last week grappling with the text before getting the piece on its feet. Jean Cocteau refers to The Human Voice as a “monologue-dialogue”, suggesting that the voice on the other end of the call is vital to the work. This week, therefore, we grappled with the ‘dialogue’.
By the end of week one we had a script that sounded much more like Leanne than like a Parisian socialite from the 1930’s. The first couple of read-throughs at the beginning of this week had fewer moments of hesitation at lines not ringing true. The pauses were now more often in relation to a question of whether or not we want to lean into a political sentiment, or whether a fixed element of the original version is dating ours. Most of these questions, we decided, can be worked out when the play is mobile. We cannot fully explore one of the other primary concerns in the piece, “the dichotomy between what is seen and what is heard”, until we work out what exactly is being seen. Without exploring embodiment of some specific sentiments we cannot find an authentic reaction to them, and neither can we find actual juxtaposition between what she is saying and what she is doing based only on the saying.
The final bit of the text to work out, therefore, was the unspoken half of the dialogue. The only certainties we had established about ‘him’ through working with Leanne on creating her character were that ‘he’ is a man, and that ‘he’ intends this to be their final phone call. We spent the second half of the week working through who ‘he’ is, and what ‘he’ is saying to Leanne over the hour she is on stage. Our own experiences of being both the person being left and the person leaving a relationship were unavoidable in conversation. Looking at both sides of the call through this lens forced us to recognise that there is a complexity to each. It forced us to have some degree of empathy towards ‘him’, or at least an understanding of his reasons for leaving ‘her’. We played with different options for Leanne to respond to, and tried to embrace the one for each instance that seemed the most interesting and realistic regardless of how uncomfortable it might have made us feel. We interrogated what our expectations were for ‘her’ reaction to being left by ‘him’, and how closely those were tied to western society’s expectations of how women should act during a breakup. Is a woman’s rage only valid if the thing that has enraged her is considered severe enough by societal standards? When can a woman’s rage, pain, and sadness be active rather than being presumed to be reactive?
For the last read-through of the week we had our rehearsal set, as well as some stage lights to change the atmosphere of the room. We also had some designers sit in to listen, and ‘his’ lines for me to read out. Hearing the piece as a two-hander as a shared spectator experience gave us a new perspective to take into consideration leading up to next week’s rehearsals. We were given notes by the designers on what sounded conversational, what sounded forced, and what resonated to people with a bit more detachment from the piece than us. We now have a dialogue, and moving forward can utilise this to help ‘her’ take ownership of ‘her' side as we put the monologue on its feet next week.