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 third blog from THE CRUCIBLE observing director Jennifer Iswara.

This week sees rehearsals move into the theatre. To rehearse in the playing space is a rare bonus and one afforded to The Crucible cast since the theatre is dark and they are opening the new season. Still, there is no set in the space and the tape marks from the rehearsal room replicating outlines and edges is on the floor. Different levels are described and imagined and the actors do their best to create three dimensional pictures in their heads. Translation of their work onto the real set will come later, in a couple of weeks, once the build is complete and installed.

Work which the cast have been doing with other members of the creative team is in evidence this week. Liz Rankin has been working with the girls to develop a physical language and short movement sequences to describe the moments of witchery. These are polished, distinct and powerfully executed and, in contrast with the physical normalcy of the courtroom, stark and darkly unsettling. Liz has also been working with Sarah, who plays Tituba, on specific physicality for the end of Act 1. This is again, incredibly powerful to watch and really adds to the intensity of the moment in the scene.

In the rehearsal I observe this week, sound designer, Richard Hammarton comes in to teach the cast a hymn. This is a two-part harmony which he teaches first to the higher voices and then the lower part. When put together it sounds beautiful, but I do find myself sympathising with those singing the bass line since it requires some unusual notes to produce the harmony. Those members of the public having coffee in the RX café are treated to an impromptu concert as Richard moves the actors outside into the foyer space since in the play the singing is off stage. The difference in resonant quality is stark – the high domed ceiling of the Exchange building elevates the choral singing to an ecclesiastical level. It’s very haunting from inside the auditorium.

This week I sit in on a production meeting. Just like project status meetings in other industries, this allows the whole team to provide updates on their work area and resolve potential issues around the interfaces where they interact. From conversations about creating muddy water that will wash out of clothing (many parents would wish this theatrical invention was real), to the positioning of speakers and readying of costume to be used in rehearsal.

Lifting the lid on the production process truly underlines what a collaborative effort a piece of theatre is.