Mansfield Park has now hit Bury St Edmunds and we’ve had a very productive couple of weeks of dancing, costume fitting, staging marketing summits and of course, cake eating.
Our choreographer Lee joined us for the first time and began working with the cast on some beautiful regency dances. It was a particularly difficult task for those members of the cast who combine their dancing with long pieces of dialogue, but they certainly rose to the challenge. The dancing really places this piece within the elegance and propriety of the era whilst also providing a great dramatic tool for the actors and Colin to work with.
Kit (our designer) and Heidi (Head of Wardrobe) also conducted the first round of costume fittings with the cast which prompted lots of playing around in lovely regency dresses and the boys to feel extra manly in their Georgian ‘Mr. Darcy’ style outfits (and how very excited they were too). Dancing in costume will require some extra work however, as the combination of steps on the set with long dresses and complicated footwork is no easy task.
Colin has stressed from the beginning of this production process that Mansfield Park is one of Austen’s ‘darker’ novels in that some of the characters sufferings are on a very real, human and brutal level. The manipulation and exploitation that occurs is truly reflective of the social condition of women in this period and how the choices they made were often dictated by their place in society. This is also true for the men in the novel who are forced to make emotional decisions based on social and financial values. Therefore the cast have been beavering away with Colin to extract these intentions and motivations from the subtext of each scene and to present these within the corseted social norms of the period.
Meanwhile our two acting ASM’s (Assistant Stage Managers) have been working all hours to learn the lines of 4 characters each as they will each be understudying all male and female roles. Simultaneously they have been gathering props which have seen the rehearsal room slowly fill with exciting pots, pans, suitcases, flowers, guns and lots of other exciting things.
On Friday 31st August the cast joined some of our Patrons and Sponsors for bubbly and lots of cake to celebrate William Wilkin’s birthday (the architect of our lovely theatre). After this we all marched down to watch the Summer Schools production of Gormenghast which the entire cast could not help but rave about for days afterwards. It was just wonderful to see so much talent and dedication amongst so many young people!
On Saturday we were joined by Colin’s dog Ikie who proved an eager addition to the rehearsal room. My trainee producer’s duties on this day were therefore focused on preventing Ikie from running on stage and taking out actors in the middle of intense dancing/acting scenes. We also began running, first individual acts, and eventually the entire play in the last week. Initially, the cast had to really focus on how the scenes connect on a practical level due to a number of very fast costume changes. You really get a feel for the pace of the show and the journey that each character takes throughout the piece, when it is run as a whole and it has been really lovely to see how the actors have explored and developed their character throughout the rehearsal process.
As I finish writing this post, opening night is only just over 24 hours away and everyone is feeling the excitement and anticipation! I will be writing all about this week’s process of gearing up to the first performance night in the next few days so keep an eye out!
So the first week of rehearsals for Mansfield Park has finished, and what an exciting, insightful, creative and lovely week it’s been! We kicked-off with a meet and greet in our London rehearsal room with the cast, creative team, Theatre Royal marketing team and some clever marketing people from our tour venues. It was wonderful to see our cast gathered together for the first time after some very intense weeks of casting and watching them working together for the first time was a real joy.
Before the rehearsal properly began, our fabulous designer Kit Surrey instigated a great deal of excitement by showing us his model box design of the set and some beautiful mood-boards with costume ideas. The set explores both the beauty and elegance of the Regency period alongside the social and political tensions which underpin this specific story and that of the period, and we can’t wait to see it built into our lovely Theatre Royal.
After Kit’s design chat, we all sat round for the first read-through of the play.
Seeing and hearing Tim Luscombe’s script spoken aloud by the cast made us all the more appreciative of how expertly he has adapted this Austen classic for the stage— a very tricky thing to do, especially as so much of the novel is written as Fanny Price’s internal monologue and thus, lots of Mansfield Park’s description and story-telling has to be dramatised in a way which is both entertaining for the audience and loyal to Austen’s original intentions. We were also only able to have a cast of eight which meant several characters from the novel have had to be cut from the script, without compromising the plot or other character’s stories. Tim has created a script which is insightful, touching and funny and the cast have had great fun working with it so far.
After the read-through we were straight down to business and Colin put the show on its feet immediately. He started work with the actors to uncover each character’s motivation behind every scene, line and movement—especially tricky when the play is set in a world of such restraint and propriety. The complex way in which these characters relate and manipulate each other is central to this piece and discovering this played a key part in the first week of rehearsals.
As well as the cast we also welcomed the deputy stage manager, two assistant stage managers/understudies and our assistant director to the team (a big old company to be crammed into a little East London rehearsal space). Throughout the week, we felt it very important to impress upon the whole company how seriously we take not just theatre-making, but also cake as part the rehearsal process. Many, many hints were dropped and by Thursday Ms Atherton (or Mary Crawford to you), decided enough was enough and brought in a home-made strudel on the third day of rehearsals. She is now vying for the position of Colin’s favorite member of the team…a cake making competition may be the only way to settle this one.
After an intense, creative and cake-filled week we managed to get through the entire play by Saturday afternoon. Next week our choreographer Lee will be working on some movement with the cast for the ball scene (essential in any Austen adaptation) and the company will be making lists of all the fun things to get up to during their stay in Bury St Edmunds! We will also be celebrating the birthday of William Wilkins who designed our lovely theatre back in 1819, taking a company trip to see the Summer School’s production of Gormenghast, and Heidi and Nicola (our lovely wardrobe ladies) will be working with Kit to begin costume fittings and experimenting with some beautiful regency looks.