The Grinning Man Rehearsal Diary – Week 3

As The Grinning Man rehearsals pass their halfway point and the puppets come out to play, here are all the latest updates from the rehearsal room from Associate Direct Ben Woolf prior to the creative team’s relocation to Bristol.

It’s halfway week in our rehearsal of The Grinning Man. We have a cake to celebrate.  Although we generously disguise this as being for Tarek (our onstage MD)’s birthday.  He’ll never know.

We’ve been working on Act Two. Compared to Act One, it feels eerily…. easy. Perhaps it’s because the script does a lot of its narrative work in the first act.  Or perhaps it’s because, by this point, the two parts of the world – the court and the fair – have converged. Or perhaps just because it doesn’t open with an all-singing, all-dancing, all-puppetted, full-company extravaganza.

We make good progress. And, early in the week, get into one of the show’s big set-pieces: the retelling of the mutilation of Grinpayne by Barkilphedro – the show’s demonic clown-narrator. The show is structured to give three, conflicting retellings of the Grinning Man’s backstory.

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This sequence begins with Barkilphedro’s cack-handed attempts to shadow puppet his peculiar version of the truth. It’s exceptionally funny and Julian Bleach brings rehearsals temporarily to a standstill of laughter. It’s a good sign.

Tom Morris has been working to tie together the dialogue and song. For example, this act has a scene in which Grinpayne is seduced by Josiana, the hedonistic Princess. On the page, the scene opens with a song before moving into a separate dialogue scene. In the rehearsal, we discover it’s possible to move much of the scene into the song – overlapping the dialogue and the music. It tightens up the scene and makes for an explosive payoff.

By the end of the week, we run the second act. We’re all pleased with how it goes. We’ve now sketched through the whole show. It’s an excellent platform from which to find more detail and fine-tune the scenes.

This is the end of the London leg of our rehearsals. Next week Bristol…

The Grinning Man is the gripping musical conclusion to our 250th Anniversary Season 13 Oct-13 Nov. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

The Grinning Man Rehearsal Diary – Week 2

The Grinning Man rehearsals are heating up in our London rehearsal room and our end result is already in clear sight! Here, Associate Director Ben Woolf exclusively reveals all the latest updates in this week 2 rehearsal diary.

Our second week’s rehearsal continues our headlong dash through THE GRINNING MAN.  We’re aiming to get to act runs as quickly as possible.

It’s particularly important for us to run longer sequences because, with so many different creative elements, we need to understand what’s working and what can be temporarily put aside.  And where the real work remains.  For the cast, it’s hugely helpful for them to understand the arc and journey of their characters.

So, by Wednesday, we take on a staggered run of Act One – the entire first half of the show.  It’s really exciting to see the shape of the show begin to emerge.  There are still a couple of hiccups.  Moments when, for instance, the music and script don’t dovetail as neatly as we might like.  And others when the rhythm of the narrative presents opportunities to explore later in rehearsals.  Overall, though, we’re all pretty exuberant.

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Puppetry design concept by Gyre and Gimble and Writer Carl Grose in the rehearsal room.

Tom Morris fosters an exceptionally open and collaborative environment.  After the run, we sit as a company to discuss how the run felt from all perspectives.  Carl Grose (writer) and Tim Philips and Marc Teitler (composers) have lots of ideas as to how we might proceed.

The rest of the week is spent forging on with the Second Act.  As before, it’s a mix of different creative and technical elements.  This week sees the introduction of our fight director, John Sandeman.  The show climaxes with a duel which is described in the script as ‘incredible’ and ‘epic’.  No pressure.

Movement director and choreographer Jane Gibson continues her work on movement and dance with the company, developing the structure for a bigger dance number – THE SMILING SONG MEDLEY.

It’s been another great week!  One more week in London, then we’re off to rehearse in Bristol.

The Grinning Man is the gripping musical conclusion to our 250th Anniversary Season 13 Oct-13 Nov. For more info and to book tickets, click here.

The Rivals Rehearsal Diary – Week 5

So here we are! With little more than 24hrs before we raise the curtain on The Rivals, we present the final rehearsal diary featuring all the very latest happenings from Assistant Director Ed Madden. The perfect pre-show read before you take your seat.

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A bumper blog this week. Rehearsals have been busier than ever over the past week and a half — with the first night approaching we’ve been working late into the evening to bring the many aspects of the production together.

In the fifth and final week of rehearsals in the room, the objective was simple: to be able to run the show, all the way through, with everyone still standing by the end. First runs are fascinating. For the first time, the cumulative effect of weeks of work becomes tangible, but putting the show together in this way also illuminates blind spots that we would never notice otherwise. For the cast, having the chance to play the full arcs of their characters offers new revelations; that scene in act five suddenly feels different purely by virtue of being seen within an hour of that scene in act three.

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In our run, I am able to properly admire the detail of the production for the first time. Although we’re still taking a rough and ready approach, Dominic has filled the show with little moments; flourishes of social precision that help the play feel full and rich. I think it’s these moments which help us keep Sheridan’s comedy the right side of pantomimic — funny, wild and silly, but with a foot planted in reality. It’s this which allows us to effectively manage the switches in tone; this is a play which wants and needs its audiences to laugh, but also to feel.

After our final day in the rehearsal room, it’s time for tech. We walk into the theatre, and it’s a world apart from the last time we were there; the stage is a vision of faded Georgian glamour, and absolutely pitch perfect for the world of The Rivals. Our designer Tom has done a stunning job of evoking the period whilst also being strikingly bold and theatrical — this isn’t like any other production of the play you’ll find photos of online.

