Tag Archives: caterham

A Fine Bright Day Today – Letting go


I am now redundant.  I have been for the best part of a week.

On Thursday of last week, the project which has eaten my life for the last 12-18 months finally opened to a paying public.  I arrived, nervous as hell, hoping against hope that people would like it, wondering if it was just me who thought I’d come up with something good.  I lurched between narcissistic self-congratulation and crippling doubt, right up until curtain up (and quite honestly, all the way through the show).

One of the hardest bits of directing has to be the end – the final handover.  Entrusting what has been your baby to other people.  Very capable people.  People YOU’VE chosen to do this.  People who in rehearsals have learnt lines, hit marks, been exactly where they should be, run like clockwork and made you smile, laugh and get something in your eye at the opportune moments in the script.  But that small voice of inhibition that you pushed to the back of your mind is now very present, very loud, and it’s asking difficult questions.  You start second-guessing your every decision, wondering whether you got any of it right, from music choices right through to whether you were actually the best person to direct it.  It’s terrifying.

The difficulty is that in the last few rehearsals, the whole production suddenly stopped giving you those butterflies and that punch to the guts that it always used to.  It’s having the presence of mind to remember that your cast are delivering it exactly as prescribed and that it’s YOU who has become desensitised through repetition.  It’s trusting that it’ll have the desired effect on an audience who are hearing and seeing it for the first time.  It’s the sadness that you’ll never completely get to enjoy the play, because no matter how hard you try to block the last 2 months of rehearsal from your mind, you cannot help but anticipate every single line, pause, move, entrance, exit, lighting and sound cue.

But a week in, while none of it is new, I’ve slowly been able to relinquish some of that.  Audiences seem to have enjoyed themselves, they’ve laughed in all the right places (plus in a few spots where it doesn’t leap out as being funny, but turns out to be).  I’ve been able to relax a bit and laugh with them – I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by all the little nuances my cast have found in the script since performing in front of more than 3 people.  But I’m also having to resist the sudden flood of ideas that have sprung out of having an audience.  There is a terrible urge to tinker with a few things – but I can’t.  They’ve already got enough to concentrate on, never mind me adding more in.  I’ve discovered the trick is to not watch every single performance – otherwise I will just drive myself crazy.

Set design by moi.  Beautifully executed by Keith Orton, Jenny Kingman and Mary Griffiths.  Photo by Keith Orton.

Set design by moi. Beautifully executed by Keith Orton, Jenny Kingman and Mary Griffiths. Photo by Keith Orton.

I’ve had lots of lovely feedback about the play itself: “nice”, “lovely”, “charming”, “heartwarming” are the words that keep cropping up.  A fellow blogger has given me a glowing review (no bribery/blackmail necessary!)  Others have been impressed with my staging and set-design.  If I’m allowed to be completely self-indulgent, so am I.  I’ve derived a huge amount of inspiration from various 2014 professional theatre productions and hoped to emulate some of their methods.  I like to think we’ve pulled it off.  To say that I am relieved that people like it would be an understatement.

But above all else, I am exceptionally proud of my cast and crew – they’ve worked hard and done everything I’ve asked (and more) with unfaltering patience and good humour.  As much as it’s been a bit of a wrench to hand it over, it’s a given and it has to be done.  Overall, directing has been an enjoyable experience and I think I’ve coped quite well with this whole “pretending to look like I know what I’m doing” lark.

I fell in love with this play on first read 18 months ago.  All the ideas came at once, fully formed.  What I wouldn’t give to have a memory-wiping machine (like in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and be able to watch the show with fresh ears and eyes.  You all get to do that – I don’t.  So with 4 nights left to go, please come and see it (partly so I can enjoy it vicariously through your reactions).

A Fine Bright Day Today is on until Saturday 14th February at the Miller Centre Theatre, 30 Godstone Road, Caterham, Surrey, CR3 6RA.  For tickets and more information, go to http://www.millercentretheatre.org 


Boeing Boeing – from page to stage

“Farce is a tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute.” – John Mortimer

How very true.  After months of preparation, line learning, swearing, optimistic visual cues, line running and more swearing, we have finally opened ‘Boeing Boeing’ to our paying audiences at The Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham.  Whilst farce is often looked upon as one of the basest forms of humour, it is also one of the most demanding of its actors.  Pace, comic timing, cue-bite, fiendishly similar lines, lightning-fast costume changes and being rock solid on your thread of the story whilst maintaining the illusion that this is a situation hurtling dangerously out of control – all of these are essential.

Many friends outside of my theatre bubble ask ‘how do you learn all those lines?’ often referring to long speeches or pages and pages of dialogue.  In those cases, with relative ease; when you only have yourself and perhaps one other person to rely on, and a clear direction to the conversation, you record the lines, listen to them over and over in much the same way as you’d learn the words to a song.  But farce typically has lots of short, clipped lines, interjections, interruptions, repetition and similarity peppered throughout, especially so when the confusion mounts.  The best way to learn this is sheer brute force with the ‘shopping list’ method:

I went to the shops and I bought an orange.  I went to the shops and I bought an orange and two apples.  I went to the shops and I bought an orange and two apples and 3 pork chops.  etc etc etc.

It’s boring and time consuming, but it works!

We’ve also experienced that horribly, disconcerting point in the last few rehearsals – NO ONE IS LAUGHING ANY MORE.  In the first few weeks, you spend half of your time recovering from fits of the giggles, be it from lines, a carefully timed entrance, a pause, a facial expression – eventually you gain control of yourselves, you get books down and a few more people appear in the rehearsal studio, doubling as a mini-audience: stage manager, props, prompt, wardrobe, production committee, artistic director etc. their laughter buoys you and spurs you on.  But then everyone has to knuckle down and focus on their own tasks.  You are pouring every last inch of yourself into performing, only to have no audible feedback.

The greatest risk is going too far over the top or feeling so demoralised that you don’t give it everything.  I’ve experienced both with this rehearsal process – a few careful tweaks help to sharpen up the little bits that need ‘light and shade’.  It does of course help to have a small rent-a-crowd in for your final dress-rehearsal, partly to reassure you that it is still funny, but also to give you an indication of where an audience might laugh.  It’s a very tricky thing to balance; on one hand you don’t want to deliver a punchline followed by the sort of pause that aches with: “You can laugh now.”, but nor do you want to cut the laughter short!  (I challenge you to find me an actor who doesn’t revel in laughter and applause of their own making – we’re all suckers for it!)

Boeing Boeing had a very successful run in the West end about 6 years ago (which is where I first saw it and first knew that I wanted to play Gretchen one day).  I didn’t see the stint featuring Mark Rylance playing Robert, but our director’s son, being a great fan of Mr Rylance, sent him an email asking if he had any tips.  To our surprise, we actually got a reply:

“Don’t play for laughs; play to terrify the audience about what might happen next.”

This is possibly one of the best pieces of advice for farce that I’ve ever received.  With that in mind, we have stripped back some of the overdoing and instead worked more towards keeping the audiences stress levels up with every almost-catastrophic near-miss that we can manage!  This has been an immensely tough production to learn, rehearse and stage, but also one of great fun and reward.  We’d love to see you in the audience one night.  🙂

Boeing Boeing is at The Miller Centre Theatre, 30 Godstone Road, Caterham, Surrey CR3 6RA until Saturday 21st September.  Tickets can be booked from http://www.millercentretheatre.org