Tim’s Blog: Up and Running

Three performances in. My first actor, Meagan English, had the hardest job and deserves the most praise. She performed the play with me on Tuesday evening in front of three people – my producers Dan, Michele and Will. Our dress rehearsal. An Oak Tree needs an audience to complete it, and three people, no matter how lovely they are, ain’t enough. Particularly when one of those three is taking photographs and the other two are thinking about sight lines and ticket sales. Meagan was beautiful – slight, physically connected, vulnerable. I felt lumbering in my performance compared to her. She is now the face of the Oak Tree press coverage. My old press photographs show me and my co-director Andy Smith – from a photo shoot taken in Germany in 2005. From Andy to Meagan has been quite a ride.

And the ride continues with Peter Gallagher on press night. Odyssey 2 is full this night. Peter and I meet an hour before. I sit in the empty theatre before he arrives and this is always the only nervous time for me. As soon as he enters the space I know what work is to be done. The unknown becomes known. My job is to establish trust and to instill confidence – to prepare the second actor as best I can without giving the game away. The hour is different every time, just like the show – it’s a dialogue and as such needs to be open and responsive.

Peter is generous and intelligent and emotional in the performance. An Oak Tree pushes hard in places. I know there will be a narrative pay-off to these harder sequences, but there’s no way I can communicate this knowledge to my actor – they have to go there blind. And sometimes I think I’m almost asking too much. No actor has ever backed out, and Peter is there throughout it all. The intensity pays dividends in terms of the story-telling – and our first priority in the whole experience is to tell the story. Peter tells it beautifully. My friend Brian is in the audience this night. He’s seen the show maybe four times in its history. Afterwards he says that this was the best he’s ever seen. After the show, as so often happens, the desire to de-brief with my actor is swamped by the occasion. We are herded to a reception in the lobby where audience members are eager to engage. In my fantasy, the theatre would have an oak lined room with two arm chairs and a bottle of Laphroaig – to where me and the second actor could retire for an hour after the show and just gently work out what the hell went on. Instead Peter and I shake hands and he goes off into the night.

Last night, the turn of the incomparable Clancy Brown. Before the show Clancy does the most extraordinary thing. He phones a friend who’s coming to see the show that night and tells him not to. From the feeling he’s got from the pre-show chat with me he is convinced that this friend must DO the show, not watch it. And so it will be – at some time in the future of the run. Clancy is a towering presence in the play – bruised and wounded and feeling. At times I look at him and he looks almost startled – genuinely lost in it all. It’s a quality that corresponds so well with the emotional state of the character he’s playing. At the end he’s a bit speechless. We head to a bar where we meet up with the friend he banned from seeing the show. Because his friend is there we can’t talk about what happened. So we talk about soccer and music and children. He drinks a whisky from the glass that every second actor receives for their services – a simple tumbler with the words ‘an oak tree’ engraved on it.


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