Stephen Fewell in rehearsal. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
The third week of rehearsals - by virtue of (usually) being the middle week of the process and so reminding everyone that the point at which more time has passed than there is to come will soon be upon us - can be a nervous one. We began the week by starting at the top of the play and working through chronologically. For this first time, the entire company are able to see how all the various pieces of the play slot together and to what degree all of the preliminary work of the previous weeks has fed into this. The aim is now to continue to refine and polish - working on landing every detail and tweaking the timing of every moment.
In this production it is important that the rhythm is correct. The scenes flow into one another fluidly and the pace often varies. Working through in larger sections like this allows the actors to understand both the micro and the macro simultaneously; recognising how to refine an individual moment but also where this appears within the larger picture.
The rehearsal room is now full of props and full-scale pieces of set, screens and numerous different wires and cables leading to an array of devices. As the technical and logistical aspects of the show are integral to it and pretty complicated at times, it is important that the company become acquainted with them as soon as possible. This is due to happen fully from next week, but the sooner we are able to use physical entities – even if only approximations of the eventual item - the sooner we can stop talking in the hypothetical and allow much more defined decisions to be made. It also means that necessary troubleshooting can happen in real time and any serious problems can be raised at the following production meeting. Outside of rehearsals the cast begin to have their costume fittings. Although only elements of these – a glove, a pair of glasses - appear in rehearsal, to ensure that they can still be debated and the actors aren’t too cluttered, it is possible to feel the layers of colour and texture being added to the show.
The text is now locked down and many of the actors are tentatively beginning to leave their scripts at the side of the rehearsal room, having committed the lines to memory. However, this is not to say that changes do not continue to occur. These are now predominantly cuts – as practical considerations such as length have to be taken into account - or alterations to individual words which are sometimes so small as to seem insignificant. Yet, the simple addition of the word 'here' to provide location, or the deletion of the word 'but' to separate out two ideas, can have a huge impact on the rhythm or sense of a particular line.
This is a testament to the compact nature of Robert and Duncan’s writing, where every line is, whether overtly or not, attempting to do more than one thing at a time and - like the principle of doublethink – can express two truths simultaneously. As Orwell himself once said: ““words are no liker to the reality than chessmen to living beings” and throughout the play this has been explored and employed.
Orwell was also a great believer in economy of language and in essays such as ‘Politics and the English Language’ laid out his rules for good writing. Amongst others, to never using a big word where a small one will do, and if it is possible to cut a word or phrase then cut it. Interestingly, this seems to also be reflected in Robert and Duncan’s attitude towards the play. If any sections are overly complicated then they are altered to make sure they achieve the same result but in a simpler way, and if there is anything in the text which is not necessary then it is removed It is always important to remember when creating a piece of theatre that progress can be to do what seems like regression, and less is often more. To cut a scene, or to simplify a line, can help immensely in clarifying narrative or removing any obfuscation which is bound to occur when you think about something repeatedly over an extended period of time. Sometimes stripping everything back to the bones and finding the simplest route through the narrative or the language can do a huge amount to strengthen the production as a whole.