Exeter University Theatre Company directors Isolde Godfrey and Nick Cassen give a directors’ perspective of their production of Harvey by Mary Chase, at the Exeter Northcott until February 6. Take it away Isolde and Nick…
The play follows Elwood P Dowd, an endlessly pleasant and delightfully eccentric bachelor. He lives in a small town that isn’t quite aware that its newest citizen is a 6’3″ white rabbit named Harvey, who only certain people can see, including Elwood. After his sister tries to commit him to a mental institution, a comedy of errors ensues. Elwood and Harvey become the catalysts for a family mending its wounds and for romance blossoming in unexpected places.
Our vision is to turn the Northcott into a 1950s cinema. As the audience enters the theatre they will be welcomed by popcorn vendors, candyfloss sellers and ushers equipped with torches, dressed in 50’s costume. The play begins with a big musical number, similar to those at the start of films of that time period, advertising food and drink (Let’s all go to the lobby). During this song the ushers will jump on stage and join in. A live band and a pianist will accompany them and provide a theatrical soundtrack. This will help enhance the filmic style and will be used as a framing device.
Scene changes are never easy in any play. To overcome this we will project films of our protagonist interacting with his invisible friend, making their own transitions such as walking down the road or opening a door. For the interval we shall project the words intermission followed by reconstructions of adverts from the 1950s.
We want to make the characters in the play fun, quirky and ultimately human. The text offers this by creating well-rounded characters, which are perfectly balanced between caricatures and characters with depth. Our aim through detailed character work and all of the above elements will help make audience members feel special and hopefully be a night to remember.
We loved the film, and after reading the play which is full of sharp and cruel characters we were dying to put it on. We think Harvey is funny, intelligent and universally poignant. The text is fully formed and rounded allowing us the freedom to expand on exciting creative prospects. We are passionate about the play and both enjoy the characters immensely. We think it is important to put on a play that we would love to see ourselves. The play’s filmic roots also allowed for us to add additional elements in order to create a real experience.
We began with thorough character work and character homework using interesting and fun techniques. During this period the pianist/composer came in and started developing theme tunes for the characters.
We use many character-creating techniques, which enable the cast to experiment with their bodies and voices. In this period we also tried many durational improvisations. Our longest one to date is Come Dine with Me where everyone is in character. This allowed the cast to come up with a really full and deep-rooted character.
We have used similar techniques in creating the ushers. As these characters do not exist in the text this gave us more freedom. The cast of ushers all wrote biographies and made the characters themselves from this starting point. Games and exercises forced the ushers to explore and find more about what they had created.
• Harvey runs from Tuesday, February 2 to Saturday, February 6 at 7.30pm, with a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm. Tickets range from £16 – £10 (concession, £2 discount). Tickets are available online at the Exeter Northcott site, or call the box office on 01392 493493