“Memories and Ghosts”
January 17 2013
We are now into our final week of rehearsals before opening at the Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke for our first preview performance on January 22.
So much work has been done to craft this company into a close-knit unit of people who can work intensively and co-operatively for the seven months or so that we shall be touring. Technical rehearsals can be times when things can get tense, tempers can get frayed and the experience can be anything but glamorous and fun: but this wonderful company of actors and technical staff who I’m privileged to be working with are proceeding with energy and loads of good humour. We all seem to like each other a lot, and this is not only going to help us on the road, but also on stage. I believe audiences can usually tell whether the company they are watching are getting on or not - it’s a feeling that seems to seep over the edge of the stage into the auditorium. Of course we have to work closely with each other or it just doesn’t work. Acting is partly an individual pursuit, but a cast needs to be generous with each other and support and help: particularly our leading actors Jonathan Smith, Sarah Jayne Dunn and Tim Treloar whose roles as Stephen Wraysford, Isabelle Azaire and Jack Firebrace are the centre around which everything in the play revolves.
This week we’ve been hugely inspired by our first sight of, and first day working on, Victoria Spearing’s beautifully designed set. It’s stunning, but you’ll have to just take my word for it and come and see it as, for obvious reasons, I can’t spoil the surprise and show you a photograph of it. Technical rehearsals are about us all getting familiar with the set, our true workplace and finding out how to safely move about it and place actors and furniture and props to the best effect. Taxing days and some late evenings are ahead, but it has to be done and the hours we put in getting things absolutely right will pay off on the more than two hundred shows we shall be performing on this tour.
We’ve been spending many hours in singing rehearsals with Tim Van Eyken. For those reading this who have ever performed close harmony singing, you will doubtless know what a powerful and moving experience it can be for both performer and listener. One of the pieces we sing is a beautiful arrangement by Tim himself of a traditional folk song. I am taking one of the bass parts and it’s been a source of worry for days whether I’d ever get the opening harmony notes into my brain - but it’s there now. It’s exhilarating to hear everyone blending together to produce this lovely music, and of course it’s yet another element that will help to keep us listening and staying in the moment as the weeks on tour progress.
“Birdsong” revolves around the memories of the principal character of Stephen Wraysford.
Time switches constantly as, recovering from a near fatal wound, he moves into memories and scenes from his present and past. As with many things in theatre and the rehearsal process, unexpected comedy moments can occur. There are several moments when ghosts of Stephen’s and Jack’s past re-appear and rehearsing one of these has produced the Comment of the Week for this blog.
Joshua Higgott, who plays Brennan, a character who survives, appears playing violin in a scene in which the ghosts of Jack’s comrades appear. Josh’s classic overheard and earnest comment was “Remember: I’m a memory, not a ghost.” Honourable mention must also be given to our Director, Alastair Whatley, for his shouted instruction : “OK....and stand by ghosts!” By my next blog we shall have begun our performance journey. I’m loving it all and just can’t wait.