So

There was the first week of rehearsals.I meant to post something then, but got rather caught up in things.

Then there was the fourth week of rehearsals and I meant to write during that, but got rather caught up in things and so it’s difficult now to know where to start.
 But as I write the technical rehearsal is (hopefully) drawing to a close, ready for the dress rehearsal (and then the first and only preview) tomorrow. I’m in London now, but to Manchester tomorrow… 

But, first – some scraps about rehearsals over the last month:
 

The first week
I had come up on the Sunday to talk with Jo about some changes to the script. Some cuts to clarify stuff but it’s fascinating how it was at this stage in the play’s life, (and much less the Romantic unconscious early stage), that you can be quite carefully tactical about THEME, IMAGERY and MESSAGE – how it’s only now that you begin to see symmetries and meanings you can pick at and pull out. How – if a play’s at all textured in terms of its imagery, that comes from getting to a certain point with a draft, getting some distance, and then perceiving the threads, and finding or adding other wisps to knot to. Just as characters go on journeys, so do ideas and sounds and voices and jokes. 

Anyway, these were the nature of the changes during the early weeks of rehearsals - small additions or subtractions which make a difference because an idea/image/sound/phrase recycled throughout a play might resound louder than it’s momentary volume. I’ve been thinking a bit about a phrase that Richard Eyre uses a lot in his Diaries – of a play being ‘more than the sum of its parts’, and as we moved into rehearsal, Jo and Sarah were working on this mathematics with me. Once we started the actors too began to find things I didn’t even know were there, having hunches about specific sounds or words or objects. A battered little tin of tobacco was a throwaway prop in SCENE 6. But it was picked up and held onto, and by the time it emerged in Shobna’s hands in SCENE 8 it had already started collecting associations... 
 

The first couple of days were exhilarating and traumatic and inspiring and reassuring. On the first day everyone in the building came to the meet and greet, and Jo talked about the play, and Jaimie talked about the model box, and as its succession of surprises dropped into sight I was already grinning like a simpleton – partly because Jo had been very lovely about the play, partly because of the ingenuity of the mechanism– partly because BIG BUILDINGS is now over two years old and finally it’s happening in such a grand way.
 

In the first week, rehearsals tended to have two parts – sitting down, and standing up. When sat down we worked through the text and explored its moments, defined its units, clarified confusions and speculated about mysteries. When stood up, the play took its first steps, becoming for the first time three-dimensional… 

SITTING DOWN: every time I’m asked a question I get slightly stressed because it’s possible that I won’t know the answer and that this will lead to a terrible unravelling of the whole play until it’s just a mess of fabric on the floor. Eventually I realise the world of the play does make sense. It does hold up. The history of this world can be discovered, as can its future.
 

STANDING UP: I find the first couple of days of standing the play up very difficult to handle. I remember feeling shocked when I first saw the publicity image for the play, and shocked when I first saw the model box – not because I disapproved of what was before me, but simply because my play (which existed for me until on the page, and in its most extreme realisation only read out loud) was being interpreted in another medium. So to see the play stood up, and asked to work in three dimensions was unexpectedly turbulent. I felt almost indignant: ‘What’s going on? My play doesn’t have movement in it.’

But by the third day, I begin to let go, and when Sacha suddenly sprints across the stage, unstoppably, he eloquently expresses physically the feeling of something I was trying to find in the writing…
 

We have an excellent, lovely cast. I don’t want to be specific about their special qualities, at this stage, because at some level that might sound like a note…

Then I had two weeks trying not to think too much about the play. I did other things. I failed my driving test. I did other things. Then there was...

 The Fourth Week
On Monday I get off the train and sneak into the space to find LEON (Jonathan Bailey) and DANNY (Sacha Dhawan), being, to my amazement, Leon and Danny, almost fully formed. In the light, in this amazing auditorium, I can see how the play is going to work. In the two weeks since I was here the production has made remarkable leaps forward… 

Changes to the script in fourth week have been largely to do with finding the play’s optimum shape, with adjusting the tension in the joins. On the one hand, in many instances, this has been about CUTS. Cuts to make the play less ponderous, cuts to load up the beginnings and ends of scenes with a bolder spring. Cuts to make verbal actions clearer, cleaner, more decisive. 
 

It’s funny how cuts can have an effect on STYLE. Parts of the play, when allowed to settle for a while, can relax into a naturalistic register which, if allowed to wallow, can make the play feel a little heavy, a little sodden. Meanwhile, some of the wilder theatrical fancies of the play have become vulnerable and exposed by the process of production, and have got to a point where they really need to justify their inclusion in the play. Sometimes they do need to stay, sometimes they don’t. But every change affects the style. Cutting a very playful bit can suddenly leave a scene feeling like Eastenders, while cutting the beginning of a scene (pitching straight in even before the last scene ends) can, of a sudden, produce a fluidity and narrative urgency redolent of Oliver! The latter being preferable, I think – we’ve sometimes talked about the play as being a bit like a ‘musical without music’…
 

I very much enjoyed Duncan Macmillan’s excellent Monster, in the Studio on Monday evening– the action is gripping, while the world of the play is beguiling, stylish, frightening and complex,. To boot, the play has one of the most brilliantly suspenseful scenes I’ve come across…
 

I meant to see more of the Manchester International Festival this week, but found myself so focused on rehearsals that thinking about anything other than the play was simply unthinkable…
 

There have been various nice bits and pieces in various media this week. On Tuesday an interview with the Manchester Evening News. On Friday, on Radio Manchester, on Saturday, in the Independent and the Guardian. Also, I did an interview for Artsphere, where I go on at some length… (it’s funny, isn’t it, how strange actual speech reads when it’s transcribed…)
 

By the end of the week I’ve seen several runthroughs – each one better than the last. Each one generating more and more presence, each time finding the feel of the play a little more surely.
I think it’s going to be fine.Small changes are still being made to the play – I’m amazed at the way the cast have been able to absorb them almost without blinking. Indeed, in the course of rehearsals the play has gone through a proper redraft. Nevertheless, the Nick Hern playtext edition that will be available from tomorrow remains my ‘writer’s cut’ – I read somewhere recently that JB Priestly always brought a deliberately baggy version of a play into rehearsals - in full knowledge that the play would be cut according to the needs of the production. If the play is ever produced again it could quite feasibly be re-figured in an entirely different way. 

The first preview tomorrow.
Press night on Thursday.
I hope to see some of you there.
I hope it’s alright.