Pressure rehearsal blog

Pressure rehearsal blog

23 January 2018

Find out what's been happening in the Pressure rehearsal room with updates from the people involved in the production. Assistant Stage Manager Harriet Saffin writes about the first 2 weeks.  Pressure began rehearsing on 3 January 2018. 

The cast of Pressure in rehearsal: Malcolm Sinclair as General Eisenhower, William Mannering as Lieutenant Battersby/ Captain Johns, Alister Cameron as Leigh Mallory, David Haig as Group Captain James Stagg, Mark Jax as Spaatz/ Franklin and Michael Mackenzie as Admiral Bertram Ramsay

"Even if I support your view Dr. Stagg, I may still give the order to go."  Photo:  Robert Day

Weeks 1 and 2 by Harriet Saffin, Assistant Stage Manager
The first day of rehearsals is a brilliant (if slightly chaotic) moment in a show’s life when we become a new company. For months, different groups have been planning, designing, auditioning and scheduling and today it all comes together for the first time. Many of the original company for Pressure, when the production was first staged in 2014, have returned and then there are the newbies like me. This whole process can be a little nerve-racking because you’re aware that, for various reasons, you are replacing someone who was a friend and colleague. I am not really sure why I (and I believe others) get nervous, I’ve been through this on countless shows and it’s always the same. Within about an hour, it’s almost impossible to tell who’s new and who’s not. There are far more important things to do, like getting a good cup of tea and a biscuit before the introductions begin.

A weather instrument used in the play to measure Pressure (we think!)Once everyone has been introduced to each other, the set and the script, it’s time to actually get down to work. Unusually (although not surprisingly), we started with a meteorology lesson, or to be more exact, a historical meteorology lesson from David Haig, who wrote the script and plays British Meteorologist James Stagg. Not only did we need to start understanding wind speeds, high and low pressure and the weather fronts we see on the news, we needed to understand how the information was collected during World War 2. Let’s just say, being a fairly undefended weather ship in the middle of the Atlantic in 1944 was a tough gig. (I think many of the cast would also say that trying to learn the numbers and jargon in the script is also a tough gig, but thankfully a little less lethal.) Lastly, we had to understand the difference between how the Americans and British processed this date. With notebooks at the ready, we set about learning exactly what the weather was doing at this crucial date in June 1944.

John Dove, who is directing the play, is an active director. He likes the cast to get up on their feet and give it a go, with plenty of time to ask questions, rework bits and to understand the story and the science as we go alone. As the ASM (Assistant Stage Manager), my world is all about the props. Most of the props used in the original production have been in storage for three years. Thankfully for me, this had been really well managed by the previous team so we were able to unpack and get the actual props straight into the rehearsal process, helping to create this WW2 weather room really quickly. There was one small challenge – identifying the unusual objects. Somewhere in my distant past, I studied A Level Geography, so much of the equipment looked familiar but it required Google to separate the Anemometer from the Barograph (please don’t tell my teachers).

We are now entering the third week of rehearsals and we have a basic shape for the whole play. The actors will start adding all the texture and subtlety that goes into telling a great story. The set is almost built somewhere in Leeds and we have a full sound design in the rehearsal room. Everything is coming together. For me, it’s all about making sure every item on stage is perfect, there are meetings to be had about writing paper, typewriter styles and new items that are needed as the play changes slightly. As we enter week three, everyone is thinking about details so that when it is performed on stage, we have hopefully created the full and rich world of Southwick House, Portsmouth, on the eve of D-Day, and the audience can just step in and join the drama.

Pressure opens at Cambridge Arts Theatre, where it plays from 1 to 10 February 2018. It then tours to Edinburgh, Newcastle, Guildford, Cheltenham, Bath and Richmond. 

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