Actor Verity Kirk talks about rehearsing for our upcoming shows Twelfth Night and A Christmas Carol.

As I write this, we are about to go into our eighth week of rehearsals. Working it out, that means we have done around 35 full days of rehearsing, as well as a few rogue Saturdays here and there. We head up to Stratford in three weeks, open Twelfth Night in five weeks, and get in the swing of that before getting into A Christmas Carol, which opens in just eight weeks.

I think.

These deductions have been done by me swizzling my phone calendar screen up and down and counting to myself, so probably at least one of my timings is well out.

I’m telling you all these dates and numbers to get my own head around it, as the eight weeks have whipped by so quickly, with real joy, laughter, a fair few after-rehearsal pub trips and great immersion in the two texts. Our homework for the first day of Christmas Carol involved everyone bringing in a fact from 1843, the year of the story's publication, such as that the first Christmas cards were commissioned in London on 1 May 1843 (now you can smugly whack that fact out at Christmas yourself, you’re welcome). Our first day for Twelfth Night saw us coming into a rehearsal room with walls covered in research from the 1890s era, all Oscar Wilde, Cecil Beaton and Indian-inspired architecture.

At the same time, there has been literal, actual sweat (our physical warm-ups for Christmas Carol are no joke) and tears: both plays and their respective musical scores have moments of being heart-stoppingly affecting. Who can resist long-lost twins finding one another again, or Tiny Tim soldiering through a carol when his lungs and legs are giving way? There has been no blood yet, I hasten to add, but there will definitely be some fake stuff in Twelfth Night at some point, so we’ve got that covered too.

Some prop turkeys in a basket

A huge feature of this rehearsal period is that the majority of us are in both plays. After all, we are a repertory ensemble company, darling (cue artsy scarf flick over the shoulder). This means we shuttle between two rooms, with Twelfth Night downstairs and Christmas Carol upstairs. The backstage Green Room cafeteria has become the place to collapse in-between, somewhere to learn lines, talk rubbish, and eat whatever treats somebody has brought in (actors love to eat everything, particularly if they haven’t had to pay for it).

The rehearsal processes have been very different, with Christmas Carol the slightly more traditional, as all of us are in the room most of the time, bashing through scenes to get the shape of them, and repeating transitions to memorise them as much as we can. Scrooge spends all his time being bombed around various locations by the different spirits, and we must make that possible visually through transitions. I am proud to say I shall be moving his desk (twice! It makes me feel very important), as well as Fred the nephew’s living room door, the Cratchit’s stove, and a plate of mince pies (I’m hoping real ones - I get snacky during a show). We all need to whip quickly from a counting house to a nice Victorian living room to a slum, ideally without bumping into anyone. It’s very satisfying when we manage it. There may have been no blood but there have been a fair few hair-raising smash ups as a door or other prop careers into you, determined to stub your toe and bang your elbow despite the desperate manoeuvrings of your castmates. We suffer for our art.

Twelfth Night has been slightly different as Chris, our director, recognises that all actors get pretty spooked on a first day read through, particularly if it’s Shakespeare. More than any other text, you will practice Shakespeare in the mirror or whilst washing up and you’ll think, ‘That sounds quite good! I think I’ve made sense of that!’ Then you get into the rehearsal room with your clutch of first day nerves throbbing in your chest and end up sounding somewhere between Marvin the Robot and a bad impression of John Gielgud!

Chris, having been an actor, spent two weeks going through the play in tiny portions with those involved in the scenes. This meant that I, speaking in only one scene, didn’t hear most of the play until the end of those two weeks, when we had our first ‘read-through’. The text really popped and fizzed, because everyone knew what they and their castmates were saying, and felt confident in those decisions.

What’s to come next will only be more full-on. As one of the understudies, I am required to come in and observe all the scenes I will be involved in. We had the children for Christmas Carol in at the end of last week, which was very exciting. I had been standing in for Susan Cratchit with great aplomb for a little while, but I now recognise the role should probably go to someone who looks a bit nearer 10 years old. Next week we have company drinks (snazzy) with the Imperium cast, who will be performing in Stratford at the same time as us, so that’s another big bunch of people to meet. There seems to be so much to look forward to and it just keeps hurtling towards us. Soon it will be Christmas and all those carols will start having more pertinence (it was a bit weird singing them in August). Anyway, I’d better go learn some lines… but I’m thinking about mince pies now. Sigh.

Verity Kirk

Verity Kirk

Verity grew up in North Yorkshire, where she drank Yorkshire tea, before moving to London several years ago, where she took up green tea and her family were ashamed.

This is her first time working for the RSC. Follow her on twitter at @kirk_verity.

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