OBSERVER MONDAYS DIRECTOR JONATHAN AINSCOUGH DISCUSSES THE PROGRESS OF SWEET CHARITY AS IN WEEK 4 OF REHEARSALS WE MOVE INTO THE SPACE

NEW WEEK, NEW PLACE

Week 4 marks a very exciting moment in this rehearsal process: a move to the theatre proper, or the ‘module’, as it tends to be called. The current play Breaking the Code (which I saw last night, as I write this - excellent production, with a tremendous central performance from Daniel Rigby) is still on, so Sweet Charity work will, for now, take place on the Code set.

SWEET DREAMS

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This morning’s job is “Baby, dream your dream”, sung by Charity’s colleagues Helene and Nicky as they gently mock her wide-eyed optimism over her relationship with Oscar. The scene originally was intended to take place in Charity’s apartment, but there’s something slightly odd about that, as it’s the only time in the whole story we ever visit that setting. In this production, the scene is going to take place ‘after-hours’ at the dance hall in which Charity and the others work - Derek explains that, in the context of the wider piece, this setting is much more where we perceive Charity to be ‘at home’, and conveys that much better than a one-off scene in a setting with which we have no association.

As always, I must get this out of the way early: this song sounds WONDERFUL! Cat and Holly, who are playing Helene and Nicky, have stunning voices individually but, man, when they sing together - particularly in the moments when they split into harmony - the sound is simply glorious.

QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS

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It’s a subtle, delicate song - although the women start out by ridiculing Charity’s rose-tinted view of what married life would be like, by the end of the song they, too, wistfully admit that, yes, it does sound rather wonderful. A lot of the two hours that Derek, Cat and Holly spend working on this scene is spent in conversation, teasing out the nuances in the characters’ journeys. The women who work in the dance hall are a complicated bunch: proud and independent, but also trapped and vulnerable to the actions of the men who solicit them; resistant to the idea of “escape”, but also desperate for it. Derek asks really great questions that facilitate the actors’ discoveries of the truth of the scene, and the physical outline of the scene develops very organically as a result - Cat and Holly simply do what seems right, and Derek enhances and shapes where the instincts take them.

What emerges is a lot of detailed naturalism with a handful of specific movements (shared gestures, etc.) that just slightly heighten the storytelling and let us into to the characters’ inner worlds. Derek points out that it’s very tricky to make those moments look natural and easy - a lot of work and thought goes into making a joint movement look accidental!

LET’S DANCE!

Later in the morning, and through the afternoon, we return to the rehearsal room to work on two of the big song-and-dance numbers, “There’s gotta be something better than this” and “I love to cry at weddings”. Increasingly, I just love watching Aletta the choreographer (along with Shelby, her brilliant assistant) working on the musical staging. I’m in no way an expert on dance and movement, but I think it’s an absolutely wonderful theatrical tool, and I’m learning so much from watching this process.

A few thoughts:
- detail, detail, detail! Whenever Aletta returns to a section she’s already worked on, she’s always looking for “gaps”, for moments when there’s a beat on which nothing happens, and she’ll add something in - a head turn, or a kick, or a hand gesture - so that the energy never drops for a second.
- keep the stage picture exciting! Aletta is always adjusting where people are placed onstage, moving people into groups, or breaking groups up if they’re too regular.
- move the point of focus! This is a specific thing for in-the-round theatre, in some ways, but also applicable in a wider sense. In “I love to cry at weddings”, the characters are generally singing to Charity, so Aletta keeps Charity moving around the stage within the narrative of the scene to ensure that the focus of the scene moves too - and consequently that the entire audience can share in the scene.

Needless to say, this scene is completely thrilling by the end of the day, with champagne, high kicks, lifts and a great deal of fantastic singing. What fun!

Sweet Charity runs 3 December 2016 - 28 January 2017