Week four and on Monday we start back at the beginning again; we work through the scenes slowly much as we have done before, but now we can run longer sections of them. Having spent such a long time right at the coal face, looking at the play in tiny detail, this week it’s almost as if we’re zooming out a bit, and we get our first inkling of what it might be to watch parts of the play in performance. News on that front is that it’s gripping, entertaining and funny. Despite the fact that it’s a play largely about people stuck in their lives, who spend their time doing very little other than drinking and arguing, it’s a completely riveting watch. Albee is a master of the well-timed entrance which steadily increases the dramatic tension. I’m really excited about seeing the whole thing in run-throughs next week.
Seeing the play in broader stretches makes us realise there’s still so much to discover about the piece. When you work in tiny detail you think you know everything about the text, but it’s actually only as you pull back that the characters really begin to emerge. For me there was a particularly revelatory moment on Wednesday which came as we were rehearsing the second act. Without going into a lengthy description of the plot, the scene happens between Julia (Lucy Cohu), the daughter of Agnes and Tobias, who returns to their house on the failure of her fourth marriage; Claire (Imelda Staunton), Agnes’ hated alcoholic sister who lives in the house with her and Tobias; and Edna (Diana Hardcastle), who has come to Agnes and Tobias’ with her husband in the event of a terrible crisis. Claire is the character whose position is most threatened by Julia and Edna’s arrival, and by playing this particular scene in greater length we discovered a moment where Claire quietly pits them against each other, which leads to fireworks at the end of the act. It’s not clearly marked in the script, but it’s a moment which reverberates through the rest of the play, with implications for all the characters, and it felt like we were only able to discover it because of all the patient work we’d been doing for the last three-and-a-half weeks.
With the discovery of moments like this and others throughout the week, the play (in my mind at least – maybe everyone else knew about it all along) is slotting together, coalescing into a structure through which we can see all the characters’ journeys; all their wants and needs. On Good Friday (our rehearsal time is beset by bank holidays, we’re even – shock horror – working on the day of the Royal Wedding) we realise we only have a week left until we get into the theatre. I feel this week has given us a much clearer picture of what the play is, and what it needs to become. Next week we’re stringing the whole lot together – an act a day in the early part of the week and then doing our first run probably just as Kate and Wills say their vows. I know where I’d rather be.
A Delicate Balance opens on 5 May. Remember if you are Under 30 or live or work in Islington you can get discounted tickets for opening performances. For more information click here.
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