Two Cities Twelve Casting Blog

Two Cities Twelve Casting Blog

18 August 2016

How do you go about casting groups of 12 local people in nine theatres around the UK? Associate Producer Neale Birch writes about the enormous challenge in preparation for the tour of A Tale of Two Cities.

Neale Birch in rehearsals

We've now finished our second week of rehearsals for A Tale of Two Cities. A big responsibility that I have on this production is the ensemble cast, which is going to be so integral to the telling of this great story. We have been touring large-scale productions for 20 years now, and this is the sixth production that we have done that has required an ensemble cast. We put quite a bit of effort into engaging the local communities; through our extensive education programme, through community projects and through our Ambassador scheme. What we hope is that we can create or develop in those communities an interest and liking for theatre. The most powerful way for us to achieve that is to offer people the opportunity to appear on their local stage, as part of a fully professional production with directors, designers and actors who are at the top of their game. Every ensemble actor we have used on previous productions has had a fantastic time. It has been so exciting for them, a huge learning opportunity and a thrill for their families and friends.


I have had the chance throughout the summer to visit each of the theatres we are playing A Tale Of Two Cities, and hold auditions for those ensemble roles. I have met some very talented people, and it has been great to see so many wanting to be involved and putting themselves forward to be auditioned by us. There can be so many reasons why one person auditioning is more suitable for this production than another.  As is often the case, I am looking for a mixture of ages and types, so someone’s height might prevent me using them on this occasion, or might make them perfect for the ensemble this week. Of course, I try to make the auditions as daunting and scary as I can – joke! On the contrary, I want to relax the actors and make them feel comfortable, so that they are best able to show me something of who they are. It is also important that I find people that are going to be able to work under the pressures that we face, both in terms of logistics and aesthetics.


There is no dialogue in the play for ensemble members (very strict Equity regulations determine how we can use an ensemble actor), so I don’t need to hear speeches or ask the applicants to read from the play. As I welcome them into the audition, I explain what it is we are doing and what we are looking for, making sure that each applicant knows the rehearsal and performance dates and times and are available for them. We can’t have anyone of our ensemble missing for any of the scheduled calls, and it is quite a commitment they would be making. I then give each person auditioning a couple of acting exercises designed to show me how truthful they can be in their acting. In performance, it is very important that the focus for the ensemble actors is on what is happening in the scene. Being ‘in the moment’ is critical to them feeling and looking like a genuine part of the action. Everyone feels a pressure to perform, but the better actors don’t succumb to this pressure, but perform their tasks truthfully.  I only get 10-15 minutes with each person, so it is difficult for me, but I try to give each person making the effort to come in and subject themselves to this ordeal, enough time to show me what they can do. Generally, I think people have found the audition itself more enjoyable than they had expected.


We are fully cast in Nottingham, Edinburgh, and Wolverhampton, and are well on the way with all of the other venues. There are still places that I have to fill and further auditions are being arranged. If people are interested in being seen for the ensemble in their local theatre, they can still get in touch – it isn’t too late.


I am really looking forward to working closely with our director, James Dacre, on staging the ensemble. There will be a great deal for them to do, and the ensemble is in so many of the scenes and will play such an important part in the action. It is going to be so exciting for them and a fantastic experience. And you will be able to hear how they get on in the coming weeks and months. 


A Tale of Two Cities opens at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it plays from 10 to 17 September 2016. It then tours to Oxford Playhouse, Richmond Theatre, Bradford Alhambra, Blackpool Grand, Wolverhampton Grand, Brighton Theatre Royal, Edinburgh King's, Cheltenham Everyman and Nottingham Theatre Royal. 

Get tickets for this show by visiting our tour page.