Week 2! I arrive a little bit early so I can meet Andy the Assistant Director in the Green Room for him to catch me up on what’s been going on over the past week. It all sounds really brilliant, with lots of great, intense work on song-learning, choreography and scene-work.
We head up to the rehearsal room and I find myself a good vantage point at the side, from which to watch proceedings. There’s a lovely atmosphere - it’s very clear that this a room where everyone feels welcomed and at ease. This is reinforced as soon as the rehearsal begins in earnest - although Derek, the director, is running the room, he encourages everyone in the cast to contribute, and there’s a great spirit of open-ness and ownership as a result.
First on the agenda for today is a fun scene in which the eponymous Charity, having sworn she will henceforth stop “giving” and start “getting”, is accosted by a series of collectors for charitable causes and, of course, ends up giving away all her money to them. It’s very brief, and very funny, but is absolutely key to understanding the sort of woman Charity is.
It’s a great scene to watch Derek piece together with the cast as it’s concise, fast-paced and a little technically fiddly. I make copious notes on the process but let me pick out a couple of key things:
1. Aside from a quick read-through and word-check for any period references, everyone is up on their feet from the off. It’s all very dynamic - ideas for movement, pace and physical staging are suggested, tried, improved and repeated, and Derek is on his feet too, moving around and amongst the cast as they collectively work out the best way to tell the story of the scene.
2. Working in the round is a tricky business, but Derek is constantly reminding himself and the cast about the need to include the entire audience in as much of the story-telling as possible. He gives a great example of how that might work out: if a character has a thought that will result in an action or movement, the best place to “have” the thought is 180 degrees away from wherever the thought will send you - so half of the audience will see the thought happen, and the other half will see the result of the thought. It’s far from an exact science, but the general principle of keeping the staging as mobile as possible is the key to making it work.
3. Staging “funny” scenes is really difficult. One of the problems is that, the more time you spend working on a funny moment, the more familiar it becomes, and the harder it is to perceive whether the “funniness” of it is really working. Derek is really attuned to the fact that the power of comedic moments lies in their unexpectedness, so he really strives to shape the action of a scene in such a way that the punchline - whatever that might be - comes as a surprise to the audience.
In essence, observing this scene take shape is a wonderful worked example of how, in the right hands, a very short scene that could just dismissed as inconsequential can be explored, developed and polished until it becomes a really delightful moment that’s not only very funny but also adds to the wider narrative of Charity’s interaction with the world around her.
Later in the day, we’re joined by the rest of the cast, who are put through a jaw-droopingly intense physical work-out by Dance Captain Michelle and a rigorous vocal warm-up by Musical Director Mark in preparation for working on the Rich Man’s Frug, which is the legendary dance routine that takes place in the incredibly fashionable club to which Charity is taken by the movie-star Vittorio Vidal.
I will admit, when I found out I’d get to watch this bit of the rehearsal, I was absolutely thrilled - having only a limited background in dance, I find choreography fascinating and hugely inspirational to watch, and this is no exception. Choreographer Aletta, in combination with her Assistant and the Dance Captain, works through the different sections, alternating between broad brush-strokes and very detailed specifics. It’s sensational to witness - the ingenuity of the choreography and the extraordinary ability of the cast are just breathtaking, and I sit mesmerised for the whole session!
What a fantastic show this is going to be. Have you booked your ticket yet?