Friday, 18 November 2016

Please Don’t Stop the Music… Musings on Week 2 of Hansel and Gretel

By Assistant Director Izzie Milne Turner

Hansel & Gretel at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk

Sound is the beating heart of our Christmas show, Hansel & Gretel. Dominic loves live music in this theatre. Our Macedonian composer, Nikola Kodjabashia, is one of Dominic’s favoured collaborators. They have previously worked together on A Christmas Carol, This Restless House and Crime and Punishment.

Hansel & Gretel at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk
Image by Tim Morozzo
One of the reasons that Dominic enjoys working with Nikola, is that he has a lively and eccentric attitude toward music. For the first music session for Hansel & Gretel Nikola brought in an eclectic assortment of instruments including a drum kit, double bass, bells, shakers, Piano, keyboard, and a Timpani drum. Nikola gets everyone in the cast to play something- regardless of their musical experience: beating out a drum pattern, plucking the double bass, or hitting a rusty triangle. He encourages the notion that playing music is not just for the trained, sheet music type, but open to anyone with a bit of courage and imagination.

Hansel & Gretel at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk
Image by Izzie Milne Turner
Dominic isn’t interested in piped-in sound made outside of the rehearsal room - he wants a natural evolution between the drama and the music. He reminds me, “Theatre is not film”. In film, music is layered on at the end but in theatre we have the opportunity for the theatre making and music to work hand in hand, for the collaboration to be alive and tangible. The scenes are often rehearsed against the sound of instruments being plucked, drummed and bowed.

Hansel & Gretel at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk
Image by Tim Morozzo
What happens in the story and the scenes informs the compositions - and vice versa - the soundscape provides an imaginative setting for the actors - a rich atmosphere for them to immerse themselves in and play off. Nikola has composed an elegant, haunting gypsy melody that recurs in the story in different arrangements (piano, accordion, fairground organ). It’s a real earworm - I often find myself humming it on my way to and from rehearsals!

Hansel & Gretel at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk
Image by Izzie Milne Turner
In our rehearsal room sound doesn’t just mean songs - it has many forms. We use it to illustrate the subconscious, suspense, jeopardy, and the howling wind and rain. It’s the texture and the fabric of the world we are building. And it isn’t always sweet and pretty - it’s contradictory - traversing between soft and rough, light and dark, smooth and broken.

Hansel & Gretel at the Citizens Theatre - citz.co.uk
Image by Tim Morozzo
We love mics. Everyone, at some point, jumps on a microphone to gasp or chew and swallow. Sometimes to do what Nikola calls “gossiping voices” - ominously whispering words from the text like “spoilt”, “lazy” or “punished”. The mics create disembodied voices that brilliantly evoke the supernatural elements of Hansel and Gretel’s world.

After a week with instruments in the rehearsal room, I’ve learnt that sound can release and elevate scenes. A few oriental minor chords, combined with a droning note and a soft beat on the Timpani create the gloom of the forest. A few classical dance chords on the piano create a joyful snow fight. The crashing of a Timpani herald the arrival of a giant. At the end of the week the actors finally set down the instruments and there is silence - the stillness in the eye of the storm.

Join me next week, when I’ll be discussing some of our key staging choices!

6 Dec - 7 Jan

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