Joseph Prowen, a graduating BA (Hons) Professional Acting student at LAMDA, tells us about his time working with Stella Feehily and Max Stafford-Clark on a new version of George Farquhar’s Love and a Bottle
We began the LAMDA Long Project – an opportunity for students to work with a professional writer and director to produce the first draft of a new play – in our second year. The process essentially involves research, readings, actioning and improvisation. We had a couple of sessions back in January last year, purely to talk about the play and do a read-through with Max and Stella. From there, everybody had the opportunity to read for each part – Max would say “tomorrow this will be the cast”, and then it would change every day. You’d then go home, look at the scene you were going to read, think about the character you were going to be reading for and do any relevant research that needed to be done. It’s really lovely to think that the end product of this play will have been made by us, and that Stella took inspiration from improvisations we did in rehearsals. Everyone had a chance to contribute something to each character.
Working with Max and Stella isn’t just an interesting dramatic process; a lot of the preparation was in the historical research. On our first day, Max did a quiz with us – what happened this year? When did this happen? When was this battle? We’d be asked to carry out some research around the period, or about different parts of Ireland – we might be asked to do a presentation on the Battle of the Boyne one week or John Dryden the next. You’ve really got to turn up having done your research, which is great as it encourages you to work hard.
Unlike a lot of new writing that happens, we had a leg up in that we took a play that already existed, Love and a Bottle, which was George Farquhar’s first play. The play is about a young Irishman named George Roebuck, who I play, and is based on Farquhar. When we got it, Love and a Bottle was great – youthful and exciting – but it felt like it needed some work. So what Stella did with us was to rework it and what you will see when the show opens is an amalgamation of Farquhar and Feehily. Stella’s created a more well-rounded play, with clearer resolutions and she’s fleshed out the characters, making them three-dimensional and much more human.
When we perform Love and a Bottle, there will only be a handful of us playing the same part as we were last year in rehearsals. So going into it again this summer has been like entering into a completely different play: workshopping a piece really is an ever-changing process, which I love. It’s such a rare opportunity for an actor to be able to completely immerse yourself in a process like this – especially in the light of funding cuts. This is also our first major collaboration of this scale. We really felt like a company this year.
Love and a Bottle opens at Greenwich Theatre on Wednesday 9 July in collaboration with Out of Joint. For more information and tickets visit Greenwich Theatre’s website.