| Rehearsal Diary

Week Three

Monday 31st October 2022

This week we have both Ben Wright, the Movement/Intimacy Director, and Alex Baranowski, Composer and Sound Designer, with us every day in rehearsals, so we will be focusing a lot on the details of the transitional moments as well as finding a common language between the Virginias. Ben suggests this could be as subtle as finding a breath together, or them all putting their hand to their heart at the same time, but in different ways, when something is mentioned that touches them. Or when one of the Virginias moves, it creates a ripple throughout the rest of the group.

We started from the top of the play and discussed the character of Virginia and where she was in her life when writing Orlando. When she described writing the novel she said it was like an outpouring, almost like automatic-writing, but in our version we want to show the struggles a writer can face when putting pen to paper, the melting pot of ideas Virginia had. We talked about some of the details of the costume, like should all the Virginias have glasses? And if they always have notebooks and pens, then we’ll need pockets that can accommodate them. This time with the opening we added in more bits of set that we knew would need to be struck in time for Orlando’s arrival, so we worked out the logistics of that.

Working through the first couple of scenes, we ironed out some of the business of getting Orlando dressed during the action. It’s amazing how much rehearsal it takes to make speaking and dressing at the same time look slick. We then moved on to the first major ‘movement’ moment, the arrival of Queen Elizabeth I, and Ben worked on finessing the ensemble. We discussed the stakes within this scene and how we can work to elevate the Queen’s status.

After lunch we moved on to the arrival of the debutantes, Ben working a little with these actors on a slightly cut version of the text as we realised that, though it looked great and a lot of fun, it may have been ‘outstaying its welcome’. We wanted to create something punchier for their entrance.

Tuesday 1st November 2022

Today our Dialect Coach, Richard Ryder, was present to observe and listen to the actors in the rehearsal room, but also to take them away for some one-to-one sessions. Some of the actors have been meeting with him on Zoom over the last couple of weeks for individual sessions but it was great to have him in the room, getting a sense of how all the Virginias speak as a whole. While Michael worked with Emma and Millie Wong on the scene in which Orlando and Sasha first meet, I went into another room with Richard and the Virginias and we worked from the top of the play, listening specifically to the ensemble’s Received Pronunciation (RP) – the traditional, standardized form of British English pronunciation. 

Virginia Woolf was from an upper-class family and had very clear RP and we have decided our actors should speak the same, but we don’t want them to speak with Virginia’s specific voice as they’re already dressed as she is. We just want them to be clear with an overall sense of RP. Richard said this should come from the confidence with which they speak, that class comes from the entitlement and courage they have to speak. He helped the actors land each syllable and we had a brief discussion about whether we should pronounce the ’t’ in the word ‘often’. I also noted that anytime the Virginias address a question to the audience – ‘Do you see?’ – it should feel active rather than rhetorical. The Virginias really need the audience and a relationship is established early on.

We rejoined the main rehearsal room and added some detail to the scene in which Orlando is abandoned by Sasha and the frost begins to melt around him, both literally and figuratively. We’re exploring the idea of dropping some confetti on Orlando’s head to create the effect of rain but, as with any incidentally falling prop, the question arises, ‘When will it be cleared up, and by whom?’

After lunch we looked in more detail at the ‘Harriet Scene’, which is when we first meet her. As this only involves Emma and Richard Cant, Richard Ryder used the time for individual calls with actors who have to speak with Irish, Russian, Cockney and RP accents. We then got into the nitty-gritty of the ‘Constantinople’ movement moment, which involves a lot of sound and music so it was great to have the whole team in the room.

Wednesday 2nd November 2022

We resumed rehearsals from the reveal that Orlando has been transformed into a woman. Michael and writer Neil Bartlett have discussions, aside from rehearsals, about the text. As the script will be published for any future performances, they check that any changes are correct in both the room and the published text. One of the things discussed before rehearsals started today was who should take the line, ‘He was a woman’. It is such a pivotal line and was originally spoken by one of the Virginias, but Neil suggested that all of the Virginias should say it. We tried that and then a cast member suggested maybe Deborah Findlay’s character, Mrs G, should deliver it. She did and it was so interesting and worked brilliantly as Mrs G occasionally acts as a sort of audience member, and at other times is our bridge. Neil loved the change and we have gone with that. What I have come to realise is that these sort of things can change quite frequently in rehearsals as we’re trying lots of different versions of scenes and it’s always exciting to try something that feels a little radical.

