In the weeks leading up to the Opening Night of any production, MTC HQ is a hive of activity with rehearsals, set building, prop painting, costume making and more. One of the strange things about bringing a production like One Man, Two Guvnors to Melbourne is that all that work is already done. The cast have already rehearsed – and of course performed – the show several times, and the set, costumes and props arrive in road cases; they only need to be assembled and/or prepped for the show. Having missed all the exciting developments that normally lead up to the first previews and then to Opening Night feels a little strange! But then we found a rehearsal diary from the National Theatre, which documents the preparations for One Man, Two Guvnors, as they unfolded in the rehearsal rooms in London. Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing excerpts from the diary to give you an insight into the process. Be sure to check back regularly to see what’s happening!
Week One and Two
Rehearsals traditionally begin with a ‘meet and greet’ session. Representatives from all departments at the theatre stand in a circle and introduce themselves to the new cast and creative team one-by-one. After introductions, Director Nicholas Hytner explains his vision for the production; why he decided to direct the play, a brief history of commedia dell’arte, the period and location he’s setting the play in. Then everyone crowds around the model box (a scale model of the set), and the designer, Mark Thompson, and Nick talk through the design scene by scene. The design is very handsome and as the flats (flat pieces of scenery) are manually slid and flown in and out, swiftly transforming locations, the excitement in the room grows.
After lunch, only the cast and creative team remain for the first read-through of the play around tables. Some actors instinctively perform at read-throughs, whilst others give a softer and less-acted reading; either way, there is lots of laughter, a promising sign for a comedy!
Nick approaches each scene of the play in the same way. Firstly, the actors read through a scene aloud around tables, and then everyone discusses its content. As this is a new play, Nick is very keen to ensure that the plot is clear and logical. Writer, Richard Bean, is in rehearsals all the time during these early weeks and small rewrites occur constantly.
After reading the scene, the actors try putting it on its feet. Nick is very hands-on and constantly jumps up to make suggestions of how actors could speak a particular line, or when and where they should move. There is a mark-up of the stage stuck to the floor, with lines designating where the flats and front cloth will be, to allow the actors to get used to the space. We also have rehearsal doors, furniture and props; the stage management team are on hand to grab anything we might need.
Nick works through each scene in this way during the first two weeks, running the whole scene through once or twice when we get to the end. Whilst Nick is staging the scenes, the associate director, Cal McCrystal, a comedy specialist, is concentrating on rehearsing the comic set pieces. This includes staging the very physical and demanding dinner scene, which provides the climax of act one.
Whilst these rehearsals are taking place in the main rehearsal room, the production machinery of the NT is grinding into motion. Actors are being grabbed when they’re not being used to attend rehearsal calls in singing, dance, spoken voice, comic set pieces and stage fighting. Some of the actors are required by the marketing and press departments to film segments for video trailers and give press interviews, either on the phone or in person.
Mark Thompson also begins the process of designing costumes, starting with ‘costume chats’ with each member of the cast to discuss their ideas of how the character should look. Mark and the Costume Supervisor, Poppy, have photographs and newspaper cuttings of people in the 1960s as a starting point.
Stay tuned for more updates from the One Man, Two Guvnors rehearsal rooms very soon.
Please note that some cast members shown in the image above will not be appearing in the Melbourne production.
This article was written by Adam Penford and first appeared in National Theatre’s Education background pack for One Man, Two Guvnors.
The National Theatre’s production of One Man, Two Guvnors is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne, Playhouse from 17 May to 22 June.