Manchester Lines rehearsals underway

Assistant Director Josh Azouz reports back from Zion Arts Centre and the first week of Manchester Lines rehearsals…

There is a taxidermy fox staring right at me from the top of the piano. Besides me is a box full of crutches. I’ve heard there are false teeth and prosthetic limbs in the vicinity. Welcome to the rehearsal room for Manchester Lines. This production tells the stories of eight characters looking for something or someone. It’s set in a lost property office, hence all the weird and wonderful props surrounding us.

We are only three days into an exhilarating rehearsal process. But here are just a few observations –

The first day did not feel like the first day of school. Perhaps the uniqueness of the project renders many of us wide-eyed explorers. Our Designer, Amanda Stoodley unveiled the model of the set. It’s got the sort of magical potential that would make Aslan of Narnia proud. The read-through of the play is very lively, as Dominic Harlan, the Musical Director, let’s fly with Errollyn Wallen’s astonishing compositions. And Jackie Kay’s infectious giggles make it all feel very fun. We also got to visit Number 1 First Street where the production will take place. High up on the fifth floor of the building the set is taking shape and the view of the city is a sight to be seen. We were also treated to actors Tachia Newall and Marcquelle Ward street dancing on the slippery floor during our tour.

In the last couple of days, Leslie Hutchinson, the Movement Director has been exploring gestures and movement of the characters. How would they be when they’re by themselves? Each actor shared a couple of gestures. In Manchester Lines, the proximity of the audience to the actors means that the slightest movement, like the closing of eyes for a second longer than a blink will be jumped upon and analysed. I suspect this might be both an exciting and unnerving challenge for the actors. Thankfully, we have a unique and ballsy gang; John Branwell, Amelia Donkor, Claire Brown, Tachia Newall, Bettrys Jones, Marcquelle Ward and Anne Kidd. And we’ve found there are many routes into discovering a character. For Tachia’s character Omar, we put on some reggae from John Holt and dance about with umbrellas!

Focusing on the script, the initial read-through lasted 100 minutes. There will be no interval. Now as much for artistic reasons as toiletry concerns, writer, Jackie Kay and director Wils Wilson have taken a scalpel to the script. How long will an audience be prepared to sit before needing the toilet? The general consensus is no longer than 90 minutes. So as of today it’s been cut down to 87.

At risk of sounding like a bit of a hippy, there’s a lot of ‘love’ in the rehearsal room this week. It feels open and generous. However as the weeks progress things will undoubtedly get less relaxed, but ‘love’ is a good place to start.

Manchester Lines runs from 12 June until 7 July 2012