Hello! Jonathan here - your bloggy guide to rehearsals of Sweet Charity at the Royal Exchange. I’m going to be in the rehearsal room once a week for the whole of the rehearsal process, and I will be doing my utmost to relay my experience to you through this blog in a manner that doesn’t just involve reading a lot of potentially-boring text. Hmmm. I like a challenge!
The tricky thing, of course, is that there are a lot of exciting things to report - the temptation would be to simply list all of them on a minute-by-minute basis, but I suspect that wouldn’t be hugely fun for you to read, so I’ll endeavour to restrict my observations to things that are particularly interesting or amusing or simply instances that made me sit up and go, “Oooh!”. Inwardly.
I’m also going to experiment with present tense, to see if that makes it more immediate and engaging - you have been warned:
MORE INTRODUCTIONS - BUT NOT JUST ME THIS TIME
So! I arrive at Stage Door on my first day to be collected by Davinia, the Exchange’s Literary and Talent Development Administrator, who runs me through everything I need to know about my time with Observer Mondays (including a swift trip to Marketing to discuss - hurrah! - this very blog) before handing my over to Andy, the Assistant Director on Charity. He’s a jolly nice chap, and instantly puts me at my ease, which is particularly welcome as we are then propelled into the (slightly dreaded, on my part) meet-and-greet, where everyone working in the theatre for the duration of this show (that’s cast, creatives, office staff - all in the same room) introduce themselves in a big circle. It’s a wonderful way to start a rehearsal process, but I did feel a bit sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb-ish. Compare the concise elegance of “I’m Kaisa, and I’m playing Charity” or “I’m Ashley, and I work in Marketing” to the unwieldy “I’m Jonathan, and I’ll be observing-rehearsals-once-a-week-as-part-of-an-emerging-directors-scheme” and you’ll understand why.
Needless to say, everyone is hugely friendly and welcoming, including Derek the director who pops over to say hello and have a quick chat with me. Before lunch, there’s time for a quick look at the beautiful model-box and costume designs from James the designer, and some general welcome notices from Lee the Company Manager, spanning anything and everything from gym memberships for the cast to warnings against the imminent horrors of the Christmas Markets, when the city centre gets a little, shall we say, hectic.
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH?
Lunchtime already! Andy whizzes me up to the office he shares with Matthew Xia, one of the Exchange’s Associate Artistic Directors - it takes great self-control not to peer too closely at Matthew’s desk, where copies of [redacted] and [redacted] offer tantalising clues to future Exchange seasons - before we head back downstairs to eat our lunches.
After lunch, it’s straight into a full read-through - we go right through the script (minus songs, sadly! although we do get little extracts played on the piano by Mark, the show’s Musical Director) with all the actors reading their parts, showcasing a dazzling array of accents! It’s very exciting to witness, all the more so in the knowledge that it will be many, many weeks before any of us experiences the piece again in its entirety from start to finish, as, once rehearsals begin in earnest, the company will be working on individual scenes and songs as they put the show together.
THEATRE IN 3D
At various points in the read-through, Derek the director pauses the process in order to give a brief note or two about the creative team’s plans for particular moments or ideas. These are all fascinating, but what has particularly stayed with me is the recurring use of the phrase “3D”. One of the thrilling things about the Exchange’s in-the-round set-up is that, unlike in a traditional end-on proscenium arch theatre, the audience does not simple look at the action; we look around it, through it and into it. Theatre in 3D, we might say.
Derek first mentions 3D in relation to the famous Bob Fosse choreography (think Chicago or Cabaret for the most well-known examples), which is characterised by silhouettes of dancers contorted into angular, unmistakeable shapes. That, of course, is impossible to achieve in an in-the-round theatre, so iconic song-and-dance numbers like ‘Hey, Big Spender’ will by necessity look very different and fresh in this production.
He also uses it when talking about the myriad of smaller roles within the world of Sweet Charity - from Charity’s fellow dancers at the Fandango club to the countless unnamed passers-by she encounters on her adventures on the streets of New York. Derek is determined that every character will be as well-rounded, as believable, as 3D as possible, irrespective of the number of lines they have or the amount of time they’re onstage. The Exchange, more than many other theatres, really does demand this, as the audience absolutely share the same space as the actors, mere metres away from the characters that are being portrayed. There is no room for two-dimensional theatre; the audience experiences every single detail of an actor’s performance.
So prepare yourself! If you think Sweet Charity is simply a frothy, glitzy feel-good show made famous by a handful of Broadway-kick-line showtunes, you need to think again. This Charity takes place in a 3D world, where real, very human characters negotiate a world riddled with disappointment, and challenge us to consider how we do the same.
I leave the Royal Exchange feeling very excited and tremendously grateful at the opportunity to watch this brilliant show being put together. More to come next week! Watch this space...