| Inside the Rehearsal Room

Week Three, Day One

On returning to the rehearsal room at the start of the third week of rehearsals, a more detailed mark-up is discernible, including tape on the walls to indicate the various windows in the set. There’s also more furniture in the room, including an old dresser. On the noticeboard the team has added more information about the play’s setting, including photos of Ireland.

Today they’re working on Scene Four, in which Donny and Davey try to disguise a ginger cat as Wee Thomas by covering it in black shoe polish while sharing a bottle of poteen (a traditional Irish alcoholic drink). Michael is discussing with Denis Conway and Chris Walley, playing Donny and Davey respectively, how the alcohol might affect them. Michael also asks whether the drink is illegal? To which Denis answers yes. ‘My question is,’ says Michael, ‘by the time we come back to you (in Scene Seven), are there two empty bottles?’

Having run the scene once, Michael commends the actors – ‘Not bad at all’ – before turning his attention to his notes. ‘The only thing I didn’t hear was, “And I am no man to be pinching cats off of children”,’ he says to Chris, ‘because you’re being explicit with Martin’s stage-directions – “Mumbled” – but I’m going to invite you not to be.’

Michael considers the action of the scene, specifically covering the cat in shoe polish, which takes place inside a box on Davey’s then Donny’s knee. ‘You were doing a bit more “cat acting” before – let’s have more of that.’ He wonders whether they need to do another session with a puppeteer to help animate the cat and bring it to life?

‘How do we do that last beat so Donny only pulls the cat out for a second?’ asks Michael. ‘Otherwise we’ll think that’s a dead cat, that’s a prop cat. To cover ourselves, Donny should just show Davey the cat in the box. The minute we see it we’re having a conversation in our heads about whether it’s a real cat. The most crucial thing to me is, “Sure that cat’s orange” is only six lines into the scene. We need to see it’s orange first.’

man standing
The Lieutenant of Inishmore rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

He asks Chris: ‘What bit of that cat are you colouring in?’ Chris suggests that there should be some black colouring already down the cat’s back to help him cover it and Props Supervisor Celia Strainge makes a note. Michael reflects on what the audience will and won’t be able to see in relation to the storytelling: ‘Sitting further back in the stalls, I won’t see a cat in a box and shoe polish. The gag is there’s a ginger cat that’s being covered in black shoe polish followed by the line, “He’ll suspect”. I need to see it for the gag to work.’

Next, Michael concentrates on the text: ‘Now that little section, “I’m no man to go trampling on mams”… You two need to decide on the focus of it. At the moment you’re doing good poteen acting, which is a big tick, but we need to decide the focus – mam trampling – because it’s partly a set-up for later.’ He says to Chris: ‘I think you can help us there with your, “What did you go trampling on your mam for?”.’ Later Michael questions why Davey repeats the line about loving his mother (‘I love my mam. Love her more than anything. Love her more than anything’): ‘There’s a fact there, that you don’t have a girlfriend whom you love more than your mam and he should.’

Seeking to clarify meaning, Michael says: ‘Can I just go back and ask a couple of translation questions… Does “The same as that” mean “Me too”? Yes says Denis and Chris. Michael talks about the ‘shifts’ within the scene, by which he means a change of tone or focus, occasionally commenting: ‘One shift I don’t think is working…’ Later he notes: ‘That was a much better shift into, “We could tell him Wee Thomas has a disease makes him go orangey-looking”.’

older man seated in armchair
The Lieutenant of Inishmore rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

Denis questions the stages of Donny’s and Davey’s drunkenness, referring to Donny’s ‘laughing’ at the end of the scene in response to Davey’s suggestion that Padraic will ‘blow out what little brains we have’ when he discovers the fate of his cat: ‘That’s where I think the poteen’s taken hold.’ Looking at this and the final section of the scene, Michael says: ‘I think you should give yourselves permission to indulge in the shoe polish eating – dare yourselves to indulge in it. I think you should both go for it.’ Celia asks if the shoe polish should be edible? Yes says Michael.

Drawing the session to a close, Michael concludes: ‘This relationship is really starting to develop – two men of differing ages, but the same intelligence, trying to work this situation out. You’re really getting into their stream of consciousness. It’s a rather wonderful relationship.’

After a short tea break, during which Associate Director Lynette Linton discusses with the understudies which scenes they’ll be rehearsing later, Michael moves onto Scene Five and he is joined in the rehearsal room by Will Irvine, Daryl McCormack and Julian Moore-Cook, who play Christy, Brendan and Joey respectively. They look at their positions at the start of the scene and Michael asks: ‘What did we say was the story of you all coming on separately?’ Having run it once he says: ‘Great, let’s look at that section. Let’s enjoy as actors picking-up cues so it really becomes about something here.’

Michael focuses on the text and the information it contains, which the cast needs to communicate to an audience: ‘It’s one thing we ought to do before we completely absorb ourselves in character and can’t be actors anymore.’ Joey’s line about ‘paws’ is an example of this, says Michael – ‘We need an “oh” moment.’ He counsels Julian to work his way carefully though his speech to arrive at the line, ‘Just paws’: ‘I think there’s a tighter thread between it.’ He also encourages him to push Joey’s response to the accusation of ‘Shitting his knickers’: ‘Just try being a little bit more defensive about it.’

man watching
The Lieutenant of Inishmore rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

In the scene, Christy and Brendan eat from tins of baked beans. Ever alert to anachronisms, Michael asks Lynette: ‘Did we have those ring-pulls on tin cans in 1993? That’s something for you to Google!’

Having run the scene again, Michael’s pleased with the progress the cast is making: ‘You’re very much into that scene now. I’m not seeing too much that needs work there.’ Looking over the scene he considers the section where Joey pulls out his pistol, in response to Christy and Brendan training their guns on him: ‘It’s a very odd moment. Are we doing what’s described in the play?’ He focuses on Joey’s response: ‘After the cocking of the gun we need to see something in you that gives us a different colour. If it were a close-up in a film it’d be a gulp.’ They run this section again. ‘The build-up was much better that time,’ says Michael. ‘It was funnier.’

He reflects on the musicality and rhythm of this and other scenes: ‘You have to remember there’s an underscore, which isn’t musical, where we the audience go, “Ah… Ah!”. The rhythm of it tells us we’re allowed to enjoy it.’ Commenting on the score, Michael adds: ‘Any music or sound in this production will be connecting tissue, not within the scenes themselves.’

He counsels the cast to observe this underscore, using Joey’s line, ‘And the cat batterers on top of it!’ that immediately follows Christy’s speech as an example. ‘Don’t end his speech rhythmically,’ Michael warns Julian. ‘You’re assuming it’s the end of his speech and ending it, although still give it to him.’ Later he says to Will: ‘Turn up the dial slightly on your line to Brendan, “Are you starting again?” There’s a discussion about who’s meant to be in charge, Michael concluding: ‘It’s funny because hierarchy doesn’t play much of a function in the play as a whole.’

At the end of the day’s rehearsals, Michael praises the actors: ‘Excellent. You’re in a good place for that scene. Hold onto it and we’ll come back to it on Thursday.’ Deputy Stage Manager Helen Smith then briefly highlights missed or incorrect lines so the actors can correct these for next time.