As I approach my second Monday, I'm a touch more nervous than before. A whole week of rehearsals has passed. A company spirit will have begun to form and I haven't been here for it. Will I now be an outsider? Assistant Director Andy Routledge, kindly and helpfully gives me a run down of what has been covered so far, which sets me at ease a little. We head up to the rehearsal room.
The first thing that strikes me is how much more relaxed the atmosphere is. The numerous staff of day one have now melted back to their respective domains and are no doubt buzzing away there with rehearsal schedules, measuring tapes, floor plans, draft press releases and the like. In the rehearsal room it is just director Sarah Frankcom, Andy, the Deputy Stage Manager, whichever actors have been called and today, me. Which begs the question, where do I sit? Sarah quickly answers this by suggesting that I sit in a corner with the DSM, away from the table that she and the actors will sit at to discuss the script. I admit, sitting here feels a bit weird when I'm are used to being in the thick of things but the fact is, I'm here to observe. It's a privilege to be invited into another director's rehearsal room. I don't want to do anything that will distract from Sarah's process or undermine the trust being placed in me. While we briefly wait for actors to arrive Sarah comments that, “this is the nice week”. I get what she means. In a four week rehearsal period, it's the enjoyable, exploratory part. Initial getting-to-know-you nerves have now been seen off and final, time-to-lock-it-down decisions are still somewhere in the future. I find myself relaxing too.
We get down to business. Which is a short rehearsal with Maxine Peake and Reece Noi, who is playing the Young Collector. This is followed by a roughly five hour rehearsal with Maxine and Youssef Kerkour, playing Mitch. It's the first time any of the scenes we look at have been worked on. The basic shape for each rehearsal is clear and simple. It begins with Sarah and the actors sat around a small table (which is also part of the set) discussing the scene. This is followed by putting the scene on its feet with the actors working in the space, script in hand where needed.
Sarah's approach to table work is not a rigorous process of breaking the script down unit by unit but is a more open and wide-ranging conversation about the characters' back stories, motivations and relationship to each other. The conversation is driven by her questions and is certainly not without rigour. I'm particularly interested to observe how Sarah's direction aids in the development of character and how she draws out a thematic emphasis overall.
Firstly, she has evidently done an enormous amount of homework herself. This shows itself not in lengthy diatribes (yawn) but in the specificity and precision of the questions she asks actors about their characters. Time is of the essence in theatre. As I watch her I am reminded what a skill it is to select the particular questions that will go straight to the heart of the matter and support actors in discovering and unlocking their characters. Yet balance this with a wide-ranging enough set of questions to ensure the cast are developing a shared understanding of the play as a whole. As the day unfolds, I also begin to see a pattern emerging in the questions Sarah doesn't bother to ask, the aspects of relationship she chooses to focus on, and the way in which this subtle editing contributes to her interpretive focus for the play and the themes she is keen to emphasise. She makes it look simple – it isn't.
One of the other unmissable differences between this week and last is the fact that the rehearsal room is now fully marked up. Bright green and yellow floor tape bisects the round space that is an almost full size representation of the so-called module. The seven entrance/exits are all numbered, door 1, door 2 etc. and key pieces of set furniture are in place, demarcating various zones. I'm fascinated by the challenges and possibilities that theatre in the round offers. I'll be honest though, as I contemplate the space, I'm aware that some internal mental architecture is refusing to budge. It's not a philosophical resistance, I just can't quite fully grasp the sets of spatial relations that theatre in the round creates.
As rehearsals move from table to floor, I notice how quickly Sarah makes decisions about actors' placement and flight paths across the stage. My brain won't quite keep up with the implications of these choices and I have to really fight the urge to get up and start sitting in various parts of the house. This level of disruption from an observing director would be seriously intrusive. So instead, I manage to keep myself in check and head home from week two observations with a whole bunch of new questions buzzing around my mind. I consider that a successful day!