The Rivals Rehearsal Diary – Week 1

In the lead-up to our riotous adaptation of The Rivals, we’ll be following the rehearsal process with Assistant Director Ed Madden. Here, Ed feeds back on some of the initial happenings following the first week inside the rehearsal room.


“Let’s try it — and then we’ll try something else.”

We’ve got five weeks to put this production of The Rivals together, and so we’ve had the freedom to be able to start approaching the play with a true spirit of exploration. Rather than immediately pinning down choices, this has been a week filled with questions: about the play and its characters, about Sheridan and the time in which he was writing, and about the shape and feel of our approach as a company under the direction of Dominic Hill.

As the show is a co-production between Bristol Old Vic, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and the Glasgow Citizens, our meet and greet at the start of the week was a busy affair. Members of the artistic and marketing teams from all three theatres squeezed into our Camden rehearsal room alongside the cast and creative team of the show; our Designer Tom Rogers talked us through his beautiful model box of the set, and the cast read the play aloud for everybody for the first time. It’s a day of handshakes, name-learning and biscuits (mostly biscuits, really) but it gives us a palpable sense of the scale of the endeavour we’re embarking on, and the myriad people involved.

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For the rest of the week, we’re able to begin making in-roads to the play proper. Dominic and I have both been busy researching various elements of the period, and it’s good to be able to talk to the cast about the sights, sounds and questionable smells of eighteenth century Bath. This was a time of conspicuous consumption and terrible hygiene, and we want the production to reflect something of the swaggering, rough, exuberant, sexy feel of the world in which the play is set; to shake off the genteel stereotypes of television adaptations of Austen in favour of a bolder take. One thing we know for sure: there will be lots of food, and it will be eaten.

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Dominic’s is a rehearsal room of real collaboration and play, and the quotation at the top of this blog is indicative of his approach. It feels as though the cast are really responding to the idea that there are no wrong answers, and developing ideas about their characters that we might never have reached in a more regimented process. Many of the cast are seasoned pros, whilst for a couple of the younger members this is their first professional job; Dominic has been running theatres for over ten years, but this is the biggest show I’ve worked on as an assistant. The fact that we all have a voice and a stake in this process will, I think, allow it to develop in ways that no single one of us could expect.

Next week we’ll be continuing to move through the play, sketching out what scenes may eventually look and feel like; it’s a big script with lots of elements to stitch together. If the first week is anything to go by, it will be a production which revels in the wit and zest of Sheridan’s language and period, but which lives and breathes in a way that speaks to audiences in 2016.


The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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