Monday, 14 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week three

This week, Faithful Ruslan Assistant Director George Nichols talks about the challenges which come with moving from the process of exploration to working towards a more refined product.

Tangible progress is the order of the week. Less time can now be afforded to exploration, as, after all, we do have to finish the play. That means our rehearsals have been split with some time afforded to working further on what we’ve already done in the first half of the play and the rest of the time spent continuing on working through the play. While the collective conscience of the chorus improves every day and their movements come closer to being instinctive and intuitive, consistent practice is needed to maintain this, like practising an instrument. Ultimately in this production, it’s important to get the balance right, as the big choral set pieces need to be polished and progressed, whilst progress also needs to be made on the script.

This being a new play, and an adaptation based on a translation, the main edition of the book is in English as Russia has never published the text, there is constant chopping and changing. This also means that seeing a skeleton of the play is essential, to see if the adaptation effectively translates the book to the stage. There are many difficulties involved in adaptation, aspects that seem the most stageable when reading the book can quickly seems ineffective in practice, and so it is important to be able to kill your darlings and pursue the best version of the play possible.

It is important to locate the moments that need changing quickly so that amendments may become embedded in the cast’s minds as early as possible. This means that this week’s rehearsals didn’t focus on achieving as much detail as we would eventually like in favour of seeing the staging of the complete script and this can be irritating to both the creative team and the cast. However, once the structure and words of the play and firmly in the cast’s minds we can start layering detail and precision more effectively.

From a practical viewpoint, the rehearsal period for this kind of play is very challenging. The script is constantly changing and so myself and the stage management team need to be constantly aware of what is happening in order that the book can be kept up to date. The other creatives who are not in the room (and in many cases not even in the country) need to be kept aware of these changes so that they know how the play currently works and can adjust their own work accordingly. While this is challenging, a production like this is one of the reasons why you want to make theatre in the first place; to be part of a process the relies on constant invention, imagination, creativity and most importantly a talented and generous cast.

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week two

Assistant Director George Nichols shares all the latest news from the Faithful Ruslan rehearsal room in his second blog. This week they've looked at the complexities of staging a play from a dog's point of view and how a ‘physical language’ is being created for the actors. 
Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog rehearsals - week two -

In the second week, you quickly learn that progress in terms of pages is not necessarily the most important thing; particularly in a production like Faithful Ruslan. On some afternoons you can get through a significant chunk of the play, but the satisfaction you feel from this pales in comparison to the satisfaction felt when progress is made in regard to creating an understandable on stage language. Progress like this has ramifications throughout the rest of the process. It goes without saying that a play told from the point of view of an animal presents some challenges in terms of staging, that’s why some of the best moments of this weeks rehearsals were when text, physicality and sound married together perfectly to create a visceral insight into the world of Ruslan.
Of course, progress was made with regards to the script too, and every day we get nearer to being able to do a full run. One of the exciting, but also challenging, aspects of working on a production of this kind is that as the play constantly changes so do the production elements that go with it. The rehearsal room is a kind of document in itself, as the props brought in by our wonderful stage management team reflect where the production has been at different points over the last fortnight. The room is strewn with various army jackets, boxes, suitcases, buckets and even a peculiar leather dog mask.
Much of this week’s time has been spent on structuring the big choral moments of the first half of the play. The cast create many aspects of the play, and so a lot of time is spent working out the best way to create a tractor on stage, or a train, or a market place. This requires constant ingenuity from both the cast as well as Helena (Director) and Marcello (Movement Director). The actors have to be constantly aware, and continue to do sessions every morning with Marcello to develop their understanding and coordination. Going into the next few weeks this will be vital, so time is saved by the cast having a collective understanding of the world they inhabit so decisions can be made collectively, without too much hesitation.
Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog -

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.  

Friday, 4 August 2017

Faithful Ruslan: The Diary of an Assistant Director - week one

Rehearsals are now underway for our exciting co-production of Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog, a new adaptation of the cult Russian novel by Georgi Vladimov. Assistant Director George Nichols will be sharing his experience of bringing this story to life on stage over the coming weeks.  

The first week of a rehearsal is like standing on a cliff at the edge of the ocean; your feet tingle with anticipation as you long to jump into the great expense of mysterious water that is the play. This has certainly been the case with Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog, as the strange and enticing world of Josef Stalin’s Siberian prisons, also known as ‘gulags’, was waiting to be explored and excavated. Georgi Vladimov’s compelling dissident novel illuminates the reality of a life lived in service of a system through the eyes of a dog, and Helena Kaut-Howson’s exciting adaptation requires a unique process the melds the strands of textual work, movement and research to create a physical language that demonstrates the social and political context of the play. Our days have been split accordingly, with a large amount of time devoted to both movement and textual work.

The text relies on a strong chorus, and thus the movement director Marcello Magni has spent a lot of time with the cast working on techniques to help them become an ensemble that are able to think and act as one. This has involved exercises inspired by Jacques Lecoq’s chorus techniques; such as adding multiple instructions to collective tasks so the cast may become sensitive and responsive to each other’s actions. All of the cast must quickly change between prisoners, guards and dogs and so time has been spent working on quick physical transformation, and needless to say, there has been lots of running around on all fours!

Our initial text work has been focused on making the words of a novel immediate and playable and Helena has also been trying to get people out of their own world’s and sensibilities in order to unlock the complexities of Ruslan’s fanatical devotion to the service. We have also looked at a good deal of research, focusing on a broad range of recorded experiences from those who came into contact with the gulag system. Helena has felt it important that in order to portray the complexities and realities of this world we look at sources that also talk about the positive moments people had in the camps; there was sometimes camaraderie, faith and moments of justice. As well as research into the system, we have also looked at videos that detail the relationship between dogs and their handlers, in order to understand the closeness of their bonds and also how dependent we are on our canine friends.

We now look forward to getting more of the piece on its feet, and pushing off toward deeper waters, where our feet no longer touch the ground…

Stay tuned for more updates from George over the coming weeks! 

Faithful Ruslan: The Story of a Guard Dog runs at the Citizens Theatre from 20 Sep - 7 Oct. Tickets from £12.50. 
Call 0141 429 0022 or visit to book.