| Rehearsal Diary

Week Two

Collisions and Near-Misses

Staging a play with no scenic breaks and few stage directions is a relatively new and altogether welcome experience for me, having (until recently) worked fairly regularly with plays from the Jacobean repertoire. It allows – or even compels – a Creative Team to conjure a visual and a sonic world that’s just as important as the linguistic one. 

group looking at archival materials
Behind the scenes on Photograph 51. Photo: Marc Brenner

The invention of a theatrical language has been at the forefront of our minds this week as we continue to excavate Photograph 51, digging down into the lives of its characters and their often fractious relationships to one another. The more we examine them, like the photograph at the centre of this story, the more they reveal about themselves. And, in parallel with crafting various modes of speaking, the actors have been busy translating the verbal into the physical. As we sketch their journeys through the text, they begin to inhabit the lyricism of Anna’s play. What this means is that one character can stand onstage and be in the same place and time as another character or, conversely, isolate themselves in their own stories, the ones they want to tell. In this play, mutually exclusive realities exist onstage. The idea of someone being alive and dead at the same time, for example. It’s pure theatricality in its blend of naturalistic and non-naturalistic elements.

Having made broad brushstrokes in the first week, the actors now have a strong foundation of each scene, which we’ve started to decipher in detail to shape the narrative arc of the piece. As part of this process, our Voice Coach, Zabarjad Salam, has visited rehearsals to take the company through vocal warm-ups and dialect sessions.

It’s a story involving a lot of collisions and near-misses. We move from a work encounter between two people that might mean entirely different things to each of them, to a social gathering where someone is surrounded by other people and yet feels entirely alone. The one thing that unites the scientists within the world of this play is their increasing sense of being on the verge of something, locked in a heightened state of awareness as they orbit the discovery.

photographic equipment
Behind the scenes on Photograph 51. Photo: Marc Brenner

In the rehearsal room, there is no such thing as a needless question. Everyone in the company is a ‘yes’ person: ‘Yes, let’s see if that works… Yes, let’s try that… Yes, that’s the clearest storytelling!’ This breeds an infectious positivity as well as a willingness to fail, and then fail better. With set building underway elsewhere, our Stage Management Team has created a ‘mark-up’ with electrical tape, which simulates the design of the Noël Coward stage, allowing us to choreograph scenes precisely in advance of technical rehearsals in a few weeks’ time. There are also a few props now being filtered in: an X-ray machine, some microscopes and a lab coat or two.