The Elephant Man | Rehearsal Diary Week 3

11 Jun 2018

With just over two weeks until The Elephant Man opens on our stage, Assistant Director Katharine Farmer fills us in on Week 3 of rehearsals.

If Week One was about exploration and Week Two was about specificity, Week Three has been about play.

Having made headway with text work, it’s time for us to move onto blocking the scenes and planning the transitions. As the play is broken up into lots of short scenes, we’ve been looking at ways we can link them together and keep the story moving. Over the course of the week we’ve discovered that this is mostly achieved by moving the set into different configurations to signify a change of location and using stylised movement.

Staging is always my favourite part of rehearsal as you get to see the play come to life. There’s a real sense of collaboration between the company as everyone throws ideas into the mix. Lee (director) knows what he wants to achieve with each scene but lets the actors explore different ideas and try new things until something is mutually agreed. It’s always a discussion, which is a great way to run a rehearsal room.

When the actors are not playing a character they assume a role as part of the chorus - taking on different identities such as orderlies in the hospital. The reaction to Merrick by the ensemble help to reinforce his objectification and highlight how he was always on display for public consumption, whether in the guise of a freak show or a medical lecture.

In the lecture scene, the ensemble move Merrick like a puppet. Lee and the cast have experimented with different ways of contorting Jamie and have devised a beautiful scene where we see Merrick physically manipulated into different positions in the name of science.

This sequence is then mirrored later in the play with Treves’ dream, where Alex Wilson(Treves) is moved in a similar way to Jamie in the earlier scene. This was a particularly exciting scene to choreograph as we got to explore different ways of bringing the text to life and giving the audience a glimpse into Treves’ subconscious as he considers his personality and previous treatment of Merrick. 

With the help of Movement Director Jonathan Howell, this week we also devised the mob sequence at Liverpool Street Station when Merrick returns from Brussels, robbed and alone. This was a complicated scene to block as there were a lot of elements that had to come together. The ensemble here are the crowd who chase after Merrick at the station, curious to get a sight of the hooded man. Lee explored using different tempos and rhythms in the sequence to heighten and build tension at particular moments. We also integrated this staging with moving the crate into different positions to represent his journey from Brussels to London via boat and train.

Now we’ve spent a lot of time on the physical aspects of the production, next week I expect we’ll move onto running scenes together and seeing the play as a whole. 

With two weeks until we move into the theatre, we’ve had all of the designers at some point attend rehearsals to see our progress so far. At this mid point it was great to hear some examples of the sound design by Adrienne to give us a sense of what the tone of the movement sequences will be. The cello is rather mournful and adds a sense of drama to each transition. 

This week we were also lucky enough to be visited by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School alum, Sir Patrick Stewart, who popped into rehearsals whilst on a tour of the school.

With so many comings and goings this week it really feels like everything is coming together!

The Elephant Man comes to Bristol Old Vic from 26 Jun – 7 Jul. Book your tickets here