First Rehearsal


The first day of rehearsal for Chekhov in Hell.

Apart from the director’s opening address and the presentation of the model box, the centrepiece is the first read-through. It’s in an interesting moment to sense who your actors are. Some attack the part(s), trying accents, investing moments with feeling and warmth, giving you a clear sense of what they can do and perhaps what they want to do. Some do the opposite, barely doing more than reading aloud. These actors, I think, are holding their cards to their chest, not wanting to give out too early, pacing themselves across the four weeks. Then others try things out, sometimes different things in consecutive lines; for them, we’re already starting to experiment, and the read-through is not about hearing the play together for the first time, it’s about seeing into its corners, assessing its flexibility, where it will give and where it will break.

We had all three in that readthrough. Everyone held something back - of course - and no one (thank God) damaged the play with a wildly eccentric reading; though I know that can happen. It was a very enthusiastic and intuitively right reading of the play. Often the rhythms were caught beautifully; some accents and interactions were found with deftness and subtlety. The play was certainly heard and it seems to me that it’s holding up well. It’s certainly funny and it surprised me with the turns that it does on a sixpence, moments suddenly sucking the warmth from the room.

The set is going to be bloody lovely, I must say. Unless they change it, it looks to me like a rather classical French set, enormously tall flat at the back and angled sides with floorboards running down towards the audience. It’s a presentational stage, it offers the play to the audience; it will be a stage to enjoy stepping onto. At the same time it’s going to be excitingly bare; the design of the walls will suggest a circuit diagram or an architect’s faded groundplan. Hints of The Matrix, hints of the ruins of world destroyed in some catastophe, walks among the ruins.