The Elephant Man | Rehearsal Diary Week 1

1 Jun 2018

Over the next five weeks, Assistant Director Katharine Farmer will be reporting from the rehearsal room of The Elephant Man, giving us an inside scoop into the preparation process and what makes this production truly unique.

As with most productions, the first day of rehearsals kicked off with a meet and greet. Excitable chatter and nervous laughter filled the Weston Studio at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School as the director, actors, stage managers, designers, costume assistants, construction managers, producers, marketers and tutors entered the room in anticipation of hearing the first read-through of The Elephant Man.

When chatting to actress Gráinne O'Mahony about the read-through, she shared how enlightening it was in terms of understanding the themes of the play. She said that it helped her realise what a deep, philosophical play The Elephant Man is and that discovery overtook any fear or trepidation she might have had on the first day of rehearsal.

The world of the play was brought to life after lunch when the cast returned to the Studio to find the model box on display. Set Designer Caitlin Abbott had spent the past couple of months building a beautiful 1:25 scale replica of the set to help everyone understand how it would work. As expected, presenting the set and costume designs only increased the buzz in the room...

In her presentation Caitlin explained how she drew inspiration from Victorian and Brechtian theatre to create a temporary and fluid set that was equal parts theatrical and functional. Influenced by Brecht's alienation effect, Caitlin explained how captions and titles will be used in the play to distance the audience emotionally and therefore make them more active spectators to society's treatment of Joseph Merrick.

Ziggy Jacobs, the Lighting and Projection Designer, went on to discuss how images and animations would be projected onto screens to complement the action in the scene. She also explained that lines from the text would also be projected in different ways, making the show almost fully captioned for D/deaf audiences.

Once the production teams had left, Director Lee Lyford used the afternoon to explore the play's themes and share research. Rather than sitting around a table, Lee had everyone moving around and exploring the text physically though creating tableaux and playing games.

By introducing movement early on, the cast fully appreciated what a collaborative and visual production this would be and helped to set a tone in the room of playful discovery that has infused every rehearsal since.

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