The space in which we’re rehearsing The Man With The Hammer doesn’t look like a typical rehearsal room. If anything, it looks a bit like a rather boutique gym – road bikes mounted onto trainers (each of which the cast have already named!), a spare exercise bike to the side, a small court for the ball-game four square marked out on the floor. A week into rehearsals, and already padded lycra shorts have become a staple feature of the cast’s rehearsal outfits, the stage management team are buying exercise balls, and everyone’s used to the air con being turned up to full. All things that are to be expected when putting together a show where the cast are cycling the entire time!
For me, two things have shaped this first week of rehearsals: the show’s unusual staging, and the script’s distinctive style. There’s a fascinating slipperiness to Phil Porter’s script – different scenes blur into each other slightly, characters slide between real and imagined conversations, dialogue between characters sits beside speeches to the audience – which means that, rather than isolating and working on a single scene, we’re already looking at how multiple moments in the play work together. The script feels immensely realistic in terms of the relationships it explores, but it’s simultaneously slightly abstract in how it tells the characters’ stories, meaning that even from this early stage we’re having to think about how to hit the right balance between these two elements of the writing and can’t really work on one without considering the other.
Having the cast on static bikes throughout the performance also has a big impact on how we’re rehearsing the play. We’re having to explore and build a whole new theatrical ‘language’ when rehearsing scenes – what does it mean if he stops cycling at this point? What does it say if she’s the only one cycling? what does it tell us about these two people during this scene if their cycling is out of sync? It’s interesting to see what messages are sent by even a tiny shift in what the actors do on their bikes, and the different ways in which their physical activity can be used to speak volumes about their emotional state, relationships, or life in general.
The first week of any rehearsals typically feels like you’re learning a new set of rules, though I feel particularly aware of this with The Man With The Hammer. Not only because we started rehearsals for the show just two days after I finished working on Monster Raving Loony, and the two are such different shows, but also because of how – rather than borrowing or adapting rules from other rehearsals, using familiar techniques and approaches – The Man With The Hammer feels like it demands we come up with entirely new ones. Definitely a challenge, but a pretty exciting one to take on.
The Man With The Hammer will be in The Drum from Thursday 10th to Saturday 26th March. You can book your tickets online or by calling our Box Office on 01752 267222.