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 second blog from THE ROLLING STONE observing director Monique Touko.


There's an old African saying - Wisdom does not come overnight.RollingStoneWebsite

A professional production being a full collaborative piece is what I observed most from week two. The various brains involved I was luckily to witness and that included the aid of Hazel Holder - the dialect coach and Kevin McCurby the fighting director.

When stepping into the rehearsal room, I couldn't help but notice the growth in the timeline which began on the first rehearsal. The scale and the detail had largely increased and this was reflected in the progress I then observed that day. The scheme being week to week has meant that the two sessions so far have been completely different as so much has been covered in one week and the story has rapidly taken shape.

The mixture of table and practical work was again used by Ellen this week to establish circumstances and intentions. The intentions of each character were applied to each event in the script scene by scene. The aim of this was to establish a subtext and Ellen continuously asked questions to stretch thought and insure all the cast understood their purpose and drive throughout the scenes. When on it's feet, Ellen explained to the cast that she wanted to explore the changes and shifts within the scene. The idea of identifying the different shifts meant that the scenes were played more technically than emotionally. The notion of scaling down the performance in rehearsal meant that the cast could successfully breakup the text into events more practically. The reduced emotion resulted in a precision of thoughts and an objective logic developed amongst the cast. This separation achieved by Ellen meant that the table work when in action become a visual rough stretch and a sort of blueprint to build on.

Fiston Barek as Dembe in THE ROLLING STONE by Chris Urch Royal Exchange Theatre until 1 May. Photo - Jonathan Keenan

In the break, I spoke to the cast and I was informed that a lot of background work had been achieved in the previous week. Improvisations not in the script had been done to provide the cast with a context. Ellen in the day referred to the improvisations as a reference point and as a way to access and tap into the emotions and intentions she wanted to convey to the audience. The use of space and it's relation to the script I also witnessed week two. The raised platform centre stage provided the cast with a tool to further communicate intentions. The movement on and off the platform was explored by the cast as way to communicate feeling and the relationship dynamics. The platform then became an extension of their dialogue to communicate the subtext and physically represent their written intentions. Proxemics and levels practically were explicit and married the intentions written on the script. The movement became maximised by the use of a platform and Ellen centred the stage play and insured the contact with the platform was considered and applicable for in the round. Ellen allowed change and flexibility when running the scenes which provided the actors room to interpret the intentions in various ways, as an observer each time was different and fresh.

l-r Sule Rimi as Joe and Fiston Barek as Dembe in THE ROLLING STONE by Chris Urch Royal Exchange Theatre until 1 May. Photo - Jonathan Keenan

The team involved when creating a full scale production was observed and the input of Kevin, the fighting director was exciting to watch. The first statement he made was ‘spot the nuances’. I interpreted this to mean, use the dialogue and character profiles to really shape the movement. The aim being for the movement, slow or fast to look natural realistic and spontaneous. The heightened movement of the scenes were then choreographed. He first began by identifying the triggers in text to prompt the movement. Ellen worked alongside articulating certain moments and clarifying for the cast the reasons behind the movement. Kevin used metaphors to aid the cast which then impacted on their movement. What I learnt most surprisingly from Kevin was the important of stillness.

It's the way the movement is paced, sounds and timed more than the movement itself. Furthermore, the stage space was referred to by Kevin as ‘territory’ which automatically changed the way the actor interacted with the space. Kevin when working on the fight scenes reprogrammed the way in which as humans the cast react and successfully built the fights as a visual picture which was technical yet believe able. The collaboration of Ellen and Kevin I observed was effective as they both established an emotional level first then added the movement on top. This meant that the intentions established at the beginning were fully communicated. - the dialect coach, I managed to observe briefly at the very end of the rehearsal. She provided exercises which reframed the dialogue out of it's western and scripted context. The words then became accessible in a Ugandan accent. In a simple yet effective way. The day provided me with a close insight into a scope of theatrical disciplines that all come together in a production and I was left inspired.

THE ROLLING STONE  runs in The Theatre from 21 April - 1 May. It runs in reportoire with ANNA KARENINA, which runs in The Theatre until Sat 2 May.