Assistant Director Tilly Branson reports from the first day of rehearsals for All the Little Lights and reveals the level of detail that’s explored to add depth to the world and characters of the play…
When I saw All The Little Lights at Nottingham Playhouse during the preview run in 2015, I was blown away by it – by Jane’s writing, the story, the performances of the cast. So when Laura and Angharad from Fifth Word told me a few months later that they were looking for another director to come on board in 2017 to support the show out on tour, and asked if I would be interested, I was absolutely thrilled.
Fast forward to last Wednesday, when members of the cast and team old and new met in a rehearsal room in North London… All of the original cast and creative team have returned for this tour, and were quick to welcome the newer faces in the room including me, stage manager Sophie, production manager Megan, producer Corinne and assistant producer Hannah. After the customary introductions, director Laura emphasised how excited she was to be back working on the play, especially in light of Jane winning the George Devine Promising Playwright Award and being nominated for the Writer’s Guild Best New Play Award for the script since the 2015 preview production. She also flagged up some of the areas she wanted to focus on in this second rehearsal process: specificity of places, past memories and future pictures, character relationships, and precise, detailed physicality. The cast then got stuck in with a read-through of the script which gave everyone a chance to hear it out loud, and to get to grips with some small alterations Jane had made.
After the read-through, Laura tasked the actors with listing all of the places mentioned in the play, while the creative team had a production meeting. This gave everyone a chance to talk about adjustments to the set and lighting, and to discuss some of the practicalities of getting the show up and running and tour-ready. Lighting designer Alex had brought along some samples of LX kit and there was an impassioned debate over the merits of EL wire versus fairy lights versus side emitting fibre optics – important decisions!
For most of the rest of the day, directors Laura and Angharad worked with the actors to build a 3D paper and fabric model of the town where the play takes place, taking care to ensure all of the locations the actors had drawn from the script were located within the fictional geography. Laura provided printed images to help the actors create this world – discussing and debating what each of the character’s houses looked like? Whether the cinema they talked about going to was in a pedestrian town centre or an out of town multiplex by a dual carriageway? Crucially, what exactly does the chippy – a key location with very specific connotations for each of the girls in the play – look like? As the day went on the level of specificity and precision of details increased until we all had a clear sense of all of the places mentioned.
With less than an hour left, Laura asked the actors to think about the timeline of key events leading up to the action that takes place in the play. The actors remembered that they had improvised some of these events last time they had rehearsed, so it was agreed that the remaining events would be created the next day in rehearsals to continue to build up the layers of detail and memory for them to draw on.
Finally, we all shared some of the research Laura had asked us to do in advance – All The Little Lights was originally staged in 2015 and already public awareness and policy around Child Sexual Exploitation and grooming have developed and moved on. The play is set in the present day, so it was important to think about how the landscape related to CSE and therefore the world of the play is different if the events are occurring in 2017.
Warning: This trailer contains sexual references and strong language which some viewers may find offensive.
All the Little Lights runs at Nottingham Playhouse from Tue 7 – Sat 11 Feb before embarking on a UK tour.