The patient is alive’ declares Jeremy Herrin after the first run of the play on Saturday. After five weeks of staging 110 pages of drama – a process that includes absorbing cuts to the script, changes in costume, and the construction and interrogation of movement sequences - we put the show together on a grey morning in an empty rehearsal room and pray that it will work. What ensues is a heart breaking and engaging two hours twenty minutes of theatre. The operation was successful; this production is very much alive.
It is the last time the actors will perform this play to no one. Next week the Sound, Lighting, Costume, Video and Set design teams will be watching runs of the play in order to deliver the final layer of the production in the tech rehearsal (they have less than three days to do it) and then we are open to the public! There is a magic that surrounds a first run. It’s rough around the edges and every so often you hear an actor shout ‘line’ (which is the Deputy Stage Manager Ben’s cue to look at the script and feed the actor aloud the text they have forgotten), furniture will end up in the wrong the places, or even people, but the show’s essence is there and it’s exhilaratingly raw.
The first run is also a chance for the director and playwright to assess the clarity of the narrative. There is a fine line between clarity of storytelling and spoon-feeding an audience. We don’t want the journey of watching the play to be predictable but at the same time we can’t lose the audience on the way. Jeremy will begin to attune the production over the next few runs with this in mind. The use of sound and light in next week’s technical rehearsals will also become invaluable tools in aiding the clarity of storytelling.
The first run is a chance for actors to work out the moments that they feel need attention. There may be a section of the text where they don’t know what they are doing or the discovery that they are emotionally climaxing too early in the play. The more runs we do the more we get used to knowing where the play is going and the challenge for the actor becomes about ‘not playing the end’, i.e. they know how the character’s story ends but the character must remain ignorant in order to remain in the present moment of each scene.
In a first run of a show whilst you know how the script ends you often don’t know how the show will end. The physical act of standing up and experiencing the play for the first time without stopping influences each scene. Scenes that felt heavy in rehearsal somehow seem light in a run or vice ser versa, and then of course you add an audience and the show changes again…