The Beauty Queen of Leenane
Our build and tech week coincide with the arrival and set up of Hull Fair. I live just around the corner, so every morning on my way to the theatre I can see the rides slowly being erected just like our set, lights flickering into place and wheels in motion. I really like this parallel building of worlds. It feels pretty perfect.
Sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves of what theatres are and what they are for. For me in an ideal world we’d look forward to a trip to the theatre, in the same way, I long for Hull Fair every year. They should both be places where we come together for thrills and hand-holding and ideally, theatre world take note here, bags of chips and oodles of brandy snap. They should both be places of wonder and joy and terror. They should be places of real proper magic.
I hope that’s going to happen here. Every morning when I arrive in the auditorium I think it might. Our set definitely feels a bit magic. Designer Sara Perks has somehow created a world that holds both the closed claustrophobia of our cottage and the vast isolating landscape it sits in. Lighting designer Jess is painting rich and delicate scenes across that canvas, and composer/sound designer Adam is layering an unsettling atmosphere that suddenly soars and drops on top.
Tech weeks are funny things. They can feel frustrating, a moment where you have to really take stock of practical minutia and what is possible in relation to your creative dreams. They can also feel pretty scary, you’ve been building with such delicacy in your little rehearsal room and now you’ve got to plonk it all in a space which can feel shockingly vast. But I love them for that reason. Because alongside these fears come a whole team who can, actually, make miracles happen. Suddenly you become so much more aware of the people around you who have been beavering away all process, just not necessarily in the rehearsal room.
Take good care of everyone during this week. It’s easy to start to feel a separation from the cast now you’re on one side of the stage and they’re on the other, make an extra effort not to let this happen. Things can start to feel a little fragmented for them, tiny moments are worked again and again and the overall thread of the play can be lost. Dress rehearsals are really helpful to combat this, and we’re super lucky to have time for two in our schedule. That feels like a real luxury and we’re all glad of it when it arrives.
By the time you get to the first preview it can feel like you’ve scaled a mountain but stick with it because you’re about to go on an even bigger learning curve. Previews are hard but they’re also one of my favourite parts of the process. It can feel like you learn more from one preview than you have in the whole of rehearsals. Suddenly the play starts to surprise you again. A line is funny but you’d never noticed. Scene six is surprising, you’d just forgotten because you’d dissected it for days. The audience lets you see all that again. It’s the closest you can get to returning to your own first encounter with the play.
That’s not to say it isn’t also pretty terrifying. Because the act of putting something so delicate in front of several hundred people when you know there’s still work to be done can feel pretty mad when you stop to thing about it. Also remember that everyone is probably really knackered, the hours that technical teams put in behind the scenes is actually superhuman and remember to be grateful. Particularly to Stage Management who are just sort of gods aren’t they?
The whole week you will be walking a dangerous tightrope, what absolutely needs solving, what can wait or is just a wobble that can iron itself out. You’re balancing how many hours you’ve got, how exhausted everyone is, how you keep everyone positive and confident in any changes you might make.
Give your actors loads here. Loads of support I mean. They are doing something ridiculous every night and they are properly brave souls, make sure they know that. Give them permission to try things and go deep, you can always pull back, but now is their time to play, to find themselves with the audience.
And also remember that a play is never finished. That’s the point of it. It’s new again each night. That’s the beauty. All you are doing is trying to give it strong enough bones to withstand growing a new skin each show.
So here we are, on the brink of press night. Ready to accept that this is what we’ve made and it’s time for it to soar without anyone holding its hand. Raise a glass, hope you enjoy it, none of it matters unless you, the audience, turn up. Whatever happens now is the time to remember we all made a thing in the world that didn’t exist until we started, that’s sort of incredible isn’t it? Cheers.