This weekend the Fatherland cast, creative and technical teams are travelling up to Manchester after four weeks rehearsal at the studios of our partners, The Lyric Hammersmith.
The last few weeks have seen huge turmoil in our country as we have struggled with the appalling attacks in Manchester and London, and this week the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, which is located a short distance from our rehearsal base in West London.
Rehearsals have stopped periodically as we have observed a minute’s silence in respect of the victims of these events and our thoughts have been with them.
Members of our cast and crew are from the cities and communities affected and we have been conscious of the need for support for those in our own small “creative family”.
Once again, our beleaguered emergency and public services have stepped up to the challenge in the most harrowing circumstances and we would like to pay tribute to them here publicly.
In Fatherland I play an ex-firefighter from the Midlands, an area I grew up in, and my Father himself served with Staffordshire Fire Service. As I have watched these men and women on the news channels working in the most demanding conditions I have questioned my own work as an artist and its validity at this time of great need and pain.
What am I doing? Am I of any real use? What is the purpose of theatre to our nation?
These are questions that I feel artists need to ask themselves daily. Often the answers are vague, inconclusive and without any sense of real coherence but occasionally what was once a hunch or a disparate collection of thoughts becomes a little more tangible.
My belief is, that in some small way we add to a collective consciousness.
A gradual and often frustratingly slow process of healing and resolution. Our frustration is based in ego. We expect instant results and overestimate the power of our work as the means to immediate change, but the constant drip into a collective consciousness is no less valid a process.
In no way am I equating artistic angst with the work of frontline public servants, I would crumble if faced with the work they do daily but our society is made up of people with different attributes and talents and as an artist I seek to ask questions, encourage debate and sometimes to offer balm.
Fatherland seeks to explore not only who we are as fathers and sons but also our identity as a nation and citizens.
As artists we need to engage more with all sectors of society in an attempt to understand and unite.
The verbatim process seeks to give a voice to the unheard and to democratize the spaces we play, in a way some plays fail to do.
We hear not only the words and thoughts of the interviewees but also their own idiosyncratic speech patters and vocabulary. What we learn is, people communicate efficiently and with great poetic grace. This skill is not limited to the accepted face of the “educated class”. Our speech patterns and rhythms reflect our life influences and environment and they in turn lead to moments of great clarity and insight.
As members of Frantic Assembly we approach work in a multi faceted way, with particular emphasis on a physical expression of thought and emotion.
As a company of actors we are a pretty mixed bag physically and for some of us the work offers challenges we have not faced before. The process in the rehearsal room seeks to examine those challenges we face and to support where necessary, accepting the fact that as performers we all bring something different and productive to the room. Some bring a youthful energy and enthusiasm and some with a few years behind them, a solidity and base to build upon both physically and emotionally.
We have people that lead the room but we all have a voice, all contributions are listened to and discussed without being patronised, we feel heard. Its not Utopia, it has challenges and conflict and disagreement like all communities but we all have a common goal in mind, the welfare of each other and to the people outside of our “bubble” that we engage with. It is our small contribution towards the aforementioned collective consciousness.
In writing this piece I have started to find the beginnings of an answer to my previous questions.
In seeking “the big answer” I realise that it is counter productive to my work. Comparisons to the work of others and my own validity are ego driven and pointless.
My job is to not know.
My job is to remain open to the possibility of being surprised, confronted, confused and challenged. My job is to “get myself out of the way” enough to allow others to speak, to not offer easy solutions but to give voice to that which is unheard.
Nick Holder plays Mel in Fatherland, which runs at Manchester International festival from 1st to 22nd July. Buy your tickets here.