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Last Thursday, we had a runthrough of the first three acts of the play. It was the first time many of the cast members had seen each other since the readthrough, and it gave us a chance to really see how the play is developing. It was also the first time any of the actors put down their scripts in rehearsal – a daunting exercise for many, but an important one!

One of the biggest challenges of staging this play is simply the sheer volume of lines each actor has to learn. Even comparatively minor characters have long monologues of dense, complex verse. This has the advantage of allowing most of the actors the chance to get to grips with a style of dramatic address that is usually only available to those playing lead roles; but it makes this stage in the rehearsal process considerably trickier, as the usual shakiness that comes with losing the script for the first time is compounded by the sheer complexity of the language, imagery and versification. This is still more daunting for those with larger roles, and consequently still more verse to learn!

However, our actors rose to the challenge, and the majority managed most (if not all) of the runthrough without looking at their scripts. Everyone claimed to be concentrating so hard that they forgot to act, but from where I was sitting, it all looked fantastic – it was wonderful to feel the tension build and the relationships progress as the scenes were strung together. And you don’t have to take my word for it – Arthur, our stage manager, and Sam, our lutenist, were in the audience, both seeing the actors in performance for the first time, and both were surprised and delighted by the way the text came to life, and by how quickly the actors had immersed themselves in it.

It’s been a strange but wonderful play to rehearse – every now and then in rehearsals, it would strike me that this was probably the first time each scene has been acted in 400 years! Discussing characterisation and motivation, who knows what when, where each scene takes place and in which direction characters should exit when travelling from Egypt to Rome, we felt a curious freedom – even as we try to bring the text to life as faithfully as possible, we cannot help but be aware of the complete lack of precedent. There are no ghosts of past performances haunting us, no artistic choices that we must copy or ignore – the only performance we are using as our model is the very first. It’s an exhilarating feeling, and it made the rehearsal room an exciting place.

We’re all relieved to have a break over Christmas – next term, we’ll get started on Act IV, and we hope to stage our first full runthrough by early February! And then the countdown to the performance begins…

I hope you enjoyed the first rehearsal photos – Rathika, my lovely assistant director, took plenty more at our recent runthrough, so look out for those over the next couple of weeks!