Whispers from the Wings

Juggling plays

December 30, 2013

So hardly had we begun to feel the nightly steps forward in Wolf Hall bringing us ever nearer the telling of our story in as slick and compelling a way as possible, when we were back into tech rehearsals for the second of our two plays: Bring Up the Bodies.

The lighting and the soundscape have a big part to play in locating and differentiating our scenes because we use very little furniture. On an open thrust stage, like that of the Swan, there isn't much scenery that can help an audience understand in which one of a multiplicity of locations we are.

Stephen Warbeck's music helps enormously. Such a big story, told luxuriantly in Hilary's books, is necessarily translated to the stage in sparing dialogue, and the music — along with the superbly detailed lighting plot — helps set the mood with tremendous efficiency.

As with a lot of great film music, I suspect our audience might not be so precisely aware of Stephen's brilliant work, but they will certainly be more affected by the drama that his music underscores.

Rain on our parade
The water – which is an important part of the play design - remained a work in progress until we had time to address the technical difficulties. But now it doesn't rain just outside the theatre, but on stage as well. What with the beautifully effective snow, and some flickering flames all over the place, it's all looking pretty good. We are still rehearsing and tweaking every day during previews.

During one rehearsal I sat behind the row of tech desks to eavesdrop on the hugely demanding cueing that goes on. Jenny Grand, our supremely competent Deputy Stage Manager, has to deal with 300 lighting cues, about 60 sound cues and — currently — 35 music cues. Every actor's entrance also has to be cued with a green light because, mostly, we cannot hear the dialogue clearly from where we are entering.

You can imagine the pressure on Jenny, especially when lines on which she delivers her cues are being cut or adjusted on a daily basis. Respect!

Back on our heads
Christmas snuck up on us here because, working the long hours that we are, we've had little time for shopping. Ordinarily, by the time the actual day comes I've already had three or four turkey dinners 'with all the trimmings', but this year all the celebrating was crammed into one day sandwiched between quick dashes to and from London. The family Christmas get-together, as always, involved the indulgent consumption of some thousands of calories, a good proportion of which were burned up with day-long laughter.

By the time we came back to Wolf Hall after Christmas we hadn't done it for two whole weeks, so just as I'm beginning to relax with the confidence of where my next entrance is in Bodies, I'm back to feverish backstage scrolling through the crib sheet on my iPad as we go back to our other play.

Image: the technical team during rehearsals in the Swan theatre.

by Nick Day  |  1 comment

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Jan 7, 12:11pm
David Stevens

Great plays. Your blog is very useful., esp. about the rain. Music wonderful.
Yes hats off to Jenny your DSM and all those cues. Unsung heroes. Everybody should know the names of Stage management team.

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Teaching Shakespeare