The set has been moved from the rehearsal room to the theatre, so on Monday we used the empty rehearsal room to work on some specific moments in the play.
The actors took this opportunity to run the lines of the play at speed, moving around the space, but not necessarily interacting with each other. This gave them an opportunity to refresh themselves with the text and enabled them to concentrate on accessing their character’s thoughts whilst listening to the rhythm in the writing.
We had two days of technical rehearsals in the theatre. This is where we move the set and actors into the theatre and begin to add the technical elements of the show such as sound and lighting. Technical cues are plotted into the show so that they happen at exact points in the play each night. The dress rehearsals allow the director to revise cues and allow the actors to perform the show with all technical elements in place.
The technical rehearsals for the play were scheduled to last at least two days, but due to the straight forward nature of the piece we were finished at the end of the first day, with two dress rehearsals planned before the first preview.
The three previews went without a hitch with full auditoriums, and a warm appreciative response at the curtain call. Everyone has worked incredibly hard this week and produced a crackling, thought provoking and dare I say it, 'dark' piece of theatre which hooks you right from the start.
We have three more previews before Press Night....
Our final week in the rehearsal room has been focused on running through the whole play this is followed by detailed notes for the actors about their performances. The notes focus on deepening the actors understanding of each line and helping them to express the emotional journey of their character. Each line is loaded with complex emotions, which shift and change as the play hurtles towards its conclusion and the play progresses each time we see it, and the emotional landscape of the characters becomes more detailed and yet larger every time.
The show’s director, Michael Attenborough, described to me how the actors are just starting to take flight with their performances, and that it is our role as directors to gently guide their performances in the right direction.
A useful exercise at this stage of rehearsals is for the actors to read their parts together this helps them to reconnect with the script, refreshing themselves with the dialogue. The actors are showing more ownership of the play which boosts their confidence and their performances.
There are some subtle sound effects in the play, mainly background noises of traffic or birdsong. So during the week, I have made a list of moments in the action where sound might be appropriate to enhance the story.
Next week, into the theatre....
Week Four began with work on Scene Three, we ran through pages over and over, ironing out any creases within the text.
At the beginning of the week we had a production meeting, this si where all the technical departments that work on the show: wardrobe, lighting, sound, stage management, come together and discuss the show. This meeting focused particularly on props. As the play is set in America, it is important that the props are authentic and accurate to create a realistic American environment.
Penny Dyer, the dialect coach worked with Stephen and David in the theatre to ensure that their accents were accurate and that their accents were not lost when the actors project their voices in could project their accents into the auditorium. Both actors commented afterwards how much more energy and projection was required to fill the auditorium in contrast to the rehearsal room.
A complete run of scene one mid week, revealed a new emotional landscape as the power balance shifts between the brothers. The play continues to reveal layer after layer of depth and detail as unforeseen moments are discovered spontaneously during rehearsals.
At the end of the week, we attempted our first full run through of the whole play. Michael Attenborough, the play’ s director, suggested that I should try and imagine that I know nothing about the play, but keep asking myself the following questions: Is the story clear? Do I care about he characters? Can I hear the text?
The run through went very well, with each player making strong and clear choices. It was great to see them draw all the little pieces together, from weeks of analysis and breaking the text down, to form a whole continuous flow of action.
Michael rounded the week off by suggesting that next week, our final week in the rehearsal room, we should run the whole play everyday. This will encourage the actors thought processes, enabling the actors to really fly with the rhythm of the text, and react instinctively with the moment, not from the necessity to deliver a line.
We picked up where we left off last Friday, working on Scene One. Fight co-ordinator Terry King, came in too work on a little horseplay between the brothers. Although fighting in the play it is light hearted play fighting, director Michael Attenborough felt that each move should be carefully choreographed to accommodate the dialogue the brothers have during the scuffle, and to minimize the chance of any injury to either of the actors.
Later in the week, Penny Dyer, the dialect coach, worked individually with the actors, preparing them to perform on the Almeida stage by working on voice projection, concentrating on diction, and perfecting the American accent.
As we worked on Scene One, Michael would offer suggestions and explore options for appropriate moments to sit, stand or move around the set. The first full run through of Scene One revealed dramatic gear shifts within the story.
