OBSERVER MONDAYS DIRECTOR JONATHAN AINSCOUGH DISCUSSES THE PROGRESS OF THE SHOW AS WE'RE INTO WEEK 3 OF REHEARSALS FOR SWEET CHARITY

Week 3! Goodness me, the time is flying past. If you’re still with me, faithful reader, I figured you deserved a treat, so this week’s blog entry will be interspersed with tantalising photos of rehearsal props – if you spot their real-life equivalents when you come and see the show, you will receive a prize. You won’t, really.

Great excitement upon arrival when I discover that this particular day’s focus will be the legendary song ‘Rhythm of Life’. If you ever sang in a school or youth choir in your childhood, there’s a decent chance you may have sung this piece at some point, it does the rounds of such things quite regularly. That’s a mixed blessings in many ways as – certainly in my head, and I suspect other people’s too – the song is redolent of a slightly twee positive-thinking mentality, earnestly sung by treble choristers. In the context of a show, however, it’s very different! This song is a vibrant, mesmerising, faintly sinister anthem of a brand new religious movement led by the super-charismatic Daddy Brubeck, and among whose acolytes our heroine Charity and her current suitor Oscar find themselves towards the beginning of Act 2.

IMG 2008

I’m really looking forward to watching this, as I expect to learn a great deal from seeing it being put together. A lot of my work as a director is in opera, when one often struggles to tell a clear story when your stage is full of a huge amount of people singing a great deal of exciting music – so I know that observing Derek (director) and Aletta (choreographer) start to work on the dazzling production number that is ‘Rhythm of Life’ will be of huge benefit to my own practice.

Derek starts by outlining his broad vision for this moment, which prompts a certain amount of discussion among the cast about the exact nature of this religious movement. What kind of people are these congregants? Are there illegal substances enhancing their euphoria? Is the atmosphere joyful or unsettling? Derek strikes a great balance between encouraging questions and chat while also keeping the conversation on track and focussed.

Aletta then takes the lead, with Derek contributing at various points. It’s exhilarating and fascinating to watch them work with the cast and begin to shape the number – so much to take home and ponder, and I will share some of the lessons here with you...

(But before I do that, I must tell you – it sounds TREMENDOUS! The collective vocal ability of this cast is really very special, and Josie (who plays Daddy, and is consequently the featured soloist in this song) is absolutely sensational.)

Gushing over!

What do I learn as I observe?

- the general approach to discovering the best staging is wonderful – a case of: try an idea; try something completely different; try something else again; keep trying as many different approaches as possible! Nothing is locked down prematurely; there’s a constant sense of experimentation and exploration, which I love.
- “movement” is never there simply to look good – it always has to serve the story.
- clarity is everything. There are moments when there’s a huge amount going on, and it’s thrilling to watch, in a way, but the narrative is being obscured by the sheer amount of “stuff – so things have to get stripped back and streamlined so that the real essence of the scene becomes clear again.
- Aletta is always thinking ahead – she knows the level of energy, pace and momentum at which she wants the number to end, so everything leading up to that is carefully measured so that there is always somewhere to go. Again, it all comes down to story: the intensity of the musical staging serves the narrative shape of the song.
- very small gestures can be just as powerful as very big ones. There’s something extraordinary about watching a large group make one specific gesture - like lifting their left hand, or angling their right leg a certain way - at the same time.

Just wonderful. I feel ridiculously fortunate to be able to watch these fantastic people at work.

Sweet Charity runs 3 December 2016 - 28 January 2017