Lucy Johnston steps into the rehearsal room with the cast of brand-new play ‘Again’
When I step into the rehearsal studio, Post-it notes dotted across one wall, the air is humming with a warm energy that tells you something special is in process. I join the group seated around a central table, all chattering and laughing, with scripts open, prepped for their third read-through.
The group are a combination of the cast and production team of the new play, Again by Stephanie Jacob – previously a writer-on-attachment at the National Theatre – which receives its world premiere at Trafalgar Studios this February. The cast features stars from TV’s Outlander, Black Sails and The Night Manager including Rosie Day, Natasha Little, Chris Larkin and Charles Reston, who is also co-producer.
“From my perspective this is a dream scenario,” explains director Hannah Price. “All my first choices for cast wanted to be involved so that was an extremely good beginning,” she beams at everyone, and they beam back. “And it’s very valuable to have the writer in the rehearsal room for much of the time too, to help us carefully explore the thinking behind the lines, and just make the odd little re-write live, as we go along.”
Resetting the clock
The thoughtful, funny plot follows the reuniting of a family of four after a period of estrangement, and its structure notably uses a ‘reset’ as a subtle device to occasionally shift the headspace on stage. It also serves to make us aware of the ‘what if it had been different’ niggles we might nurse in our own familial relationships.
“I wanted to explore the geological structure within all of us, which builds up layer on layer over time, to set the unique rock formation of each family unit,” says Stephanie. “The reset creates awareness of the impact of each individual’s actions. It took me a while to unravel the threads and piece it all back together! But hopefully it helps us reflect on something we all have in common.”
Chris, who takes the father’s role, agrees. “Reading the script for the first time, I just felt this was something I really had to do. It’s been the same for everyone, I think, we all saw something of ourselves in it.”
“The writing is very real, very personal. For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to take on such a considered female role, it feels very true,” adds Natasha, who plays the mother.
Gillian Reston, co-founder of theatre company Mongrel Thumb, picks up the thread, “As producers we seek out plays that present the opportunity to bring in a little of the weird and wonderful. The format of this piece really grabbed our imagination.”
And certainly, the immersive Studio 2 space in which the production is being staged feels like it will perfectly suit such a close-knit, intricate piece of work, so the audience feels they are really in the room with the characters.
Rare, wonderful, moving
“Additionally, this is the first time in my fifteen years in the industry that I’ve had the opportunity to work with an almost all-female team,” Gillan continues. “It’s such a talented and dedicated group of women pulling this show together – from acting to lighting, directing to production – so it’s making this a very rare and particularly wonderful experience.”
“I feel sad that this should even be news, but in the current climate it is a privilege to be leading this team and I hope that the time isn’t too far off when this becomes the norm.”
The whole team certainly feels very dynamic and positive, clearly with a shared commitment to grappling with how best to bring this special new play to the stage. As I depart the room, I hear Stephanie’s warm advice drifting down the corridor; “We are as in charge of this as one ever is in charge of life!”
Interview by Lucy Johnston