| Rehearsal Diary

Week Three

As well as continuing to work through the play chronologically, beginning to piece some scenes with others, understudy rehearsals started this week. These are very important because, for a production such as this, the company need the security of knowing that if an actor is ill then the show can go on.

actor during theatre rehearsals
Henry V rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

I take these rehearsals, Michael facilitating this by allowing me to work with the actors between 4.30pm and 6.30pm every day. I’m also able to work on Saturdays until lunchtime. This might seem like a lot of hours, but we have seven actors who are understudying every character in the play, as well as playing their own parts!

The understudy system is particularly complex for a production of this size, and also due to the nature of the actors occasionally playing more than one character. This means that if an actor were ill, their understudy would step up and play that actor’s part/s. However, this can mean that the understudy’s roles need to be filled. So then another understudy would step up and play those parts for that performance, and so on. Understudies are very tricky with a Shakespeare play!

The rehearsal process for the understudies is exactly the same as Michael’s main rehearsals but reduced in time, as they need to be ‘off-book’ – having learnt all their lines – and ready to go on, knowing the blocking, by the first preview.

Meanwhile, in the main rehearsals, we’ve continued to work through the play, building on the text, the relationships and the blocking. We have also reached the stage where we’ve run two or three scenes together. This has proven very useful and particularly effective, because the actors are becoming more and more familiar with the text as they’re now off-book. This means they can reach the next level of listening and engaging whilst acting in a scene.

An interesting additional rehearsal we had this week was doing a sound recording on stage at the Noel Coward Theatre. Apparently it’s the best place to record, in terms of acoustics, and it was nice for the company to have a feel of standing on the stage that soon they’ll be performing on. The sound we recorded was various Eastcheap chattering, for a wipe we are staging, as well as some English battle cries!