“Sinister music. Thompson and Finnegan appear slowly and mime as Ratty and Hatty, Juliet does not know they have started the show without her. Juliet enters, looks at her watch, whilst Ratty and Hatty continue being rats and Juliet finds it tiresome. Ratty and Hatty are two sister rats who sing and dance.“
Above was the original stage direction for the opening of the play; sinister music whilst Ratty and Hatty move around the stage, being rats. With the knowledge I got to compose on an acoustic piano and not a keyboard, I wanted to really milk this “sinister music” stage direction Miriam had planned.
Holding the sustain pedal down to catch moments of dialogue and create suspense was an extended technique I used throughout the show. I knew on the audience’s arrival they would walk up the stairs looking directly at the open piano with its strings on show. I wanted to keep this view alive in their minds, so I had planned to start the show playing on just the strings.
I started to pluck the strings ever so carefully, and ran the smooth edge of my front door key along the thickest nuts and bolts, mimicking the sound of a rat running inside the piano. I plucked the lowest (thickest) strings with my left hand, and after the note had sounded I held my right hand to the moving string, letting the vibrations catch against the 2 rings I wore on my fourth finger.
I often followed what the actors were doing on stage and imitated this in the music. If they sped up their dialogue or I felt a new tension in the scene, I would change my dynamic and use of rubato in an imitative fashion. I always made sure the music fitted with the on-stage tension.
When it came to the rehearsal to block the opening, Miriam came prepared with a new idea of the Motley Rats miming in a comical way rather than sinister (as first planned), and I arrived with my scary opening music plan. I quickly scrapped all of my ideas and came up with this:
I’ll break it down a bit.
Thompson and Finnegan started to mime their efforts of trying to move a very heavy box. They try and they try and they fail and they fail. Thompson remembers they can only move the box when they become Ratty and Hatty, so they put on their silly rat masks and, once wearing them, now have the strength to lift the box.
The music had to underscore this entire mime, and it started as soon as the audience entered. The A SECTION was solo piano, the violin entered when roughly half the audience were seated, moving the piece to the B SECTION. When the entire audience were seated, the audio cue of the piano moving to an accompaniment figure was the Salted Snare Drummer’s cue to enter. Will Shaw was directed to place the snare, upside down of course, on top of the piano, and leave the stage again. He then returned with the tube of salt and poured it all over the skin and the beads. Taking the now salted snare, he traveled to his seat, where he started to play the drum with his hands, as instructed below. As soon as Will was seated and started playing, Thompson and Finnegan took this as their cue to start the show.
I knew we would be playing this piece repeatedly for the best part of 10 minutes, so I didn’t want it to get boring or irritating. To make the piece not sound like it was the same 8 bars played over and over and over and over, I threw in a few unexpected modulations, playing around with the relationship between the chords G – Eb and F, so it wouldn’t get boring and (hopefully) wasn’t too annoying.
Featured Image: Cordelia O’Driscoll