We’re now coming towards the end of the final week of rehearsals for The Whipping Man (I’m writing this in The Drum, having just seen the second dress rehearsal of the show, hours before the first preview!). Production weeks (the week of the technical work and dress rehearsals before the show opens) are typically long and tiring, with extra-long days spent inside darkened theatres whilst the actors’ work from the previous weeks is finally brought together with the set, sound, lighting, costume, make-up and props.
However, certain aspects of The Whipping Man have made this past week easier. It’s been wonderful listening to the fragile, moving music composed especially for the show and seeing the lighting shift between creating vulnerable, eerie and intimate atmospheres onstage. So much of what has only been imagined over the past four weeks is now real, and the level of detail in even the smallest, most briefly-seen props is fantastic.
A lot of conversations over the past week have been about theatricality versus practicality. This has particularly been the case whilst shaping a part of the show that’s sometimes forgotten about: scene changes. Scene changes are slightly strange in that they’re an essential part of the show that can’t be avoided, yet aren’t mentioned in scripts (or at least most scripts I’ve read!). It’s left up to the director and their team to decide how to get from scene one to scene two, and even from before The Whipping Man rehearsals began, we’ve not wanted to let practicality completely win out over theatricality.
This means the show’s team has been working to find interesting alternatives to simply turning the lights out and setting up for the next scene in darkness. We’ve still had to think of practical concerns, of what has to happen during a scene change (from quick costume changes to moving props onstage), but it’s been a case of finding a way to keep telling a story with what’s happening, to show something about the characters. The performances and design that make up the show create such a palpable, strong sense of a world and we don’t want to break this in those moments between scenes.
Of course, the same level of thought has gone into all the show’s scripted scenes too. With those, it’s always brilliant to see the performances (which have been the primary focus of rehearsals so far) as simply one element of the production and to watch them line up with all the other elements of a show. The look of a set, the tone of some music or the warmth of a lighting state can completely change the feel of a scene; likewise the costumes can speak volumes about them and their relationships to each other. When all of these parts work together the impact is huge – now the only part left is an audience!