Piecing things together

This evening was very exciting. It was the first time we all got together to start putting bits together.

It’s been very interesting seeing how all the sections we’ve worked on fit. And it’s been great for some us to see what the others have been up to all this time!

It’s beginning to feel very real now; seeing everyone come into the same rehearsal is reminding us all that it’s only a month until we open!

Exciting though. I know we’re all feeling really pumped about getting this marvellous play up on stage. There’s some really fabulous characters coming through and we’ve had tons of laughs tonight!

Tickets have been selling really rather well, so make sure you book yours now at Vivacity.org


Character focussed

We were very lucky this evening to have some time to spend focussing on some of the smaller characters in the play. Thanks to director Di for scheduling these rehearsals! We also played with some hats this evening and these were the only photos I took, so sorry. Hats.

Doug and I were able to really explore Rufus and Pauline, and Jan had the chance to dig down into some of Mam’s sections.

I have a lot of love for ‘patronising Pauline’. She’s a marvel. And the dynamic I’m building with Doug at the moment is really fun. The two characters really rely on each other but they also contrast wonderfully to create (I think) lots of comedy gold.

Jan’s character Mam is a real treat with so many layers. I could spend hours asking Jan questions about her! We really uncovered some lovely stuff tonight, especially about the character’s vulnerability (not illustrated by the below photo).

So it’s getting good. Really good. And I really think you should book some tickets now because, you know what, it is starting to sell really well!

Nieces, aunts and ambulances

I’m assistant directing this show, which a fairly new experience for me. I’m really enjoying the combination of not having too much responsibility but having the chance to really dig down into the text and ask lots of probing questions.

This evening we rehearsed another social worker scene with a lovely cameo from the ambulance man and the section where we meet one of the Lady’s relatives. In our case she is a niece, so we spent quite a lot of time imagining Miss Shepherd’s family tree. After we’d worked out exactly where we were we had the real luxury of time to spend on Laura’s short scene.

I’ve become obsessed with punctuation; I’m convinced that if Alan wrote it, it’s there for a reason. So I spend a lot of time asking questions about why he may have chosen to use full stops and not commas. I’m sure the cast all think I’m mad, but I’m enjoying it.

There’s a really exciting buzz around this play – it feels great, and I can’t wait for more!

Also, it really is selling rather well – so you’d best book your tickets if you want to see us!

A smashing stagger

It’s only just February and things are already feeling rather fantastic! This evening we pulled together stagger through of the whole of act 1!

It was a really helpful rehearsal, giving us the chance to see where the cracks are. And I’m relieved to report that there weren’t that many!

Now we know the shape of the first half, we can really start to dig down and work on the nitty gritty. Di and I went to a directing workshop at the weekend, so we’ve spent a lot of time today talking about the heart and the soul of the play.

We’ve got to make some decisions now about what the underlying current is; what’s the driving force? It’s a really exciting time, and I’m so glad we have the real luxury of time in this rehearsal process to allow us to dig deep!

On Thursday we’re going to start looking at act 2!

Tickets are on sale now – buy yours before it’s too late! We’re on at the Key Theatre from 17-20 April.

Horns and punctuation

This evening we rehearsed Underwood’s scenes. This is the man who tries to blackmail Miss Shepherd and procure money from her.

He’s a nasty piece of work, pretty slimy and underhand, he’s also in the case of one scene, a storyteller.

We had a lot of fun with one particular part that includes a ‘pathetic horn’ sound. If I could spell the noise that Hannah was making it would make reading this far funnier. Underwood’s next line was lost many times to uncontrollable laughter.

We also spent quite a lot of time breaking down a speech of his that tells a huge part of the story. The speech is written in a sort of Beckett inspired style, with lots of short sharp sentences and even single words. We started by reading the speech as a group, swapping narrator every time we reached a (frequent) punctuation mark. Once we’d done that we added a sound effect like a click or a stamp to each type of punctuation mark to help us see the differences, and read it as a chorus. It was really interesting to note when Bennett decides to use commas as opposed to full stops, or dashes instead of commas. Giving each punctuation mark a different sound effect added another layer of character to the speech and really helped us to collectively understand the pace and purpose.

We’re really making progress now and next week we’re finally all together in a room! Onwards and upwards!

The Lady in the Van is on at the Key Theatre from 17th-20th April. Book your tickets now!

An Alan Lasagne

In this week’s blog we hear it first hand from our very own Miss Shepherd…
We began this week focussing particularly on the relationship between the two sides of Alan Bennett (who writes themselves into a play not once, but twice?!) which set some great foundations from which Carl and Phil could build. It was great to watch them experimenting with one particular piece of dialogue which involves the Alans determining which one was responsible for Miss Shepherd’s arrival in the garden. We concluded that at any one point in the play either one could have the upper hand, and that their characters are not so neatly delineated as we may have first thought. The layering of Alans gets deeper. It’s an Alan lasagne!

I was able to further explore Miss Shepherd’s physicality by getting my teeth into some meaty scenes with Alan 1. It’s fantastic to be able to play and let the characters evolve organically rather than aiming to ‘get it right’ on a first attempt. Throughout we are looking only for the truth- or ‘a’ truth at least- and that’s what will give rise to the comedy.

The second rehearsal of the week saw us honing Alan’s relationship with his mother (Mam), and discussing how this may differ from, or relate to, his relationship with Miss Shepherd. What obligation does he feel, if any? Is he irritated by her? Does this engender a sense of guilt? Is Mam jealous of, or intimidated by, or dismissive of, Miss Shepherd? All of the above?

You’ll have to come along in April to find out! Book your tickets now

Keeping up appearances

This evening Doug and I were able to start getting our teeth into our nosy neighbour roles. We’re not on much but we’re going to have so much fun when we are!

