Wednesday, 7 May 2008
SUDDENLY IT WAS HERE! All the months of work - script writing, song writing, sleepless nights, hammering on doors, phone calls, emails, letters, intense rehearsals - had come together at last. As I was smoking one last cigarette by the stage door Jo Millson came rushing out to thank me for the Rossetti book Steve and I had bought for his birthday. With a hug he was gone and Tish turned up to take me off to greet the guests who had been invited early for drinks before the show.
Steve stood outside the theatre talking to friends and family - when he disappeared to sit at the piano, I never quite noticed, but suddenly he was gone and I knew the time was drawing near. So many friends had managed to make it from London, as well as some of my family, who lived nearby. My son Eddie, had flown in from Venice. Many of the people who came had seen the Greenwich showcase in 2006 and were here to witness the next stage. It was a good audience for a workshop performance, usually only producers, friends and people interested in theatre come to things like this. But the fascination with this pre-Raphaelite story had brought a lot of other people. One American couple outside the theatre asked Karl what it was all about and when he told them they rushed in and bought tickets.
I was sick with nerves but managed to sit with my agent, Micheline Steinberg. Helen was at the lighting desk cuing in lights with Ash, and Taff was on the sound desk. James and Jules were cuing in the projections from a laptop. Miles and Karl were upstairs in the gallery operating the three video cameras. This was a much more complicated operation that the Friday rehearsal at the Arts, so many more things could go wrong.
The lights went down and Jane and Bessy's laughter burst out onto the stage. Just as I had visualised it, they both appeared to be friends at the beginning of the scene, not mistress and servant. By the end of the scene Jane has been dressed as the Pre-Raphaelite icon by Bessy, her maid, who kneels at her feet putting on her shoes.
Everything went smoothly. The projections were not as clear as we had hoped but Karl's idea of making them morph out of something which looked like molten glass worked. Everything slid into place. After the applause for the first song I felt that the audience was on our side and really began to enjoy the show. In many of the very emotional scenes the actors were off their books, for a five day rehearsal period this was unheard of.
Anna Francolini was more like Jane than I had ever hoped possible; the dramatic change between her thoughtful side, which burst to life when she laughed and sang, was vivid to watch. Matthew White's rich singing voice and gruff tenderness made us care more Topsy than I had ever have imagined. Joseph Millson's Gabriel had the ascetic sensitivity and passion of Rossetti, and his madness scene was more powerful on stage than it had ever been in the little rehearsal room. Elizabeth Renihan had the look of a Shakespearean tragic heroin as she drank the laudanum at the end of scene 4. As she entered as the ghost for the first time, in a shaft of light, I saw how powerful her visitations could be in the fully staged show. Natalie Wright, who had played Bessy in the Greenwich showcase had become Bessy for me. When I did my rewrites, it was her voice I heard in my head. She is a brilliant comedian with perfect comic timing, but in this show we also saw her more sensitive side as she makes up to Mr Carter. Martin Lamb's Northern accent has lent a whole new meaning to Mr Carter - I can't imagine him with anything else now. His embarrassment at Gabriel's forthright jokes and secret longing for Bessy almost made me blush with him. Frances and Maddy were much older than the little girls who should have been playing Jenny and May Morris but this didn't seem to matter, they were totally convincing and the ghostly shadows that Ash gave them for the WHO IS THERE song were perfect.
All too soon I was outside in the foyer amongst the hubbub of people again. It had gone well and there was a real buzz, I felt extremely lucky to have had such brilliant people to work with.
Above is a video still taken during the song JANEY in ACT II showing TOPSY (Matthew White), MAY (Madeleine Edis), JENNY (Frances Knox), and BESSY (Natalie Wright) in the background.
Posted by Teresa Howard at Wednesday, May 07, 2008