Training For Northanger Abbey
Re-rehearsal always seems to me to be a slightly counter-intuitive term. How exactly do you re-rehearse something? Having said that, I often find the idea of ‘rehearsing’ slightly problematic. I find it more helpful to think in terms of practice or training. At Cyphers, we often think of preparing for a play more like preparing a sports team for a game or tournament. The players need to be comfortable and confident in their particular roles, they need to be ready to listen to and react to their teammates, they need to learn certain ‘set-piece’ moves but also be able to respond as effectively as possible to the situations as they unfold on that particular night. In this way, no two shows are ever the same. The cast have the flexibility and confidence to react in the moment and keep their performances fresh and alive.
So, in returning to Northanger Abbey this month, we’re not looking to just remember what we did back in October and November. Instead, this is an opportunity to sharpen, hone and tighten the show, as well as to find something new.
An inevitable part of directing for a small touring theatre company is the need to re-cast as actors get snapped up by bigger theatres and longer contracts. This time round Toby Vaughan has been snapped up by the Theatre By The Lake for their summer season. Toby’s a great actor who I’ve worked with a lot over the last year, so I’m delighted for him whilst also being sorry to lose him! But there’s no better way of keeping the cast on their toes and forcing yourself to stay creative during re-rehearsal than by introducing a new actor!
Re-casting (like re-rehearsing) is a great opportunity to find new sides to characters and scenes. So, I’m delighted to bring Helen Percival into the cast to take on Toby’s roles of Mrs Allen, John Thorpe and Captain Tilney. I’m excited to see what she brings to the roles and to see how reversing the gender flipping impacts our response to the different characters. It’s great to bring a very different type of actor into the cast – in fact, I often feel the most dangerous thing you can do when re-casting is to cast a very similar actor in the role! Working with a very different actor opens you up to fresh ideas and influences, where a similar actor can lure you into making the same choices.
We’ve only got a total of 5 days to re-rehearse so we have to be very efficient with our time. In order to do this, we started the process with a single day together, with the twin aims of making Helen as comfortable as possible with the physical shape of the show and reminding the original cast of how much they’ve forgotten! In reality, most of the show had been remembered really well and it was a joy to see the original cast guide Helen through the scene changes and character shifts. Within that, we could also see new ideas already coming through and scenes going in directions we hadn’t seen before.
The cast have got a few weeks now before we’re back in the rehearsal room to make sure they know their lines inside-out so we can make the most of the four days we have together. I’m very interested in pushing the physicality of the show further, giving the actors more freedom to fully express themselves. There’s also a lot of what I tend to call ‘focusing’ I’d like to do – clearly showing shifts in location, space or character dynamic. With our fast-paced, multi-roling style it is easy to feel the need to rush onto the next scene, when actually the style can almost allow us to slow down, giving time for space and character to be established before a scene begins – the style is fast so the actors don’t have to be!
I’m sure any returning audiences we have for Northanger this summer will notice differences. The overall feel and style will definitely remain the same but, re-casting aside, there’ll be changes to the dances and a whole host of subtle little changes to look out for. I’m really excited to see what new ideas come out of our re-rehearsals and can’t wait to share this new version of show with our audiences.
Freelance directing credits include: The Life and Crimes of Reverend Raccoon (Sheepish Productions, Cast Theatre); Lost In Translation: A Bilingual Journey (Theatre Sans Accents, touring); Cailleach Og (Blackshaw, Pleasance); Communicate (Sheepish Productions, Edinburgh Festival Fringe); Le Journal d’un Fou (Reine Blanche Paris).
Marcus also regularly runs workshops and has run sessions for a variety of different companies, including: Barbican; Royal Shakespeare Company; Guildford Shakespeare Company; British Library.