| Rehearsal Diary

Week Four

Monday 7th November 2022

As Michael had suggested last week, today we started work at the end of the play. So that Emma and Jodie McNee could work on the Marmaduke scene with a bit of privacy, I worked in another room running lines with the company before returning to the main room to work up until the play’s ending.

We addressed a small moment where the Virginias each become almost hauntings of Orlando’s past relationships, when they are trying to answer the questions, ‘Who do I love?’ and ‘Who am I?’ We wanted it to be very clear that this is what is happening and for each of the Virginias to have a role. It meant a small adjustment to the text as written. This will be proposed to the writer as an idea and they will have the final say as to whether they’re happy with it or not.

Just before lunch we went back to the top of the play, but we didn’t start exploring the action in-depth until after lunch, when we really interrogated the on-stage costume changes. It was great as the designer, Peter Mckintosh, was in the room so he was able to make immediate decisions about either cutting bits of costume or coming up with creative solutions to make the changes easier.

Michael and Emma had a newspaper interview and photoshoot planned for the last hour of rehearsals, so I went into another room with the cover company and continued to run lines and blocking. They are all doing excellently and picking up all of the small changes that are being made in the room and integrating them into their performances, which is great.

Tuesday 8th November 2022

At the start of the day Michael worked with Emma and Millie Wong on the ‘Sasha Scene’ while I worked with the rest of the company, running the lines of the scenes we were about to work on. We then joined the main rehearsal and got to work with some new banquet tables. A lot of the time in rehearsals we work with rehearsal props or set, which means they’re objects or furniture we can work with in rehearsals until we get the ‘actuals’ – the real props and set – once we’re in the theatre. It’s beneficial to work with as many ‘actuals’ in rehearsals as possible so that the actors get used to working with the things they’ll actually be using on stage. Michael is always keen to get as many ‘actuals’ in the rehearsal room as possible so that it doesn’t take up time in ‘tech’ getting used to something new. This is quite a luxury and the new tables are a good example of us being lucky enough to have them in rehearsals. For the last three weeks we’ve been using light tressle tables, carrying them into the space to set up the banquet, but the actuals are longer, heavier tables that have been put on wheels. They work beautifully and we learnt how they move and whether they always need to be handled by two people.

After lunch I ran lines again with the company while Michael worked on the scene between Harriet and Orlando. These opportunities to simply ‘drill’ the lines are incredibly useful and mean that when we rejoin rehearsals we can push forward with momentum. When we went back to the main room we moved through the ‘Constantinople’ sequence at pace and managed to get to the interval by the end of the day. We felt it would be good to recap the final scene before the interval first thing tomorrow. The Virginias all sing as sailors towards the end of the scene and we still need to work out what we want from that in terms of tone, plus also the timing for it – when it should come in.

I was lucky enough to have another hour to work after the main rehearsals finished and we got through some more fiddly Virginia ensemble moments, where Jess Alade and Mel Lowe in particular have a lot to learn in terms of lines and cues.

Wednesday 9th November 2022

We seem to be getting into a flow this week of me running lines in one room while Michael works on ‘two-hander’ scenes in the main space. While he worked on the ‘Sailor Scene’, I focused on the ensemble. When we rejoined the main room, we addressed the issue of the sailors’ song. We discussed whether the song was the right tone for the scene and what it did to the action. It has such great lyrics, and being in a minor key feels right, but maybe the energy of it isn’t quite hitting the mark? So we explored what it was like sped up and it made a real difference. It felt like the ‘outburst’ that Orlando describes the sailors’ voices as being, and there’s a raucousness that fits with the overall comedy of the scene. 

I then took the ensemble away again while Michael worked on the first couple of scenes of the second act. We rejoined for the ‘Fan Dance’, which covers a quick costume change for Orlando. We actually got to try the change in the room and discovered that it didn’t feel too quick after all, so it might be that we can cut the dance down by a few seconds. Michael explained that this might be something we leave until the tech, as it’s always easier to cut material than add more. It was a useful heads-up for the company, though, so they aren’t surprised if some of it does get cut later on.

After lunch, during which we had our regular production meeting, we continued with the second act and I worked with the company on refreshing the ‘Victorian Scene’, which has quite a busy on-stage costume change. When we rejoined the main rehearsal, to attempt putting it all together, we decided it might work best if Mrs G (Deborah Findlay) does this change by herself as Deborah has done all the others and felt comfortable enough with the text to attempt doing the change while speaking her lines. It seemed to work OK and we think it’ll be fine with practice, but we want to work on it again tomorrow when Movement Director Ben Wright is back.

We managed to get to the end of the play and it was actually incredibly moving to see how the final moments unfolded. It feels like we are moving towards being in a position to start running the whole thing together. I think seeing the piece as a whole will tell us a lot about how the Virginia ensemble is working and where it feels clear what their role is and where we need to be more specific.

I got to work with the understudies again for the last hour of the day and we tackled another really tricky moment for the company members who cover lots of different roles. I’m always amazed by how much they have picked up from just watching and listening. Being part of the ensemble on stage most of the time obviously helps with absorbing all of this information and text.

Thursday 10th November 2022

We started work this morning at the top of the play and today we had Ben Wright and Howard Hudson, Lighting Designer, in the room with us. The first thing we addressed is the first time Orlando is introduced to the audience by Virginia. It’s such an important moment to get right tonally. This means we have to think about the rhythm of the word, the pause before it, the intention of the word and its target – to whom and where is it being said? We explored a few different options and have come up with a version that feels like it has the right balance of mysticism and activity to keep it alive.

