The third week of rehearsals for Half A Sixpence is now complete and we’re halfway through the process. As director Rachel Kavanaugh announced a few days ago, “We open in a month!” – EEEEK!
Fortunately for three of the team this was our final week of ‘doubling up’. Myself, Ian Bartholomew (who plays Chitterlow) and Sam O’Rourke (who plays Buggins) have also been performing in another of Choreographer Andrew Wright’s shows – Mrs Henderson Presents – at the Noël Coward Theatre, whilst rehearsing for Half A Sixpence whenever we weren’t onstage! It makes for a heavy schedule as you’re working long hours and desperately trying to find extra time to do the necessary homework, whilst remembering the basic essentials like sleep! Fortunately Kristi, our amazing Company Manager, has been working her scheduling magic to try and keep us all sane. With Mrs H. closing on Saturday night I’m now breathing a sigh of relief that I can commit all of my time and energy to Helen and Half a Sixpence and ignore the guilt that’s been gnawing away at me for not being 100% in the world of 1900’s Folkestone, instead of wartime London!
‘Doubling up’ is quite a frequent occurrence in our industry, with great jobs often overlapping for numerous different departments. In fact, our composers George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have had several different productions in workshops and rehearsals at the same time, in the same building in recent weeks! I wonder if they all felt the same sense of giddy elation when visited by Anthony’s puppy? There’s nothing like some unexpected doggy daycare to cause minor disruption and major excitement in a rehearsal room. I do feel, however, that we may have the monopoly on her given that she’s called Sixpence!
The slightly camera shy Sixpence
(and Daddy aka Anthony Drewe in the background).
You’ll even find doubling up WITHIN a production. One of the great joys of a show with numerous ensemble scenes is that you find yourself playing all manner of characters, regardless of the main role you’ve been hired to play. It’s known on contracts as ‘to play as cast’ and basically means that along the way you may find yourself donning a different wig, hat and outfit every other scene - perhaps to pad out the stage in crowd moments, or maybe even for a little comedy cameo.
When Half A Sixpence was auditioning, many of the cast took part in group workshop auditions of the famous ‘Flash, Bang, Wallop’ number, creating tableaux images and dozens of characters in a very short space of time thereby demonstrating physical and vocal dexterity through multiple role playing. It’s a real talent to be able to shift your performance from one character to another on a sixpence (forgive the pun), and one I can’t personally claim to possess in this instance as at the moment I’m only playing Helen. She is, however, about as far removed from my most recent other role as possible – which is something to be pleased about I think!
On the flipside, when you don’t necessarily have twenty-six roles to think about you may just be thrown a major curve ball instead. Our brilliant leading man, Charlie Stemp, is taking on Arthur Kipps with aplomb. It’s an especially heavy show for Charlie as he’s in literally every scene – acting, singing and dancing up a storm – and then, to top it all off, he plays the banjo too. Whilst doing all of the above! Watching Charlie tackle everything the creative team throw at him with such grace and vigour is dizzyingly brilliant. It may be something to do with his amazing youthful energy, or the two cans of coke he consumes a day, but to watch his complete commitment to honing and perfecting this role is utterly humbling. Stepping into the shoes once filled by Tommy Steele is hard work indeed, but he more than fills them and I cannot wait to see the audience reaction to this exceptionally talented young actor.
Charlie Stemp (Kips) and I take a brief rehearsal break
Outside of the rehearsal room, things are also moving with great speed. Costumes are coming together nicely and wig fittings with the wonderful Wigmaker, Campbell Young, are moving on apace. I can’t wait to see what Helen looks like when I get to my own fitting next week. Apparently I’ll be blonde for this show – a surprising rarity for me despite being a natural blonde in real life, although that could all have been changed by the time I see the real wig. You never know with theatre.
The Stage Management team of Lou, Tinks, Adam and Alice are also cooking up a storm with their tireless efforts. I never fail to be surprised whenever someone requests a random prop for a scene and Stage Management can somehow make it magically appear, no matter how absurd it may seem. I swear one of them must have Mary Poppins’ carpet bag hidden beneath their stage management desk, which is constantly strewn with dozens of stage plans and technical drawings for the design. It’s such a help to have an amazing team to support our creatives. Without them we truly couldn’t do the show and I wish audiences were more able to understand quite how fully we rely on their constant hard work.
Taking a rare dry weather lunch break in the car park with
Gerard Carey (James Walsingham) & Vivien Parry (Mrs Walsingham).
We have two more weeks left rehearsing in London and then it will be off to the south coast to begin teching this brilliant new piece of theatre into the recently refurbished Chichester Festival Theatre. If only the British weather would settle long enough for me to figure out what to pack, but I suppose ‘If the rain’s got to fall, let it fall’…