Company Rehearsal Blog
Assistant Director, Alex Thorpe takes us behind the doors of the rehearsal room for Company, this year’s Christmas musical in the Crucible:
Just when I believed my blogging days were over and my new-found skills redundant, sitting in the office last Wednesday evening after a long day of rehearsals, cornered by Sheffield Theatres’ Sales & Communications Director, Claire Murray and Artistic Director (and star of Company), Daniel Evans, I return!
Well I have a lot of catching up to do… where to start…
Company, lyrics and music by composer Stephen Sondheim (Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park with George, Gypsy, West Side Story, the list goes on…) and book by George Furth, tells the story of a single bachelor, Robert, on his 35th birthday as he reassess his future. This production, directed by Jonathan Munby (Henry V at Manchester Royal Exchange, The Prince of Homburg at Donmar Warehouse, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore at West Yorkshire Playhouse) and designed by Christopher Oram (whose previous designs for the Crucible stage include Richard III staring Kenneth Branagh, Edward II staring Joseph Fiennes and The Tempest with Derek Jacobi), takes place ‘in a single moment’ in Bobby’s mind prior to his surprise birthday party. Over the course of two hours we follow Bobby on a journey, meeting his best, married, friends as he weighs up the pros and cons of whether or not to get married or stay a bachelor.
Jonathan opened the first day of rehearsals by speaking to the company about why he and Daniel Evans had come together to do this show, at this particular time. Daniel and Jonathan began discussing this collaboration nearly five years ago, well before Daniel had even thought about running Sheffield Theatres. Despite Daniel moving to Sheffield over two years ago, they wanted to wait until the right moment. 17 years after the last major production and in the year of the Crucible’s 40th birthday, 2011 seemed like the right time. Next was to form the dream creative team which quickly followed suit including Neil Austin and Paul Arditti (Lighting and Sound Designer respectively).
Behind Closed Doors: Jonathan’s rehearsal room is a fantastic place to be: fun, creative, dynamic and thorough. He leaves no stone unturned. Every line, whether spoken or sung is interrogated for clues to discover the world that we were about to create. Scene by scene we discuss each of the couples’ relationships with the protagonist, how they met him and how they relate to him as well as to each other. We formed decisions on how the couples had met Bobby, how long they’d known him and what type of relationship they had with him. We pinpointed on our map of New York where they lived and important places in their lives. We did this for each of the couples before quickly getting the actors on their feet. At the end of the first session with each of the couples, the individual scenes had a sketch of a shape.
These detailed text sessions were then interspersed with dance and music ‘calls’ where the company create and learn the numerous dances and songs within the show. Dance is headed up by choreographer Lynne Page supported by her assistant Imogen Knight, and all things musical within the show are led by musical director Nigel Lilly and his assistant Olly Jackson. Each of the specific elements of the show have been created in isolation from the other. Once the dance had been created, the actors began to include the songs and lyrics before being woven in between the scenes.
One of things that really took me by surprise is the amount of detail Nigel has oozed out of the music and lyrics. As part of my own research I listened to a number of recordings of previous productions, which sounded beautiful. Nigel on the other hand encouraged the actors to really understand the details within the songs, listen to the lyrics and foreground that detail. The songs were now not only being beautifully sung but were beginning to tell the story that Sondheim wrote, something that I had never heard before.
I must take a moment to share a person highlight from the last four weeks. This particular event took place in week two. I was summoned to take part in the four hour dance call as we began learning one of the big dance numbers. Two left feet doesn’t even begin to explain how awful I was and how much pain I was in the following morning. There’s a brilliant job description for an assistant director on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s website… I’m pretty sure that that isn’t on it! Anyone reading this who knows me, even a little bit, will testify exactly how much I actually enjoyed myself…!
Well having to condense four weeks of rehearsals into a mini blog has been much harder than I had anticipated so I’m very sorry if there are a few details missing. However, if you have any specific questions about our process please feel free to follow my twitter account @alexthorpe12 and see if you can discover any more clues. This week is our last week in the rehearsal room as we begin to move into the theatre so I will be filling you all in on how that goes next week.