Theatre company Cheek by Jowl give some insights into preparing their next performance, Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, at les Gémeaux, Sceaux. It's a play where two worlds exist: Bohemia and Sicilia. When the characters leave their countries, they learn about themselves.
After six weeks of rehearsals in London, the Cheek by Jowl team is performing Winter's Tale in the suburbs of Paris. As they prepare the play, an English-language production in collaboration with the French theatre, the melodies of the French and English languages can be heard working side by side.
Cheek by Jowl director-designer duo Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod have been working to break open the play and find the life in the piece. Our production centres on loss, abandonment and redemption. The play implies the possibility of forgiveness and redemption, and this is one of our initial interests in doing the piece and indeed a great universal theme - as we all wish that everything comes good in the end.
Declan Donnellan works very closely with the actors, giving them many options to find the ‘life’ in the scene. He looks for moments that are recognisable as the human condition and, in rehearsals, gives the actors images, stories and insight that help to fill their imaginations and give them freedom on the stage. In essence he is crafting life into the actors and bringing the play to life itself.
Being in France brings up its challenges as we adjust to the various timings of French life. It might sound cliché to say that it’s about the different habits, but both the English company and the French theatre have adjusted to accommodate each other.
Nevertheless, we are familiar with the French theatre Les Gémeaux, in Sceaux, south of central Paris. They have been partnering with Cheek by Jowl for the last 15 years, and even created a French ensemble that is a regular part of Cheek by Jowl’s work. For this production, however, we are working in English, with the English company.
At Les Gémeaux we start the technical rehearsals, this is the moment where lighting, sound, costume and video are weaved into the show. We work out what it is possible to do within our mise-en-scene, and see the piece come to life. It’s a part of the process where we see how the whole play fits together and the moment where the English and French crews are working together. In Cheek by Jowl, some of us speak French, and nearly all of the Les Gémeaux staff speak English. We have good communication, and when that fails, gestures suffice!
We love performing in France and we always look forward to performing in front of French audiences, the cast is very excited.
Sometimes we get asked if French audiences are different, but really, every audience is different, every night.
For me, I love watching Declan working to find something that speaks universally and for all audiences in rehearsal. This, I think, is why Cheek by Jowl is so successful, because it creates theatre that transcends language.
Winter’s Tale runs 14-31 January at Les Gémeaux, and then 3-7 February at Théâtre du Nord, Lille, before touring on to performances in Spain and Italy.