Following the final week of rehearsals in London, Assistant Director Ed Madden reveals all the latest developments as The Rivals company make their way to Bristol.
And so it begins to come together. By midday last Tuesday we had, to all intents and purposes, finished our first draft of The Rivals. Not something finished, polished, or ready for an audience, but something with a shape and a texture and a sense of direction. There is a mixture of relief and trepidation in the room: we’ve got to the end of the thing once, but now we have to go back and face the kinds of decisions which a fortnight ago we were able to hold off on making.
A big part of the week has been working out how to stitch the play’s fourteen scenes together. On the face of it, these questions of transition might seem dry and technical, but in actual fact, much of the spirit of a production can be gleaned from how it all hangs together. The same is true of how a show begins: if it’s true that it only takes thirty seconds for us to form first impressions of one another, why shouldn’t the same be true in the theatre?
We’ve talked a lot in rehearsals about the extent to which The Rivals is intimately concerned with ideas of playing and performance, and so are experimenting with using the top of the show and the shifts between scenes to blur the lines between the world of the theatre and the world of the play. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think that this strand of our work has led to some of the most interesting discoveries we’ve made. It’s also influenced our approach to the scenes themselves, in that we’re gently pushing at some of the conventions around staging Sheridan. It’s not an extreme approach, but it is a playful one, and indicative of Dominic’s commitment both to keeping the play in period, and to telling the story in a way that is witty and accessible for a contemporary audience.
Revisiting scenes that we first looked at a fortnight ago is also fascinating in terms of seeing how the actors have begun to inhabit their characters more fully. Without exception, the performances are richer and more elegantly drawn than they were when we started, which, whilst not surprising (that is why we rehearse, after all), is nonetheless a pleasure to witness. As scripts start to be put down, so our sense of the physicality of these characters increases: Lee Mengo making the spirited Bob Acres a puffed-up firecracker, Lucy Briggs-Owen all flutter and flurry as giddy Lydia Languish. For the next three months, Sheridan’s characters are going to be a part of these actors’ daily lives, and in the room we get the chance to learn everything about them.
The fourth week of rehearsals will see us leave London behind and start work in the rehearsal rooms at Bristol Old Vic, which everybody agrees will make everything feel that much more real. That can’t be a bad thing — when we think about how fast the first three weeks have gone, it feels like it’ll be opening night before we know it!
The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-2 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.