| Rehearsal Diary

Week One

Associate Director Kate Budgen provides a week‑by‑week summary of rehearsals for The Cripple of Inishmaan

We have come to the end of our first week of rehearsals, and what a fantastic week it’s been.

A busy morning on the first day saw the rehearsal room being prepared to welcome around fifty people – with props being delivered, pictures pinned up on walls and lots of coffee brewed. As people started to arrive, it felt a little like the first day of school, but we were helped along by plenty of cake.

After everyone had introduced themselves, we gathered round the model box to hear Michael Grandage and Christopher Oram talk about the design and how they intended to bring the barren yet beautiful world of Inishmaan to the stage at the Noel Coward Theatre. We then listened as Michael and Martin McDonagh discussed the play, the reasons why it was part of this incredible first season for the Michael Grandage Company and what lies ahead over the coming weeks of rehearsal.

photographs on a wall of countryside and a stone house
The Cripple of Inishmaan rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

The play is often described as a ‘dark comedy’ but something that’s important to both Michael and Martin is to allow the comedy to come out of these characters and their intricate relationships. Over the next five weeks, the job in the rehearsal room is to build a set of characters who are real and multi-layered. To end a thrilling day, we all sat and watched The Man of Aran, the 1934 documentary film made by Robert Flaherty that inspires events in the play. 

actors watching television screen
The Cripple of Inishmaan rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner

The first day over, work with the actors began in earnest and the rest of the week saw us working through the play scene-by-scene – reading and chatting about it, then getting it up on its feet to have a play with how it might feel physically.

We were lucky enough to have Martin in the room with us the whole week, to answer questions and offer an insight into the world of the play and the extraordinary characters that inhabit it. Also, for the non-Irish members of the company, clarifying what things like ‘praities’ and ‘poteen’ are – words that make regular appearances in Martin’s text.

With set building well underway, we were lucky enough to have mock-ups of the various scenic elements in the room, meaning scenes could be explored in-situ. There were also a brilliant array of props, including a wooden egg box for Slippy Helen, an old wheelchair for 90-year-old Mammy and more tins of peas than you could possibly know what to do with!

It felt extremely satisfying and exciting to reach the end of the first week and already have a strong sense of the play as a whole. Moving swiftly through the play and finding the broad brushstrokes means that, starting week two, the actors have a basic foundation of each scene, which can then be picked apart to find the detail and texture. With such a gloriously rich and funny text, and a company of brilliant actors, even in these early stages the play is beginning to come to life in a wonderful way.

Week two will see fight calls, dialect sessions, a deep and thorough investigation of the text… And probably more peas!

bacon prop
The Cripple of Inishmaan rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner
tins of mushy peas prop
The Cripple of Inishmaan rehearsals. Photo: Marc Brenner