As rehearsals start heating up on our 250th Anniversary production of The Rivals, Assistant Director Ed Madden reveals all the latest developments following the second week in the rehearsal room.
At the end of week two, we’ve now taken a first stab at almost every scene in The Rivals, and in the process we’re realising just how brilliantly structured Sheridan’s script is. Although I must have read the play half a dozen times before getting into the rehearsal room, it’s seeing the words on the page take physical form which allows one to appreciate the dramatic architecture of the thing.
Sheridan was writing at the same time as Mozart was composing, and it comes as no surprise. The way in which Sheridan builds patterns through The Rivals is almost musical; his skill in developing subplots that echo and complement the main action, the balance between high comedy and sincere feeling, the sense of finely-judged symmetry that runs through the action. In much the same way as musicians must not only play the notes of a score but judge the timbre of the music, so our cast must constantly think about the tone of their performances.
We’ve talked a lot about the many different levels and layers on which Sheridan’s characters operate. This is a play of feigned and mistaken identities, in which characters often share their feelings and secrets not with one another but with the audience; personalities are riotously eccentric and knowingly over-the-top, but there needs to be enough truth in them for audiences to care about what happens. The upshot of all this is that the actors have a lot to juggle and that Dominic has to work hard to make sure that everybody is on the same page.
And of course there is much more going on than just the language. This week alone we’ve wrestled with the mechanics of wheeling a moving door around the stage, the practicalities of breaking crockery every night, and the burning question of exactly how frequently a harpsichord needs to be tuned — there’s certainly more than enough to keep our brilliant stage management team busy. In one particularly impressive moment, our deputy stage manager Bryony produced a pair of hand fans within five minutes of being asked for them. She insists they were found in the prop store at our rehearsal room, but I suspect she might actually just be magic.
Next week we will finish our initial pass at the play, and be able to go back and start the process of tweaking, refining, working out transitions between scenes and adding music. Each step of this process has thrown up as many questions as it has answers, but right now that feels like the most fruitful and creative way to be working. We’re finding that the play sings best when its complexity is worn lightly, and its wit played nimbly. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk, but satisfying too — and very, very funny.
The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.