| Inside the Rehearsal Room

Week Four, Day Two

For the first part of this afternoon’s rehearsal, Michael is working one-to-one with Gavin Fowler. They’re looking at Puck’s speech and song in Scene Four, discussing various choices. ‘I think a lot of it works,’ says Michael. He’s encouraging Gavin to explore new ideas – ‘Don’t censor yourself before you’ve tried it.’

theatre rehearsals in a rehearsal room
A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

During the speech, Puck inhales from a magic flower. ‘Sniffing the flower takes you out of the rhythm,’ Michael observes. ‘Do it on the line – it’s slightly more active.’ Gavin agrees: ‘Keep the choice without breaking the line.’ Michael reminds him that, ‘Drugs don’t just make us soporific, they also heighten our awareness’. This widens Gavin’s options for playing with the speech.

Michael maintains the focus on clear storytelling: ‘ “Through the forest have I gone…” – you’ll have to tell us freshly there.’ Concluding the session, he reminds Gavin to ‘make sure all the choices join up the dots of that narrative’. He’s pleased with his progress: ‘You’re alright with that speech. You’re in a good place.’

Next, they re-cap the song from the beginning of Scene Four. ‘Let’s start to get used to the music coming out of Scene Three into Four,’ says Michael, as more elements of the production are incorporated into rehearsals. Ben Ringham plays the score, after which Michael makes a request for birdsong to be added to the soundscape.

Michael listens to the cast sing the song, commenting afterwards: ‘I don’t hear “nigh” – we’ve just got to get cleaner on the diction there.’ He focuses on the movement in relation to the music – ‘Jump on the same beat… Don’t lose the rhythm on the second chorus.’ Something in the choreography troubles Michael, when the actors sink to the ground back-to-back: ‘What have you eased back on in the “tripping” version? It’s the only move now that sits outside the narrative. I’m looking for something more organic in terms of where it comes from.’ He looks at specific moments – ‘Is there a version where you can get closer into Titania’s feet so she seems less abandoned?’ In Ben Wright’s absence, Michael and the cast modify some of the movement, filming it to Skype to Ben later for his thoughts and comments.

Discussing the mood and feel at the end of the scene, Michael describes it as post-carnival – ‘Heading home, not the start of a new day.’ Before moving on, he checks everyone’s noted and understood the changes made in today’s session: ‘Fairies, are we all clear with the new moves? Let’s tick that.’

theatre rehearsals in a rehearsal room
A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

Michael and the cast then re-visit the exchanges between the Lovers in Scene Four. With Ben, he discusses adding ‘generic forest sounds’ to the soundscape for Hermia and Lysander’s entrance – ‘Something slightly sinister.’ Watching the short scene between the two, in which Lysander confesses they’re lost, Michael says to Sam Swainsbury, ‘The only thing that shouldn’t be folded into that is tiredness’. He warns both actors against dropping the energy.

Next comes the exchange between Helena and Lysander, with Puck’s magic beginning to take effect. Michael encourages Katherine Kingsley to maintain the reality of the scene and her character’s emotions: ‘Play something as absolutely truthful there as possible.’ Looking at her exit, he comments, ‘The only thing that doesn’t work is why Lysander doesn’t follow Helena’.

Hermia’s closing speech brings the scene to an end. She wakes from a nightmare to discover she’s all alone, abandoned by Lysander. ‘If you didn’t make that choice, of a faux swoon, what would you do?’ Michael asks Susannah Fielding. He suggests she try a real swoon to see what it adds – ‘Explore it as an option.’ Reflecting on the tone at the end of the scene, Michael says, ‘The play gets to quite a frightening place here – this moment takes it to another place for a nanosecond’.

He’s pleased with the work they’ve done today: ‘Well done, you Lovers. I think that’s the best you’ve ever done it. Katherine, that completely landed there – “But who is here?”.’ Bringing his notes and the session to a close, Michael says, ‘That was my stuff’, before asking the actors, ‘Was there anything from any of you?’ At the end, Lorna approaches each of the actors in turn, highlighting any forgotten lines, working with them to ensure they get the words exactly right.