Maureen O'Neill - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the third week of rehearsals for Queen Margaret, directed by Elizabeth Freestone


What a difference a week makes! When I arrived back in the rehearsal room, I knew that things would have moved on in my absence, but I hadn’t really formed a clear idea of how those changes would manifest themselves. I knew from the daily schedules that the stage manager sent to everyone, that several other professionals had become involved: voice coach, movement director, fight director, sound designer. Costume fittings were also a regular occurrence. What really blew me away, however, when I entered the room after a week away, was seeing the set marked out in white tape on the floor of the rehearsal room.

My first impression was of a spider’s web: 5 circles radiating from a central point, intersected by diagonal lines so that the space is divided into 16 segments and the whole mesh is then surrounded by an outer circle. What was it? A web? A target? A chessboard? Looking at photographs which have been stuck on the walls, other interpretations become possible, too: the pattern of green fields as seen from an aerial view or perhaps a sports field. What is Elizabeth going to do with this very structured layout? Which aspects of the play is she intending to highlight with this design?


Of course I was only there for a day last week, so based on what I saw, it seems to me that this set is very versatile and will create many interesting effects. Here’s a few that sprang to mind:

• Sometimes the areas on the floor are used to highlight a character’s status. In one scene the king inhabits several of these segments, which reflects his remoteness as well as the respect and deference which other characters are required to show him.

• In another scene, the characters move at different speeds around the circles, rather like planets in orbit.

• Characters moving around the different rings at different speeds also change direction and this can create a sense of chaos and confusion for the character trapped in the centre of the web. This movement underlines and enhances the rhythm of the text at certain key points.

• The outermost circle indicates the physical boundary between interior and exterior spaces. This will be delineated further through the use of lighting once inside the theatre.

• Different physical locations within a scene are made very clear by groups of characters moving in opposite directions, creating advances and retreats in scenes of battle.

Image of Queen Margaret Rehearsals, Royal Exchange Theatre

With a set which appears to define the space very precisely and in scenes where there is a lot of action and fighting, there is obviously a great need for the movement director, Vicky, and Elizabeth to collaborate closely and work with the actors to make the best use of the space. In general, this is a play full of movement and Elizabeth spent a lot of time on Thursday working on the transitions between scenes and between different sections within certain scenes. Smooth transitions are essential to maintain the momentum and pace. To ensure that the actors are completely sure of their moves at these crucial points, Elizabeth walked through it with them several times without the words, allowing all their focus to be on the physical aspect. It was like watching dancers marking a routine with a choreographer and it was very interesting to see how certain positions and movement patterns emerged spontaneously from doing this, which couldn’t have been predicted in advance.

What else did I notice after a week away from rehearsals? Well, a few key props and bits of costume are starting to be used by the actors: a tie, a pair of specs, a bible, an earpiece and perhaps unsurprisingly, a crown.

Finally, I was very impressed when we were able to hear some of the sounds which sound designer and composer Adrienne has created for the show. It really brought some of the fight scenes to life for the actors and gave a sense of the scale of the battle. What more can I say - it’s just getting very exciting!

Queen Margaret runs 14 September - 6 October 2018, Theatre

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