The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals

The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals this week at St. Stephen and St. Thomas’s Church, in Shepherd’s Bush, London W10.

We spoke to cast and crew about rehearsals for The Paradise Circus…

…and what being chosen to collaborate on the play means to them. We also discussed working with Anthony Biggs who is both director of The Paradise Circus and co-artistic director at The Playground Theatre.

How did you feel when you were asked to work on The Paradise Circus?

Cecilia Trono – set and costume design The Paradise Circus:

I was really happy and honoured to be asked to design for this play.

I had worked with Anthony [Biggs director] once before and was looking forward to collaborating again. The thought of designing for The Playground Theatre was very enchanting as well as it is a beautiful space which; offers a great flexibility in its layout, and a lot of room for creativity. The play is also very exciting from a design point of view, with the omnipresence of a circus as background to the story, and all the creative images it brings.

Tim Woodward – cast as Arthur Rawlings; previous roles include K:19 – the Widow Maker and Criminal:

The role of Arthur Rawlings is a very big challenge for which I thank Anthony [Biggs director]. And I have the chance to work with very good actors.

Joshua Ward – cast as Gregory Rawlings; previous roles include Hotel Paradiso and Romeo & Juliet:

It’s exciting. Purdy’s style is unnerving. We have a great cast and The Playground is such a cool venue.

Sophie Ward – cast as Alda Pennington; previous roles include Young Sherlock Holmes and Jane Eyre:

Alda is a wonderful character, and I was so happy to discover James Purdy. He is obviously a well-known and prolific writer of the twentieth Century, but I had only ever heard of him. He is very much a writer’s writer. In that way he reminds me of the novelist Henry Green, who was in the shadow of other writers in the public eye, but whose work was very much admired by those same writers.

 

The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals set design by Cecilia Trono
Audience view of The Paradise Circus set design by Cecilia Trono
The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals Tim Woodward Sophie Ward photo by Scott Rylander
Rehearsals for The Paradise Circus Tim Woodward Sophie Ward photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals Mark Aiken Joshua Ward Sam Coulson take a break photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus rehearsals Mark Aiken Joshua Ward Sam Coulson take a break photo by Scott Rylander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are the challenges in playing the roles in which you have been cast?

Tim Woodward – cast as Arthur Rawlings:

His complexity, the complete volte-face controlling the drama. Not pushing it too far.

He’s a bastard but a human bastard.

And learning the bloody lines.

Joshua Ward – cast as Gregory Rawlings:

The accent.

But aside from that there are actually a few really interesting challenges.

We see him go through such huge changes in his life as the play develops. And the relationship between Gregory and Joel [Gregory’s brother] is so important and unusual.

Sophie Ward – cast as Alda Pennington:

Alda is powerful and outspoken and possesses healing skills. Whether these are magical or more simply persuasive; will be up to the audience to decide. But she definitely has an ‘other-worldly’ quality that will be interesting to capture.

To Cecilia Trono set and costume design The Paradise Circus

How do you convey magical realism?

On reading a play, a couple of strong ideas/concepts instinctively stay with me. I really rely on these instinctive images, as they are the imaginative base to the rest of the creative process. These concepts are never fully realistic, or fully abstract. I like working on the edge of both, creating magical looking worlds built on realistic elements, that wouldn’t exist outside a theatre.

With The Paradise Circus, this duality between magic and realism is a central part of the story, and we decided to build the design the same way and let the audience wonder what is real and what isn’t. Purdy creates a very contrasted world, set in earthy 1919 Mid-West, with a hint of magic, Circus, and merry-go-rounds, and it was so interesting trying to convey these notions into the set design.

The Paradise Circus is set in 1919 and presents several gender stereotypes. It covers, or references topics such as bereavement, war and war heroes, parenting and work.

How relevant do you feel that subject matter is today?

Tim Woodward – cast as Arthur Rawlings:

It is as relevant as life. But magical as Greek plays are.

Joshua Ward – cast as Gregory Rawlings:

Well, those themes are so universal I think they’re relevant today, relevant when the play was written; and relevant 1,000 years ago.

Sophie Ward – cast as Alda Pennington:

I hadn’t really seen them as gender stereotypes. Alda is an extraordinary figure of power and independence, and all the characters, male and female, depend on her skills and advice. The two young boys [Joel and Gregory Rawlings] are almost out-of-time characters, you don’t know what they are thinking for a lot of the play, or how they have coped, but they are a sensitive and intuitive pair.

 

The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals Cecilia Trono and Sophie Ward measure up for costumes photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus rehearsal Cecilia Trono and Sophie Ward measure up for costumes photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals cast in fine song under tutelage of Darren Berry photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus cast in fine song under tutelage of Darren Berry photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus comes alive in rehearsals Anthony Biggs directs Salim Sai photo by Scott Rylander
The Paradise Circus rehearsal Anthony Biggs directs Salim Sai photo by Scott Rylander

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are you most looking forward to about The Paradise Circus?

Cecilia Trono – set and costume design The Paradise Circus:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of designing for The Paradise Circus, and I am really excited to see it all come together. I am really looking forward to the week leading to the opening night, as this is when everything is put together and the magic happens.

Tim Woodward – cast as Arthur Rawlings:

Bringing an unknown piece (in this country anyway) to an audience, Purdy is a fascinating and important writer.

Joshua Ward – cast as Gregory Rawlings:

Having the chance to collaborate with such a talented group of people and getting to explore the world of the play with them.

Sophie Ward – cast as Alda Pennington:

Putting the show together with the music and the world of the play; a mysterious and fascinating place that represents the possibilities of redemption.

To Tim, Sophie and Joshua –

What were you working on before The Paradise Circus?

Tim Woodward – cast as Arthur Rawlings:

A film about the Curies, and another on Vietnam.

Joshua Ward – cast as Gregory Rawlings:

Over the summer I did an amazing play at the Finborough, But It Still Goes On. It was Robert Graves’ only play and it was the first time it had ever been performed, so that was a real honour to be involved with. I feel lucky to be doing another world premiere of an incredible 20th Century writer.

Sophie Ward – cast as Alda Pennington:

I just finished a Robert Graves play at the Finborough; and my partner, Rena Brannan’s play Mount Vernon, at the King’s Head. Before that I was completing my first novel Love and Other Thought Experiments which is due out in February 2020.

To Sophie and Joshua –

You have worked together before; as mother and son do you have any rules about work?

 Sophie Ward – cast as Alda Pennington:

Ha ha, no. We talk about work all the time. It’s one of the unexpected pleasures of Josh being an actor. I spent so many years advising him against it and I had no idea what I would have missed.

Joshua Ward – cast as Gregory Rawlings:

Ha! Discussing work out of hours is all we do.

The Paradise Circus – performances and ticket information

We at The Playground Theatre are delighted to be producing a world premiere of The Paradise Circus by American cult playwright James Purdy.

The play is directed by Anthony Biggs and produced by Amanda Waggott.

It will transport you to Purdy’s world of ‘magic realism’, wrench your heart out, slap you back down to earth; and leave you wanting to hug a loved one, or at the very least say the words: ‘I love you.’

Performances run from 8 October to 3 November

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