We have all spent the last week living in the dark of the Citizen’s auditorium as we tech the show. It’s brilliant to be here, to see the set and space in context after imagining it for the last month. The theatre is a beautiful Victorian proscenium arch in The Gorbals area of Glasgow, and it properly feels like a space made for the people. The stage, built on one of the steepest rakes in the country, sweeps down into the audience making them feel like a part of the action and giving a great space to tell stories.
The week began with the get-in and fit-up, which took the best part of two days. It’s a big job, and especially as this is our first venue on a long tour, we have to get it right! The build itself is fairly significant, with a floor structure, a bridge and a huge ‘sky’ backdrop. When completed, Ciaran Bagnall’s design is incredibly striking, whilst keeping a simplicity that allows the story to take centre stage. Alongside this, the sound department, led by Emma Laxton, had a huge job rigging the numerous speakers, mics, and cables in the space and auditorium. They have to conjure sounds of world war one, rural Northern Ireland and even some supernatural hints – no spoilers here though! The attention to detail is incredible, and the consideration of not only what the sound is, but how it hits the audience, where it comes from, where it travels too, is just brilliant. Alongside this, the lighting departments have been busy rigging lanterns left, right and centre. What was immediately exciting is to see how lighting designer Paul Keogan is working so closely with the design, and in particular lighting the ‘sky’ element, which already is creating some absolutely brilliant and surprising images.
One of the real pleasures of the tech for me is once again being reminded of just how many people are working on this production. During rehearsals you slightly lose a sense of this, so it’s truly exhilarating to walk into to the theatre and see so many people working away, all experts in their own field, and collaborating to bring this piece to life. I always find myself getting fascinated with a new department and their work at each tech, and this time was no different! I spent some time with Marty Moore, production manager, getting my head around just how much he has to juggle. He is responsible for bringing all the departments together, on time, on budget and has a birds-eye view of the whole production. He can be equally seen delivering an up-to-date schedule or wandering around with an electric drill, fixing down bits of the set!
On the Tuesday evening, we got the actors in the space for first time, and tackled one of the moments we were most nervous about coming into the tech period; the big scene change between part 3 and 4. Logistically, it’s a real tough one – we have to get from various locations in Northern Ireland to the trenches in France, so it’s a lot of set moving out and new stuff coming in. And we have three lightning quick-changes too, from clean uniform to muddied and battered, telling the story of the men living on the front. Jeremy wanted to get a head start so that we didn’t get to it during the tech, and suddenly pour hours and hours into it, unprepared. He also wanted to make sure it’s not just a scene change, but offers a narrative function too, and in some way aids the story-telling. Therefore, all of the actors are going to move the new set in and set-up the guns and webbing we need, as opposed to stage crew. This fits in with the historical facts that the men built the trenches and were involved in this manual work on a day-to-day basis. However, it would be disingenuous to say stage crew and stage management aren’t involved – they’re just not seen by the audience! We’ve come up with a military-style backstage operation, with strategic placement of props, precise, worthy of an award quick changes, all of which will get slicker and slicker as the week goes on!
The rest of the week was then taken up with teching the thing – running and stopping as we go to plot in lighting and sound, and sort any logistics. It’s a long process, but totally essential, and will push the show onto another level ultimately. Despite obviously priortising the technical elements, what’s great is that Jeremy also uses it as an opportunity to finesse moments with the actors, and respond to the quirks of the space. It’s also a chance to see the work of the entire team, and the difference it makes is unbelievable.
The week ended with the first two previews (of four) which is a chance to see the show with an audience, and crucially, to respond to them. For the actors, this was a brilliant moment, as they finally had fresh and audible reactions to their work! There were moments that we hadn’t necessarily realised were funny that got huge belly laughs, and equally unexpected moments that became very moving. And the guys really kicked into a higher gear as well, making new character discoveries and finding fresh opportunities to play. I hope this continues throughout the tour, and the text is rich enough to allow this. What’s also totally fascinating is to start to understand how different cities and areas respond to the play. Glasgow has a strong history of Catholicism and Protestantism living side by side, and sometimes in opposition. Therefore, the tensions within the piece feel apt and relatable, and already they have a much more instinctive reaction to some of the cultural references.
We now have two more previews before officially opening on Wednesday, and we’re working right up until that point, polishing and trimming and tinkering!