Since last week’s blog, The Man With The Hammer company have been on a field trip to Sussex, the cast have been assessed by a physiotherapist whose other clients include Olympic athletes, the bikes have been overhauled to customise them to each rider – and, of course, we’ve fitted in some time to rehearse the play itself…
It’s felt like a week of quite technical work, whether that’s meant focusing on cycling technique and how, physically, to manage cycling for five hours a day, or nailing down specific facts about the play’s action and working on how to communicate these details in performance. On the cycling side of things, the cast have had help this week from Michael Crebbins, a physio who’s worked with countless professional athletes and has transformed how the cast look on their bikes (and helping cast member Johnny look like a pro cyclist!).
Not only that, but Michael helped the cast plan how best to look after themselves during rehearsals – whilst all actors have to take care of their bodies and voices for performance, The Man With The Hammer obviously poses a specific, unique challenge for the cast to tackle. As the amount of time they’re spending on their bikes has stepped up, so have the measures to ensure the cycling doesn’t take its toll: morning warm-ups and afternoon cool-downs are worked into rehearsals, and we always have exercise balls, rollers, and sports lubricant on hand too!
As part of the work on the performances themselves, the company visited the show’s writer Phil Porter in Sussex (where the play is set) to travel some of the journeys the characters experience, and see the exact places where scenes take place. In the rehearsal room, we’ve added to this by mapping out the precise dates and times of different moments in the play, so that we know exactly the length of time between scenes or the time of day that a conversation happens.
Since the set, sound and lighting for the show doesn’t literally represent places or objects (instead creating an impression of them), the production prompts your imagination to piece things together and build up an image of what’s happening in the story. By gathering specific reference points and clear facts for the cast to think of, it becomes easier to work in details to their performances that spark off your imagination as you watch them. Someone’s voice changes mid-scene: suddenly you think of them as having entered a different room; someone’s physicality and expression suggestions a certain tiredness: instantly you view the scene as being at the end of a long day. By making all these details clear to ourselves, it becomes possible to create the impression of so many different places, times and scenarios – even with the cast simply sat beside each other the whole time.
The show can look deceptively simple from the outside, with the cast always on their bikes, no props, no big scene changes and no costume changes. But what this means is we have to think in meticulous detail about what does happen onstage, making the lots of little choices that – when brought together – create something that feels monumental.
The Man With The Hammer will be in The Drum from Thursday 10th to Saturday 26th March. You can book your tickets online or by calling our Box Office on 01752 267222.