Two plays for World War I: the actors’ stories

Posted by S Jack 22nd May 2015

During 2014 Off the Fence developed and toured Two Plays for World War I.

Both plays were each written for one actor, providing many challenges for both writer, director and actor. Read the actors’ stories of how they approached their roles.

Clamber Up the Crucifix by John Kitchen

Jonny McClean is playing all the characters in this challenging play which explores the life of a telegraph key operator in the trenches and also the effects of what we now call post traumatic stress disorder or ‘shell shock’.

Tackling a new play is demanding for any actor. Jonny describes how he approached the role.

What research have you done to prepare for the play?

We’ve done quite a bit of contextual research, visiting Newarke House Museum and seeing letters home really helped to shape some of the attitudes within the play. Also, research into life expectancy for certain army posts such as Captain really helped move the characters from stereotypes into feeling like real people with real justifications for how they acted. We also watched a few videos of men with post traumatic stress disorder which helped inform how Parker would move within the later scenes.

Could you tell us a little about the rehearsal process?

The rehearsal process from first reading the script has followed a consistent pattern. The play only has a cast of one but multiple characters so we first spent a lot of time reading the text, actioning the lines and deciding how each scene was going to work. We would then naturally put it on its feet, then change our minds and re-work all the scenes, gradually getting off-book to a point where we could stitch it all together. We were very lucky to have John (the writer) visit rehearsals quite often and so if we had questions about the lines or parts we wanted to cut we could ask his advice or permission and it was extremely valuable to have his input.

How have your feelings for your characters developed during the rehearsal process?

My feelings for my characters have changed quite a lot; the characters I was very interested in when we first performed an extract have almost swapped, my opinion of the character of Captain George has lowered considerably! I think the character that most interests me out of all of them is Sergeant Hunt, I think he has a steeliness to his character that overlays an immense level of compassion. It’s a layer which I think has very organically developed and is fascinating to play, and incredibly good fun!

What do you think of the whole experience of preparing Clamber Up the Crucifix for performance?

 The whole experience has been incredibly tiring and challenging, but also a fantastic one. I have learnt so much and it’s been a real privilege to be given the responsibility to work with Gary (the director) to bring John’s words to life, fingers crossed he likes it!