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As each element has arrived, the show has come closer and closer to being the thing we’ve had in our heads for months now. The costumes are beautiful, and have added layers to the cast’s performances just by being there. The wigs (oh, the wigs) are works of art. Our lighting designer Howard seems to know exactly how to make the set look most gorgeous at any given moment.

As I write this, we are mere hours away from our dress rehearsal, and just over a day away from our first preview. We’ve come a long way from our read-through in Camden. In fact, sat in the stalls typing this, it feels like we’ve arrived in another world entirely.

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

The Rivals | The best of Bristol with Lucy Briggs-Owen

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In the final hours before The Rivals cast take to our stage, we pinned down our local star Lucy Briggs-Owen for a quick Q&A about all things Bristol!

As a local to the area, tell us what your favourite part about being Bristolian is?
I just love the city. I love being able to come back here and enjoy all of the pubs and the bars, the green spaces and all of the architecture. There’s always so much going on; loads of music, there always seems to be lots of delicious food and food markets. And we lay claim to some of old Isambard’s top moments, which is pretty cool. All those things, I’d say!

Which local bars and restaurants are you known to frequent?
I go to Café Kino quite a bit, down in Stokes Croft; delicious vegetarian stuff. In Clifton Village, I love The Primrose Café, I seem to have gone there loads, and also the little Rainbow Café for their delicious fresh scones and tea.

I like The Grain Barge on Anchor Road for a beer. I love Spoke & Stringer. It’s really yummy and a bit of a treat down by the harbourside.

I adore going to Brunel’s Buttery and ordering the biggest bacon and egg sandwich with great big doorstop white bread; absolutely delicious, and a cup of tea.

Care to reveal your favourite Bristol hideaway?
You know the walkway through the cemetery near Victoria Square up in Clifton? I love that spot. I love getting a takeaway coffee and sitting there. Or maybe just go walk up to the lookout on The Downs and look down over the Suspension Bridge and slide down the slidey shiny rock – feel like I’m a kid again. I seem to have managed to do that every year since being a child. It doesn’t get any less fun.

What’s your favourite thing to do on a Sunday morning?
I love going to the Tobacco Factory market and getting some really delicious muffin or a pie… and probably a coffee and then a pint! Followed by a walk around Ashton Court to try and walk it off before I go and find a roast somewhere. That would be a top Sunday morning for me.

Where would your ideal Bristolian date take you?
Maybe we’d start at The Grace and have some nice pints there and maybe wander down Gloucester Road, up via St Andrew’s Park because it’s just beautiful up there and I’ve got fond memories of hanging out there as a teenager. Then down to The Arches and get a cocktail at the Bootlegger. They do delicious cocktails

Then keep walking down into town, down to the water probably and wander down by Arnolfini and maybe have a pint there. Cross the bridge and get dinner in The Olive Shed; that’s extremely foody.

And then maybe walk further along into Hotwells and enjoy a pint over some music in The Nova Scotia. Pretty food oriented!

The Rivals demonstrates that Bath 1775 was clearly the place to be. Do you think Bristol would have the edge nowadays?
YES! I think Bristol would absolutely have the edge. There’s so much great theatre here with Bristol Old Vic and Tobacco Factory Theatres and loads of great music. Loads of great food, great shopping, great views, beautiful architecture. I’d say Bristol WELL has the edge. It’s a real mix and it’s all the better for it.

The Rivals continues our 250th Anniversary Season 9 Sep-1 Oct. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

The Grinning Man Rehearsal Diary – Week 1

Rehearsals have kicked off in London for The Grinning Man and, over the next 5 weeks, we’ll be following the whole process with Associate Director Ben Woolf. Find out all the initial happenings from the very first week right here!

THE GRINNING MAN is a new musical based on the novel THE MAN WHO GRINS by Victor Hugo.

As with many new musicals, THE GRINNING MAN is the product of many years of work by an expanding circle of creative talents.  Having spent so long in development – first with individuals, then in workshops – we have now six weeks to get it into shape and onto stage.

The show blends acting, singing, dancing, puppetry, storytelling, actor-musicianship and stage fighting,  So nothing too ambitious…

It’s an exciting – but real – challenge to get each of these elements to work in themselves.  To make them all come together in such a short amount of time will take a vast amount of energy and focus from the whole company.


But our first week of rehearsals has been extraordinary.  Tom Morris has led the company through the first third of the show, which happens to be the most technically complex section.  It is the sequence in which the central character, Grinpayne, recounts his life story.  And uncovers the secret of how he came to be disfigured with a permanent, diabolical grin.

We began our week with a read-through.  This was the first chance for us to hear Carl Grose’s full script and to sing through Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler’s score.  It was interesting to get a feel for how the script might work.  And to get a glimpse of the actors beginning to explore their characters.

It is traditional, on the first day, to accompany the read-through with a showing of the model-box – the scale model built by the designer to explain to the company how the show’s design will work.  Regrettably, the M4 had other ideas.  So, instead, our designer Jon Bausor talked us through how the show’s design would work.  It’s a Russian doll design – with each layer revealing itself in surprising ways.


Some of our company have worked with puppets before.  Many, though, were coming to them for the first time.  So a priority for our early work was for the puppet designers and directors Finn Caldwell and Toby Olié to begin some introductory work.  The puppets will be designed later in the process.

Over the next few days we began to explore the scenes and songs.   The aim was to sketch through the show in broader brushstrokes, giving ourselves enough time and flexibility to tweak things later down the line.

It’s been an exhilarating start to the rehearsal process.  We’re all fired-up and looking forward to next week…

The Grinning Man has been set as the gripping musical conclusion to our 250th Anniversary Season 13 Oct-13 Nov. For more info and to book tickets, click here.