Hello once again! A week has passed since my previous entry, so, before technical rehearsals start in the Drum this morning, here’s a quick update on the progress we’ve made during the last seven days. These were spent working at TR2, the Theatre’s Production and Learning centre in Cattedown, where we arrived last Monday to find the set waiting for us to rehearse on. Having been Assistant Director at the Theatre Royal Plymouth for a few months now, I’ve become accustomed to this unusual privilege, but the reaction of director Samuel West and the actors reminded me how lucky we are to be able familiarise ourselves with the set before moving to the theatre. Tech-ing a show (that is, programming the sound and lighting cues once the set is installed in the performance space) is a complicated process and one that can sometimes understandably be slowed down as actors adjust the performances they’ve developed in the rehearsal room to fit the set; our week at TR2, however, means there should be far fewer surprises for us in the days leading up to first preview.
One aspect of the staging which we were all keen to experience was the raked floor. The action of After Electra takes place in the living area of protagonist Virgie’s house on the Essex coast, which in Michael Taylor’s design is a strange and beautiful wooden cottage constructed partially from a pair of decommissioned train carriages. The layout and finish of the parts of the cottage we see on stage is basically naturalistic and wonderfully full of detail, but the floor has a fairly sharp rake to it, with the stage right side being considerably lower than the stage left side. This rake deliberately unbalances in the set, almost suggesting the house has careered off the railway tracks and crashed into the sands, but before arriving in Plymouth we weren’t sure how comfortable the rake would be to act on and both Sam and Michael were prepared to remove it from the design if it proved too problematic. Happily, we’ve discovered it only compliments the work we’d done in London, and so it stays.
The week at TR2 was also the time when much of the actual furniture that will be used in performance arrived for the actors to rehearse with. This is a furniture- and props-heavy show, but the stage management team have been brilliantly resourceful in sourcing chairs, drinks cabinets, and art paraphernalia to fill the room and create the impression that the cottage that has been lived in for many years. On the few occasions the furniture we’ve found is almost-but-not-quite-right, the theatre’s workshop have stepped in to make improvements for us overnight – the sofa you see in the show, for example, has had longer legs fitted, a new seat added, and a different cover sewn. Perhaps the most important props in the show are Virgie’s paintings, and for these Michael brought on-board an artist to create a series of artworks for us to use. These arrived yesterday – in rehearsals we’ve been rehearsing with blank canvases – and it was really exciting to see how the painter had used the clues provided by the script to influence the style and colour of the paintings.
In terms of actually rehearsing, the focus for week four was very much on running larger sections of the play together – we worked through the seven scenes in the first half of week, and then managed three full runs by Saturday lunch-time. Sound Designer Adrienne Quartly and Lighting Designer Malcolm Rippeth joined us for the second-half of the week – this meant they were able to watch these final rehearsal room runs in advance of starting technical rehearsals today. Part of Adrienne’s sound design for the show involves her constructing what one of Virgie’s paintings ‘sounds like’ to a number of the characters; I heard a preview of this yesterday, and look forward to experience the sound fully alongside the painting in the space later today.
We’ve now got three days to settle into the Drum, add lighting and sound, and squeeze In a couple of dress rehearsals. Wish us luck!
After Electra will be performed at the Theatre Royal Plymouth from Thursday 12th to Saturday 28th March before transferring to the Tricycle Theatre for performances from Tuesday 7th April to Saturday 2nd May.