Rehearsing Follies: Geoff Ambler Part 4 – Days 19 – 22

Geoff continues with his account of Follies Rehearsals at the Royal Theatre, Northampton.

Here he is from days 19 – 22. Run throughs and first visits to the stage . . .

Day 19 – End of Trio – End and Start of “I’m Still Here” – Run through Act 1 and Off Stage Vocals

A busy night in store according to the schedule but they are down to the last two weeks. This Follies production has come on so much over the past weeks but Laurie, Nick and Andrew still make changes, both minor tweaks and major restaging of scenes. Tonight they work through a number of links between scenes that will allow them to keep the show flowing. At time Laurie is concerned about the pace of certain conversations and changes in focus between one group and another so entrances are cued earlier to keep the narrative flowing.

Jonathan Gill takes over and those not involved with the off stage vocals shoot off to bed or to the pub. There is a regular group forming after rehearsals at the local bar. Already they know all the staff by their first names and are always the last to be “moved on”. Jonathan works with the Chorus again occasionally reminding them of his previous instructions, this time stressing that “Every consonant should shine like the top of the Chrysler building”. Natalina, Ed and Alex sit off to one site eating McDonalds unaware that they would be required for this, but as soon as Laurie spots that this time there is not just me sitting around doing noting, he pulls them into the group and hands them a song book each.

Mics will be fixed off stage for the Chorus to support the onstage singing adding to the vocals, so they won’t have to have their head mics on when not on stage.

Day 20 Run through Act 2 – Encore – Run through Act 1

Because the Community actors are not in Act 2 until the encore (except for the marvellous Margaret Walker who plays the older Heidi) Laurie can run through the second half of the show, before the rest of the company arrive for their evening session.

This is my first look at Act two in its entirety and there are a number of scenes that I haven’t seen before. I was amazed how much great choreography Nick has done and the dancers finish a long period of sexy, beautiful, funny and occasionally mad dancing at the end of the show completely out of breath and sweating. Or is it glowing that dancers do?

The two Buddy’s have a great, energetic, almost aggressive scene together with “The Right Girl”. Alex Giannini and Oliver Tydman bounce off each other and a suitcase, both flying around the studio’s stage area, but the consensus between Nick and Laurie afterwards is that it is still not right yet particularly a part when the young Buddy teaches the old Buddy to dance. Alex later points out that this was the first time they had used the new prop suitcase and it’s a lot heavier that the earlier temporary version so when he throws it at Oliver he nearly sends him flying. It had been reinforced as they both sit and stand on it as well as kick it around the stage.

After Louise Plowright’s “Could I Leave You” which she finishes with a venomous “Guess” the older and young pairs arrive together on stage and old wounds are opened violently in a cacophony of angry emotion. The scene builds up and up and gets louder and louder then all of a sudden … we have Loveland. Again Laurie’s sublime craft and this amazing cast wrap me up in the performance, I’m pulled into their lives and suddenly it stops. I really wanted it to continue. Jan Hartley’s Sally is shouting at her younger self, Savannnah and again they steal the moment from amidst the chaos surrounding them Young Sally – “Don’t leave me Ben, I’ll kill myself”, Sally – “You fool! You could have had him but you played it wrong.” It an angst filled scene with the older four confronting their pasts, perhaps seeing for the first time why now in the present they feel tormented by what they made of their lives. It’s a scene of chaotic brilliance and again I am awed by what is going on in front of me. This show takes you on such an emotive journey, one of theatres finest and it is in this scene that the violence, the passions, love, regret and bitter realisations surface. It is the mastery of their theatrical craft that again leaves me sitting on an uncomfortable chair in the corner of a studio, watching the cast rehearse leaving me completely captivated.

Then I an taken to Loveland! This is where the dancers shine again.

Alex Giannini, complete with his puppets of Sally and Margie, in “The God-Why-Don’t-You-Love-Me Blues” is just riotous. Alex is not only an amazing actor but great company over an after rehearsal orange juice and lemonade, full of stories, a great sense of humour and a fan of these blogs.

Jan Hartley walks to the centre stage for “Losing My Mind” and she steals the show, well, rehearsal. This is possibly the most familiar Sondheim number and while I have heard it hundreds of times before, it is only really in the context of Follies where the beauty, tragedy and madness of this number can be understood. Again she brings tears to my eyes and again I wish I was hidden in a darkened theatre and not three feet away from her.

