Curtains up

In the final installment of our directors blog, Chris Honer shares his final notes before opening to the public

We were delighted with the way the preview went. The friendly audience tuned in to the play’s wavelength immediately, enjoyed the characters, engaged with the issues, and, thank the Lord, got the humour. Feedback from the punters was very positive. But a preview, or, rather, the preview as, with our shortish runs at the Lowry we only schedule one before the press night, is tremendously useful to actors and director.

Whether on stage like the actor, or scribbling notes in the darkened auditorium like the director, all of us are acutely conscious of the moment an audience loses attention, watches the wrong thing, doesn’t follow the story, misses a joke, and so on. So we probably learn more from the preview than we did in a week in the rehearsal room.

Most of my notes are to do with detail, and pretty banal ones at that. Here are some of them:

– When Dr Diane gets a business card from Head of University Security Geoff, perhaps she should put in on her desk rather than trying to put it in her jacket pocket, which seems to be difficult to access and the struggle to do so is momentarily distracting to an audience.

– Caroline, our DSM (Deputy Stage Manager), who cues the show from the prompt corner, and who is discreetly wonderful and the calmest person under pressure that I know, brought the lights up a micro-second early on Scene 7, catching Cate still getting into position for the scene. She knew she did it, and she’ll watch the monitor more carefully there in future.

– Wardrobe: too much snow to be credible on tree-hugger Ben’s hat and top when he comes in from the cold in Scene 7.

– In the same scene we miss the moment when Ben brings out his Stanley knife. Gesture needs to be stronger or better focussed.

– Several notes about some lines being lost because the actors were ambushed by unexpected laughter from the audience.

– Diane to put only one pizza in the oven in Act Two: preparing two takes too long, and is too distracting.

So in the afternoon before press night we put in the improvements, and do some extended sequences to warm up a bit. There’s a relaxed atmosphere, and a bit of larking about. This is a very playful company of actors, funny, ribbing each other, but ultimately mutually supportive and very committed to the work.

However much we kid ourselves, press nights always loom in our minds. With the best will in the world to ignore the feeling, we know somewhere that we’re being judged on that performance, and that leads to a greater tension on stage which can work for a show or against it. With an hour to go before curtain up, though, I’d back this bunch to have a great night.

The Heretic is now open at The Lowry until Saturday 13 October. Tickets are available here.