‘Part comedy, part tragedy and wholly ridiculous’: Trimalchio Preview

Sophie Dickinson 19 May 2016

Sophie Dickinson interviewed Nathan Hardisty (writer) and Anna Jennings (director) about the rehearsed reading of Trimalchio, which will be performed in the ADC’s Larkum Studio.

Tell us about the show!

Nathan: Trimalchio is part comedy, part tragedy, and a wholly ridiculous show about a playwright who tries to adapt The Great Gatsby and gets a bit lost in his romantic past. There are loads of jokes, but also loads of sad bits. Sort of thing that people like I reckon.

Anna: Nathan sums it up pretty well. It’s a really clever script that somehow manages to juxtapose profound commentary on the nature of existence with genuine laugh-out-loud jokes. There’s also lots of metatheatrical references – it’s very much a play about writing a play, and so it has a really interesting self-consciousness of itself as a performance.

How have you found writing a play whilst also studying?

Nathan: Well juggling the Byzantine empire and jokes about F. Scott Fitzgerald wasn’t exactly the Cambridge experience I had in mind, but it’s pretty fun. There’s so many bright folk running about it’s easy to just throw my pages at them and see what they reckon.

What is the value of a rehearsed reading?

Nathan: It’s really interesting seeing the jokes and scenes play out in front of you, and how others interpret your words. I’ve already got a lot of thoughts for how I’d shape the show in the future. There’s also the freedom that comes from it finally becoming a performance rather than just sitting around as a script.

Anna: Trimalchio is written as a play, so I don’t think it really comes to life until there are real actors and a stage to flesh it out. I think you appreciate the nuances of the script in a different way when they are performed – there are some moments which our actors make really funny that I didn’t pick up when I first read the script. It’s also very exciting to be working with such a new piece of student writing, and exposing it to new audiences!

How do you go about directing a rehearsed reading?

Anna: Largely I’ve approached directing it as I would for a ‘normal’ play – we began with a read through so everyone could get a feel for the script as a whole, and then character discussions to work on the monologues and individual identities. We worked on specific scenes, playing with the emphasis, tone, and staging until we were happy, and now we’re in the final stages of doing half-runs, and making tiny tweaks.

Having said that, there are a couple of differences: knowing the actors will be performing with their scripts in hand gives slightly less emphasis to efforts to make the performance very naturalistic, and instead means we can really focus on the detail of the words. The actors are able to mark in lots of emphasis and really specific direction notes in their scripts, so I’ve been quite picky about the little details to get the performance just right.

I guess the other unusual thing here is that I’ve known all along that Nathan will be coming to see the play – although he’s pretty much left me to it in terms of casting and rehearsals, knowing that the playwright will be in the audience brings a strange awareness of how the play was originally conceived, and I think we all really want to be true to the script and Nathan’s original dramatic vision.


Have you had any unforeseen problems in rehearsals?

Anna: Rehearsals have gone really smoothly actually! We had a few problems with stage directions, as the original script had some that weren’t so practical, or which wouldn’t work in the Larkum Studio, so we’ve had to work out how to preserve the same sense and original meaning with different action. We’ve also really stripped back the staging, as we decided we didn’t want to overcrowd the Larkum Studio or draw attention away from the script and the acting.

I think one of the hardest aspects is rehearsing without an audience – as I’ve said, there are these constant metatheatrical moments, where the actors step outside of the action to crack a joke with the audience. These are quite tricky to practise without the audience as a reference point and with no one there to laugh – although I’m sure this will be fine on the night!

To be honest, the most disruptive rehearsal we’ve had was when Nathan came along to see a half-run. He was a big distraction for the cast, who hadn’t met him before, in the nicest possible way – his presence was somewhat disruptive, but made all the metatheatrical jokes about the writer much funnier.


Papercuts: Trimalchio will be performed in the ADC’s Larkum Studio this Friday 20th May.