This has to be one for the real theatre nerds, watching a technical rehearsal. You don't get to see the whole play, you sit up in the circle out of sight but it is theatre laid bare, all mysticism removed just plain old hard grafting. And I loved it.
Of course it helps when it is the RSC.
The play being tech rehearsed was The Winter's Tale which I saw in Stratford last year. Not my favourite Shakespeare play but it has a lot of fun elements to it.
We (the fifty or so of us who'd paid a fiver for the privilege) were ushered into our circle seats at the Roundhouse shortly before seven where a nice man with an ID lanyard explained that we would be seeing the second-half rehearsed and that the cast and crew were due back from "supper" at seven but were running a little late as usual. He also told us we could come and go as we pleased and that they were hoping to be finished by 9.50pm.
And so we settled down and waited as the members of the cast gradually drifted onto the stage, some rehearsing bits of dance sequences together, others just lolling around chatting until the stage manager, like a conductor tapping his baton at the orchestra, called everyone to order. And we were off, or rather they were, performing a dance sequence with the two central characters.
Light sequences weren't quite right and neither was the dance so a halt was called, starting positions re-found and off they went again.
Some scenes were repeated several times actors being called back to redo bits after running off stage to change. Bits of costume were removed on stage casually flung to the ground or roughly over chairs in the stalls. You could just feel wardrobe bristling.
It's not the most riveting of viewing. Lots of stopping and starting and fiddling with things, director talking to actors, stage manager talking to actors and crew. But what is fascinating is seeing the process and the production evolving organically before your very eyes.
The dress rehearsal was scheduled for the next day with the first paying customers that same evening and here they were still adding new bits into the dances. The actors obviously reserve something for the real paying audience despite being told by the stage manager: "If you don't do it properly you will have to do it again".
I love the magic of the theatre but it is good to be reminded of the work and the people behind it. Seeing the actors simple doing their job and then being normal between times hanging out, chatting and sharing a joke just like most of us do during the odd moments of down town at work.
The stage manager decided that they weren't going to get through the entire second act before 10 so the next day was going to be a long one of finishing off the tech, dress rehearsal and then performance. It'd been a long day for me and my companions too so we left them to it at about 9.15pm.
The Winter's Tale is playing in Rep as part of the RSC's London Season at the Roundhouse until December 29.