Despite the best of intentions, working with friends doesn’t always turn out well. It can lead to crossed boundaries, arguments, and environments that make others uncomfortable. Work can be sidelined by inside jokes and messing about.
Additionally, being mates doesn’t mean you have the same creative vision. However, none of this is the case with actor/writer Dior Clarke and director Melina Namdar. The close friends and creative associates are working together on the premiere of Clarke’s autobiographical, coming-of-age story Passion Fruit, about growing up in north London as a Black, gay man.
Unusual for self-funded and crowdfunded shows on a budget, their rehearsal period is spread out over a period of about two months. For the first few weeks, Namdar and Clarke are working on their own. Two other actors will join them later in the process, but this early stage is crucial for Clarke, who is dyslexic, to get the script into his body. Even though he wrote it with dramaturg Stephanie Martin, the text has lengthy monologues that Clarke will deliver.
Clarke and Namdar had already spent about a week rehearsal together before I join them for a day, when they are working though the latter sections of the script. Working on a few lines at a time, Namdar shapes Clarke’s delivery by adjusting pace and tone. Sometimes she looks at movement and staging within particular moments, but more often than not she doesn’t. That will all come once the other two actors join them, and develop even more once they’re able to rehearse in the venue.
They’re also making changes to the script at they go. Some lines are trimmed here and there, sometimes whole sections are cut. They streamline the text by removing unnecessary repetition or to just make individual lines more concise and easy to communicate. At other points, these alterations are more linked to character. Whilst the play is based on Clarke’s life, some events and people are heavily fictionalised.
There are moments where it’s important to share the truth, which Namdar identifies when Clarke isn’t connecting to particular lines. On the whole, Namdar usually leads on these changes, working with a dramaturgical instinct for compelling and honest storytelling. She isn’t brutal, though – Clarke has final approval on all changes to his script but he always agrees. Their work isn’t big or dramatic at this point in rehearsals; it is detailed and small. The bigger picture is present in mind, but they are giving shape to much smaller segments of the script.
As much as intimacy underpins their process, there’s also complete trust in each other’s creative process and choices. There isn’t much of a sense of individualism in this rehearsal room. Namdar’s work aims to centre and support Clarke’s story rather than impose a directorial vision on the piece. It’s a true partnership, and in this case it’s definitely helped by their friendship rather than a coldly professional distance. Their commitment – to the work and to each other – and professionalism keeps them on task but their personal history gives them a mutual understanding of each other’s practice and the ability to lift each other up. It’s a lovely thing to watch, and something audiences don’t tend to see directly. However, this rehearsal room dynamic can be seen in Clarke’s vulnerability and the narrative’s impact.
Passion Fruit runs at The Glory on 26-28 September.
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