It is a week of changes. Primarily, there is a notable shift in pace and momentum. Now that the actors have lived with the characters and the script for a significant amount of time, each of the four acts starts to contract: where before there was a bit of excess “air” in between the lines, or even between thoughts within the lines, the language becomes fluent and fluid. The effect of this is that the play takes on a greater psychological truth. Like Shakespeare, if there are too many breaks in the line, or unnecessary emphases, some narrative clarity is lost and the dialogue can sound expositional or overly poetic. As we move through Act Three and Act Four, Jeremy quotes David Mamet when talking about the way certain characters are forced to face up to ‘surprising inevitability’ in the later moments of the play, referring to experiences they had feared but somehow knew were always going to happen. This is a notion we will continue to investigate.
This is our penultimate week in the slightly cavernous Paccar Rehearsal Room – complete with its in-built revolve! – before we move into the theatre at the end of next week to begin technical and dress rehearsals, prior to previews. In this later stage, we are keeping an eye on the impending technical challenges we will face. There will be extensive use of the Olivier’s drum revolve in the production itself. This sits beneath the stage, five storeys deep, all the way down to the car park. Essentially, it involves a large piece of machinery capable of lowering the stage via a series of elevators. It means we can add set on top of the elevators to ensure different settings appear and disappear in quick succession, usually in well under a minute. In the course of the play, we traverse across the vast common land, to the local inn, a villager’s cottage, a Lord’s manor house, and some kennels, and even a cemetery for the animals serving the Lord’s estate.
Midway through the week, the core creative team meet to discuss the transitions between acts and the use of traps in the stage floor, especially with a view to the staging of an act of violence midway through the play, which will involve Anne-Marie Duff, Cush Jumbo, John Dagleish and our ensemble cast, alongside twenty additional supernumeraries, whom we have recruited to populate the village, to give an epic sense of scale to the incendiary political ideas that threatened to tear the English countryside apart. It was a time of unprecedented social change, one which, undeniably, transcends the play’s early nineteenth-century focus, as if its roots have grown deep down through the intervening two centuries of history into our own time, place, and politics. Ultimately, this imprint of contemporary resonance on the drama is indelible on the eve of the upcoming General Election, where the question of who and what we are as a nation has perhaps never been more keenly felt.
Paule Constable (Lighting Designer) and Ian Dickinson (Sound Designer) visit us in rehearsals. Paule is returning to the National having just finished designing the lighting for the two plays that comprise Angels in America in the Lyttleton, and immediately tries to get a sense of what the lighting needs to do to best facilitate the design and direction. Jeremy suggests that, ‘perhaps the lighting for each act should begin with something confident, bold, and imagistic, and then move into a kind of realism, so it can go on a journey’. As well as this, Ian and our composer, Stephen Warbeck, who is creating original music for this production, contribute thoughts regarding the ways in which music – which is to be played live, rather than recorded – and sound effects will be able to complete the complex jigsaw of technical elements we are assembling.