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In Rehearsals - A Splinter of Ice - Blog 2

Posted: 2021-03-16 12:00:00

‘It’s almost normal…except it’s not’.

We are costume fitting this morning, and Siobhan our costume supervisor is commenting on the fact that she is currently presenting the actors not only in masks but to a director who is sat in his living room in Perth and a designer in his farmhouse (over a terrible internet connection) in the south of France both kept out of the rehearsal room due to Covid. Almost the definition of ‘the new normal’.

The country is preparing to cautiously re-open us and we are back working in a rehearsal room and finding our feet with the play. It’s an intense experience for the actors, especially Oliver and Stephen who spend almost the entirety of the play on stage. But also for the small contingent of Paul (CSM), Felix (DSM) and myself acting as director Alan’s eyes and ears in the room. 

Ben’s play is rich, detailed and nuanced. The language is precise and demanding to learn and it requires complete attention at all times. At times it has been like wading through treacle as we go through the tried and trusted rehearsal technique of running each section over and over slowly building confidence in lines and thoughts. I’m sat largely quietly listening carefully and offering the odd thought on a line here or a move there- it has taken time to adjust to the slower rhythm of rehearsal. It just takes time- and there are no short cuts. Every step forward is made with a degree of pain and trial and error and eventually you can stumble your way through a sequence. 

And then suddenly, completely out of nowhere it grips. Last Friday, sometime in the mid afternoon as we tackled a thorny section in Act 2 when the action and temperature hots up- the scene suddenly sprung to life. I realised in retrospect I was in a room with Kim Philby and Graham Greene and in thrall to the drama playing out just 2 metres in front of me. The thoughts of characters and actors met and for a few minutes time seemed to stop and we were back in Moscow in 1987…

…And then Stephen dropped a line and swore and Oliver smiled and we were back to the trudge and graft of re routing that section to prevent the same mis-step. It was maybe as brief as 30 seconds, but it was magic whilst it lasted.

The challenge now, as the rehearsal room slowly metamorphosing into Kim and Rufa Philby’s Moscow flat, is to try and maintain that level for the 80 minutes running time. And that is where the artistry really comes in. Thank goodness we are in the hands of such fine actors as Sara, Oliver and Stephen.

The play is a hire wire act, Alan describes it as ‘an iceberg’ play when the real action lies beneath the surface of the lines. Philby and Greene were two big characters, intellectual and from a different era in many ways, they abided by an unwritten code that seems increasingly foreign to us in todays world. Yet they were held by a seemingly unbreakable friendship and an ephemeral connection that defied a 35 year absence as well as Philby’s duplicity and indeed his treachery- on the grandest of world stages. Treachery that changed the world as we know it.

We now begin the process of piecing the play together as we prepare to open it in Cheltenham next week…not to an audience alas- not yet anyway- instead to multiple cameras who will be filming the play for it’s online release in April.

I think audiences will be in something a little bit special, a theatrical tonic after this long and challenging year spent in the wings.