Written by Sarah Bradley
Theatre practitioners often joke that week three of a rehearsal process is called ‘the crisis week’ because we suddenly become very aware of just how much there is left to do and how little time there is to do it in. I am happy to report that this was not the case in our week three. We have had a fantastic time blocking the last few scenes of the play and experimenting with chorus work and sound.
One of the huge challenges in staging King Lear is creating the infamous ‘storm on the heath’ scenes. After King Lear is rejected by his daughters, Goneril and Regan, he is forced to brave the elements and walk for miles with his fool over a barren heath. The script suggests ‘tis a wild night’ with torrential rain, thunder and lighting. Over the years many productions have faced this challenge in various ways; from detailed sound designs, to rain machines on stage. As a director, it is probably one of the most exciting challenges as it creates an opportunity to be theatrically creative.
In rehearsals this week, we began to look at how our company would tackle this challenge. Dave Price, our Sound Designer, began to explore how we could use music to represent the storm. A sound designer is the artist responsible for choosing, creating, acquiring and manipulating all the sound, music and audio elements within a production. This week he asked the actors to sing some folk music which related to weather. He played with the musics tempo in an effort to create a storm-like atmosphere. He also explored the use of four-part harmonies and cannons within the music to create drama and tension.
Whilst experimenting with musical sound, we also got an opportunity to test out the Theatre’s wind and rain machines – which are so old we can’t exactly pinpoint the date in which they were made.
Consisting of very heavy wood and material, they both create a terrific sound of wind and rain. Acting almost like musical instruments they are easily manipulated to create different intensities of weather.
Finally, there was huge excitement this week as Tom and our Design Team also got an opportunity to test out Bristol Old Vic’s famous thunder run. The thunder run is a piece of 18th century sound technology which creates the sound effect of thunder. Heavy balls are rolled along wooden channels that are hidden above the auditorium’s ceiling. As the balls roll, they shake and reverberate around the theatre – making the loud thunder like sound. It is a real honour to use such historical technology within our production and it is exhilarating to embrace the theatre’s history and marry its past with our present.
Between the music, the wind and rain machines and the thunder run, I really believe we will make the heavens pour on the Bristol Old Vic Stage.
Sarah is one of the Assistant Directors of King Lear from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, working alongside Bristol Old Vic’s Tom Morris.
Rehearsal photography by Simon Annand