Whispers from the Wings

I used to think the most important word in the title of the play was 'Wives'…

November 13, 2012

Royal Shakespeare TheatreIn the wings, there're two lights on the roof. One's lit, in cherry red and one's about to come on, in highlighter pen green.

If I took two steps in my wellington boots, I'd be next to one of the ushers. She's sat reading The Hobbit in a lollypop stick's width of light.

Stage Manager Robbie Cullen stands watching a monitor. With his headset and top to toe black clothing, he looks like a fighter pilot's shadow. He's looking at a little version of Bart David Soroczynski who, centimetres away, is thrusting around the stage, all tall with slicked back hair. With his French-Canadian accent and groin hugging trousers, I assume there might be some swooning by the women in the audience. I can't hear it though. I can't hear the usher turning the page of her book. I can't hear Robbie clicking his pen.

I'm standing a tatty jumper's arm's length away from the nearest member of the audience. I'm using what I presume to be an old actor tactic of 'If I can't see them, they can't see me'.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre has quite open entrances to the runways downstage. It means, before I enter each scene, I can vividly experience the buzz of the audience. The creaks in seats. The shuffles of feet. The striving-to-be-subtle pocket searching for sweets.

And, the laughter. The cacophony of jollity, the rippling tides of tears down cheeks and the slapping of thighs. The little tickles which wriggle from their beginning in the front rows of the stalls and then travel and grow until they're as wide and as tall as the theatre itself; bouncing with the rhythm of the women in the upper circle.

Both directors I'm working with this season have spoken about setting up a kind of contract with the audience. In The Mouse and his Child, we're establishing the style of our production very early on so the audience can be comfortable, enjoy themselves and have a laugh or two.

Ahead of The Mouse and his Child opening next week, my experiences of this 'contract' have so far been simply that it's not a comedy without laughter.

There's a relationship in comedy between the performers and the audience which perhaps isn't there in other genres. If done well, obviously, then there's an instant, often vivaciously audible, reaction. Of course, theatre's stunningly, enigmatically beautiful in that it can also leave an audience solemnly, reflectively heartbroken but on the evidence of this last fortnight, there's something sensational about a lion's roar of laughter subsiding and then beginning again.

Just before the giggles gallop through the stalls again, there's a moment where I hear page 76 of the usher's copy of The Hobbit fall on to page seventy-five. Robbie clicks his pen. Above my head, the highlighter green light flashes on and I take a step forward. It's like jumping out of a plane but also receiving the biggest cuddle you can ever imagine at the same time.

And, stood on that glorious stage, the whole thing's a little bit synesthetic. I can feel the laughter. I can hear the happiness.

by Thomas Pickles  |  1 comment

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Nov 14, 11:42am
David Stevens

Great article. Well done. And so true re audience.
Kind regards

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