Winter Magic in the Summer

I’ve been putting off writing this for some reason, maybe fear of being self-indulgent, maybe imagining that to analyse it might be to burst the magical bubble in which it exists in my mind – but enough time has passed that it doesn’t matter. Here goes: The Winter’s Tale, June 20-24 2023.

I was fortunate and privileged to direct this marvellous production – I say marvellous not out of arrogance but out of enormous pride in everyone involved and all that they achieved. I was blessed with an efficient and supportive team and crew, and a talented and kind cast. It’s difficult to pick out favourite moments in what was a very special and intensive four months, there were so many. The whole was enjoyable, tense, exciting. Twice-weekly rehearsals over three months meant that the whole thing – production and directing the performance – rarely left my mind. There were always questions to answer, production tasks to complete, scenes and fractions of scenes to consider. I loved it all and learnt so much from it (I only spent one stressed week late May/early June feeling it was all too much!) Everything remains clear in my mind, but how can I possibly write about the whole thing? Here are some key moments chosen from so many golden moments.

The first read-through. Bitter weather. Cold March wind blowing through open windows. We’ve pulled our coats tight around us. The reading is clear, full of expression and character already – the cast have thought hard about their parts. The cuts work. We reach the final, statue scene and really I should boost the heating but I can’t move. No one can. The tension cannot be broken, we are so immersed in the story. Some of us are in tears. In fact, most of us are moved to tears every single time we rehearse this scene. (In the performances, I scan the audience at this point. Each time they are visibly moved.)

Next, to our final off-venue rehearsal. It’s a word-run on the Friday evening prior to show week. This time we’re upstairs in the Sailing Club and the windows (those windows which need tall cast members to close them!) are flung open, this time against the heat. The cast speak their lines to each other with understanding and meaning, their characters full and rounded. Camaraderie and friendship. Distant sounds (the downstairs bar, the summer river and its users) fade into stillness, an electric moment. Of course we cry at the end. We’re ready to perform, we’re on the precipice between rehearsal and show!

The dress rehearsal on the Monday evening. The first full performance, in the venue, with a tiny audience. (Me, Mum and Dad.) This is the only performance where I sit as audience and allow myself to totally submerge. For all the others, I hover at the back, ready to open doors, indicate, direct, encourage individual actors, shush random folk walking through the churchyard, run around to the dressing room if needed, thumbs up signals and big grins to the cast – I’m on call, just in case! But for the dress rehearsal I sit with my parents, their first trip out since Dad’s weighty treatment, and I wallow. What a superb play, what a strong cast, what a brilliant performance!

The week gallops past, as all the weeks have in the lead up. I can’t believe it’s over. The end. I read my final ‘speech’ to the cast and prepare for the post-play blues, which hit hard afterwards. I enjoy the letters and messages of praise and thanks, and I attempt to tie up all the loose ends. We get five, FIVE! nominations from NETG, three for individual actors, one for costumes and one for the production as a whole. Congratulations to Clare, as Paulina, who wins her category – very well deserved – for bringing us to tears in every performance! Congratulations and love to everyone involved – winners all. What a summer! What an experience!

(First published on my own blog, in October 2023 – visit it to see the photo gallery!)