Mid week, we started running Scene Two, stopping frequently for Michael to offer feedback to the actors on any moves that might appear contrived, words that cannot be heard or intentions behind the words that aren't clear.
By Friday, we launched into Scene Three, concentrating on the rhythm of the lines, colour of the language and perfecting the clarity of the story.
The atmosphere in the rehearsal room is very positive with many hours of focussed discussion mixed with intermittent eruptions of hysterical laughter.
Throughout the week, I gradually built up a montage of images inspired by references within the text, which covers one wall of the rehearsal room. The intention is to present a visual story of all the information stated within the play.
The second week in the rehearsal room started with director Michael Attenborough, sharing pieces of music to be used in the play. He suggested that the music should set up the scene for the audience, but not say too much about what is to come. We then recapped on the work from last week, discussing the thoughts, motivations and intentions of the brothers.
On Tuesday, Penny Dyer, the dialect coach came in to work on the American accent with actors David Morrissey and Stephen Mackintosh. Although David and Stephen have both worked with American accents before, Penny was able to work with them individually on specific sounds and articulation particular to the upstate New York area where In a Dark Dark House is set. The actress playing Jennifer, Kira Sternbach, is a born and bred American, so, was of course not required to work with Penny!
After lunch, Michael established scene two; the location of the scene, the entrances and exits and what props were needed. The actors then moved freely and loosely around the stage, as they ran their lines for the first time. Michael scrutinized every line of the text, steadily gathering the thought processes together, and suggesting some blocking, this is where the director plots the movements of the actor on stage. In doing this Michael reminded me of an artist applying preliminary brush strokes to the canvas.
By mid week we had reached the final scene, and some small cuts were suggested. Michael felt there were moments where the text might be slightly over written, and this delicate trimming lead to a lengthy discussion concentrating on the story telling.
Every morning this week has begun with the actors running their lines, so they are able to rehearse on stage without the burden of carrying a script. Michael gets to hear the rhythm of a scene, and feeds back to the actors on the clarity of their storytelling. So far, Michael has focused on the text more than the blocking, noting moments and then resolving them through in discussion with the actors.
Neil was in rehearsals on Thursday to agree some edits, have some photos taken for publicity, and to say goodbye as he returns to America on the weekend. He will be back for a dress rehearsal before the opening performances.
On Friday, we started rehearsing scene one again, this time taking more time to plot moves on stage and giving the actors the opportunity to flex their acting muscles.
In a Dark Dark House started life as a short story called Swallowing Bicycles, before it was adapted into a play. This is the play's European Premiere and Neil LaBute's fifth play to be performed at the Almeida Theatre
Day one in the rehearsal room began with coffee, chocolate biscuits, a warm welcome from Michael Attenborough, director of the production and Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre. This was followed by a read through of the play.
The action takes place on the east coast of America, and follows David Morrissey's character Terry as he discovers the dark truth about events during his childhood. In scene one, the dynamic between Terry and his estranged younger brother Drew, played by Stephen Mackintosh, is established. The next scene sees Terry meet a feisty teenager Jennifer, played by Kira Sternbach, followed by the final scene, where Terry confronts the truth about his past, and the face of his future.
Maps and photographs of the east coast of America were used to specify where each of the three scenes is set, and literature on the themes addressed in the play, were presented by Michael. David and Stephen started creating a history for Terry and Drew, exploring the complex dynamic between the brothers.
We were lucky enough to hvae the writer of the play Neil LaBute in rehearsals with us this week. Although the central themes of the play address issues of abuse and betrayal, Neil suggested that honesty, love, and self discovery are also important aspects of the story. He said We are the psychologists who analyse the characters, and by shining a light in the dark places of their minds, believable human beings can be portrayed on stage.
Michael worked through each page methodically, discussing and raising questions, which gave the actors a further opportunity to ask Neil about specific references in the text before he leaves the rehearsal room.
The language of the play is sometimes graphic and explores the dark side of human nature, but the high spirits and good humour in the rehearsal room has made every day very productive and positive.
By Friday, David and Stephen had learnt virtually all their lines for the first scene! With the advantage of having the set already assembled in the rehearsal room, Michael got them both on their feet, and we started gently working through the first scene.....