Sarah Richardson - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the third week of rehearsals for Frankenstein, directed by Matthew Xia

OBSERVATION ON REHEARSAL WEEK 3 OF 19 FEB 2018

Things are definitely gaining pace in the FRANKENSTEIN rehearsal room. As people gather for the first session of week 3 it’s obvious that the company have really bonded now and the atmosphere is relaxed but business-like - there’s work to be done and everyone’s ready to get on with it.

Week 2 was spent working through Act 1 unit by unit. This morning the plan is to have a stumble-through of the whole act before moving on to Act 2 this afternoon. To get everyone prepared the movement director leads a physical warm-up for the cast, then the composer & sound designer leads a vocal warm-up which includes singing some sea shanties that will be used in the production. As this is taking place the assistant director and stage manager are busy shifting furniture around the room, working out the logistics of running the whole of Act 1. And that’s the other thing that is different to when I was last in rehearsals; there is an awful lot of ‘stuff’ in the room now. There’s a large wooden table and several chairs, some old luggage trunks, a big wooden cart. The world of the play is creeping into rehearsals more and more and even though some of the objects are just rehearsal props there is a sense of the ‘look’ of the play making its way into the room.

FALLING OVER ROOTS AND BUMPING INTO TREES

Warm-ups done Matthew calls everyone into a circle. He explains that this morning’s stagger-through will be exactly that, a stagger through, “where we fall over the roots and bump into the trees.” He intends for it to be a refresher, there’s no need to try anything drastically new. Scripts are allowed. It’s the beginning of week 3 and work on Act 2 is yet to begin - and at this point I know anyone (including myself) who has directed work where the whole rehearsal period was two weeks (or less) will be thinking “what?!” and very possibly “if only…” - but as Matthew explains to the cast Act 1 covers two thirds of the story including most of the units in which we meet new characters and the majority of the more complicated moments staging-wise. And of course there are still another two and a half weeks of rehearsals to go before the first previews. (I know, previews - “what?! / if only…”) This was another reason why I was interested in observing the rehearsals for FRANKENSTEIN; to see how, if given a rehearsal period of 4-5 weeks, a director paces rehearsals. What extra layers of work can be done and to what effect? How is momentum and energy maintained when working intensively on one piece of text for over a month?

Image of Frankenstein Rehearsals, Photo Anneka Morley, Royal Exchange Theatre

One of the sea shanties practiced during warm-ups starts the stagger-through but with a note given by Matthew that it’s to be sung at 60% energy to reflect the desolate situation the characters are in. As the stagger-through progresses the composer & sound designer slots in pieces of music and sound that he has prepared from watching last week’s rehearsals, testing them with the scenes, checking that they are marking the right moments and in the right way. And watching this process it seems that the cast are also exploring how this element might work with what they are doing on stage. Before the stagger-through started Matthew had given a note to the actor who starts on stage that they can hear the sea shanty that’s being sung (even though the actors singing it are off stage). Watching the actor during this scene I can see them work with this idea and explore how it might affect their character’s state of mind. And I think this ability to quickly assimilate new ideas has been made possible in part to the detailed work done during earlier sessions. A strong foundation has been laid which now gives the actors the confidence and security to play and explore.

The stagger-through comes to an end and there is a ripple of applause from those of us who watched it because it’s clear that what Matthew was saying about Act 1 containing the bulk of the story is true. Act 1 is epic, for both performer and audience member. Time for a tea-break.

Frankenstein Rehearsals Photo Anneka Morley 6 x800

After the break everyone sits in a circle ready for Matthew to give notes but before he does so he asks everyone how they found the stagger-through. Most are just happy to have got through it and the composer & sound designer mentions how useful it was to see the units run together and see the shape and energy of the whole act. And one actor comments that they now realise the amount of energy it is going to take to perform Act 1. Some of Matthew’s notes are about specific lines or moves. Others are about a more general sense of what is going on at a certain moment, the logic of it. “We need to work through the beats of this” Matthew states a few times and asks the assistant director to draw up a list of moments that will need working on. He also notes what’s working well and that he feels the storytelling devices being used work and the main story points are clear. Time to move on to Act 2.

REFLECTION

• Play with music and sound in the rehearsal room. It enables sound and the action on stage to inform each other and develop together in interesting and sometimes unexpected ways.

• Take time to lay strong foundations. The slower pace of early sessions (in which time was taken to establish character intentions, settings, back stories etc.) will pay off in later sessions. Even within a shorter rehearsal period it’s worth making time for conversations and questions.

• Note what works. Notes sessions can end up just being about what’s not working yet and still needs to be done (which can feel a bit glum). It’s important to also note what’s working well and feels exciting.


Frankenstein runs 9 March - 14 April 2018, Theatre

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