Act One, Scene Four: Treading the boards and avoiding the gallows.

Sailing in at The Haymarket.
Here we go! The arrival at the theatre for our final rehearsals and 'tech' week. I'm told the building that houses the Haymarket dates back to the 1860's but the recently renovated theatre inside is a modern proscenium arch theatre with a horseshoe auditorium that feels spacious but nicely intimate when standing on stage. 
I feel the change of scene this week is good for us. Moving out of the rehearsal room in London and just being in a theatre building makes it seem all the more real - by next Wednesday we'll be on the Haymarket stage entering a whole new phase; learning about how the play the works in front of an audience. I can't wait. It's easy at this point in rehearsals to become insular and over critical of oneself and elements of the production that once seemed straightforward seem difficult. The first night date looms overhead, omnipresent, and it feels like suddenly every second counts. As the stress creeps in I've occasionally found myself 'end- gaming', rushing through to achieve an end result of what I think a scene needs to be rather than keeping relaxed and playing and being open to new discoveries. 

I was having a chat about the scene, "Brenham and Wisehammer Exchange Words" with John (aka Aden Gillett who plays Wisehammer). We were talking about the timing within the scene, and I was asking something a bit technical about whether it's better for him if I start speaking a certain line when he's downstage of me rather than upstage, and rather wisely he suggested that we just keep changing it up as he can get bored rather quickly once anything is set in stone. It's a good point. It's going to be a long tour, and as much as it's important to have a clear map in your head of your character's journey and a strong base in the overall decisions made with the director, a show will become stale and deaden if the sense of 'play' is lost. So i'll be aiming to keep myself and others on their toes!

Captain Birdseye and his Fish Fingers

The section of the play John and I were discussing is one of my favourite of Mary's in the first act. It's a gentle and poignant scene where we see two convicts making a real connection, not through the very physical convict currency of sex or violence but though an appreciation words. The lucidity and ambivalence of the English language aptly fits Wisehammer and Mary's attempts to communicate the complexity and uncertainty of their feelings and experiences. In the scene Wisehammer is working but wants to engage with Mary, whilst Mary is desperately trying to finish copying out the play before nightfall. We decided to play with a silence at the beginning of the scene, a chance to see two people busy in their own worlds, comfortable in each others company, and certainly in Mary's case indifferent to the presence of the other. It might be nice to establish this initial silence at the beginning so that when Mary finally does engage with Wisehammer we see that he has really earned it.  
Stepping Up.
On Wednesday the set was fully up and ready for us to take our first tentative steps on stage. Alastair guided us through a walk around set where we are  shown the various exits and entrances. We walked through the journey underneath the stage that we will need to make (occasionally at speed!) to get from stage left to stage right. We were also made aware of any practicalities or pitfalls of the set (ie - there's a step there, or be aware of walking face first into that branch etc...)
We were also allocated our dressing rooms, and Rachel Donovan (Dabby) and I are settling in nicely as roomies in our new part time home. The morning was dedicated to more costume fittings with Ed and hair and make up calls with Jo. It won't be a glamorous show for us ladies - it's all about tattoos, grubby feet and greasy hair rather than hairspray and lippie!

After an afternoon of 'Push and Pull' rehearsal (practising our scene changes and making notes on our individual crate and prop moving responsibilities), Friday and Saturday was allocated to the Tech.

Phil, Gareth and Jenny create Harry's row boat 
'Arry was good to his oars

Some love 'em, some hate 'em. The technical rehearsal is the period where you become mole-like, burrowing yourself away in a dark theatre for about 48 hours or more. We go through the play at a snail's pace, continuously stopping and starting while sound and lights are plotted around you. Costumes are tweaked, props are tested, scene changes are dissected and every technical aspect (other than the performance) is distilled to a point which will enable the first dress rehearsal to run as smoothly as possible. I'm one of the sad few who enjoys the tech. It's the first chance that you get to be in costume and on the set and because the focus in not on the acting, and you go back and repeat sections over and over, you can really use the time to solidify lines, play about with the text a bit and get used to the environment and the acoustics of the space without the pressure of needing to perform.

Something about Mary.

The final scene titled Backstage, where we see the convicts getting ready for their performance of The Recruiting Officer, presents to us a very different Mary. The shrinking and shameful young convict woman has become an assertive leading lady; she boldly gives the temperamental Arscott notes on his performance, gives a gift to a fellow actress, and takes centre stage for the curtain call. She also defiantly stands up to Dabby when she realises her plan to escape could jeopardise the play and subsequently Ralph's position. At this point, as far as Mary is concerned, her 'love contract' with Ralph and new position within the colony has been sealed. With the performance about to start  I feel that Mary, bedecked as the beautiful and rich Silvia, is really getting into character - in an intimate moment with Ralph, she tells him of a dream where she sees herself with "a necklace of pearls and three children". 
Is the role giving Mary idea's above her station? Perhaps not. In "Letters to George" Max Stafford-Clark describes the potency and sexual excitement of seeing women on stage for the first time, and how the theatre had enabled some leading ladies to climb into the social stratosphere. It's said that George Farquhar had an affair with Anne Oldfield the actress who played 'Silvia' in the first production of the Recruiting Officer. "Nell Gwynne, a comedienne rated highly by Samuel Pepys, climbed the highest social pinnacle - into the kings' bed - while Lavinia Fenton, the first Polly Peachum, became Duchess of Bolton". Climbing out of poverty in Georgian England whether through criminal or legal means was practically impossible so this kind of social mobility was an incredible feat. It's quite likely that Mary would have heard about these famous actresses, and so perhaps the vision of herself as a be-jewelled gentlewoman and devoted wife and mother really does seem in that moment excitingly tangible.  

 Anne Oldfield was acknowledged as one of the best actresses of her time.
"Engaging Oldfield, who, with grace and ease, Could join the arts to ruin and to please." Alexander Pope

And it's not just Mary whose ambitions have been tapped through the play. Sideway now aspires to set up his own theatre company (something the real-life Robert Sideway did achieve). And Wisehammer, the once ignored and alienated Jew, now aspires to become a famous writer. Timberlake however doesn't let us off quite so easily. There's a sting in the tail when Ralph declares their first born should be named after his wife and the crashing reality of Mary as the convict mistress is bravely swallowed.

And so we head into show week with the usual excitement, aphrension and anticipation. I can't wait to share it....

Emily x

No comments:

Post a Comment