Kill Me Now Rehearsals
by Andrew Wilson
It’s ten minutes before a full run-through of Kill Me Now in a rehearsal space in South London. Greg Wise is kneeling at the end of a large bathtub, talking quietly to a technician. The words “pump” and “blockage” and “we’ll try it later” can be heard.
Greg Wise and technical advisor Peter Large
The bath will have a prominent place on stage in Kill Me Now. Wise’s character Jake has to place his disabled son Joey (played by Oliver Gomm) in it, wash him, and heft him out again more than once as the play progresses.
A full bathtub is a bit of a theatrical challenge, particularly keeping it at the right temperature for the actors during the whole performance. Wise, a qualified architect and probably the handiest actor since Harrison Ford gave up carpentry to play Han Solo, has taken to bringing his tools to rehearsal.
The challenge is double because this will be the Park’s first “in the round” production, with seating on all four sides of the stage.
“In the round is wonderful,” says Wise. “It’s entirely natural, you just talk to the other person the way you would in your living room.”
Producer Jamil Jivanjee, Greg Wise, and director Braham Murray, with Charlotte Harwood in background.
Director Braham Murray agrees, though he adds, “There’s nowhere for an actor to hide. If you corpse, you can’t just turn upstage until you’re back in control.”
As one of the founding artistic directors of the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, Murray has directed over 60 plays in the round.
“In fact,” quips Wise, “Braham only knows how to direct in the round...”
Murray smiles, then answers a few questions before rehearsal begins. What drew him to this play by Brad Fraser, the “bad boy of Canadian theatre” with a reputation for explicit, often gay themes onstage and combativeness offstage?
The short answer, says Murray, is that Fraser is a world-class playwright – able, like Joe Orton, to make audiences laugh while expressing profound insights into love and sexuality. This is the sixth play of Fraser’s that Murray has directed, starting with Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love at the Royal Exchange in 1995.
“I was at the Edinburgh Festival in 1994, and Tom Courtenay told me I should see a play of Fraser’s at the Traverse. After the first fifteen minutes of sex and nudity I wanted to leave. But by the interval I knew this was someone with something to say.” A year later, Murray’s production of Unidentified Human Remains was a hit, and would be followed by others on both sides of the Atlantic, most recently 5@50 and True Love Lies in Manchester.*
“And we’re friends, Brad and I, though you can’t imagine two people more different. He’s something like six foot four, and a mixture of Native Indian and Scottish. Whereas I...” Murray makes an elegantly self-deprecating gesture, leaving me to fill in the descriptors (diminutive, rabbinical... For more on this spikey collaboration, and a fascinating take on British theatre, see Murray’s 2007 autobiography The Worst It Can Be Is A Disaster: The Life Story of Braham Murray and the Royal Exchange Theatre).
The run-through begins, and sure enough, Murray’s comments about insights into love and sexuality become apparent, as does his sure hand with humour. Teenaged Joey has a serious physical disability; he also has raging hormones and a dodgy friend he shares spliffs and online smut with. Jake is a widower and Joey’s main carer, but he is also a man with secrets – not least a girlfriend he hasn’t told Joey about.
The play is physical, ribald, and touching; there is fire and authority as the cast speak their lines and move across the stage. Charlotte Harwood, bundled up against a bad cold and given leave to read her lines “straight”, instead delivers her part (Jake’s sister and co-carer Twyla) with the same verve as that of her colleagues.
The run-through over, Braham quietly praises his cast, sends Harwood home to bed and huddles with the “creatives” – those responsible for music, lighting and sound design – who are seeing the play “live” for the first time. There is talk of sound effects, and of conveying the passage of time...
I wander reflectively out of the door, still under the spell of the performances, particularly the shifting emotional geography explored by Wise and Gomm. Who is the carer, and who the cared-for? Powerful stuff.
And as for the plumbing, we’ll find out on the night.
Braham Murray and composer Tayo Akinbode