Routledge

Extras

a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

from the making of pool (no water) by Mark Ravenhill

Day 29 (first preview)

I suppose the show goes very well. It is hard to say because I cannot stand first nights and press nights. I just want to hide as I am not ready to discuss the show. People want to give me support and congratulations but I am just not capable of engaging. I have to apologise several times as I am sure it just appears rude and as if I do not believe the words of well-wishers. It is not an attractive trait and Steven shares this with me.

When we relax we are able to talk about the show with Simon Stokes, the artistic director of Plymouth Theatre Royal, and he offers confidence-building words and also constructive advice. And he is right. It was clear that we have to make some big but simple changes. There is a section at the start of the show where we had choreographed the awkward moves and adjustments of the characters and, to be honest, the performers never really pulled it off; but the reason why it has to go is because of Simon’s specific observation – it is old style Frantic. It looked out of place in a show that is clearly a big step forward.

This will be easy to resolve. The scene was slower and more turgid than ever and meant the show had to work really hard to get through the gears. It eventually got there but I spent the first 15 minutes begging them to speed up.

It is also clear that the cast have no idea what the show is like. This is not their fault and we will do our best to sort this out.

Simon also reveals that he had a conversation with the cast where he said to them ‘I bet there were times in rehearsal when you thought the show was rubbish’ and they said ‘Yes’. He went on to say to them that they are wrong and how he feels that it is a great show and a theatrical event and will be one of the theatrical events of the year, etc. This is illuminating but not entirely surprising. We had sensed a lack of absolute trust from the cast (why should they?) and we had remarked that this was a very hard show to get a handle on from the inside.

It is also great to have Simon’s support. He has seen so much of our work and can appreciate and encourages the arc of development.

Day 29 (second preview)

We start the session with a speed line run in situ of the first scene and it is perfectly clear how liberating this is without the moves. I had always hated this scene as I thought that it was being strangled by the performers. Now I can see that it could have been us strangling them. They fly through the scene but it strikes me that this ‘speed run’ is not far from the pace I think it requires in performance. I tell the performers this and ask them to look out for and resist slipping into old habits with this scene.

The build-up to this evening’s performance is bitty and unfocused as we all try to resolve the gremlins and unsatisfactory moments from last night’s show. It is clear that in trying to solve everything immediately we are in real danger of unravelling large sections of the show. We recognise this and pull back. Everyone is tired. Everyone wants to get their bit right but we have to just bite off a chunk tonight. We still have Monday when we will come to it fresher and another day wiser.

***

The show tonight is received throughout in stony silence by an extremely varied demographic. It is Saturday night but there are loads of young couples and groups as well as older parties. We usually struggle for this older, independent audience so this is heartening. Apart from their silence, that is.

I decide to leave with them at the end. They have just given the show a tremendous round of applause and I am intrigued.

Outside they are full of enthusiasm and praise! It is great to hear and it occurs to me that this might be a show where audiences do sit there engaged, disturbed, silent. Normally we do have a much more energised audience and the cast are only addressing them and not getting anything back so they would have no idea that they would be getting such positive responses out in the foyer.

I feel happier with the show tonight. It was clearer, it was more settled. I am much more relaxed and confident coming out of the show, having told the cast of the positive responses of the audience, and not having to face any well-meaning colleagues and friends. I am so rubbish at those first nights and I think I probably owe some people an apology. I let Simon Stokes know that it has been better tonight and he reassures me that it is a fine piece of work. I am much more comfortable hearing this kind of thing now.