A Delicate Balance Assistant Director’s rehearsal diary: Week Five

BY Almeida Theatre   May 4, 2011

With The Knot of the Heart closing on 30 April, A Delicate Balance embarks on its move into the theatre. James Yeatman talks us through the final week of rehearsals before the play opens on Thursday.

So it’s been our last week in the rehearsal room and the first performance is looming excitingly close. With Easter Monday off, we spend a day on each act with full runs on Friday and Saturday.

From Tuesday to Thursday we work though that day’s act in the morning and early afternoon, scene by scene, fine-tuning, then go for the whole thing at the end of the day. Watching the acts in their entirety with Ian and Guy, our sound and lighting designers respectively, it’s great (and reassuring) to see both how funny and watchable the play is. We’ve come such a long way since the first day, when we all sat down with this incredibly dense, complicated text, and we’ve done so much work breaking it down, trying to find every detail in every line, every buried emotion, every veiled insult and recrimination, but now, watching the play in longer stretches, in the parts where it’s working best, the play seems to flow effortlessly; it takes on a life of its own. Langorous in parts, spiky in others, it has a musical feel that is completely involving for an audience member.

When I tell the actors this after the acts, though, they often look at me a bit suspiciously. ‘It’s alright for you’ Imelda said on Thursday, after I’d told her I was really enjoying watching and looking forward to seeing the third act, and I realised that my general feeling of enjoyment was a little bit misplaced. The whole cast are having to work incredibly hard to capture the poised politesse that the world of the play demands, while still having access to sea of repressed emotion of their characters. It’s an incredible challenge, as I wrote before, to be aware of the subtext of a scene but to make sure it’s played in a light, delicate way.

On Friday we have the first run, and I’m not unaware of the irony of the whole country taking the day off to celebrate the fairytale romance of the Royal Wedding while I’m going to work on a play about marriages and lives in which all passion has died. The rehearsal room is full of nearly all the props we’ll be using in the show – alcohol bottles from the time, antique cigarette lighters, the lovely chesterfield and chaise-longue which have been re-upholstered in a delightful paisley design; and the actors have little bits of costume – shoes, handbags, coats. Even before we move into the theatre, the physical world of the play is coalescing around us. There are around eight of us watching; the stage management team, James and I, Ian and Guy, and Penny Dyer, our dialect coach, who has been dropping in throughout rehearsals. And the run is great. Not perfect, of course, but encouraging, and very moving. It’s wonderful to see the play in its whole sweep. Each act has a very distinct atmosphere and energy, and by seeing the whole thing James is able to recommend ways to heighten these contrasts and identify bits that still need work. After another run on Saturday we all go off in the (still glorious) sunshine, knowing that next week it’s the sharp end of the process; we’re into the theatre and our first preview is on Thursday. Exciting times.

A Delicate Balance opens on Thursday 5 May. If you live or work in Islington we offer £20 tickets for opening performances as well as £15 tickets for Under 30s. Read more.

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