We didn’t spend too much time on the costume changes as we’ve decided to set time aside on Monday morning to look at these again, so the next moment we stopped to address was the arrival of the Queen. We want this to have a huge impact and it felt like we had a few too many elements playing against each other, so Ben simplified the movement. We also added the Elizabethan ruffs that the Virginias need to wear in this moment. It’s great to bring these costume elements into rehearsals now as it’s amazing how much time is taken up just working out when the ruffs are brought on and how. When should they be put on? When should they be taken off? And how can they be taken off-stage without all of the Virginias suddenly leaving the space?

Next, Ben shortened the arrival of the debutantes, which Composer Alex Baranowski will now have to create some shorter music for. We looked at making the scene with the debutantes more like a cattle-market and so placed each of the debutantes centre-stage so that Orlando could move around the women, inspecting them like animals. This led us to explore the balance of the space a little more and how and when the other Virginias come back into it. 

We managed to get to the scene with Sasha on the ice and were able to find a good place for the ensemble to bring on dry-ice machines to help create the atmosphere, plus some flaming torches and a little procession, which was a completely new idea today.

Friday 11th November 2022

For the first hour of the day we had a camera team in the room filming sections of the play for the trailer. We wanted to have some additional material to the footage filmed on the first day to show what is going on in the rehearsal room. We really wanted to pick some lively moments from the play to create a ‘greatest hits’ sort of collage to entice an audience. It was interesting watching Michael behind a camera as this is a medium he has been working in recently and the crossover between theatre and film is always a fascinating one.

After the filming was finished, we continued where we’d stopped before with Michael working alone on the ‘Sasha Scene’ with Emma, Millie Wong and Ben Wright to find more moments of intimacy and add even more dynamics and chemistry to their relationship. I ran lines in another room with the rest of the company before rejoining the main space to recap the new moment created the day before – a procession into the space. 

We then moved forward to the next event, where Sasha abandons Orlando. Michael knew that he wanted something movement-wise to change or develop during the section where Orlando is distressed about Sasha leaving him. After discussing several ideas, including moving the bed around the stage like it was floating down the River Thames, it turned out that the simplest idea – the company slowly closing in on Orlando – was the most effective. It’s quite often the subtlest of movements that have the most impact. Another example of this is when Harriet exits her scene leaving Orlando and the Virginias alone on stage – Ben asked the Virginias to clump together like a flock of birds or shoal of fish. It was the first time we’d seen them all moving in this way and it was very powerful. Ben also suggested Orlando walk amongst them, rather than them surrounding him, and it really felt like Orlando was taking some agency over his story in that moment, which was very effective. 

We kept pushing through the play as we really wanted Lighting Designer Howard Hudson and Ben to see all of the material before we move into the final week of rehearsals. We had the loose aim of getting to the end of the play today so that tomorrow we could do what we call a ‘stagger through’, which is basically a runthrough of the play without stopping, unless anything goes terribly wrong and we need to rework a section. However, we got to the ‘Victorian Scene’ and realised it needed a lot of work, so we spent time exploring solutions for that. We decided it would be best if only Mrs G changed Orlando into her Victorian costume, while the rest of the Virginias set-up the scene, as Mrs G is officially the Wardrobe Mistress and it meant we could start speaking the text earlier. It certainly made the section quicker but something is still missing.

Saturday 12th November 2022

This is the first Saturday we are rehearsing and Saturday rehearsal days always feel like a bonus to me. We knew we had a lot of work to do today and still thought we could aim to finish the play in the first hour or so and then do a stagger through. However, as we continued figuring out how to simplify the ‘Victorian Scene’ it became apparent that it needed more attention and rushing through things in order to run everything would be counter-productive. Next week will be our week for runthroughs and Michael explained how this will work – doing runs in the morning sessions, then working notes in the afternoon. He also made the company aware that there’d be more people in the room next week to watch runthroughs, such as wigs, wardrobe, designers and producers. It’s good to give the company this information as our rehearsal room has become a very intimate and personal space and opening that up to others can feel a little daunting. It’s good practice, though, for the hundreds of people that will be seeing us in a couple of weeks’ time.

After a lot of collaboration and redistribution of duties, we completely transformed the Victorian section and it now feels clean and confident. We stopped trying to follow the stage-directions so rigorously and instead tried to get the feeling of what those directions were suggesting and evolved them into a language that fit with the practicalities of what needed to happen on stage. Our relationship with stage-directions as directors and performers is an interesting one. It feels important to honour them wherever we can – for the writer they are often as important as the dialogue – but sometimes the production itself has to take ownership of the text. This can mean evolving and adapting the stage-directions, taking them as suggestions of what could happen and using them as a guide rather than gospel – rules that can’t be deviated from.

We then managed to get to the end of the play, which actually went relatively smoothly because we had already touched on it earlier in the week. Ben found some moments to create more connections between the Viriginas’ physicality and then recapped any new movement that had been added this past week so that the company feel confident in those moments when we do the runthroughs next week.

I’m looking forward to next week to see how it all fits together and getting a feel for the piece as a whole. It will be interesting having writer Neil Bartlett back in the room with us to see what he makes of what we have staged from his words.