The lines Bennett has written for these condescending, curtain twitching characters are fantastic. Rufus and Pauline are self centred, gossips whose biggest concern is making sure they look better than everyone else. Pauline is definitely excited by the idea of trying to be bohemian – mixing with writers and the like – but when it comes down to it, the most important thing is house prices and not-so-exotic trips abroad in the Volvo.

There’s an air of caring for Alan, but more like a pet or a distant nephew. It’s all about keeping up with the Jones’s and making sure everyone knows it.

We still have a lot to do to nail this saccharine-on-the-surface pair; I can’t wait to get myself completely off book so I can really enjoy the challenge!

Don’t forget to book your tickets now. We’re on in the Key Theatre Studio from 17th – 20th April. Book tickets now!

The third Alan Bennett

We began rehearsals for The Lady in the Van tonight. I’m writing this now with Alan’s voice in my head; his dulcet tones narrating every word.

It’s a super exciting start to our 2019! A real challenge of a play but a proper corker! The cast is surprisingly large for a play that is essentially a three hander, but tonight only the Lady, Mam and the two Alans were called.

Yes, two Alans.

The play is a true story about a lady, Miss Shepherd, who parked her bright yellow van on Alan Bennett’s driveway, and lived there for 15 years. Bennett’s play contains two versions of himself, the writer and the real Alan.

Phil and Carl who are playing the Alans spent a lot of time tonight talking about the different aspects of him and we concluded quite quickly that there were in fact three Alans at play in the piece, fictional real Alan, fictional writer Alan and real writer Alan (it’s like French grammar isn’t it?). The play was written in retrospect so real writer Alan has imposed a lot on the younger version of his writer self. Ooh it’s complex.

Anyways, on top of all this, our Lady is in her mid twenties, everyone’s got an accent to wrap their tongues around and somehow we have to get an actual van on stage! Who says we don’t love a challenge?

Tickets are already on sale so book yours now to guarantee a seat! https://vivacity.org/whatson/theatre-and-arts/the-lady-in-the-van/

The final week

The final full week’s rehearsal! And in a queer twist of fate, we’ve unusually been rehearsing in the space for the whole run, and yet this week, the week before we’re really truly on stage, it was needed for set-up and opening for the fabulous Lamphouse Theatre’s Beauty and the Beast. And if you didn’t know about that, it’s not too late to catch it on tour or pre-Christmas show back at The Undercroft – find out details at www.lamphousetheatre.co.uk – but not yet!! Finish reading this first! 

So there we were in the cavernous but somewhat dusty (and as winter draws in, decidedly chilly) backstage and artists’ studio, imagining where the stage would be, just like a normal rehearsal! We ran through scenes and worked bits on Tuesday and tried a full-run on Thursday – we carefully ran the second half first, as we have had a decided tendency to run out of time on the final scene which has been terrifying some of us (me). But on Thursday it went reasonably smoothly, only using the prompt a minimum of times (and freely ad-libbing where required). We finished with a run time of 1h50 (plus interval). 

And Sunday was get-in! The struggling actors were kindly banned from assisting, and aside from bringing along contributions to the set and nosily sticking our heads round from time to time, we were sent to run anything we wanted to. For Phil and I, that was mainly our noses, as we’ve somewhat unsurprisingly contracted the same cold, despite my refusal to snog him on Thursday. However, we mustered a little energy to play with the second half, and it really is coming together! 

I think we have a show, Ladies and Gentlemen, and I think you’ll want to see it! 

Alone in the Dark…

This week we had another set-back… our director… was on her back! Poor Helen couldn’t make rehearsals on Tuesday or Thursday, so the cast and crew met up without her, and Hannah gave over her prompt script to Di, and we really started sharpening up the characters we play. On Tuesday, we really worked through one of the stories, and really played with the script and the stories. We came up with some smart new moves to run past Helen, which made the story mould together better.
On Thursday, we analysed postures and stride lengths, we played with voices and waving arms, and gave our characters a good grilling. We decided Edith, for example, would have an excellent Victorian posture and was really in control of the space: she’s the host, after-all, but more than that, she’s in her writing study, and she’s entertaining a somewhat nervous young man – who, unlike her duplicitous husband, she really does find hugely entertaining. We had lengthy debate about the housekeeper Biddy, and whether she’s at the spiced punch most of the time, or whether she’s pushing the boat out for Christmas? And while she’s clearly very fond of t’Mistress, how far is she allowed to overstep the boundary, what’s really acceptable? Claire now deliciously slips into a bit of Yorkshire at all times. Phil’s (natural) youth exerts itself and he is boundlessly enthusiastic in his quest to meet Miss Nesbit, and rather out of his depth with this self-confident cougar (I mean, really! She is!), at turns embarrassed and intrigued. 
Meanwhile, our shameless self-publicity continues, we’ve continued letterboxing flyers, and have now started exit-flyering shows! I find this hugely hilarious. It appears saying “it’s about Edith Nesbit” is a big draw, and saying “It’s a Christmas Ghost story” is hugely divisive – either the good folk of Peterborough love a good ghost story, or they will actually give your flyer back and run away. I have also flyered a meeting, and have hopes that a colleague from Norfolk is coming to see it, and the British Gas service engineer (who loves a good ghost story). 
Well, Helen was back on Sunday, and the fruits of our labour went down well “with t’boss”, who signalled her approval for our characterisations and additional flourishes! Leah came back (she came back! amazing!) and got to add some make-up to my face, I whispered that she’d better make me look younger than Biddy, and she said she’d see what she could do. 
On with the show! Roll up, Ladies and Gentlemen!