Birdsong: Rehearsals Blog 1
It’s certainly very encouraging, for the success of this tour. It’s very important too: we are going to be travelling and working with each other for nearly eight months in an exciting and emotionally high-charged production -it certainly helps if we all like each other.
We’ve been learning military drill, singing together in four-part harmony, learning how to carry and use a rifle, playing energetic ball games such as 9 Square and Bench Ball and learning to portray different ways of dying. All this in a heady atmosphere of seriousness and fun.
The subject matter of much of “Birdsong”: the experience of being in a terrible war, can be pretty grim. To get to grips with it we need large reserves of humour - as the characters we portray did to be able to manage what might seem to us now as impossible tasks in horrifying conditions. Somehow we have to get under the skin and into the minds of these characters and bring them to life, six nights a week and twice most Saturdays and mid-week. This means breathing the same energy into what we do during week nineteen as we did when we began on week one. Every night is “First Night” for a new audience.
We began rehearsals a week before Christmas 2012 and several activities have been Christmas-themed, including the wearing of Christmas jumpers. Having packed lightly while away from my home in Manchester I could only manage a burgundy- coloured one but it kind of fitted in. Others had entered into the spirit by buying very racy knitted Christmas socks from the local Primark - which I think showed great dedication to the cause. This made for a sparklingly colourful display when we were rehearsing perhaps one of the most harrowing scenes of the play when the Germans explode through one of the sappers’ tunnels, killing several. Emily Stride, playing a German, in a very nice red Christmas jumper, gets shot by Tim Van Eyken, who plays Evans, in a contrasting blue one.
I watched with admiration as Emily jerked backwards at the moment of impact and fell convincingly (and safely) to the floor. What I wasn’t prepared for was hearing Emily, now supine and playing dead, remark brightly: “This is a really nice jumper to get shot in.” Where but in an actors’ rehearsal room would you ever hear a line like that?
My job was to be a complete “dead weight” that my chums had to somehow pilot to relative safety (at 15 stone and 6’4” not an easy task) while Tim was to howl with agony when moved as a result of being shot in the chest. All this accompanied by a deafening soundtrack of explosions and rapid gun fire. An interesting experience for us all. It being England in 2012 it perhaps wouldn’t surprise you to read that it was raining outside for the 3 km. run and some of the company were concerned about dragging their wet trainers into the clean and spacious rehearsal studio. According to Tony Green this prompted the priceless command: “Don’t forget to wipe your feet before entering No Man’s Land”.