And so to the scratch night at Rialto. Remarkable work from Jenny and Emma, all the more so for the fact that it’d been so hard to get them together to rehearse. Having worked with them individually in previous days, I only achieved quoracy for the first time on Tuesday, when we got some rehearsal time at the Rialto; there, in an uncharacteristic burst of ruthless efficiency (on my part) and characteristic enthusiasm (on theirs), we got the scene blocked in little over an hour. Again I found myself thrilled by the leaps forward that can be achieved in a short period of intensive work. Another new experience, as director, was the phenomenon of nerves. As an actor I’m rarely afflicted; if I’m about to go on-stage, I have a pretty good idea of how well I’ve prepared, but, ready or not, I know I have to go on whatever, so as there’s no escape there’s no point in getting alarmed. As a director, though, sitting in the audience at the Rialto waiting for Jenny and Emma to kick off the show, I found myself nervous – dry-mouthed and worrying about about all kinds of things – in a way I never am as an actor. Maybe it’s the knowledge that, if things go wrong, I’m in no position to get things back on course – only those on stage have that power, at least, once the show’s started.
Ours was the first of four play extracts – which extracts would, at the end of the evening, be the subject of a vote by the audience (secret ballot, of course): the victor would be assessed by the management alongside the winners of the previous two scratch nights, and one would be offered a Festival slot at Rialto. I was dubious as to how The Causeway would work in a festival slot – there’d be pressure, for instance, to compress it into an hour’s playing time – but in the end I was to be spared such a problem, for though the ladies played a blinder, we lost out to a piece about a man who makes a Faustian pact to win the Lottery in exchange for his toes. It was funnier than it sounds, and maybe that was key, for our extract from The Causeway didn’t get too many laughs; I’d’ve been glad if we had, for there are jokes a-plenty, despite the murky subject matter (two sisters looking back on a childhood incident which has overshadowed both their lives).
Even so, it was worth the effort – for me, at least, and, I hope, for the cast. When you’re writing a play in the seclusion of your own space, you never really know how a thing’s going to work; you could be the best actor in the world, as multi-vocally versatile as Peter Sellers or Alec Guinness, but still, reading it out at your desk can never be a true substitute for getting people up to do it before an audience.
Robert Cohen – a man in showbiz so stepp’d in that, should he wade no more, to go back were as tedious as go o’er. These are among his musings.