Young reporter's blog: A View from the Bridge Nottingham

Young reporter's blog: A View from the Bridge Nottingham

Thursday, 12 March 2015

by Kayleigh Phillips

What's it like in the moments before a show opens? Last week, A View from the Bridge opened at Theatre Royal Nottingham and young reporter Kayleigh Phillips experienced seeing the show in those final few rehearsals through to the opening night. Read her blog here.


Tech day
What a busy day for all involved. People who believe that actors turn up just before they need to go on stage really should come and see a tech day in full swing. Everyone from the actors to the lighting designer and director is working tirelessly. But you can see that they are really enjoying what they do for a living. I was met at stage door by Neale Birch – Associate Producer, who showed me back stage, the set at a first glimpse is breathtaking. The seamless way the designer Liz Ashcroft has incorporated both inside the Carbone apartment with the cold brick building and telephone pylon of Brooklyn is a work of art. I watch as Liz moves between rooms of the set, with meticulous attention to detail. I sat down with Neale to talk about the set. He tells me that he 'Loves the tower, the structure with the cladding on it and how cleaver it is designed'. The texture that has been layered on the MDF really 'brings it to life' and it is '..all that they had hoped for, with the steel work at the front of the tower'. It really brings the building to life.  

Throughout the afternoon I watch as different actors plot their journeys and lighting states are decided. Then there is a scene change, four ensemble actors enter the stage with chairs and glasses and Neale guiding them across the stage and in to the wings.

The ensemble actors, which change with every city had only met on the Monday, looked and felt like they were part of the company. I watch as an entrance is worked out for a couple of the girls, ensuring no one walks in to anything in the dark whilst Roger Richardson – company stage manager has a joke with another cast member about a record player.

A few minutes later Michael Brandon and Jonathan Guy Lewis are on stage while a cross fade is decided and they start to play with the two phones, pretending to have a small conversation. Just 30 seconds ago they were shouting and full of emotion, now they have a joke as if they are school friends playing in a sweet shop. The lighting fade is programmed and the scene continues as if there had been no break in the scene.  

A later scene where the actors have to get a bit physical, I hear Roger Richardson say 'mark it please, gentleman'. This is a great example of the calibre of the actors and the production as they take on board notes without slowing the momentum of the scene.  


Dress day
Right at the top of the dress there is a steady hum of people working in the audience as I notice two actors on stage, Teresa Banham (Beatrice) and Michael Brandon (Alfieri) completing there vocal warm ups, I had just passed a humming James Rastall (Rodolpho) who was leaving his dressing room to get back stage. He smiled a hello before he went through the pass door and out of sight. The focus within the whole company was evident. Actors know this is it, when the magic start to come alive, no more 'let me try that line again'. First full run with set, lighting props and the knowledge that they open tonight. With a tight schedule, I check my watch and the show starts bang on time. A strange lull comes in to the audience during a dress rehearsal. It is very different to a tech. I heard the call, 'stand by please' and then the lights go down.  


I watch the play from the stalls and reality is only broken when the first half comes down and I remember that I am not watching an open performance, no half time drink or dash for the loo but a rehearsal. Once the play is finished and your emotions have been taken on a nice roller coaster. The director, Stephen Unwin, ascends the stage to arrange the curtain call and give a couple of notes. He addresses the actors on stage as a whole. A couple of notes are given and then the work continues. Nathan Markeiwicz, the Assistant Director, and Neale Birch address the note from Stephen that the ensemble actors need to be 'less nice' on stage.  The ensemble's act one journey is plotted and tweaked to portray a little more hustle within the scene.  

As this is being worked, I notice Yvonne Morley, the terrific voice coach, give a couple of general notes. I was fortunate enough to interview her after the dress rehearsal. We discussed the negotiation of the accent for the audience and how that had been addressed and about Michael Brandon being the only American and his upbringing in Brooklyn, where the story is set. Yvonne explains that the Brooklyn accent is unique in that 'It stands alone among American accents for being non-rhotic' (pronounces the letter r only before or between vowels, never after) and 'there was a creative discussion during the rehearsal how they wish to vocally show Alfieri trying to climb up the social ladder' through the choice of pronunciation. Yvonne explains how the little details that the actors want to go with and how she 'wishes to facilitate them in their journey'. We discuss the need for the play to be understood by an audience as the language albeit English, it is American English and written over 50 years ago when the vernacular was very different. The process and work conducted is evident in the play, as I felt picked up by the cast in the opening scene and I stayed with them till the light fade to black over two hours later. From accents to costume, coffee to tears shed, it was a great dress rehearsal and roll on press night where I get to experience it all over again.

Press night
I wish to kick this off by saying I thought that it is a fantastic show. A great atmosphere is created by the Theatre Royal staff, it felt busy but not crowded. The hustle of people, a mixture of seasonal theatre goers and groups of school children created a nice balance.

I was seated in the dress circle, which I was pleased with. I had already seen the set from the stalls and the new perspective really did it justice. The definition of rooms was even more evident, which is not an easy task when your set has no walls and no doors. The lights dim, music starts and I felt instantly engaged with the action on stage. Performers mainly have to be seen and heard, which sounds so simple but surprising how many actually forget that. With clear diction, and a great lighting state and I forgot that I was surrounded by hundreds of people. A slight distraction when a phone rings, but the actors do not falter. Catherine (Daisy Boulton) is bringing in the plates for supper and you actually feel you're watching a glimpse into a real family, identifiable in that we have all sat around a table with our family, but few can say that they have done that in a run down apartment in Red Hook.  

Jonathan Guy Lewis plays Eddie Carbone with such intensity, the organic way he shows his emotion to an audience is phenomenal, I felt that he was only speaking to me at times. The phrase artistic athlete has been used a couple of times this week, and I believe that it encapsulates his journey through the piece. The performance kicks off light a freight train and only builds momentum. In non-theatre terms it is like running a marathon in costume and every member of the cast has their running shoes on.  

The emotional maturity of Catherine is a nice development throughout the scenes and the relationship changes with Eddie and Beatrice are subtle and believable. Beatrice (Teresa Banham) portrays strength and respect for her husband, a woman who speaks her mind and Banham shows the emotional and physical connection between the characters well. The entrance of Marco (Philip Cairns) and Rodolpho (James Rastall) adds another level to the piece, the audience reaction to Rodolpho's hair creates a nice ripple effect of laughter. The pitch of the characters both physically and vocally is very clever, I do not remember being told in the script that Marco is the older brother but in this production he obviously is. There is a beautiful moment after the prison scene where Rodolpho is lifted up by Marco in a loving way. This manifested a laugh from the audience, which was lovely to watch.  

Michael Brandon is a constant figure in the play. He is present but allows for the focus to be directed to the action. His subtle movements and gestures echo throughout the scenes, I believe that he plays a great bridge character between the audience and his fellow actors.  

The company is rounded off by John Alastair, Paul Chesterton, Orestes Sophocleous and Ben Woodhall perfectly. They do not appear in all the scenes but facilitate a seamless development that builds, both as individual, identifiable characters and as a group.  

They cross the finish line together with a high octane scene that grasps the audience by the throat. The lights fade to black, the actors return to take a bow as a company, to a very well deserved applause.

 

A View from the Bridge opened at Theatre Royal, Nottingham, where it ran from 4 to 7 March 2015. It then toured to Cheltenham, Darlington, Wolverhampton, Bradford, Coventry and Edinburgh, where it concluded on 2 May.