Rehearsals are underway for the Southsea Shakespeare Actors’ production of Michael Frayn’s Here, and I’m already relishing the wonderful world of the rehearsal room. We’ve had popper paper, a teddy parading as a toy dog, a heart to heart about relationships, and introduced one cast member to the hilarity of Rowley Birkin.
We kicked things off with a read-through accompanied by bakewell slices and coffee, then a session on character to establish the back story for everyone. Now, I know not every director advocates doing a read-through, and in a play where some actors don’t have anything to say for several scenes it can be a bit of a chore, but I do think it can help the actors, and indeed the director, get a feel for the shape of the play. Thankfully, with a cast of only three, there was no fear of anyone getting bored.
I’ve divided the play up into sections, or ‘parts’ as I’ve called them. There are only two acts and four scenes (two in each act), but two of the scenes are very long, so to help our work in the rehearsal room I’ve broken these up into more manageable chunks. Then within each part, I’ve marked where the tone or pace of the action changes, creating what are often called ‘units’. With very little significant action, the dialogue plays such an important part in this play, the way in which it is said even more so than what is said.
The first rehearsal where we got it on its feet was an exciting and slightly nerve-wracking moment. This stage is always a difficult one for actors and directors alike, as the actors grope around, script in hand, trying to feel their way through the scene, testing out a movement here, a change in tone of voice there. A few rehearsals down the line it will be an interesting and exhilarating time of play, experimentation and discovery, but for the moment it is awkward and new. The character is not yet your own; you are not yet comfortable in their shoes.
A mattress was needed for the second rehearsal, and not having a spare one to hand (the stage manager/head of props is working on sourcing one as we speak), I had to improvise. I wanted the actors to have something physical that they could drag around, and not wanting to give up any of my bed sheets as the rehearsal room floor may have last been swept when I previously directed three years ago, I rummaged through my cupboards and came up with….. a large strip of popper paper (the kind with the big bubbles). No, the fact that every time the actors lying on it moved there would be an eruption of popping sounds followed by stifled giggling didn’t occur to me in the moment I grabbed it and headed out the door. Yes, it probably should have.
The actors were very well-behaved and held it together admirably, fighting back the urge to pop all the bubbles, and about halfway through the rehearsal a beautiful thing happened. I gave them the freedom to follow their instincts, to sit if they felt like sitting, to move if, as their character, they felt like moving, and all of a sudden the tension of the first rehearsal just melted away. The characters started to come alive, the actors more animated, and the momentum of the scene took off. It was a pleasure to watch, and I of course was grinning from ear to ear as I gave notes at the end of the rehearsal.
All three actors are a delight to work with and are already clomping around in their character’s shoes. I can truly say it is a joy to see them transform and develop a little bit more each rehearsal, and I cannot wait to see where we are in a few week’s time…