Helen

As part of our ongoing commitment to nurture, support and inspire local theatre-makers, the Royal Exchange Theatre are able to offer directors based in Greater Manchester the opportunity to observe the journey of a production through rehearsals with our Observer Mondays Scheme.

Here is the second blog from KING LEAR observing director Helen Abbott

Today was day 5 of table work and it began where they'd left off on Friday with Act 4 Scene 6. Even though I'd expected today's rehearsal to be the first 'on its feet', I was pleasantly surprised to get the chance to see this part of the process. After a few notes and the introduction of sound designer Tayo Akinbode, Michael handed over to the cast to continue the process.

Each scene is read, discussed and then read again. Everyone joined in the discussion, regardless if they are in the scene or not, and it is clear how important this stage is. It gives the whole company a full understanding of the journey of the play and allows any questions - from a character's potential motivation to clarifying the etymology of a word or phase - to be debated. Michael is a quiet guiding force and listens to everyone's voice. When he has something to say it is up for discussion as much as anyone else's opinion.

On our break I chatted with Michael about his approach. While he normally likes to get a script up and moving straight away he feels that with Shakespeare this kind of table work is vitally important as it takes time to grasp the shape of the play and for the language to fully 'bed in'. I asked about the editing process and learn that around 500 lines have been cut. This is not set in stone though and there are a number of occasions where lines are looked at resulting in it being assigned to another character, cut altogether or something added back in etc. There were various editions of the play in the room and the cast seemed to really enjoy looking at what the Folio or Quarto text says and what other editors have chosen. All of this helps towards their understanding of the play and their cohesion as a company.

One thing that Michael makes very clear is that the telling of the story is the most important thing. If at any point things become unclear and the journey of the play is confused then you may lose the focus of the audience. When faced with a long scene, you must work out how to sustain it and find what or where the drive is. Throughout the rehearsal process you need to make sure you're hitting all the beats that tell the story.

The day ended with the script completed and, after 5 long sedentary days, the cast looking forward to finding their feet with it all. I am really excited about next Monday and seeing the early stages of the production taking shape.