Catrin Stewart and Daniel Boyd as Juliet and Romeo, in rehearsal. Photo: Tristram Kenton
On a freezing cold Monday morning, the Romeo & Juliet creative team reconvened at The Nuffield Theatre, in Southampton, for the week of technical rehearsals and previews immediately prior to opening. The Nuffield is both a co-producer and the first stop on the tour, so it is here that the set is first assembled and along with the lighting, sound and projection. The technical teams had been working over the weekend to rig all the necessary equipment in time for the first session with the cast on Tuesday lunchtime, and the theatre was a hive of activity as lights and projectors were plotted and refocused, speakers tried and tested, and all the components of the set assembled and secured. This is the first time everything has been combined in reality rather than in the abstract of the plans and technical discussions so there is often a lot of troubleshooting to be done - including a few unwanted surprises - but the focus and understanding of the show fostered in the production meetings mean the team solve these hiccoughs swiftly and easily.
By Tuesday lunchtime everything was complete just in time for the arrival of the cast for the first technical session. They started by getting to know the theatre, and the set itself. This is important as the leap from the ground-plan taped on the floor of the rehearsal room to a solid and complex construction with doors, walls and stairs, is a big one - and often leaves them excited but discombobulated. They must work quickly and inter-dependently to retain what was discovered in the rehearsal room whilst adapting it to the stage. To accommodate for this, as well as the addition of the other technical elements, tech sessions are often very long and tiring. The show is run from top to bottom, halting each time a new element is introduced - whether it be lighting, sound, or even fake blood or food. Breaking the show down in this way is a necessary but difficult process. The pressure of time coupled with the unpredictability of these new elements, mean it is often difficult to see the wood for the trees. The production feels like it has fallen apart, but in reality it provides the cast with a crucial understanding of, and confidence in, their environment. It provides them with the foundation to rediscover the creativity and freedom present in the rehearsal room.
With only two days to tech the entire show, and fit in a dress rehearsal before the first public preview, time is tight and everyone must work together and as quickly as possible. The director is almost entirely given over the technical elements as lighting states are altered, sound is re-mixed and scenes and entrances are re-blocked to best serve the production. Backstage, props are made and costumes changed and altered - most noticeably in the introduction of some highly praised sulphur-yellow jeans for the character of Mercutio - as sections are cut, re-worked or added to the show. It is terrifically hard work, and emotions run high, but after two days the show is ready for its first public preview.
The previews are an extremely important period for the production as by placing the show in front of an audience you can get a good indicator of what works and what needs to be improved. Elements which seemed compelling in the relative comfort and security of the rehearsal room are often cut as they fail to produce the same effect, or even added to when found to be unexpectedly powerful on stage. With performances every evening, followed by working and re-working each day, as well as reams of notes for the actors, this is one of the most intense and exciting periods in the life of the show. However, it is also a true test of the strength of the show and the confidence of the company as they must adapt and incorporate these changes without compromising the integrity of the show or their performances. The true test of this was the addition of an entirely new scene on the afternoon before Press Night (the official opening of the show), but the company worked hard to focus their energy on consolidating the recent changes and producing a confident and exhilarating show. Although Press Night feels like the end of the process, in reality it is only the beginning as the company remain in Southampton for a further week before heading out on the next eight weeks of the tour. Over this time, the show will continue to develop and grow as Romeo & Juliet is seen by audiences across the country.