Routledge

Extras

a personal rehearsal diary

by Scott Graham

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

Day 30 (press night)

The day off yesterday has done none of us any good. It has given us a glimpse of the rest and sleep that we all crave but only a glimpse. And now we crave it all the more.

Today is much more focused and steady. We start with notes and we are handed the audience response sheets collected from Saturday night’s audience. They are fantastic and probably come along at just the right time. It backs up my claims about how well the performance was received on Saturday. The cast definitely need to know they are doing something right as the performance must feel lonely without that instant feedback from the audience.

We work through various scenes and re-tech some new lighting notes. The improvements are clear and everyone seems calmer tonight. Saturday’s show had its technical problems, probably as a result of all the tinkering we were doing right up until the performance, but tonight we have made sure everyone has the time they need to compose themselves and think about the performance. There are still things we would like to change and there are things Miriam would like to add or try but we have decided that we have to make sure everyone is comfortable with what we have tonight. We have to trust what we have and hope for the best rather that self-destruct trying to solve everything for this press night.

Saying that, I am nervous tonight.

***

I am filming the show tonight so that we can send a copy to the producer from the Sydney Opera House. I stand at the back as the audience come in. It is packed. (The whole run is sold out already!) They are a mixture of young excitable school parties, nervous faces from the Theatre Royal Plymouth and various reviewers from around the country.

It is instantly clear that tonight is different. The audience engage and respond. The story is witty and clear. There are laughs where I thought there would be laughs and there are gasps where I thought there would be gasps. Admittedly I watch most of the show through the viewfinder of the camera which can present its own picture, but I think we are getting there. This press night has come along so soon and I don’t think I could have asked for more from the cast and crew. Tonight was a fair presentation of the production and I am happy to say, ‘this is our show’.

You can never tell what critics are thinking after or during a show. The Sunday Times reviewer had the misfortune of sitting in exactly the position that would obscure the camera most. So every uncomfortable twitch of his is caught for posterity on the film we will send to Sydney. The reviewer from the Guardian is spied at the end clapping slowly, deep in thought. A good sign? A moving piece of theatre? A waste of a train journey? Theatrical trauma? Who knows? Someone else is sure he spotted her laughing with the best of them (yes but was it a good laugh? – you get the sense of paranoia?).

Representatives of the other producing partners and host venues are also there. Some are thrilled and buzzing at the prospect of this show coming to their venue. Others are more enigmatic but still stress earnestly how this is a massive development and new maturity for the company. And this was our intention. It was not the giggly, cheering audiences that we were courting with this show. It was a step to find an older, more reflective audience. And we seem to have created an older, more reflective production. I am happy with that.

***

I am exhausted tonight. I want to go home now. I am stripped of any personality (again) and am truly thankful that I am going home tomorrow. Steven is staying on to lead workshops and keep an eye on the show for a few more days.

I have no idea how this production will be received critically and tomorrow will probably be a limbo day where reviews will sit on editors’ desks waiting to be unleashed on Wednesday and beyond. I do not understand people who say they do not read reviews. I think it is a denial of the obvious situation, namely, that critical appraisal and the esteem in which you are held by the public is crucial to your continuing existence. For a company like ours that lives on a financial knife edge it is crucial. We are always living under the sword of Damocles (he works for the Arts Council). Good reviews are what we are all looking for. They are the basis of future marketing. They are a tangible sign of success. I know that is skewed and an artist should trust his own work. My God, I should know that. This play is all about the clash between art and perceived success but this is the real world. We have been successful because we have operated within that real world, exploiting our good press, suppressing the bad, courting the audiences and constant non-artistic appraisals – how can we do this better? How can we be more efficient? There is no shame in that. And that is why I will sleep badly tonight despite being dead on my feet. And that is why I will jump up each morning from now to check the Internet for reviews.