By Siobhan Lynn Brennan
Week three brings us into our final week of rehearsals in London, before we head down to Nuffield Southampton Theatres for the first stop on our production of Tennessee Williams’ classic play A Streetcar Named Desire.
Heads are firmly down in the rehearsal room this week, with everyone aware of the show’s opening hurtling towards us with great speed. We work through the last few scenes of the play, ramping up towards its final emotional climax. It’s incredibly exciting when we discover a version of a classic scene that feels new-minted and fresh, reinforcing how vital the themes and iconic characters of Williams’ play remain in 2018.
A typical day of rehearsal involves starts at 10am at the English Touring Theatre’s rehearsal rooms near Waterloo, with the actors arriving prepped and ready for a day of hard work.
The exact dimensions of the set have been marked out on the floor with painstaking accuracy by the incredible stage management team. They do much of the essential work behind the scenes including sourcing and looking after the props, and once we’re on the road, cueing the lighting and sound.
Company Stage Manager Ami-Jayne Steele-Childe, Deputy Stage Manager Robyn Hayes and Assistant Stage Manager Sarah Forsyth are with us for rehearsals day in and day out, managing the day-to-day running. They are the first to arrive and the last to leave. Most days we work until six in the evening, other nights are later.
We begin with a warm-up, often led by our movement director Shelley Maxwell. The cast are alternately wary of and excited by the prospect of a thorough work-out from Shelley. She works to develop their stamina, which will be essential once they’re out on the road performing eight times a week. It’s a remarkably physical play for the entire company, perhaps especially for actors Kelly Gough and Patrick Knowles playing Blanche DuBois and Stanley Kowalski, who rarely leave the stage.
Director Chelsea Walker runs through the scenes with the actors, beat by beat, and together we try out different versions of each moment, working from the general shape of a scene right down to the emotional hue of a particular line or pause; discovering as a group what we think our interpretation of Williams’ play will become.
Sometimes we’re joined by other members of the production team - designer Georgia Lowe comes in to do costume fittings with the cast, and to observe how the set is being used in rehearsals, she keeps an eye on the aesthetics of the production. Lighting designer Lee Curran, sound designer Giles Thomas, and music composer Nubya Garcia join to watch rehearsals ahead of a music recording session.
The designers are creative partners in the process, and their presence in the rehearsal rooms ensure that everyone is on the same page with how the production will look and sound, how it will feel. Nubya’s leaping jazz melodies become a staple of the rehearsal room, as we try out different tracks from the recordings, evoking the thriving modern day New Orleans jazz scene.
On Friday we have our first full ‘stagger through’ of the play. This means that for the first time we get to see the bits we’ve been working on in detail for the past couple of weeks presented all together in order. A sense of the bigger picture emerges, we begin to get a sense of what the play will look like as a whole.
The cast work incredibly hard together, and for the first time it dawns on me how much of an ensemble piece our version of the play has become. Some of the most successful the moments are where the whole cast work in perfectly synchronized tandem, as well as the beautiful intimate moments between two actors.
As we watch Blanche DuBois’ story unfold, an incredibly exciting outline of the play is emerging; it’s clear we’re on the verge of something that has the potential to be really extraordinary. For the first time we can really trace the journeys of the characters and see where we might have missed story beats, or where there’s potential for more. It’s on to the hard work now of polishing and refining and filling in the gaps.
Chelsea greets the cast with a smile after the run through, thanking them for their incredibly hard work getting to this point. The play is most successful when we feel the emotional stakes are high, she tells us, and maintaining that level of high emotion will be the key. It’s looking incredibly promising and it has the potential to be extraordinary, but it is by no means over – keep up the hard work, we have a ways still to go.