“Hello. I don’t know if you remember but we met at the BBC Shakespeare launch”. The first person I set eyes on when entering the Barbican last week was none other than Simon Russell Beale. Although the Tower Dreamteam had met intermittently in the preceding weeks this was to be the evening when everything started gearing back up for our performance week of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. It was, I felt, rather a good omen, to bump into someone who had taken such an interest in the project previously and sure enough he enquired after the health of the production and wished us all good fortune as we moved forward. I have to say this did put me in a very good frame of mind for what was to come.
This first rehearsal of the final push was very much getting back up to speed. We ran through all the scenes in an upstairs room of the Barbican (the one where we had part of our very first audition) and were universally relieved to discover that the words, moves and bits of business seemed to have been retained.
The next evening we returned to another old haunt; this time it was the RSC rehearsal rooms in Clapham. Here awaiting our arrival was Kim (Assistant Director) and Lindsey (Assistant Stage Manager). They gave us an overview of what we could expect in the next ten days and dealt with any admin aspects which were relevant to us. Lindsey also explained to us the mysteries of the call light system – no barging on stage whenever you feel the moment is right but a carefully regulated system of entrances and exits controlled by the stage management team. Then it was into a warm up and a concentrated look at our first scene. Despite the fact that we have looked at this section on quite a few occasions it was amazing how much there was still to be found in it. Kim, of course, was able to bring much extra understanding acquired as the tour had progressed. We must have worked on this section for a good couple of hours and as it is almost a duologue between Bottom and Quince the rehearsal was tiring but exhilarating.
For Thursday’s rehearsal (Clapham) we were joined by the lovely Polly Bennett (movement) and the redoubtable Michael Corbidge (voice) there to help us with the physical and vocal aspects of our work. We did plenty of stretching and limbering up (muscles and vocal cords) culminating in us trying out the Bergomask. I don’t think that I’ve made any secret of the fact that this routine is the bit which I have least confidence in. But a quite wonderful thing happened when Polly told us we had absolute permission to get the whole thing wrong as long as we stayed in the moment and enjoyed what we were doing. Suddenly there was a sense of liberation and – for the first (hopefully not the only) time – it went through without a hitch. We then concentrated on Pyramus and Thisbe for the rest of the evening. A lot of extraneous (and comforting) “business” was stripped out and some new ideas put in. Maria received particular praise for the prologues and, coached by Michael, I was encouraged to open up and let rip in the big speeches. Another full and exhausting/exhilarating evening.
Friday (Clapham, again) saw the return of Erica into the fold. What a joyful moment that was to see her positivity and boundless energy being displayed. She had many tales from the tour and helped us to reach new levels in the work we are doing. The concentration this time was on the forest rehearsal scene. While this was already in pretty good shape some trimming, tightening and rearranging helped the scene to flow much better and gain in quality. By now I think we could safely say we felt in a good place but, of course, when you’re working with a professional company the imperative is always to stretch for just that little bit extra.
So 12 hours of rehearsals and then the big one – an all day Saturday rehearsal back in the Barbican rehearsal room. Adam was called first to run through his final Thisbe speech. Then Karen came to work with me on the Titania scenes. I was generally pleased with the ways these went but can’t wait to get to do these again with the full cast on the proper set. The rest of the team arrived and we tried some variations on the scene where the Mechanicals await Bottom’s return. A key aspect at this stage is to make absolutely certain about entrances and exits especially – as stated above- because of the cue light system. It was nearly lunch break so just time to run through my monologue a few times and familiarise myself with the ebb and flow of this particular piece.
After lunch we ran through all the other scenes (usually several times) picking them apart and reconstituting them again until everything flowed well and we felt comfortable with what we were doing. Just time for some sage advice from directors Kim and Erica before departing for home and the anticipation of the big week itself. I still can’t quite believe that what is happening is actually happening (in that sense I feel very like Bottom himself). Whatever happens now it has been an honour, a privilege and an absolute thrill and in the words of a character with Bottom like tendencies we now move:
My intention over the next week is to try and write up a daily bulletin of the previous day’s events. This will all depend on what time is available. I know, for instance, that both Monday and Tuesday will be two 12 hour days so any writing will need to be fitted in around this. Anyway, do look out for the daily missives from Planet Dream and hope you’ll be able to come and see us in the next few days. Bottoms up!
This week the production is at the Barbican in London– click on the image below to reveal full details.
Evenings at 7.30 Tuesday 17th – Saturday 21st May
Matinées at 1.00 Thursday May 19th & Saturday May 21st