Next up is Louise singing “The Story of Lucy and Jessie” and the start of the dancers marathon. As if the Mirror Number wasn’t long enough Nick really drives the girls to near exhaustion with this and “Live, Laugh, Love”, although I’m probably doing them a disservice as they are all really very fit. We also get to see more of Darren Fawthrop and Alain Terzoli who are both great dancers and as I have already seen, actors as well. I’m more familiar with Darren’s work as I had seen him earlier this year in Sinatra with Pippa. Both had worked together before, years ago in Beauty and the Beast which also had Nick Winston in it. This business really seems to exist in a small world some times. A good friend, who incidentally was also in that production of Beauty and the Beast, told me recently that it’s hard for dancers to get acting roles as they are usually seen as dancers only but Darren plays Young Weissman with accomplished style and bags of charm and is more than worthy of centre stage. Plus, as she also points out in a later rehearsal session, he cuts a handsome figure on stage.

Act 2 winds up and the cast break for tea. I run off for pasta with Nick who, although he couldn’t manage a whole pizza, is enduring humorous taunts from his dancers after being referred to by a local press photographer as looking like a rugby player. I noticed a few rugby ball lobs mimed in his direction.

When everyone returns we are joined by the Community cast and the first part of the evening involves restaging the initial party scenes. There are new ideas and reinforcement of earlier staging ideas for the cast. It’s still a complicated scene with lots, possibly too much going on and I’m sure it will change again when we get onto the stage, an event scheduled for tomorrow.

Nick stages the Encore (the bit at the end when everyone bows and we all applaud) and Laurie instructs them that there will be no messing about, waving underneath the curtain as it goes down. Once everyone has taken their bow and the company is lined up on stage there is one last, but all too brief rendition of “Beautiful Girls” with Jonathan Gills new arrangement and they are gone. No Follies megamix as Louise jokingly (I hope) suggests. Not for me though as I get another run through of Act 1 to enjoy.

Day 22 – Full Run Through on Stage

I arrive expecting the cast to have already seen the new theatre and the stage the night before but due to things not being ready tonight will be the first time for many.

We are led through a series of corridors and down more stairs than I thought were necessary and suddenly we are on stage. I later work out a much quicker route. The stage has a slight rake in it and Nick warns the dancers that turns will feel unusual and they should be careful not to get thrown off balance. The Stage is dominated by a wide curving staircase coming down from a mezzanine floor and a walkway at the top. The mezzanine is where the ten piece band will be. We are warned that the walkway will only be safe for three people at a time but as it’s only the very light pairing of, Hayley and Savannah who will be on it no one seems to worry. I’ll keep off it myself though.

Everyone wanders around excitedly, walking through their entrances, running up and down the stairs, dancing around the stage, then inspecting the auditorium. A lot of the initial entrances are made by the community cast during the party from the stalls and dress circle so everyone checks out their path. Today it means clambering over boxes, sheets, cables and all manner of hazards.

It strikes me that the staircase seems bigger than the floor makings in the rehearsal room but I am assured that the dancers have more space than they expected and it won’t be in the way. The stage looks magnificently derelict. While I wander around the stalls, where I will be mainly based, I notice that most of the seats I have been sold are behind the posts supporting the dress circle. Hmm.

The Heidi’s, Laura and Margaret appear in the two boxes during the party scene waving at their Weissmans. During this initial walk around they discover that the boxes are full of lighting and sound equipment and they can’t squeeze in. They are assured that some items will be cleared out for them. It doesn’t stop Laura from squeezing in and sitting in the box, laughing and waving all night.

Once the initial excitement passes Laurie gets them to work and sets about trying out the stage, for the first time transferring the staging set out on a bare studio floor onto a living set. The freeze moment Buddys appearance initiates, along with the ghostly “Hey up there” looks great on the dark stage. It elicits a shriek from Hayley but she calms herself down with Yogurt coated nuts which she shares with everyone. While not on stage the cast sit in the stalls in groups whispering excitedly and there is a new energy in the company tonight. They are all so distracted by each others performances and Nicks and Lauries adjustments that they frequently miss their cues. Lots of late entrances are made up the stairs from the stalls at the last minute, lots more are made just after the last minute.

While the stage and set is mostly finished the theatre looks a tip. They have a week to go though however my seats are clear.

2006-10-24 19:17:35

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