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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 

A Fine Bright Day Today – rehearsals are go!



(Don’t panic, I’m actually really enjoying this. But directing is bloody hard work).  We’re now a month into rehearsals for A Fine Bright Day Today and it’s already taking shape.  It’s also T minus 4 weeks to opening night  – which does rather focus the mind.  Erk.

So far, all is well – I have a wonderful cast of 3 people who are all growing nicely into their characters, taking direction and learning their lines. They’re still making me smile, laugh and get a bit choked up (as they should be), even though I’ve now read it/watched it about 50 times.  No one has panicked about any of my requests.  However I’m a bit rubbish at the whole taking charge thing (I’m terrified of coming across as tyrannical or patronising), so it feels a bit odd giving instructions.  My main difficulty has been curbing my tendency to chat and that I have a habit of letting tea breaks go on a bit longer than they probably should.  But cast bonding is important and it’s often during these relaxed moments that I remember random things.

Also, my note taking needs improvement – I need to learn to write neatly, quickly and with clarity.  We’re now at a point where I’d like to give my cast fair chance to run a whole scene without being stopped every 3 seconds – but my notes are either an illegible scrawl, or a haphazard collection of words which make bugger all sense an hour later.  Things like: “Further downstage”, but with no context.  I think it’ll take some of the finest minds in Bletchley Park to decipher what that hell I meant by: “Look move chair on treacle. Shifty.” 

I’ve also given myself a job and a half in aiming for lit, choreographed scene changes – some are almost scenes in themselves (I fully blame the recent production of Let The Right One In for this). No blackouts, no people silently creeping about in the gloom – props will be brought on and taken off as part of the action, making the whole thing completely seamless. In theory.  A bit ambitious for a relatively novice director, but with so many short scenes, I can’t bear the idea of plunging the audience into darkness every couple of minutes. I’m just hoping it’s going to work.

There’s also the mountain of backstage things to deal with. Props, costumes, lights, sound, music…… The music has been easy to choose, but very tricky to assign to scene changes. Some are immediately obvious – on others, I’ve got 2 or 3 possibles.  I really need to sit down, pick through them methodically and make decisions (and most importantly, stick to them – I am often prone to changes of mind – I’ve had to really rein that in).  Then there’s the logistical nightmare of getting props on and off stage – what needs to be pre-set on which side of the stage, where and when it comes on, where and when it goes off – all requiring a finicky level of precision.  But hey, at least it’s not a Punchdrunk production with marauding audience who might start picking stuff up and moving it about……

‘A Fine Bright Day Today’ by Philip Goulding will be on from 5th-14th February 2015 at The Miller Centre Theatre, 30 Godstone Road, Caterham, Surrey, CR3 6RA.  Tickets are £8 and £10, available from http://www.millercentretheatre.org or our Box Office 01883 349 850.  Please come!

A Fine Bright Day Today – the directing begins….

About a year ago, I was shelf-browsing in Samuel French on the hunt for plays for my theatre.  I’m part of the production committee at The Miller Centre Theatre in Caterham, Surrey and each year, we read about 40 plays in order to put together a (hopefully balanced?) season of 9 productions – comedy, drama, thriller, modern, period, and everything in between.  It’s incredibly shallow of me, but I like an interesting title or a front cover that grabs the eye.  One of the plays I picked up was A Fine Bright Day Today by Philip Goulding.  I flipped onto the back to read the blurb:

“Since the death of her trawlerman husband -“

“Oh God, that sounds miserable” was the first thought in my head.  But I carried on reading.  In spite of the sombre tone, there appeared to be something hopeful in the reviews:  “Philip Goulding’s play is an enticing piece of understated but effective writing. Leaves you with an optimistic sense that everyone deserves a second chance at happiness.” Guardian.  So I bought a copy in the hope that it might be worthwhile.fine bright

I fell in love with it on first read.  I knew at once how I’d stage it, how I thought the set should look and what music I’d like to use.

It is a warm and gently funny play about love, loss and second chances. Milton, an American artist, is visiting a quiet English seaside town to paint the local coastline. He rents a room in a small cottage belonging to Margaret, a woman for whom life has stood still since the death of her trawlerman husband 30 years previously. Over several weeks of shared stories, meals and bottles of wine, an unexpected mutual bond slowly draws them closer together.  The characters are well drawn and there is something wonderful in the ordinary-ness of two people finding each other when they least expect it.  It’s not going to win Romance of the Year, but it is full of heart and far more believable than any depiction of love that the Disney machine might conjure up.  That is precisely why I love it.

Fast forward several months and with the thumbs up from the rest of the production committee for this to go on the season along with 8 other brilliant plays, the next task was finding directors.  I jumped at the chance to take this one.  (Almost – I did rather like the part of the daughter).  

But on the condition that I had a mentor.  

While I have very firm ideas on some aspects, there is more to directing than telling people where to stand, when to move, how to say a line.  There is people management, diplomacy, finding out what is and isn’t feasible, knowing when to push for something and when to let an idea go, solving problems, being able to step back and see things from an audience perspective, the logistics of getting props on and off stage, costume changes, working out what the hell to do when one of your cast suddenly goes down with tonsilitis or that snow has snarled up all the roads and no one can go anywhere (we start rehearsals in early December and performances are in February – snow is a possibility).  Quite honestly, just doing justice to the play itself.

I first directed panto at university (when I should’ve been writing my dissertation) – it was a lot of fun, but also incredibly stressful – not least for losing Alice Fitzwarren at the dress rehearsal because she’d neglected to tell me she couldn’t do the second performance because her Dad was picking her up that morning for her to go home for the Christmas holidays.  The second time was in 2009 and I had been given a murder mystery/thriller.  It was a steep learning curve directing people twice my age (who weren’t perpetually drunk).  We discovered late into rehearsals that one of the cast had to work on one of the performance nights, so I had a mad scramble to find someone who could rehearse immediately and cover that one night.  In addition to this, I was at the mercy of side effects from some very strong medication (I’d been diagnosed with ITP a few months before) and made redundant the week before we opened.  All things which would have tested some of the most experienced directors I know, and I was very grateful for all the support I received to ensure that the show went on.

So with my impending 3rd directorial experience looming, I have outright asked for help.  Not to mollycoddle me through every little thing, but just to be on hand when I need advice, a second pair of eyes, an honest opinion – the reassurance that I’m on the right track.  So I am filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement as the days tick down to the various milestones along the way.  But this time around I’m older and wiser.  I’ve seen a lot more theatre.  I’ve drawn inspiration from unlikely places.  I’m armed with a script that I absolutely adore and a story that I want to tell.

I should probably get my audition notice finished…..choosing excerpts is hard. I can just ask them to do the whole play, right?

‘A Fine Bright Day Today’ will be on at The Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham from 5th-14th February 2015.  Tickets on sale from 10th November at http://www.millercentretheatre.org