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

BY Almeida Theatre   April 20, 2011

Assistant Director James Yeatman talks us through the progress of rehearsals in week three, including costume fittings and more cocktails – it’s all in the name of research though! 

We spend week three going back over the scenes in detail, with all the actors pretty much off-book this time. We work slowly, gradually, going over each section beat-by-beat. Our typical way of working involves running the lines of a scene just sitting down, without too much ‘acting’, once or twice, so that everyone’s clear on the words. Then the actors get up and have a go, marking through the blocking we worked out last week. With the greater fluency that knowing the lines allows occasionally we identify problems with some of the decisions we made the week before and work to make the blocking simpler and clearer.

This is a patient process. No-one is expected to produce a bravura performance in these practices, and instead we attempt to creep up on the emotion and intensity that each scene requires. Watching each practice closely, James identifies moments which don’t work so well, or difficult transitions from one thought to another, and suggests different ways of approaching certain lines or moves to get closer to the proper shape and journey of the scene. The key challenge with this play is negotiating the (delicate) balance of the scenes, between playing the bitter subtext, where all the family members are aggressively digging at each other, yet still retaining the refined, cultured, surface politeness that defines the way the characters interact with one another. When we over-play the subtext, the play seems a little shrill and yet without it, all the verbiage would make the play appear rather arch.

Everyone is very good-humoured throughout the week, and all the actors (particularly Penelope and Imelda) like to joke, but as soon as we start working, they knuckle down with great focus. As the week goes by you can see them unfold, and relax into their parts a little more. It’s funny, but because the cast are all so good, they make it appear quite effortless, but at the end of each day all everyone talks about is how tricky the play is, how much concentration and hard work every scene requires. I suspect that the play isn’t performed particularly often because, for it to work, it requires incredible actors in every role, even the smaller parts, and I keep on thinking how lucky we are to have such a brilliant cast working on this. It’s a complete privilege to watch them at work.

As we work on in rehearsals, other aspects of the production are taking shape. This week it’s been very much about costume. Around the rehearsal room we have various books of photos of rich Americans in the mid-twentieth century, by photographers like Slim Aarons. We have been looking through these in breaks for the last few weeks, and this week Helen (Costume Supervisor) has been taking  the actors away every now and then to talk about clothes, using the photos as inspiration. On Wednesday I found Laura (Designer) and Helen surrounded by photos and samples of fabrics, talking animatedly about lime green trousers and how well they would go with a salmon pink blouse. I love how much work goes into all these details in a production. When people come and see the show they can be confident that decisions have been made on every shade of every bit of fabric they look at. It’s all testament to the amount of love and care put into the show by everyone working on it.

Friday ends again with cocktails. This time Tim makes us Manhattans, which go down a little easier then last week’s Martinis. Unfortunately I haven’t got the recipe off him but they were delicious, and the Friday evening cocktail is becoming a wonderful ritual. There is talk of Bellinis next week.  If I have any epicurean recommendations they are for The Cupcake Company on Kensington Church Street. Diana’s daughter works there and whenever they haven’t sold all their cakes the night before, Diana comes in with a huge bag containing the most delicious little cupcakes you’ll ever see (or eat). If you find yourself in the area go and have one, they’re delicious! 

By James Yeatman

A Delicate Balance opens on 5 May, click here to book online