Victoria Firth - Observer Mondays Director - gives us an insight into the final week of rehearsals for Happy Days, directed by Sarah Frankcom

OBSERVATION ON REHEARSAL WEEK 5 OF 21 MAY 2018

HEAR WE ARE

I didn’t know that the name the company use for the theatre auditorium is the ‘module’ but it is and this week we are in it.

It’s exciting to see the set in situ inside the module but also, outside it in the royal exchange rear foyer, to see the workings of set and technical build exposed as things flow in and out of the space.

The technical time feels spacious and I learn that extra time was given for a diary commitment of one of the team no longer needed – so now there is more time than usual, not just to work ‘cue to cue’ - going from one technical change to another but, to run whole sections of the piece and work on them in detail.

Despite the relaxed timings there is a palpable increase in tension as the first performance looms. Changes which might affect the delivery of the performance, queries about the workings of props feel more impactful than before and Sarah takes a reassuring and adaptive tone whilst solving practical problems.

The session works much like a rehearsal except now the actors are in full hair, make up and costume, on the real set and with the lighting and sound effects that will accompany their performance. It feels like everything has taken a big step forward since I was last here but it’s probably more the cumulative effect of everything Sarah has been planning all along coming together. The full creative team is here and Sarah confers with them between sections on how the vision is being realised.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

I have never worked with a sound designer and it’s not something I would have thought about. I realise now my assumptions about sound were limited to music tracks and sound effects which are suggested by the text. Claire Windsor, the sound designer, appeared quietly in the rehearsal room last week and has been experimenting with sound during rehearsal. The result are injections of noise which form part of the design - creating an audio as well as visual landscape for the actors to inhabit. The set offers ‘maximum symmetry and simplicity’ as per Beckett’s notes and although there are no notes about sound, Claire has taken a similar approach. Atri, the Assistant Director, comments that, in this case, the sound does not prompt the audience what to feel but underscores the rhythm of the piece and offers punctuation to the text. I take this note into my directing toolkit. Sound can be story but it can also be dramaturgy and is part of the triangle of design – with setting and lighting. Chatting with Atri he also notes that Sarah works with good people who she trusts and I can see this in the way that she gives space for their talents to interpret her vision before crafting all the elements together.

This reminds me of advice from another director friend of mine who encouraged me to not always think I had to start small when wanting to make work. When the opportunity affords it – more creatives on a project give an emerging director more cover while they learn – delivering a frame of solid production values in which they can experiment.

HAPPY DAYS 6

TIME TO SING THE SONG NOW

My next visit will be to see the show. I can’t wait. Being able to see whole sections of it run means I know how arresting it will be. The shift between Act 1 and Act 2 is so striking I am moved to tears.

This would be called a ‘stripped back’ production except that was always how the writer intended it to be staged. It looks simple but there is so much artistry here. The sparseness of the action and design means that you live in all the small places of the actor’s performance. The detail is compelling and to watch these characters so intimately feels almost like an act of witnessing.

I think people will talk about this production for a long time. I encourage you to come and see it.  


Happy Days runs 25 May - 23 June 2018, Theatre

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