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 first blog from SO HERE WE ARE observing director Jocelyn Cox.
PIDGE WHO ARE YOU THEN?
So Here We Are started with a meet and greet; introductions of the cast and creative team to the Royal Exchange Theatre staff, and each other. This was immediately followed by a model box and design presentation by Lily. She talked about Southend as an environment of shingle, graffiti and concrete. The main design inspirations were a trip to Southend with Steven and photography by Martin Parr, a picture of whose is the promotional image for the show.
Lily and Steven discussed the two-fold nature of both the play itself and the nature of performing both in the Studio at the Exchange, and at the Aldeburgh Jubilee Hall as part of the HighTide Festival. Referring to the two distinct performance spaces, the cast were reassured that the storytelling would obviously be the same; it will be a case of tweaking for the particular spaces.
Steven describes Act 1 as a literal, naturalistic scene. This contrasts with Act 2, where it becomes a memory play. This is reflected in the set design, which literally explodes open as the stories refuse to be confined. At this stage, it was emphasised that the characters are not going back in time to transport the audience back to the scenes of Act 2; they are remembering them. Everything from their costumes, to the actual transformation of the stage will reflect this. Lily has concocted an incredibly smart design that achieves all of this, as it too is both literal and then symbolic and stylised.
So Here We Are Rehearsals
Steven then gathered the playwright, cast, assistant director, deputy stage manager and myself around the table for an initial read. He told the cast; "We are listening to the play, following the story, so just do it straight and truthfully." It's a funny script on the page, but as soon as it was being read aloud by this talented and well-cast group, it became apparent that it really will make people laugh.
Steven then asked us to write our answers to the following questions:
'How does this play start?'
'How does this play develop?'
'How does this play conclude?'
and finally, 'As you've summarised it, what new title could you give this play?'
The cast then wrote ten facts about their characters which are 100% specified in the play, and ten questions they have about their characters. These were revealed and discussed, and the questions were posed to Luke. Some he answered, some he invited the cast to answer for themselves, and some answers he suggested would evolve during the rehearsal process.
The final piece of imaginative writing around the table was for the cast to imagine their characters' birthday party. They were to specify where the party would be held, what food would be served (this proved especially controversial!), and which three tracks would top their playlist. This quickly opened a discussion of their characters, and the world which they share.
My first observation was summarised in the above line from the play – starting to learn who everyone is (both in reality and the world of the play), what everyone does here, and how...