20 Nov 2017

After reading through the play again, we tucked into some table-work. We began to break the script down into units, small sections of dialogue or stage-direction which change units when something shifts in the scene –  a new person enters/exits, or a new action or intention begins. There were 200 units in Act 1!! So, after that rigorous process, we paused on the unit-breakdowns and moved on to getting the first half of the story up on its feet.

Because the play is very specific and complex in its staging, the more time the actors have to get blocking in their body-memories, the better. To help us all wrap our heads around this initially, designer Anna Gardiner and director Mark Kilmurry have created a map to mark out the floor patterns. Production Manager Slade has marked up the space, painting in areas for different rooms and staircases. Anna and stage manager Dani have located furniture items and put them in place for actors to work with. Some are the ones that will be used in production, and others are rehearsal stand-ins. There are numerous props and plenty of stage business for the actors to become familiar with, so it’s a great thing that we are getting stuck into it this early on in the process.

Throughout the week, we worked through the first act, negotiating Ayckbourne’s very specific stage directions. I notice Mark is an energetic director, regularly jumping up and moving around the stage space himself to work out moments. I know I do the same when I direct (and feel a little pleased with myself that I have that in common with someone I admire!), and I wonder if it is a trait of an actor-director? Being used to working things out while moving about the stage… it must be a familiar ground for processing and discovery.

I’ve observed this week how important and immaculately placed Ayckbourne’s stage directions are. When the timing is adhered to, the comedy is enhanced.

In the lounge room downstairs, the character Roland relates the history of the house, which was once a brothel…

Roland: Catering for well-to-do Victorian gentry and all that.

Simultaneously, upstairs in the attic, his wife is making up a bed for a guest:

(Elizabeth sniffs the sheets that are already on decides they really are not too bad)

I’ve been given the task of keeping tabs on the amount of drinks consumed during the play. I’m keeping a tally and it is quite clear that Roland (played by Peter Kowitz, who already has me in tears of laughter) is the front-runner!

We are all laughing a lot during rehearsal. The actors are cracking each other up and Mark and I are giggling our heads off, and it is only week one. The staging is like a dance of timing, focus, delivery of text and movement. It’s early days yet, but when it works it is magnificent and hilarious.

– Francesca Savige

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