Heather Carroll - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the second week of rehearsals for Queens of the Coal Age, directed by Bryony Shanahan


Last week of rehearsals! This is not a drill! I walk into rehearsals this morning and the Cast are being filmed for a news report about the show. They’re running different scenes in costume, with props, music and its looking great. After filming you can feel a little bit of nervousness in the room but Bryony as ever is calm. Matt leads us in a game of ‘Bibbity Bib Bob’ (yes its as ridiculous as it sounds) to warm us up and to get everyone relaxed. By the end of the warm up everyones smiling and ready to crack on.


The team get to work starting with Act 2, I haven’t seen much of Act 2 in the times I’ve been popping into rehearsals so it was lovely to see it. The Cast and Bryony work through each scene, stopping after each one to discuss the energy of the scene, the intentions and different details Bryony offers. I’ve noticed sometimes she’ll offer a suggestion to a particular actor in private and let the rest of the Cast see it be played out in real time. This often leads to the whole room laughing which as this late stage in rehearsals is great to see because they’re still finding the fun and comedy in the piece. This final week of rehearsals is all about fine tuning it seems and about playing. When an actor says they’re still working something out about a line or their character Bryony doesn’t panic but offers suggestions of what they could try, or what their intention could be. One way she seems to work with the Cast is by asking simple questions about what their character wants or is going through. Objectives, actions and wants. Bryony herself says she isn’t prescriptive on the way in which an actor delivers a line, there are technical moments the Cast have to hit but itsit’s about creating the atmosphere for the audience to be able to engage with the piece emotionally. Other than that itsit’s just about listening and reacting.


As you probably already know the Royal Exchange main space is a theatre in the Round, meaning on all sides you have audience. During this week I have watched Bryony play more and more attention to this detail. Her, Matt, the AD, and Jenny, Movement Director, now all sit on separate sides of the room and switch around during each scene. Jenny and Matt also play the parts of the Ensemble so Bryony can see how it looks to an audience. This is also for the Cast so they know how much time certain transitions will last and what will be happening around them. It feels like Bryony as a director has given the Cast time to play the scenes as truthfully as possible without overthinking their surroundings and now is opening up their visions to the 360 degree world of the module to prepare them and the piece for performance.

Image of QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE, Royal Exchange Theatre



Its Saturday morning and on Monday the Team go into technical rehearsals. This is one of the last times the Cast will run the show from beginning to end before previews. The Cast meet Scott who run the tech whilst Sarah, the SM, will run the show in terms of calls for people. Before the Cast start the stagger through Bryony is keen to remind them it is not a performance its about finding the flow and new structure of the piece. Bryony is as calm as ever keeping energy in the room light. There has been scenes cuts, monologues moved and other edits that have happened after yesterday’s run in the space. We start with a quick warm up and then the Company are straight into working the first Act. As I sit and watch the Cast I notice how little lines here and there have been tweaked and movement tightened up. Bryony stands in for the ensemble in all the transitions/moments they’re in the show so the Cast have as a close a full run that they can.

The ensemble, Matt and Jenny are working in another space. I join Bryony when she goes to check on them at tea break. The ensemble are littered around the Hall as part of an exercise of being around the module as miners as part of a possibility for pre show. Bryony, Matt and Jenny then discuss the different ideas of what the ensemble could be doing and when, Bryony is keen not to ruin the surprise of the 30 strong male ensemble in the show so suggests they are used in the interval much like the miners are on their break. Its really interesting to see even now ideas are being played with and created. As we walk back to the rehearsal room Bryony says thats what previews are for, experimenting and seeing what works.

RET QUEENS OF THE COAL AGE L R Kate Anthony Anne Danielle Henry Lesley image Keith Pattison

The Company then works on the Second Act before a note session with Bryony, which interestingly is the only time I have ever seen Bryony and the Cast sit down for a formal note session. She comments she loves this part of rehearsals because this is when the show really comes alive because now the Cast know the piece. Its all about knowledge and instinct so working through notes is easier and more exciting because of the choices the Cast make. The next stage for the Cast is to ‘let the audience’ in as Bryony says. They’ve done all the prep and they need an audience to lift the piece with their reactions to it, whether this be laughing or crying. In the last four week I’ve done both, and I’m pretty sure the audiences that come see it will do the same.


One thing I’ve really learnt this week is how no matter how many things are going on around a director you have to be the calm energy in the room. Actors and Crew look to you for leadership and its in this week that you really need to steer the ship. There maybe nerves in the room because performance is ever looming and there are edits still happening but you have to believe and reassure that these are done for the good of the piece and so squash any doubts. I also realised that even at this point you CAN still be editing, playing around with intentions, blocking and cutting things after seeing the flow of the show. And actually this is probably the best/easiest time to do so. Actors love their rehearsal room - its a safe space and transferring work into the space they are performing in will always bring new hurdles but as a director you have to judge the room and reassure where you can that there is still time, that the piece is in good shape and its just about now letting the audience in. Really this week I learnt today how much a directors job is people management - you have to be able to read a room and lead it at the same time to get the Company where they need to be for that opening night, and Bryony does it with such ease. Its now less than a week till the show opens and I am so excited for the whole team!

Queens of the Coal Age runs 28 June - 28 July 2018, Theatre

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