The longest scene in the play is the one that takes place just before the interval on board the ship. In earlier rehearsals we hadn’t worked through the connection between the previous scene and how a lot of the props and set get on stage, so there were some logistical details to work out with the Virginias. There is also a lot of costume that has to be put on on during this scene, so while we tackled that, Composer Alex Baranowski took the rest of the Virginias off to learn the song ‘Farewell, Adieu’, which is alluded to in the script. At the end of the ‘Ship Scene’, this song is heard being sung by sailors below deck and we felt it would be nice if it was sung live. When Alex and the Virginias returned they had not only learnt the song, but also tried it in a round with harmonies. It sounded stunning, haunting and melancholy, and added a whole new element to the scene. We then tried a few variations of where the song should be placed within the scene so as not to disrupt its comic moments, while also driving us towards the interval.

We had another production meeting at lunchtime, in which we discussed how the canopy above the stage works and how the quick on-stage costume changes were progressing in rehearsals. It sounds like everything is on track in all departments.

After lunch we started at the top of Act Two and Ben worked a little with the actors playing ‘The Wits’ on how their characters might move to reflect the Restoration period. Michael then worked with Emma and Richard Cant on the second ‘Harriet Scene’, in which they explored balancing the space and keeping a charged dynamic between them by not letting either of themselves get too close to the other. We also had an opportunity to try another moment of costume business, as we have a magical quick change for Orlando from a Restoration dress to a Restoration suit in one fell swoop. It actually took a lot less time than we thought it would and it will look very impressive. 

I got to work with the understudies again this evening and most of the time is spent re-capping for Melissa Lowe, one of the Virginias and an understudy, what we did last week while they were in a costume fitting. We also worked out how to strike a lot more of the set to accommodate the pieces added in rehearsals on Monday.

Thursday 3rd November 2022

A big part of Stage Management’s job during rehearsals is organising costume fittings around call times, which can be especially difficult on a show like this where there’s a large ensemble and most people are on stage most of the time. Yesterday we managed the call knowing we had to let Deborah Findlay go for a fitting before lunch, which worked out perfectly, and this morning we knew we were losing Jessica Alade for most of the morning session. Fortunately, we timed everything perfectly and the actors arrived back in the room just in time for some significant Virginia stuff.

We started the morning with the scene between Nell and Orlando. This was an area where we knew we needed some intimacy co-ordination as the stage-directions specify touch. Ben Wright spoke to the actors individually and we made sure that there were no people in the room who didn’t need to be there. At this stage we didn’t feel we needed the understudies in to watch as we would still be exploring how we want to communicate and orchestrate the intimate moments. Ben has worked with Michael many times before, most recently on a film which required a lot of intimacy direction, so they have a great understanding of how to approach the subject with the actors and make the room feel comfortable and safe.

After lunch we moved onto one of the more complicated sequences, involving sound, movement, costume changes, all of the Virginias, moving set pieces and Emma standing on top of a bed! It was always going to be the moment that was going to take the longest time to figure out how to do it safely, so we spent a good few hours on it and will no doubt keep refining it even when we get into the theatre. 

I was lucky enough to get another hour with the understudies and I made the most of having Ben around and asked him to work with the actors who understudy the debutantes, as they have the ‘dance’ arrival. We’re so fortunate to get this time as I know once we get into the theatre, for technical rehearsals and previews, we won’t have such a luxury. At the moment the main thing for the understudies to know is that it isn’t necessarily about making a carbon-copy of what the actor they cover does, but to make sure they are giving the right energy and putting some of their own personality and ‘sass’ into the entrance.

Friday 4th November 2022

The last day of week three, and it feels like it too! We have been super-productive, adding in elements of sound and music, costume, movement and intimacy and the home stretch is in sight.

Michael worked with just Emma and Jodie McNee, playing Marmaduke, to explore the intimacy between them when they first meet, while I worked in another room running lines with the company for the upcoming scene, in which Orlando and Marmaduke marry. Michael explained to the company that he recognised that since we always get to the end of the play at the end of the week, we don’t perhaps give it the same attention as the work we do at the beginning of the week, because our energy levels are lower and we’re also driving to get to the end of the piece. In recognising this, he is going to start with the end of the play when we come back on Monday and make sure these final scenes receive close work and finessing.

We recapped some of the work we did yesterday on the tricky ‘Victorian’ change and the ‘Darkness Bride’ section while Ben Wright was still around as they contain a lot of syncopated movement. Then we continued into the final moments of the play, where the Virginias and Mrs G need Orlando to work for themselves to answer the questions, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘Who do I love?’ The final moments of a play, much like the opening moments, can be the trickiest to get right as it is the image and feeling that the audience will be left with. A lot of the time these are the sections of a play that get played around with most in technical rehearsals and previews. Once there’s an audience in responding to the play, we get a sense of whether the tone is right, or whether we need to make some subtle shifts to ensure we are being clear with the message, sense, atmosphere and emotion of the piece.