Director’s Cut; Jimmy Whiteaker’s insight into the rehearsal process

The following blog post has been written by guest writer, director Jimmy Whiteaker….

I was eleven and I fell backwards and my arm was underneath me like this and my skirts went up over my head and my friend, Beav, could see my pants – he turned out to be gay so it didn’t even matter – and I’d hurt my arm so I kept shouting, My arm! My arm! like that, and my friend said, You sound like a peacock! My arm! My arm!” I watch and listen and even though I’m laughing, I keep still. When I first worked with Grania on He Aint Heavy as a dramaturg I did that a lot, stayed still and watched her performing herself. Early on, I had the ridiculous image pass across my mind of one of those Victorian collectors watching some unknown animal emerge in to a jungle clearing. Like a poor man’s Kipling without all the racism. 

It was fascinating though, and a privilege. That sense of privilege is vital to how I work with Grania because bit by bit she lets me in to the unique world of her intense relationship with her brother, Sean. And from her and Sean to her mum, to her dad, to their evolving history. Asking Grania to perform herself is a delicate proposition. It’s risky. It asks a great deal of courage of her because there’s no character, no portrait of another, to present herself behind. It’s her history, her intensely lived relationship with Sean, newly imagined with an audience. That sense of privilege is key in approaching the sometimes difficult devising process with her – but it has a wonderful bonus. When the show goes up with an audience I’m willing to bet that they share in that sense of privilege, of a delicate proposition, of personal risk and a little story that implies so much outside of itself.

When I met Sean recently up in Hull with Grania and the second performer, Sophie, the thing I remembered most was the sheer amount of physical contact. Sean couldn’t get enough of Grania and nor she him. Apart from his hands cupped in a unique way around hers, his feet hung in a unique way over hers, him pressing her head on to his shoulder in a loving and undiscovered wrestling move – apart from that it was the way she formed around him that struck me.

 I find those moments that point to so much more delicious. Finding bits and pieces that encompass whole sides of their relationship and intensifying that flavour is exciting; through risky circus, through theatrical images, through gesture, movement, music, live games, through structure and story and feeding and control and restraint and inviting the unexpected. Finding ways for an audience to newly imagine her life with her, live onstage is exciting. 

Before we started work on this phase I asked her to go back to the first creative impulse that she had to make the show. It was a big moment in her life when she simply wished her brother was there. So I want to bring that wish in to the auditorium, to present our problem to the audience: to try and bring Sean in to the same room as them. For them to try and form Sean and Grania. To taste it against their own particular flavour, their own autobiography. Though it’s impossible, it’s the joyous attempt even so. I’m looking forward to the next bit of making in August – not least as Grania and Sophie make us all warm up to Keaira LaShae, Burn to the Beat. You get to ride an invisible horse and try to get it right and look as good as professional dancers and utterly fail apart from the invisible horse. Highly recommended.


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