The Beauty Queen of Leenane
GETTING READY TO LEAVE THE REHEARSAL ROOM WITH ASSISTANT DIRECTOR MAUREEN LENNON
‘I have a dream sometimes there of you, dressed all nice and white in your coffin there, and me all in black looking in on you.’
It gets in your dreams this play. I keep waking up with taunts about Complan on my lips and the stuffy trace of a stale Kimberley biscuit at the back of my throat. By week three the beginning of this process feels like a long time ago, we’re all steeped up to our armpits in Leenane.
There’s always a moment in week three where everyone suddenly gets a bit shaky. Suddenly you’re on the cusp of something, the play feels within your grasp but also desperately out of reach. Everyone’s done so much work already, the performances are starkly looming and the desire to nail it can tip everything into chaos. Normally this is just a feeling, a frustration that hangs over the rehearsal room but this can turn into a stifling pressure if you’re not careful. Feelings are important in rehearsals after all. I mean in some ways all theatre is the business of feelings.
You’ve got to catch this one early, remind everyone there’s still time, that now is the time to be brave and push forward, not shrink back. If you’re lucky everyone will take a deep breath and keep grasping. Clutching at those edges, pulling themselves forwards, onwards, finally up.
I would say our moment comes on Monday. We’ve sailed through the second week, racing through Act 2 with an energy which feels exhilarating and like we might be about to fly. I leave rehearsals on Friday with everyone in great spirits, ready to do their first stagger through of Act 2 – a ‘stagger’ is the first time you might start to run some scenes together, totally prepared for the fumbling that might ensue. I head off to Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch because part of my role in this process is to help transfer the show there in November when it’s finished it’s run at Truck. I’m off to see the space and watch a show and get a head start on any things we might need to adapt ahead of our tech there.
On Monday everyone’s back in the room and excited to keep sailing. But somehow everything’s a little bit off and it feels like we’re slowly sinking, a bit stuck in the mud. There’s a darkness in this play that can pull you deep. The trick is not to allow it to swallow you up, because there’s also a lightness, an elasticity to each moment, which can swivel from humour to hatred in a heartbeat.
Luckily everyone in the room holds their nerve during the wobble and soon we’ve pulled free and are on to the true business of the week. The business of runs. The first time you run a play all the way through you will lose some of the specificity which you achieved as you drilled each scene, but don’t hold onto that too hard because it will come back and you will gain other things along the way. Things can pop out on a first run which you’ve never noticed before, the trick is to stay alive to those possibilities because at their best they can unlock some surprising truths. In our first one it’s the web of relationships which really start to bubble in unexpected ways, reminding us that McDonagh knows exactly what he’s building on that page, we’ve just got to step back and let it sing.
We fit two more runs in before the end of the week, ahead of a breather on Sunday before tech and previews. My chief tip for tech week, stock up on snacks and don’t rush. Suddenly things start to seem very real. Deep breath, I’ll see you on the other side.