Jonjo O'Neill in rehearsal. Photo: Ellie Kurtz.
At the end of the fifth week, concerns were raised about the running time of the play. The first half was one hour and twenty five minutes and the second, one hour and twenty minutes. Rupert and Lucy both felt that this was too long. On Monday morning, a 'new script' arrived. Lucy had made some small cuts throughout the play. A few scenes in the first half had also been re-ordered in an attempt to solve some issues with the rhythm and flow of Act One. Everyone got their heads down and spent a fairly intense and industrious few days implementing these changes. By Thursday morning, the running time had been cut down by nearly half an hour. Everyone’s hard work had really paid off!
The scenes in the first half were eventually put back into their original order. It was really interesting, however, to see how changing the sequence of the scenes had affected other elements of the play as well as the rhythmical flow. This effect could only really be seen once we tried it out. For example, the scene in which Toby gives a seminar at the clinical trial centre had always came after the very first time we see him meeting with Dr Lorna James to discuss the results of the trial so far. Moving his seminar speech to come before this scene with Dr James had quite a significant effect on our perception of him in his scene with her afterwards. In the scene with Dr James, Toby sees her alone for the first time in ten years. The awkward pauses and loaded silences worked much better when this is the first time that we as the audience meet Toby. Our perception of Toby, his relationship with Dr James and the whole scene itself is quite different when we know nothing about him and haven’t met him before his awkward encounter with her. The scene has a very different tone and impact when we have seen Toby already, giving his seminar speech. For this reason, the order of scenes was swapped back to how it was originally. I found it particularly fascinating to discover how swapping the sequencing of even one scene in this way could effect and change both the way we experience a scene and our perception of a character and their relationships.
I’ve really enjoyed the dramaturgical work that’s been done on the rhythmical development of the play. I have been very interested in how the scenes flow into each other, how they move from one relationship to the next and how this movement informs any comparisons between them. The play moves between the doctors and the young lovers. These characters often act as counterpoints to each other or, at times, almost mirror each other, depending on the stage at which we are seeing the characters and their relationships. For example, towards the end of the play, there is a climactic scene between Dr James and Toby where certain things are revealed about both their present circumstances and their past relationship. We discover why Toby ended their relationship. This then immediately flows into the next scene between Connie and Tristan whom we see post-fight. Their love may also be over, but also might not. There is hope for Connie and Tristan.
Being in the last week of rehearsals definitely gave an air of excitement and intensity to everything. Everyone was very aware of where we were in the process of putting the play together. Fabrics, carpet and wood floor samples were frequently brought into the room for Rupert to quickly check on his way in or out at the start of the day or in short breaks between rehearsal sessions. I especially enjoyed seeing a props line-up, arranged over a few tables in the middle of our rehearsal room during one lunch break. It looked a little like a strange selection of prizes for a weird, old-fashioned game-show. It included a selection of telemetry boxes, pictures of fish, boxes of tampons, a medical trolley, a torch, a bucket and an all-in-one medical measuring zapper. A few minutes into this meeting between the Props and Design departments, someone came in to join us carrying a plastic box of prototype brains. The box contained various moulds in different colours made from alginate and silicon. It could have been a play in itself!
The production meeting the next day was interesting too, with stress levels understandably rising at times, as budgets became tighter, deadlines were imminent and the two day Tech was just around the corner. There were some strange and entertaining conversations about little details and final touches in the production. My favourites included: audience wristbands, anti-bacterial hand gel, brain consistency and last but not least, goldfish care, storage and naming!
Alongside the cuts and changes to the script, the actors and whole team have been incredibly busy. This week has seen two half runs and two full runs of the play. The two (slightly nerve-wracking!) full runs took place on Thursday and Friday mornings, in front of an invited audience, which was made up of quite a few NT and Headlong staff. Both run-throughs went really well and it was great (and reassuring!) to hear the feedback from people (including Producers, Associate Directors, Literary Managers and Artistic Directors) who hadn't been directly involved in the play for the rehearsal period and so hadn't seen it before then.
Another highlight for me at the end of this week, was interviewing Lucy Prebble and the actors in the cast – Anastasia, Tom, Billie and Jonjo. They were all absolutely fascinating and insightful. It was a joy and a privilege to be able to ask Lucy and the actors some of the questions that I'd been wondering about since quite early on in rehearsals. It was great to have an opportunity to find out more about their individual thoughts, work and approaches, which all further illuminated the play and the whole process for me.