A Word with (The Country) Director, Brenden Hooke

FAST Festival

During QUT Creative Industries and La Boite’s recent FAST Festival, Emilie Guillemain caught up with the director of SUDS’ production of Martin Crimp’s The Country, Brenden Hooke.

Emilie: Can you tell me a little bit about The Country, and how the idea for it first came about?

Brenden: The idea came from the script to start with. It’s the first play I’ve read that I truly just fell in love with. It was very captivating and that’s because of the images that were evoked from the script. The way Crimp has written it is so descriptive of both the countryside and what it means to be a fish out of water. It was one of those plays where the images came to life out of reading the text simultaneously, so I immediately had ideas as I was reading it – it found a physical realisation as I was reading it.

It was weird because you aim to create a show and you have all these ideas and concepts, and a lot of the time they have to be paired back due to practicalities, logistics etc. So it becomes about how can you make a show that’s truthful to what you want to do but also truthful to the text. For me, what I wanted to do was let the script speak for itself but create a frame around it that evoked the feelings that I personally felt the play drew out of me. The ideas of the desolation, the isolation.. all the characters in the play I believe are so incredibly distant and detached from each other and also in their location.

The play takes place in nowhere specific, Crimp’s text is simply set in the country, the time is the present – nothing more than that. The way he’s written it is without any character notations. It’s just dashes (one dash, line, dash, another line) to infer who’s saying what line at what time. So it’s already like the script itself is abstracted. The way in which these characters interact with each other is slightly abstracted, too. But for me, I think the play is entirely about language; how people use language and how language fails at times. There’s a line at the end of Rebecca’s scene with Richard. After she’s told this massive story about how the whole situation has come to be and she’s challenging him to talk about this.

Richard – “I’m not prepared to have this conversation.”

Rebecca – “What is it that you’re not prepared to have?”

Richard – “How can I say what I don’t know what to say?”

Rebecca – “Well exactly, there’s no such thing. There’s no limit to what we can say, only a limit to how honest we’re prepared to be.”

I think that summarises the general attitude of the play itself; about what isn’t said, about how we use language to move around, to orbit around what it is we actually can’t say. Language becomes a barrier, something that we use to put distance between each other when really language should be used to bring us together. There’s this massive disconnect between what we want to say and what we actually do say and I think what we do say actually pushes us away from each other, especially with these characters in the script.

So my idea was to find the best way to let the script speak for itself. I read the play and thought, these are beautiful words; the language is beautiful, it’s slightly absurd and a little bit surreal. This is how people…speak, but not speak. It’s abstracted away from how we normally interact. So what we tried to figure out was what the intentions were, what the double meanings were behind each word. What story it was that we were trying to tell and for me, it was one about distance and isolation; both from each other and the environment that we’re in.

Emilie: What have you enjoyed most about directing this particular piece?

Brenden: The discussion and the challenge of the script. Someone once said, “Being a director isn’t about making the decisions on what’s the best part or finding the right choices to be made, it’s about sitting in a rehearsal room, seeing all the available options to you and choosing what the best one is.”

What I’ve enjoyed so much is having these massive discussions with the cast about every sentence, getting in behind the words, seeing what Crimp has written and trying to question that, trying to test our ideas and see what becomes of that. It’s been a very collaborative process. It hasn’t been a one-way street. Given the way in which these motifs run throughout the play, given these themes that Crimp keeps bringing up throughout the text, there’s a lot of repetition. To question what do these evoke, what do these mean? And having these discussions and trying to funnel them into a coregent piece has been the most rewarding because I’ve been able to work with 3 actors who are incredibly intelligent and who have brought new ideas and challenged my own.

It’s been about finding the happy medium between what they feel and what I’m interested in, in the text itself. Certainly it would be the rehearsal room process – trying different things, having the discussions about the story and the characters, seeing what those discussions and the experimentations in the rehearsal room lead to.

Emilie: Is this the first time the play has showcased?

Brenden: Showcased, yes. The play was originally performed in May last year. It was one of SUDS Cellar shows. We do 12 shows a year and it was the 6th show of the year in 2011. We decided to remount it at the beginning of 2012 to take it to FAST and so we began the rehearsal process again. We performed it in Sydney for 2 nights, in a different space, so I had to reappropriate the set.

Emilie: How has it grown since then?

Brenden: The development of character has grown. In its original literation we had 5 weeks of rehearsal. The way the slots are divided up for Cellar mean that you only get about 5-6 weeks of rehearsal. There was a lot that we missed out on being able to explore and investigate with that, simply for matters of practicality, time etc.

We’ve had about 2 months to rework the show from getting confirmed in the festival and during that time we’ve been able to delve deeper into the text. We’ve come to the show with our existing ideas of it but it started off with us having a dinner, sitting around the table, reading the play and starting again. Asking ourselves, a year later what’s sifting back up? Because all of us have done different projects – I’ve worked on different things – hopefully we’ve grown in our creative ability and coming back to reflect upon this has meant that we’ve brought new knowledge and new skills as well to bear on the rehearsal process.

Having 2 months to rehearse has meant that we’ve had so much more time to rehearse, test and try different things. So much of the play is about the delivery of certain lines, the particular intonations, the rolling of the eyes…the glances away from each other.

Originally Corrines character was a lot weaker and we found a much more strengthened version of her in this run-round. That itself was like a ripple that affected the rest of the dynamic of the play, both forwards and backwards. The way that the rest of the story was told meant the show had grown into something completely different. I think that was incredibly surprising because it’s as if you’re looking at a puzzle piece or a machine full of cogs and you think you’re turning it this way and you get this effect. But what if I turn it this way..and suddenly you see everything sort of spiral off in different directions from a simple decision to change the way a line is said. You have these tiny revelations that are spotted through, and they all have a flow-on effect. I think the show has grown out of it, through the process of little tiny discoveries and overall lead to a significantly different show to its first literation.

Emilie: And three words to sum up your experience of FAST 2012?

Brenden: Invigorating, exciting and challenging.

Final words from Brenden: The script itself was something that got underneath my skin and sat there for a while. After I finished reading it, it was something that was on my mind. I hope that this production also got under the audience’s skin and has left people with a lingering feeling about the ideas that are contained in the play; I hope it left a mark, because it certainly left a mark on me.

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