The Whipping Man is now over halfway through its run in the Drum, which feels almost difficult to believe after spending four and a half weeks of rehearsing the show, developing the design and getting everything ready for performance. I’ve already watched six performances and will see the show three more times before its run finishes this Saturday (I think only the team who operate the show’s sound and lighting will have watched it more times than me!) but, as someone involved in making the show, I can’t help also watching people’s reactions to the show too.
No matter how much you like a show that you’re working on – how confident or happy you personally feel with the performances, the design, the text – it’s always nerve-wracking to share it with audiences. With The Whipping Man, we spent over a month rehearsing and it’s easy to wonder how the show will read to people who haven’t spent all that time researching, discussing and debating the setting, the characters and the relationships involved.
Of course, a significant part of directing (though this depends a little on the individual director!) is making choices about how to best tell a story – in this case, these three men caught together in post-war Richmond. For any one action or event that happens in the play, there’s countless different ways it could be performed, and in rehearsals you’re working out which way (or ways) tell the story most effectively. It can still be difficult, though, to maintain an objective ‘outside eye’ in rehearsals, which is why it’s been great to see that audiences have responded so positively and enthusiastically to the show.
It’s always a little strange to go from rehearsals – where, for The Whipping Man, only the director, assistant director and stage management team would be watching the cast – to performances, with a new audience each night. Putting a show in front of an audience always reveals new things about it – there are moments I’d never thought of as funny (because they weren’t a surprise to me, or working on them in rehearsals meant I viewed them in a totally different way) and others that feel far more moving when you realise 100 people are silently giving all their attention to it. I’ve seen the performances develop over the past week (as I’m sure they’ll continue to do this week), which is in no small part down to the responses and signals given off by audiences.
Having had such brilliant conversations sparked by The Whipping Man in this past week (whether at post-show talks, workshops, or just in general), I’m hoping for some more this week. It’s only five performances to go before it’s all over – and before I head up to London for a week, to start getting my head around the next Theatre Royal Plymouth production!