Wednesday, 18 February 2009

The Caretaker - rehearsal diary week 1

Paul Webster (Davies) Image: Joel Chester Fildes

One of the things I love about working here is the opportunity to meet new, creative and very lovely people. For The Caretaker, Mark is being ably assisted by the very lovely Hal Chambers.

Hal is a young theatre director who recently trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He has been as Assistant Director with the Theatre Royal Bath and is soon to be working at the Bristol Old Vic. He works as a freelance theatre director and workshop leader in London.

Over the next few weeks he is our inside man and will be keeping a diary of his time here and reporting on ‘Pinterland’, where director, Mark Babych, takes an experienced cast through a modern masterpiece.

Jeff Hordley (Mick) Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Day One: 9th February
The Octagon shines on a dreary, rainy afternoon in February. I, the eager young assistant director, am staring the terrifying play, The Caretaker, down the barrel and am consumed with both excitement and nerves! The latter largely disappears pretty quickly as I am greeted by the lovely atmosphere within the theatre. In turn I meet the different members of the team, including director Mark and the cast.

After some routine introductions and strong coffees the model box of the set is introduced. Richard, the designer, has done a great job - the set exudes a lot of the darkness and uneasiness of the play. People seem impressed. Paul Webster, who is playing Davies, has a lot of questions. Not surprising since he will barely leave the stage in over two hours!

Paul Webster (Davies) and Jeff Hordley (Mick). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

The read through arrives and it is lively. Debate and theories are on the table in the break. Everyone is bursting to get underneath the surface of this maze of language. When the read through is over I am guided by stage manager, Helen, around the Octagon building. The place has a friendly, local feel. Debate between Mark and the cast – Jeff, Matthew and Paul, continues in the rehearsal room. The day ends, thankfully, in the pub. Spirits seem pretty high….
I walk up a hill with bursting shopping bags with Assistant Stage Manager , Jake, and arrive at my digs. A huge house. Hello Bolton!

Day Two: 10th February
A beautiful sunny morning greets the city. Jake and I walk down to the theatre and meet Paul (Davies) who has been there since 8am. He is dressed in rehearsal clothes and looks every bit a professional tramp! Mark (director) and Matt (Aston) arrive and we launch into pages 1-7. Pinter’s words are so open to different readings. It is a minefield! We spend a bit of time discussing the many ways of saying ‘uh’. Mark leads the uncovering of meaning and we start getting stuff on its feet. The play presents so many possibilities, and we start decoding it like detectives!

Matthew Rixon (Aston). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Jeff (Mick) joins us after lunch and we work through Mick and Davies first meeting. Mind games, shifts of status, and the threat of violence are in the air. Classic Pinter. We later have Matt back in the room and we attempt trying to change Aston’s rhythms and accent slightly. The results are very exciting.

Plenty of work covered on day two. I lie in front of the sofa watching a documentary on dreams in the evening. Both Davies and Aston claim they don’t dream when they sleep. Hard to imagine a life without them…

Paul Webster (Davies) Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Day Three: 11th February
Rain greets up this morning. I am not a fan of rain. (Lucky the North West is usually so dry then - Ed!)

The rehearsal room provides safe shelter. Part of the first hour of today’s rehearsal involves a logistical puzzle of how to best hide Davies’ bed, and how to take off all of the intricate junk later. We eventually find a good rhythm for this section and look forward to the end of the scene. Jeff arrives after lunch again and we start playing with Mick’s twisted persona. The psychological torture he inflicts on Davies is examined. Jeff enjoys freeing things up a bit. I find myself laughing a bit too much, after all, what is happening on stage is pretty nasty!

Paul Webster (Davies) and Matthew Rixon (Aston). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

Matt returns and we rehearse the bag swapping business in Act Two. I narrate through the precise directions from the text, and Paul, Jeff and Matt work through it. It is a bizarre and fascinating moment in the play - and the speed of it, both mentally and physically, may well provide an apt group warm up! Jeff leaves us around late afternoon, and we spend the remaining time going over the first twenty-seven pages of the play in detail. The play is already becoming funny and strangely haunting. Discoveries are starting to be made.

I spend the evening with leader Craig, and activ8 Youth Group. The 13-15 year olds are hugely energetic and intelligent. They even looked at scenes from The Caretaker. I wonder what they made of it!

Day Four: 12th February
A short day today as Jeff is away. I come in early to run lines with Paul (Davies) and Matthew (Aston). The director arrives and we work through a section where Aston leaves Davies all alone in the dilapidated flat. Mark gives a few suggestions and after a few runs of the section everyone seems happy. An early finish.

Jeff Hordley (Mick). Image: Joel Chester Fildes

I spend the afternoon exploring Manchester, and pay the Royal Exchange a visit. I then come back to the Octagon to see Paul in his one-man show about Hitler. An amazing transformation!

Day Five: 13th February
A very productive day. We reach the end of our first act and go over it. There is a good flow emerging although there is a general feeling that we have still only scratched the surface of this beast of a play. There are so many more layers to unearth.

During some of the afternoon I went through lines with Matthew (Aston). Many of his lines consist of ‘Mmm’ and ‘Yes’ and there are many random jumps in thought. I spend the time doing my best Paul Webster impression and Matthew feels a bit better for the hard work. Back in the rehearsal room we run a good section of our first half to finish the day and decide on calls for next Monday. Mark seems to be a happy director.

Back to the rush of London for the weekend. Bring on Week Two!
Thanks for this Hal. Look forward to reading about what's in store next week....


  1. We are looking forward to seeing The Caretaker, great pictures from the rehearsals, cant wait!

    Steve, Bolton

  2. Thanks Steve

    I am looking forward to it very much too. I have just posted another rehearsal diary with more photos so keep checking back...