Writer Hannah Khalil watches her play, A Museum in Baghdad, take shape in the rehearsal room.
The beginning of week two was very like the beginning of week one – the same disbelief, nerves and excitement – but with fewer tears (basically I’m getting better at holding them). You see, there was a week off (for me anyway) between week one and two because A Museum in Baghdad is in rep with King John, so many members of the Museum company are also in King John. That means I wasn’t in the room for a week – so that first week’s rehearsal began to seem very like a dream… But coming in on Monday I realised it wasn’t, thankfully.
And by the afternoon of Monday it got even realer. Not just because the floor of the rehearsal room had been marked up to replicate the size and shape of the Swan, and a trestle table had appeared at its centre – part of Tom Piper’s wonderful design. No, because Erica our director asked the cast to put the first dozen or so pages of the script ‘on its feet’ in a rough and ready way for the first time. And that was quite a moment for me. To see, in three dimensions, this world that has existed only in my head for so long… well, there was more holding back tears.
Week two also brought lots of rehearsal props into the room. Our brilliant stage management team anticipating and providing everything the actors might need on stage – fake cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, imaginatively and simply rendered.
The Thursday was an excruciatingly hot day in the mini heatwave and the actors all went to Stratford-upon-Avon to look at accommodation and the Swan Theatre, while I spent my day off in the paddling pool with my little girl. They all came back buzzing about the theatre, so excited and inspired by standing on that incredible stage – some of them for the first time: my emotional-ness seems to be catching.
Then Friday brought more detailed work, the actors again looking at scenes ‘on their feet’ and how they might ‘move’. And I felt happy and sad all at once. After my next draft – which I’ll be working on in the coming two weeks – the brilliant team will take full ownership of the words I wrote on the page and wrest them into full technicolour life. What a prospect, the pages I’ve nurtured for so long will fly without me. Naturally I’m stocking up on tissues.