This House UK Tour

23rd Feb 2018 - 2nd Jun 2018

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Rehearsal Diary - Week 1

By Choon Ping

The first week of rehearsals began as it should have: with excitement and trepidation, both of which were to be quickly knocked into touch by getting down to good hard graft on Lucy Kirkwood’s brilliant text. But before that, we were introduced to the mighty cast of thousands that is the Almeida staff and the Headlong team. Michael Attenborough gave his last welcome speech as the Almeida's Artistic Director, expressing his passion for the play and his conviction that Chimerica is a story for our time. The play has been years in the making, and is finally ready for midwifery. Onwards and upwards!

The first half of the week was occupied with script work: We went through the text like a Kashmiri goat comber, gently but resolutely, pulling out the facts and asking the questions with which we would construct the world of Chimerica. Some of my favourite questions:

  • How early do CEOs get up?
  • Why did Henry Kissinger give Frank a desk?
  • How common are stripteases at funerals?
  • How does one get to have dinner with Ayn Rand?
  • Are you allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts?
  • Who is Nancy Drew?

They may not immediately seem salient, but believe me — these details are all crucial to imagining our way into the play’s cosmos. I like some the questions for the felicity of their expression; some for the charm of small details; and some simply for their otherworldliness.

These questions are then put to Lucy. The sheer loveliness of some of her answers must be shared:

  • There is a sense Joe is fitting into a canon alongside photographers like Cartier Bresson, Robert Capa, Lee Miller, Arbus, McCullin: maybe he’s not there quite yet, but having an exhibition is the first step in that anointment.
  • There are two trees in the yard, a peach tree and an apple tree: Susannah is obsessed with the fact she thinks certain foreign communities are coming into the garden in the night and stealing the fruit.
  • Mel is short for Melvin.
  • Barb blames Herb for Herb’s gut.
  • Doreen has been working here 10 years after being headhunted following Frank’s destruction of several secretaries through rage, over work, pedantry and lechery. Frank relies on her absolutely. They have achieved something of a hive mind.
  • Mel didn’t have a burrito in his hand when Joe called. It was a meatball sandwich.

The idiosyncrasy of the world of the play is delicious.

The second half of the week, we begin to get the play on its feet. Actors speak their lines, which are recorded and then played back to them while they move about the rehearsal space, discovering the physical relationship to one another. It does the heart good to see, among other things, one actor try to mount another only to have Lyndsey Turner, the director, delicately suggest that perhaps in this exercise a less literal response to the moment might be more telling. (In every play I’ve worked on, at least one actor finds a compelling character reason to mount another actor during rehearsal.)

We are joined in rehearsal by: movement director Georgina Lamb, whose challenges include fitting Elizabeth Chan, playing the ghost of Liuli, into a tiny space; voice and dialect coach Michaela Kennen, who will train the cast in accents from two continents; and Bobby Xin Yue, Mandarin guru. The formidable Es Devlin astonished everyone with her amazing model box. Deputy Stage Manager Catt Padgham keeps everyone honest with her schedules and Company Manager Maris Sharp and her production team ensure that we want for nothing in the rehearsal room.

A body can work, here.

Bring on Week Two.