People, Places & Things’ effortlessly stylish and modern set by Bunny Christie sits in the Wyndham’s 1899 theatre like an anachronistic giant in this Victorian wedding cake of a theatre. The back walls of the building are flung open on to the street as the last of the set from the National Theatre is loaded into its new home. The mood is of general excitement, whether this is your tenth time in the West End or your first there is something about the buzz of a successful show remounting that is contagious amongst the cast and crew. The actors arrive, the dressing rooms are allocated, the creative team reassemble and we begin tech.
Impressively, the entire original cast and creative team are part of this transfer lending a short hand and a family feel to the process. Re-rehearsing a show comes with its own set of unique challenges though. Director Jeremy Herrin explains that it is both ‘an extension of the original rehearsal process but also a starting again’. I run into a theatre veteran friend in the NT’s Green Room on our first day who has overseen many transfers during his career, his advice is firm ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, an older actor on a nearby table from another cast chimes in ‘you want to keep it the same but different’. I am left wondering in practical terms what this is going to mean for our show.
The work over the next two weeks is a fast paced combination of refinement of the original work and a complete overhaul. Playwright Duncan Macmillan has re-written an entire scene that needs learning and rehearsing from scratch. Movement director Polly Bennett is deep in new choreography. And director Jeremy Herrin is on a mission to bring subtlety and increased emotional truth to the work. We question every decision and keep what still works.
Speaking to me in tech, Jeremy emphasizes the danger of getting carried away during a transfer with what commercial success ‘should’ look like. He says the real challenge is to stay focused on “the hard work of emotionally representing these characters, who have nothing to do with their new showbiz context”. This was powerfully brought home to us when residents from Catford Freedom Recovery Centre (who had hosted us in our research period the first time round), and a group from The Priory (who we had visited before re-rehearsals started this time round) came to watch a run in our rehearsal room on our final day of rehearsals. There were no lights, costume, set, or sound, but the atmosphere was electric. Performing the show for those in the recovery process grounded us all. We were reminded that addiction is life and death for people. That it is important that we tell this story and a privilege.
With a fourteen-week performance run and no breaks - we were in rep with another show in the original production at the National Theatre so we frequently got time off - sustaining the emotional truth and precision every night will be demanding. Jeremy spoke about the difference between ‘thinking you’re listening and actually listening’ in a remount of a production, that we must be aware of complacency if we are to succeed.