Daniel Raggett in rehearsal. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
The sixth and final week of rehearsals differs dramatically from the preceding five weeks. Firstly, we have relocated to the Nottingham Playhouse, where 1984 will have its official opening ahead of touring to seven other venues across the country. The set has been built on the stage, the lighting, sound and projection all rigged and the finishing touches made to costumes and props. This state of preparation is vital as we will have only three days worth of ‘tech’ (or technical rehearsals) during which all the technical elements of the show are introduced and implemented for the first time.
To achieve this, the show is run chronologically from ‘cue-to-cue’, essentially stopping each time a technical change occurs – whether it be a lighting change, a section of video, a sound effect or a particularly speedy costume change. The cast have a lot to contend with in their new surroundings, as they adapt much of what was relatively lo-fi in the rehearsal room, to the physical space on the stage – often wrestling with a new prop, or a slightly more complicated journey necessitated by a wall that wasn’t exactly where they’d imagined!
The production is particularly heavy on these technical elements and the pressure is on to get through all with enough time to allow a dress rehearsal, ahead of the first preview show in front of an audience. Seeing it all come together, supported by the new additions, is a further reminder of just how collaborative a medium theatre is. Every piece of underscore, every lighting state, every section of video, down to the minutiae of the dressing of the set has been designed to support the production – to drive the narrative, to evoke or to provoke a response.
The biggest challenge of the week involves the set which is modular in design, due to the demands of both the action of the show and of a touring production. This means that It can be disassembled and transported to each stop on the tour, the key being that – as any two theatres are rarely the same in terms of stage size, wing space, or backstage configuration – it will fit in each with exactly the same playing space. Although this is complex to achieve, as many theatres we visit do not have traditional proscenium arch stages, the aim is that the actors will not have to alter anything too dramatically for each venue; they will not have to dilute or compromise the decisions that were made during the rehearsal process.
Finally, by the end of the week, we reach our first preview performance. These are standard public performances, the only difference being that we will continue to alter the show – whether staging or technical elements – during the day. This is, and indeed was, the time when the show changed most drastically. An audience’s response can be the most useful indicator of what does and doesn’t work in a show. Scenes were rewritten or re-rehearsed, props and costume were added or removed or the sound and lighting was altered. At times, the technical elements were complicating the action and so were removed to aid clarity, whilst at other times they were introduced to add further support. This is the first time that anyone aside from the company has seen the work outside of the rehearsal room and so this stage of understanding the play in performance and, more importantly, the audience response, is vital in the development of the show.
Previews are also a clear reminder of exactly what makes theatre so special; that it is the alive. Putting the production in front of an audience can change it entirely, and sometimes unrecognisably – proving that the constant dialogue between the audience and the stage, and the sheer event of being in the same room as each other is something which no other medium can replicate. In an age where theatre is having to fight to prove its relevance, and increasingly compete for audiences, we should be at pains to remember - and to deliver - that what makes theatre so unique and exhilarating is that it is alive.