It’s the second week of rehearsals for Mother Courage and Her Children. The company are rehearsing at Sadler’s Wells Theatre for the first fortnight so I’m here with them in London for my second Observer Mondays. I’m amazed at how quickly the show is coming together. Every morning starts with a warm-up led by Associate Movement Director, Christian From. It’s yoga today, which is really useful to help the actors remain flexible and fit for such a physically demanding play. It then leads into a vocal warm-up which is also super important before rehearsals.
As there are so many elements to the production, there are staggered calls for music, movement and costume fittings between and during working on scenes, to be able to keep everything moving like clockwork. This is the first time the play is up on its feet. We start with a read through, but Director Amy Hodge has encouraged the actors to be as familiar with the script as possible by this point. This really frees them up in rehearsals for everything else that they have to do, and there’s always somebody on book to feed them a line if needs be.
The floor has been marked up to mirror the round in the Royal Exchange Theatre. We have a mock cart built from pieces of staging and wood to allow the actors to play around with it. It also adds the levels that will be on the stage. Stage management have also brought in mock props to add in, as well as pieces of costume that are vital at this point. It’s important to create a sort of choreography for these things too and much of the rehearsal is working out where and when these things fit on the stage. Amy works on getting the skeleton of the scenes to begin with, to build a rough shape of where people and props will move through each one. All of this blocking and scene mapping is repeated until it is set in stone.
Movement and songs are added gradually. It’s all about weaving the pieces together that were worked on last week. Though this isn’t a conventional musical, it is important to start conversations about how and why characters know the music and what their impulses are for bursting into song. Amy has decided to set it up as though the characters aren’t in control of it. It’s finding the reality to work hand in hand with the absurd. The songs have a very Eastern European influence and are sung through the rehearsals to place them in the space. The cast include actor/musician Nick Pynn, playing instruments to guide them. It’s fascinating watching him improvise with the music yet also be a supporter to the actors. He even played a saw with a bow at one point!
So much of the structure of the play has been built by Amy, the stage management team, movement and musical directors outside of this room. So when they come to working on a section, they know the exact geography of it already. It gives the actors a framework and support system, which then allows them to play within it. I’m realising how much detail everyone has worked on beforehand, and how the role of a director is so much about collaborating with your team to fit those pieces together. I always used to have the impression that the director worked everything out by themselves, but this is absolutely not the case. They are supported by a team of brilliant creatives and it is very much an ongoing conversation.
Mother Courage and Her Children runs 8 February - 2 March 2019, Theatre