This House UK Tour

23rd Feb 2018 - 2nd Jun 2018

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The Absence of War Rehearsal Diary - Week 3

By Hannah Banister

 

This week has flown by. The second week ended with elation and giddiness after we finished a run through of the entire play. Now, everyone has a new focus and they are ready to go back and find more detail. Morale is good and the actors are working without their scripts in hand. I am acting as a second pair of eyes for Jeremy, moving from chair to chair to watch scenes from each side.

Most of the actual props are in the main room now and the periphery is full of furniture, trolleys, tables, four different types of chairs, mobile phones and old computers. To a stranger’s eye it looks like chaos, but there is a strict order to how everything is stored and labelled. The stage managers are in charge of the props and all the chairs are numbered. The manifestos have been printed and detailed so the cover is an accurate copy of the actual 1992 labour party manifesto, but it has a picture of actor Reece Dinsdale as leader instead of Neil Kinnock inside the cover.

The first day is spent looking at ‘the scenes between the heavyweights’, as Jeremy calls them. The leading roles and key players in the party leadership have big scenes in the second half where unsaid truths are revealed. It is very clear during the second time around that there is no room for sensitivity. They are robust scenes and Jeremy noted that you have to “land the punches” for the full effect. The extra work that the actors do on their roles between rehearsals is vital in order to return to the scene with absolute clarity of thought and intention. We were able to quickly highlight where there was too much stillness or not enough paces and make corrections accordingly.

Tweaks and changes are still constantly being made. The furniture placements are often changed in the scenes at election HQ and in the office. Actor cues and locations are disputed, and we often discuss why certain characters are entering and what they are bringing in with them. Each of the scenes is given an injection of pace and there are a lot of extra comedy details that are discovered. My favourite discovery so far is Andrew’s disdain at Malcolm running away to the Nintendo machine in an amusement arcade.

The creative team is in and out of the rehearsal room this week to see the shape of things and adjust their designs. Tom, the sound designer, was present when we revisited the Cenotaph and helped refine the tone and precision of the Remembrance Sunday scene. There is a tricky emotional balance that we need to find. This scene kicks off the whole play, so we need to introduce the cast and storyline clearly while at the same time honouring the solemnity of the occasion. Tom collaborated with Jeremy and watched the work in the rehearsal room. It made the moments clearer for the actors and helped Jeremy visualise exactly what he wanted. Jeremy would give a note like "We need an emotional swell at this point" and two minutes later Tom would yell from the desk, "Jeremy, if you want to go back on that I have your emotional swell".

We are also exploiting the time with Anna, the movement director, at the beginning of the week and clumping all the big movement-based scenes together. I love iy when the entire company is called and there is a vibrant, bustling energy in the room. We worked the 'on the stump' section, which is a montage of George going to meet the public and press film crew, shaking hands with people and answering some brief questions. She had a very simple formula for creating a moving picture with a peel effect. What started as a game of Grandmother’s footsteps became a detailed movement sequence in the play. Our video designer Ian came in to watch and Tom was there putting music underneath. Ian will be filming a realistic film of George meeting the crowds next week so that we have the stage and film versions running simultaneously. The shots will match what is happening on the stage, so it looks like it is being streamed live.

We returned to the lobby of the Houses of Parliament scene, which was a real stick in the mud in week two. We had spent a lot of time adding extra people to the scene, going in and out, to create a busy atmosphere. It became clear that it was too busy and the scene had become a bit buried underneath all the extra people. We made the timing of the people entering much more precise as to not detract from the heart of the scene. It has become cleaner and clearer and the bustling atmosphere of the lobby is still shining through.

We filmed the trailer for the play on Thursday. I went with four of the actors to Headlong HQ where a scene was already dressed for us. The trailer is a George Jones monologue with cuts to members of the Tory government getting ready for work. We spent a good hour getting lots of different versions of the monologue and a variety of shots, wide and close up. We added some extra audio from more contentious parts of the play to run under the credits. It is hard to imagine what the finished product will be like, but the quality of the acting mixed with the film director’s vision was really electric.

The plans for each venue have arrived. We now have a visual reference for how the show will be restaged for each of the houses we will be moving to. We will now have to take note of the upstage and downstage scale measurements and where the entrances are. Jeremy is confident that the direction will be able to adapt simply to fit them all while we are on tour.