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:
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:
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.