Monday is a travel day. On my way to Plymouth I see beautiful sandy beaches, dramatic cliffs and immense blue seas -I’m Mexican and not easily impressed by beaches but the south coast is really something.

On Tuesday we all come together at Theatre Royal Plymouth. By the time the cast arrives, the set, costumes, props, sound, video captions and lights are ready for tech in The Drum -this prep is known as the ‘get in’.

At the beginning of the week, TRP’s Artistic associate David Prescott welcomes director Paul Hunter and the company and we meet and greet the staff with fresh coffee. It’s lovely to be welcomed by so many people and see familiar faces too; Louise Schuman (TRP Producer), Hugh Borthwick (TRP Production Manager) and Freddie Crossley (TRP assistant director) visited us during rehearsals in London.

Prescott talks about TRP’s interest in co-producing theatre that takes risks. Paul strongly believes it is possible to be genuinely experimental and genuinely accessible. As part of its learning programme, TBAI is working with underrepresented theatre makers across the UK to devise short films that capture the spirit of silent movie comedy.

Back in The Drum the Stage Management team works arduously to make sure things run smoothly during tech week. Sophie Tetlow (Technical Stage Manager) sits in front of the stage to call the cues and indicate where to start and stop scenes. Leona Nally (Deputy Stage Manager) and Aideen Malone (Lighting Designer) sit behind a long desk at the rear of the auditorium. Sophie communicates through headsets with them to bridge communications with Paul; he and Aideen work closely to mark flashbacks and transitions. We start and stop from the top of the show (the beginning) to the very end.

Hannah Blamire (Production Manager) and Dom Baker (Video Designer) are here for the first two days. We now have video captions which need to be teched. The actors had gotten used to Paul’s audible cues and need to find a new way to follow the story; which isn’t easy due to its non-linearity. The curtain needs adjustment, the pleats make it difficult to read the captions. The problem is swiftly solved and the next day we have a new curtain.

Both Paul and I move around the raked auditorium to look at the stage from different perspectives. Ioana Curelea (set and costume designer) sits next to Sophie, right in front of the stage; her input is crucial throughout the week. Rachel Middlemore (Assistant Stage Manager) is the ‘behind the scenes magic wand’ that paints, makes props and ensures everything is there.

From the moment we start the tech rehearsal Paul is tempted to use the central isle, “it seems to cry out for this journey of the cases at the beginning of The Departure”, he says. The actors are keen to respond to the space that we’re in too.

Maintaining the original pace set by Paul at Jerwood Studios is a challenge due to multiple costume changes happening behind the scenes. The solution is to make costume changes easier and small compromises are made. Some elements take longer than others such as a body swap, opening and closing a trapdoor and a seagull falling from the grid.

The set’s dreamlike look is emphasised by Aideen’s superb lighting design. Actors get familiar with the stage’s new measurements and the areas surrounding it which are much darker here.

My favourite happy accident happened when Aideen was teching the end of a Stan and Ollie scene. You know, Jerone (Stan Laurel) and Nick (Ollie Hardy) have been improvising during the last 5 weeks and they’re standing still while Aideen tests and adjusts the size and height of a spotlight. As the circle gets
gradually smaller and lower, Jerone and Nick start to move with the light, bringing their faces closer and closer until they both reach floor. Everyone laughs so much that this gag makes it to the final show.

Tech week is hard but on the other end we have a beautiful experience. On Thursday the first preview is finally underway. TBAI have been coming to Plymouth for many years and they’ve built a loyal audience. It suddenly dawns on me that this is a comedy, we have been laughing our heads off all this time, but will the audience laugh too? Soon my apprehension fades away, people are audibly enjoying the show, and not only they are laughing but some of them have tears in their eyes.

Andrea Cabrera Luna

Assistant Director