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1988 - An Actor's Diary.

Author: Rupert Graves.
Publication: BPI Entertainment.

Rupert Graves In rehearsal for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore.

Before rehearsals began for 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, I'd met Alan Ayckborn twice: once before Christmas, and again shortly after to talk about the part of Giovanni and, of course, the play itself.

Alan and I got on well, I think.

He seemed terribly easy going, and yet obviously had done a great deal of work on the play - how he was going to stage it, the look of it, etc.

I was anxious to know who was going to play Giovanni's sister Annabella, and Alan revealed that it was to be Suzan Sylvester. I was intrigued as I didn't know her or her work, though I had heard wonderful things about her in Alan's production of A View From the Bridge, playing at the Aldwych. I saw it as soon as I could and God! - what a good production. I came out tingling, and feeling that if this was the sort of production Alan could direct, then we were in for some great days. I loved Suzan's performance, in fact I loved them all.

Before rehearsals started, I read the play twice, perhaps three times. We were using the New Mermaid edition which is full of wonderful notes. I kept stopping and reading them - turning quite a short read into rather a long one. My first impression was that it was going to be a difficult play to learn...

Monday January 4th:

First day of rehearsal. A bit like the first day of school: where is everything? How do I get to out rehearsal room? It's rehearsal room 2 and there are 5 others. So...from the stage door it's right, right again, down the slope, sharp right, sharp right again to the end of the corridor. One false move and I'm either at the rear stage of the Cottesloe, wandering around the dressing room block or in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof rehearsals!

The most amazing thing on entering the room is there appears to be a set - and on the first day of rehearsal, is this the way the national do it? Apart from the set (which takes up three-quarters of a very large room) there are about fifty other people. At first glance I know two of them! There are the full cast, the understudies, stage management, design team, props, wardrobe and even casting who come down to say "hello" and "welcome."

Oh yes, and Stephen Wood from the Press Office who introduced himself, asked me if I would do interviews and this "diary" piece. He caught me with my defences down - I said, "Yes!!"

After much nervous "hello-ing," "what are you playing?" ("I'm not in it, I'm the costume supervisor"), Alan called the assembled to order and we sat down to read the play. When you hear it the first time read by those who are going to play it, it's much more difficult than reading it on your own. Some people read well, some don't and obviously hate the experience, and some give a sort of performance. It's a very odd experience, but one you've got to go through. The read-through took about two hours, after which all the "new" boys and girls set off on an adventure together to discover the canteen.

We achieved our goal and after a quick lunch Alan and Roger Glossop the designer showed us the set model. It's all arches and goes up four levels - higher than the rehearsal room. It looks a bit like an Escher drawing and is set on the Olivier revolve. We then had individual costume discussion with Sally Gardner the costume designer. I always find this a difficult thing; though you've only just read the play, you somehow have to agree on what you are going to look like in eight weeks time. At the first rehearsal, what I saw looked fine - we'll see when we get the fittings done and are on stage.

Home, absolutely knackered - all the reading and talking isn't tiring, but you use up so much nervous energy on "first days."

Tuesday January 5th:

First real day of rehearsal. Act I Scene I, the Friar (Richard Cordery) and me. I now realise why we have the set in the rehearsal room - the scenes are played on so many different levels, that it would be impossible to rehearse on the flat. There was one slightly strange thing: although the scene is a duologue, all the understudies, Alan, four stage management, and Ken Macintosh the staff director are in the room as well as Richard and I - about twelve other people!

An exhilarating day getting to grips with the play. Alan works out very precise rehearsal calls and has thought meticulously about the scene changes. There are twenty-seven scenes in all and the set seems to be constantly moving making it rather filmic.

Monday, January 11th:

Start of the second week. We have now done a rough blocking of the whole play. I'm loving rehearsals and Suzan and I are making a lot of progress. We get on well and we spend a great deal of time together talking about our roles. The rehearsal room gets rather stuffy at times so we go out for bracing walks along the embankment to mull over a scene.

Oh yes, last Friday I got rather cocky and tried a different way to the rehearsal room. Got lost. Suddenly coming over the tannoy, "Mr Graves to rehearsal room 2 IMMEDIATELY." I found my way back to the stage door and went by my usual route! Alan is very loose and free in rehearsals, but likes punctuality. I'll have to watch it.

Monday January 18th:

Start of the third week. The play is really coming on - I don't need the script in my hand for some scenes now and that makes working so much easier. I'm also learning lot from Alan and the other actors. I'm daily realising how lucky I am to be able to work well with Suzan - it would be absolutely impossible with an Annabella who you didn't like or couldn't get on with. Alan, although terribly organised, is very free during the actual rehearsal.

He lets you explore, fail and yet keeps the whole production very tight. I get the sense I could try anything, and though he might gently say "no, that doesn't work," you do feel that you are contributing greatly. When we're working hard, there's no messing about, but there are lots of laughs too.

I've started my fight with Clive Francis (Vasquez) under the direction of Malcolm Ranson. We build up speed very, very slowly - it's dangerous stuff, and very tiring so "slowly, slowly" Malcolm keeps telling us.

Monday January 25th:

I set myself some targets for learning the text - and failed. I think I'm slipping behind - definitely not a good week. I've had to fit in some dubbing this week very early in the morning on a film called Handful of Dust. I'm getting very tired. Clive and I are working in lunch breaks on the fight as we want to get it really slick and very fast. I was in the gents toilet today between rehearsal rooms 1 and 2. I looked up from the urinal, and who was busy having a pee next to me but Sir Peter Hall! (The Late Shakespeare's are rehearsing in the building now.) Funny old world. "How's it going?" he said. "Great," I said, nervously. "Good, good," he said, and we did up our flies.

Monday February 1st:

A better week. Have done three interviews for newspapers and magazines, fitting them in at lunchtimes. First costume fitting. I've seen some of the fabric which looks wonderful. The rehearsal room was very hot this week and I'm drinking masses of tea. I've been reading a book about Dennis Nielsen (British serial killer-ed.) called Killing for Company. It's helping me in a strange and horrible way.

Monday February 8th:

We've really had a good week. We're all pretty pleased with ourselves so Alan's going to make us run it tomorrow.

Wednesday February 10th:

The run was a shambles. All the scenes we'd done separately didn't seem to work one after another. As the set doesn't move, we all have to keep walking round in a circle. We were all a bit low afterwards. Alan has bucked us up by saying that first run-throughs are always like that, so DON'T PANIC.

Monday February 15th:

We did another run today. Marc, who's on the book, told me I only got 8 lines wrong. I'm fairly pleased about that but worried about the pace in some of the scenes. I think what is good is that the whole cast seem to be peaking at the same time. Alan has been very clever with this.

The set went away last week to be cladded so we are all rehearsing on the floor doing small scale intimate rehearsals, very useful as it turned out. We are going to have a morning on Saturday 20th with the set doing the revolve cues - can't wait but God, it's a big auditorium.

©1988 BPI Entertainment.