Thursday, 14 June 2012

Playing 'Mornington Crescent'

You know about Mornington Crescent, of course. That insane, convincing, completely nonsensical creation of the team of I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue on BBC Radio 4. None of us know (for the very good reason that there are, of course, no rules) exactly how one does move around the network of the London Underground to be the first one to reach Mornington Crescent and claim the winning post.

It struck me that this is a pretty good image for the mapping of emotions that's going on in this play. Yes, it's a lighthearted comedy; but each of us moves from (as it were) station to station, crossing over, swapping places and changing direction - sometimes abruptly, but sometimes (if you'll forgive the laboured comparison) you can see it coming like an oncoming train.

We've started to work on the second act: the three wives await their husbands' return from wherever-they've-gone. Then they hear where they've gone. Then the husbands return. Then the husbands flee 'to talk'. Then the wives hear why the husbands have been behaving so strangely. Their reactions to the absence, to the explanation given by the maid ("they wanted to have a nice quiet talk, so they went down to their club"), to the men's arrival, and to Mrs Northrop's revelation about the reality of the situation (as far as they know at that stage in the play) - all provoke quite different emotional journeys.

When Genevieve asked us how we were feeling at a particular point, I answered with a very simplistic summing up - and suddenly realised that, on my own behalf at least, I was completely wrong. Maria isn't devastated and tearful to understand the social disaster that has arisen; she is far more relieved by the fact that there is an explanation for the extraordinary recent behaviour of her husband. The difference in interpretation - from tearful and distressed to relieved and practical - changes my character's presence completely at that point. Finding herself at, as it were, Oxford Circus instead of Charing Cross!

I have to say that it's also a great relief to find the number of layers to these women. If they could be summed up in one word ("dictatorial", "submissive", "argumentative", "tearful", "distraught" or whatever) - they'd be terribly boring to play. Instead, Priestley gives us very real people with all the shades of grey that implies; and that's much more fun.

Of course, it still leaves open to debate which of us will reach Mornington Crescent first...

(Thanks to this rather excellent website for a view of the London Underground as it would have been in 1908 - the year in which When we are married is set.)

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