The script for the war has not yet started begins with a note from the writer (Mikhail Durnenkov) stating that the play’s scenes can be performed in any order, and it’s entirely up to the director to decide which one. I almost wish I could start this post in the same way, so that I can avoid the tricky task of deciding where to start talking about all the different ideas, contradictions, scenarios, paradoxes and absurdities that the play weaves together!
Durnenkov doesn’t just leave the order of the scenes up to the director, he also leaves it entirely open which cast members play which characters – middle-aged women can be played by young men or vice versa. So, alongside the familiar ‘table work’ of the first week of rehearsals where we’ve read scenes, made edits to the script (with the writer and translator’s consent!), discussed the meaning of lines, debated the intentions of characters, we’ve also been engaging with a lot of decisions that would normally have been made outside of the rehearsal room.
It’s been amazing to see the difference that switching up the scene order or changing the casting of characters makes. Casting men as women and women as men might heighten the absurdity of one scene, whilst keeping the actors’ and characters’ genders the same might highlight how familiar the action onstage actually is; you can notice different ideas in a scene depending on whether it’s placed at the beginning or the end of the play. Whilst this creative freedom to explore alternative ways of approaching the script has meant a lot of rigorous work to ensure we can justify every decision that we make, it has equally been an incredibly exciting start to rehearsals.
Of course, there’s no definite ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice to make – it’s all comes down to what particular experience we want to create for the audience and what we think makes for the most fascinating, revealing and surprising show. The director, Michael, has described the play’s scenes (which are connected by themes and ideas, rather than specific characters or an overarching story) as like tracks of an album, each separate but made to be performed together – so any ‘order’ isn’t about making things neat or straightforward, but about creating a certain feeling or tone.
The very things that can make the war has not yet started tricky to talk about – the way in which any one scene links to countless others and the huge scale of the ideas that the play covers – are precisely why it’s so intriguing to work on. Despite the huge amount of ground we’ve covered in this first week – detailed discussions about the subtext of scenes, potted histories of Russian politics, debates about themes like paranoia and delusion – it’s clear that what we’ve explored and discovered this week will be only the tip of the iceberg.
the war has not yet started opens in The Drum on Thursday 12th May and runs until Saturday 28th May. Tickets are available online or through our Box Office on 01752 267222.