Well, in the end it was like it always is. Get in was full of problems – lights with no bulbs in, the set not going together as envisaged, no time for a proper tech rehearsal – but nonetheless some excellent detail rehearsal work getting done and a passable full run through on the Sunday afternoon.
We were getting there, but I needed the reassurance of a good dress rehearsal on the Tuesday. Did I get it? Don’t make me laugh (well, actually, yes, DO make me laugh, but no-one was achieving that.) Fluffed and missing lines, prompts galore, missed entrances, scene changes that seemed to take ages – it was the archetypal dreadful dress rehearsal. It’s a good job I’ve been here before or I’d have gone home and cried. Matt had a good line – “well, it doesn’t do for actors to get too comfortable” and of course he was absolutely right. I called a lines rehearsal for the following evening, managed to book an extra session in the hall to finish off the set, and by 7.15 on Thursday evening we were ready to go, with all our fingers and toes firmly crossed. And, as ever, the cast all pulled together like the fantastic team they are and delivered a really good show. Matt’s backstage team did the same and the audience had a great evening. On Friday evening I issued stern warnings about avoiding “second night dip”, but I needn’t have worried, the show was even better. An excellent audience too – 60+ people and they were laughing right from the very beginning. Come Saturday and they were determined to enjoy their last performance – until Madam Director came along and nagged them about staying focused and keeping control. This one was something of a show of two halves – the first couple of scenes lacked some of the pace of the previous two nights and a few bits of business didn’t go as slickly as before, but by scene 3 they were starting to hit their stride and taking the audience with them. At half time I administered a gentle directorial shove, and the second act was inspired. I’ve never seen the puppet show go so well, and if we’d had any aisles the audience would have been rolling in them.
So, looking back, what have I learned? Two things, mainly: firstly, that one of the most important things a director needs is sheer bloody-mindedness; a refusal to give in and the flexibility to see how to get the most out of a rehearsal when several of the cast are missing. And maybe not to attempt a play which is very much an ensemble piece involving nine characters during the prime holiday period. And secondly, to watch out for anything which slows the forward movement of the action and eliminate it – to keep the play moving forward at all times, remembering that the audience will take their mood from the cast. If they are sluggish, so will the audience be. If they are involved and energetic, then the audience will be too.
All that’s left now is to say thank you – to my tremendous cast, I’m honoured to have worked with you, and thanks for putting up with me and all those e-mails. To Matt and the backstage crew, who dug the show out of the hole it was in in the week of the get in, and finally to the third cast of Season’s Greetings and their creator, Adrienne – the puppets, who went down a storm with everyone. Waggums is sitting on my desk looking at me as I type – maybe the best way to sum up the whole experience is to quote him and the Postman: “Pom pom de pom. Dee dee – bomp.”