We’ve entered the final week of rehearsals for Half A Sixpence here in London and things are ramping up apace. There’s always a vague sense of trepidation in the air when you get to this stage of the schedule as the show is almost ready to be pieced together and yet none of us really know what each other have been busy doing in the different rehearsal rooms. Not until The First Stagger-Through, that is.
A stagger-through is effectively what happens when you run the show at a very slow pace. When creating a piece of theatre, scenes and songs are general rehearsed individually so they stand as single creative elements. Sometimes we begin piecing them together into sequences as mini-stagger-throughs, but the first main stagger-through means starting at the overture and working right through the show until the bows. It’s a surprisingly tricky process. There are scenes changes to facilitate and it’s the first time many of us will have the opportunity to work through our show tracks in their entirety, seeing how long we have for crossovers, costume changes and the occasional pee-break!
Our first stagger-through, of our two-act show, takes almost two days! We perform sections of the show chronologically and then go back to correct them, tweaking little issues that are occurring before they become insurmountable. We’ve been fortunate enough to have mock up versions of most technical elements of the design in the rehearsal room, and even many of the actual pieces of furniture and set, which should hopefully mean that the tech will run faster than it could do otherwise. Our brilliant director, Rachel, makes sure that any problems flagged, whether by cast or creative team, are worked through until smooth. By the end of the week we need to be able to run the show in real time, so these few days ahead of doing so are complex and intense, but necessary.
Along the way this week there are also final costume and wig fittings to be done. I spend a day zooming between rehearsal and sewing room whilst my corset is tweaked and adjusted to fit. I’ll be spending a long time in it over the next few weeks so it has to be as perfect as possible. Fortunately our makers are wonderful. Campbell, our wig designer, also makes a return trip to give some of the boys period haircuts. Alex Hope, who plays Sid Pornick, good-humouredly sacrifices his beautiful long hair for something far more turn-of–the-century and the transformation is stunning! Clean-shaven, he’s barely recognisable and it gently hints of what to expect next week once everyone is suited and booted in their beautiful 1900’s costumes.
Alex Hope - before and after!
And then suddenly Friday is upon us. The room fills with copious amounts of people all here to see the results of our five weeks’ toil. Producers, technical teams, writers, wiggies, wardrobe – you name it, Kristi has managed to find each a chair and squeezed them all into our rehearsal room, which now feels incredibly small! We’ve been fortunate enough to sneak in one run through already so, whilst this isn’t exactly unchartered territory, the added audience certainly makes for a hugely heightened sense of excitement!
There’s a wonderful thrill about finally performing your work to an audience, no matter how involved they may be in the production. After all, that’s why we create theatre, for it to be seen and appreciated. No piece of theatre truly exists until it has an audience and only once you perform it properly can you see what works and doesn’t, one of the many reasons why we have previews. From just this initial run, in our calico skirts and costume boots, we can start to see the form of the show solidifying. Teching the show next week will be a case of three steps forward and two steps back, as personal technicalities such as quick changes and running around the theatre to make an entrance must take precedence over the nuances of the script, never mind the vast array of technical work on the stage. Finally next week we’ll begin to put the entire show together with all the other departments, working as one (hopefully) cohesive unit. I couldn’t be more excited to get to Chichester now and into the beautiful Festival Theatre.
It’s been several years since I first performed in Chichester, in Love Story at the Minerva, again for director Rachel Kavanaugh, and both theatres have undergone renovations since then. The Chichester public are so discerning in their approach to theatre that it will be exciting to perform this reworking of a classic for them. It’s also a fabulous place to get to visit in the summer months, one of the greatest jewels in our regional theatre crown. I have a list as large as my suitcase (which believe me isn’t small) of places to visit and things to do, once I’ve figured out where my digs are of course!
The beautiful Chichester Festival and Minerva Theatres
For now it’s time to sign off and continue packing that case. I might be travelling home every weekend but the incongruous British summertime, the calling of West Wittering beach and the local gym, mean that all eventualities need to be packed for! Elsie, my little green mini, and I will be making the trek down in the early hours of the Monday morning ready for the longest, hardest and most exhausting week of the rehearsal calendar – so here’s hoping that the M25 is kind. Corsets ahoy - bring on the tech!
Elsie and Em on the road!