Invisible Kitchens, French Jockeys and a Secret Panel – The Rehearsal Process for ‘Dry Rot’

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Dry Rot’, the Little Theatre’s opening play of next season (14-19 September 2015, put it in your diaries people), is a farcical comedy involving a country hotel, a French jockey, conniving bookies, a staircase in need of Rentokil and a gawky West Country maid. Directed by Penny Kimmins, and with a cast of ten wonderful actors, hilarity will most definitely ensue. But the rehearsal process for any play, even something as utterly farcical as this, can be a long drawn-out process. It can – in turn – be tedious, hysterical, emotional, annoying, repetitive and enjoyable.

When it comes to rehearsing a new play for the first time, so many questions get asked.

* Where do I stand to say this line?

* Where is the kitchen?

* Just exactly how do I create a set that features a secret panel, along with a collapsing staircase?**

Hopefully this will fill you in a little bit more on what actually happens during the six or seven-week rehearsal process.

Blocking

It all begins with the blocking. For your first rehearsal (and also every rehearsal thereafter) REMEMBER YOUR SCRIPT AND A PENCIL. The set designer will have produced a model or picture of the planned set, so that the rehearsal room can be set out in a similar way. Going through the scene line by line, the director will tell each actor where to stand at any given point – when to cross the room, which hand to pick up the phone with, where the (invisible) doors to the (invisible) kitchen are. If you do not write your movements down in your script, you will inevitably stand in the wrong place, and the director will cry tears of sadness. Or will shout at you.

Props

Having props does help, it has to be said, and during the rehearsal process, the marvellous props team will use whatever they can get their hands on to take the place of the genuine object until we can get that object in question; the Metro is currently doubling as a 1950’s newspaper, and a paper bag from a curry house is ostensibly a shopping bag (packets of biscuits have been recruited to play the shopping). The theatre props department has an abundance of fake phones, old money, various (empty) alcohol bottles … the list goes on.

Accents

Always useful in a play, ‘Dry Rot’ features a variety of accents; four very well-spoken (alright, posh) characters, one West Country maid, three Cockney(ish) bookies, one policeman of indeterminate locality and one French jockey. Poor Scott, the actor who has bagged the role of Albert Polignac, is not a French native, and has spent most of his time before the play learning the French language (the character speaks entirely in French),  and going over his lines with the help of another member of the cast who does speak French.

Tea

Quite standard for any rehearsal. Tea and biscuits are required in order to keep a happy cast and crew. There’s not much more to say about this really …

By the time you will read this, the cast will be on their fourth week of rehearsals, edging closer to the dress and tech rehearsals on stage and the actual run of the show (14-19 September, remember). By that time there should be a real set constructed with an actual secret panel – big enough for three cast members to hide in – and a staircase that the actors can safely put their feet through without the danger of death or dismemberment. Stage-fright notwithstanding, the actors will go on stage, deliver their lines, act like they are in love / angry / French / whatever, and take a final bow to thunderous applause. Props will be placed where they should be, the telephone will stop ringing when someone picks it up, and a suitably realistic horse-neighing sound effect will have been found.

Yes, this is a completely standard rehearsal process for a Little Theatre Production, only with a heck of a lot more silliness.

** Please note – this final question is not a necessity for every play.

Emma Bamford

Dry Rot opens 14th September and runs until 19th September.