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  • Writer's pictureOllie Norton-Smith

Rehearsal Diary - Day 1

Day one of rehearsals – two years after our last period of working together! We were lucky enough to have the whole writing team with us today, as Joe Large was in rehearsals to join me and Mish. We also welcomed new member, Genevieve to the company, with designer Ellie joining us over FaceTime for an introductory hello.

After our greetings, we jumped straight into a read-through of the script. It was the first time we had heard the script aloud with actors reading the parts for about 18 months, when the script was VERY different – it certainly beat the three of us writers trying to do the whole thing! The read-through was really exciting, with a great sense of energy, some clear characterisation and a stronger sense of the themes of the play, that we’ve been trying to develop more strongly in response to the work we did with WIP sharings in 2020. Having timed and recorded the read-through, the show came in too long, which is a slight cause for concern given we are sharing the venue with another show and company when we are performing, so timings are very tight.

After a quick break for a cup of tea, in which Hamish, Joe and I discussed some of the work that we felt needed to be done on the script to tighten things up narratively and to simplify certain scenes that are slightly dragging, we began a round-table discussion of each character, some pointers and some key ideas and thoughts to take away from the read-through and to bring to rehearsals in the next few weeks. When we last spent time with these characters, they weren’t yet fully-formed. Today, I tried to push the actors to interrogate what we have been writing since then, and we quickly found intriguing provocations and questions to explore and answer as we bring Speed Dial to life.

Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time we’ve ever gone into day one of rehearsals with a ‘complete’ script, although of course it will adapt and be trimmed/expanded over this final period of development. It was a real treat for me as a Director, and I really felt like I could hit the ground running in giving useful, clear direction to the team (on and offstage) in a more meaningful way. This show has been in development for such a long time, and I’ve obviously directed a full-length WIP version of it before, so there is plenty that I have a very clear idea of, but I’ve prepped for this period in a new way and it’s been really rewarding. Hopefully that is beneficial to all the actors and creatives on this journey, and not just for me!

We’re on shorter days this week (frustratingly) so after a couple of hours of chat on character, the concept for the show, and an insight into how the design will look and feel, we broke for lunch. We are being very careful to distinguish between rehearsal and break space, and so all found time to sit outside to munch on our sandwiches as we caught up with one another and got to know each other.

Under normal circumstances, we would normally focus on physical movement in the morning, with text and character-led work in the afternoon, as we’ve found that this is a more productive and energy-efficient way of structuring our time when working in such an intensely physical style. However, I felt the priority this morning was to focus on the macro, looking at the play and characters as a whole and getting under their skin before we could get things on their feet. I wanted to try and stage the opening of the show, which I don’t want to change too much from the WIP shows. The scene combines fast-paced movement with breathless text, so I introduced a rhythm and pattern game that combines physical and vocal activity with irregular movement to try and warm up the muscles (mental and physical) that we’d be using.

I have been thinking about The Beatles’ A Day In the Life as a useful reference point for the opening sequence, and indeed for the first Act of the play, as the Prof tries to escape from their guilt and shame, symbolised by rotary telephones. The flipping between lighter and darker narratives and sounds really stuck in my mind when preparing for rehearsals in the last few weeks. I told the actors I wanted the opening to feel like the section of the song where Paul McCartney begins singing, and the existential intensity of the rest of the song seems to be brushed aside, only to creep back in unexpectedly. We then jumped into the sequence and I took particular care to make sure that we were treating the scene as new work, rather than letting us recall activity from the past. We had to work quickly, and after a minor telling-off from the venue for making the ceiling shake below us – we had a rough version of what we wanted in place.

We rounded off the day with a return to the text of the opening, finding some detail in the dialogue that had been lost as we focused on movement. I asked the actors to make some physical and vocal preparations for a series of lines in the play which return later on, and then we began to unpack the scene we will be looking at tomorrow, so that the actors can scale up their preparation.

All in all, a long, exciting and tiring day. Bring on day two!

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