In plain sight
Lily James talks to Alex Prescot, director of Hidden, about the difficulties of hiding in student theatre, and the frustrations of barcodes on creme eggs
Where’s the best place to hide in hide and seek?
Wherever you start. Like, really close to, or just behind, the seeker.
Yeah, so they’re counting, and you hide under the chair they’re sitting on. I mean, it’s a gamble, isn’t it? They’ll either spot you, or they’ll run off into another room.
Will the format of the promotion of the play be the same as how you did it in Durham, where you didn’t reveal who you had cast?
Because people don’t know who Harvey [Comerford] is, there’s less of a need to hide him. In Durham, everyone knows who everyone is, and that first monologue… it’s better if you don’t know [redacted for giving away the opening speech]. The majority of people won’t know who he is.
So is university drama a difficult place to hide in?
Yeah! I mean it’s such a small…I’m not going to say clique, but such a small group. Everyone knows everyone in the plays, and everyone is rehearsing in the same sort of plays, so it is very difficult to surprise anyone when it comes to casting.
It was fun doing it the first time round, when we were rehearsing in my house most of the time, and [Georgina Franklin and Harvey] were both lying to all their friends… giving clues, having red herrings. We pretended that the assistant director was in it.
It was worth it for a night where Harvey had gone into the audience and was chatting to someone who said, “Oh, I really thought you were in it’, and he was like “Oh, no, no, no.” The lights went down, Harvey started speaking, and the other guy audibly goes, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
That was worth the six weeks of ridiculous hiding. For that one moment of “oh fucking hell”.
Do you think of performance as hiding?
No. It shouldn’t be. It should be revealing parts of yourself through a character. The best acting, I think, is the most truthful. The character, it’s just a lense. Otherwise, it’s like you’re dressing up, I think.
Have you found that to be true in your own rehearsals?
Both Georgina and Harvey are really, really talented. It’s been great doing it again because we’ve had time to really scrape back the characters and secure the links between them. I like to direct via lots of questions. Often – Georgie and Harvey say I do it too much – I say, “Oh, it’s like this time”, like something that happened in my life, and they just want to think about the play.
But I think it’s all useful, if you have an experience that can hook you into that feeling.
But yeah, they are very truthful. We do this exercise where we do the scene, but saying all of the character’s thoughts at the same time. And with that, they are really good at constructing real-life situations.
When I saw it, you had a set, and now there’s no set. Has that gone back and forth?
Since first doing the play, we’ve cut all the set, all the props, apart from two chairs. So it’s a very stripped-back version, with soundscape all in the background. In the Assembly Rooms was the most set we had. Then we did it with two chairs, and decided to keep it. I think, because the writing is so strong, that they’re talking a lot of the time to the audience, so you can get into their world without needing a sofa.
It goes with the themes, that all of them are interconnected. By using the same two chairs for all of the scenes, it’s capitalising on this connectivity, this idea that all the characters and situations are distinct, but so closely related – through the set as well as through the dialogue.
I always think, with props, when you see a cash register, your immediate thought is, oh, that’s not a real cash register. When you don’t have one at all it’s easier.
Exactly. And it gives them more freedom as well. Now they’ve got the whole stage to use. We were never going to have set being brought on and off, we wanted to keep the transitions really smooth.
Do you think any comparisons can be drawn with Cock, which you produced, and came to the festival last year? What is drawing people towards these very stripped-back sets?
I think especially when you’re at university, you might find a play through reading it as opposed to seeing it so much. I was definitely reading more than I was seeing, whereas now it’s probably the opposite way round.
With Cock, it says no set, no props, no mime at the beginning of the script, so that’s a decision that Mike Bartlett has made. I saw Hidden in 2012 at the fringe, and they had lots of props; but its that sort of fringey show that works well and transfers well.
So this is your second NSDF. Do you think NSDF is an easy place to hide?
I think it’s quite an easy place to hide. I think you could just hide. But don’t be afraid to hide sometimes, it’s very full on. Have your moments of hiding, and then go and seek.
Is hiding an intrinsic part of the British identity?
I think it’s linked to being polite. I think politeness and hiding, well, some people are just polite, but it’s hiding an instinct for things that are needing to be said. I’m thinking in relation to clichés about America, where people can do outrageous things, and keep pushing further and further.
What’s a situation when you have hidden something?
Yesterday, I got a creme egg, in Sainsbury’s, and I tried to scan it, and it didn’t scan, so I hid it in my pocket and stole it, and then I got home and my housemate said, “Oh, I had creme egg today, and felt really bad, I stole it”, and I was like, “The barcode!” There’s a problem with creme eggs where the barcode doesn’t scan, and I didn’t want to ask anyone.
Where would you find your cast?
Harvey, having his first beer, in Barnes. Georgie, singing “Fever”, in secret at an open night in Norwich. Only in secret. She’s only ever played her clarinet to me by accident.
That’s a better answer than I thought I would get. Where would you hide from someone that gave you a bad review?
Beneath their chair. Where they type – under that chair.
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