As easy as A B C… (Mr Lear and Mr Thumb)

Mr Thumb's A 001

I’m mid-way through painting an A. It’s a prop for Memorandum. It’s yellow. Very yellow. And it will soon be yellow and red. I haven’t painted anything for years and I’m really enjoying this simple task.

The A is used in a range of scenes set in the Ptydepe classroom. Ptydepe is an artificial language that is introduced into the company in the play with the aim of making office communications simpler and more precise. All the employees have to learn Ptydepe and, thus, they have to attend classes. These classes are taught by Mr Lear and the classroom scenes are some of the funniest in the play as – for the most part – they are sheer nonsense.

I say “for the most part” because through these scenes, I do think Havel is satirising poor teaching and useless learning. Mr Lear is the kind of teacher who simply lectures (the scenes are largely monologues). He doesn’t notice if his students misbehave. He doesn’t really seem to care if they learn, though he is very pleased to be able to give an A to the only keen student in the class – Mr Thumb – who shows off his knowledge to the teacher by simply repeating back exactly what has been said, however nonsensical . Mr Lear  just enjoys the sound of his own voice and, though commendably passionate about his subject, makes no attempt to connect with the class in front of him. He appears to live in an almost completely theoretical world and doesn’t ever use real-life, relevant examples to bring the lesson to life for the students, such as those used in the best modern classrooms today.

Here he is in action with some of his class:

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A Picture Paints A Thousand Words (Mr Pillar)

Mr Pillar is a very important character in Memorandum. Mr Pillar is also very hard to blog about – for reasons that will become clear, if you see the show. (I hope you do!)  I will, therefore, let pictures do the talking…

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All for One (Stroll, Savant and Helena)

The staff of the Translation Centre in “Memorandum” are a fairly tight-knit trio. The laid back, appetite-driven, Otto Stroll is in apparently in charge, but the, perhaps, more dynamic Dr Alex Savant and Chairman Nellie, often move events forward – or at least onwards in a circular manner… All of them serve to frustrate both Gross and Ballas at various points in the play, though not necessarily deliberately, and, for me, they represent the type of workers who get on – energetically or otherwise – with the task in hand, and are quite happy to exist in their own little departmental bubble; they don’t, however, really think in any long-term or wide-reaching manner or do much, if anything, on initiative. In some ways, then, quite ideal employees, especially for a dictatorial manager (or deputy)… but, in others, the worst sort – can they be relied on, if things go wrong?

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At the Helm (Mr Gross)

Leading on from my last blog post, another major idea explored wittily in Memorandum is leadership and management. What is good leadership? Who makes a good boss? Is it a person with ideas s/he is willing to drive through at any price, or one with emotional intelligence and an empathy with his/her employees? Linked to this, should the leader carry the weight of responsibility for everything that happens in his/her organisation – even the things of which s/he is unaware? (Should s/he be unaware of anything – or is that a weakness…?) Mr Gross, the Managing Director – as he often announces – has to grapple with these questions and more during the events of the play. He certainly has a busy few days!

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Power Play (Mr Ballas)

It’s been a good weekend of rehearsals – two lengthy ones – all afternoon of both Saturday and Sunday – and it feels as if things are starting to come together. Lots and lots of photos have been taken, and today we also had a little filming done – not of the play, but of a few rehearsal moments and some interviews with the cast. I was interviewed too, and asked about why the play Memorandum resonates with me. There were lots and lots of answers I could have given, but I found myself talking about power and power shifts and people who don’t “play straight” and don’t reveal the games they are playing in order to achieve power. I’ve met a few people like that – haven’t we all…? In Memorandum, the character who most exemplifies all this is Mr Jan Ballas, the Deputy Manager of the company – at the start, at least. You’ll have to come along to see how his power playing works out for him… Here are a few pictures of him in action in rehearsal this weekend.

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Introducing Memorandum

Memo Poster

In just over a month, ELART Productions will be presenting the play Memorandum in Lancaster Library (May 6, 8 and 9 at 7.30pm to be precise). Written in 1965 by Vaclav Havel, the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia, and translated by Vera Blackwell, Memorandum is a very funny, surreal, black comedy that takes a swipe at a whole range of issues, still all-too topical and familiar today – bureaucracy, language, conformity, business practices and inter-personal relationships. It’s a play I first came across years ago at university and I’ve wanted to put on a full production of it ever since. With its political edge, it seems fitting somehow that this will finally happen during election week – I am expecting some of the lines to have particular resonance due to the timing!

As always, it’s huge fun to work with a group of talented and committed people to bring a play to life. We’re a reasonable way into rehearsals now – a certain amount of blocking done and lines well on the way to being learned (aren’t they, any cast members reading this…?!). I’m looking forward to the next stages – adding as much detail and polish as we possibly can, while continuing to learn about the characters and plot. The addition of props will also be particularly interesting on this occasion, including, as they do, fire extinguishers, lots of knives and forks and lots and lots of fruit…

Here are just a very few rehearsal photos from earlier this week. I’ve chosen interesting gestures as the theme for this selection (as always, an area in which I seem to do particularly well…)

elaru xx

 

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