TRICKS OF THE TRADE
23: HOW TO MAKE PRISON NOISES
Sunday 01 March 1998
Sound designer for `Not About Nightingales' at the National Theatre
I'M ALWAYS THERE when the script is first read, listening and taking notes. How it sounds the first time you read it is where you get your first proper impression of what the sound is going to be like. This play is set in a prison during the 1930s, so I watched some old Jimmy Cagney movies - he did a lot of films in prison - to look for phone rings, buzzer sounds, siren sounds and gunfire. I need the sound of a gunboat for when the troopers arrive in the play to quell the riot: I'm playing around with an old air-raid siren at the moment, and ships horns and factory hooters.
This play needs harsh, hostile sounds to heighten tension. And the problem is that there are 18 actors in a prison that's supposed to have 3,400 inmates. I'm going to record lots of banging noises on the set. I'll be throwing some piping and benches at it, which I'll sample and sequence.
I'm also going to take the actors off and record them several times talking and shouting. I'll overlay it several times to thicken it, and play it as though it's people off stage. For boiler-room scenes, I make the sound of steam being set off with a fire extinguisher.
Sometimes, we're called upon to create sounds that don't exist, like the Angel of Death passing overhead. So I used umbrellas flapping and slowed them right down.
Trevor Nunn directs Tennessee Williams's `Not About Nightingales' at the Cottesloe, SE1 (0171 928 2252), from Fri.
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