First rehearsal nerves

The first rehearsal of a new production is always a fraught & nervy experience – new director, new cast members to work with, new space, new words, new actions, etc, etc. Imagine dropping a learner driver into pole position on the grid at the Monaco Grand Prix with nothing more than a pat on the back & a half-hearted “good luck”. Okay, it’s not quite THAT dramatic but, you get my drift. What I’m trying to say is that at every first rehearsal you are paralysed by a feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing!” My voice sounds odd, I’m not breathing properly, my throat is dry, I’m shouting too much, my arms and legs are doing weird things, I’m no longer in control of my hands. The typical exchange between actor & director goes something like this;

Director – Dean, you know that bit where you say “well, we can’t just sit here all day”.

Me – Yes?

Director – You were standing up when you delivered that line.

Me – Oh, sorry. Anything else?

Director – No. Yes. You walked through the door three times without opening it.

Me – I’m never going to play Hamlet, am I?

A good director really earns their corn during this early stage, I think. While the actor resembles a new-born foal, eagerly trying to stand whilst repeatedly falling over in an ungraceful, dribbling heap, the director is gently encouraging, ignoring the first rehearsal calamities and reminding us all that it’s “early days” and that he or she is “not expecting any acting to happen yet”. That’s a relief.

The odd thing is that this happens with  EVERY PRODUCTION! No matter how confident you are in what you think you’re doing, no matter how many wonderful ideas and bits of business you’ve scribbled into your margin pre-rehearsal, that first session is generally a bit of a disaster. But it’s all part of the process…

Guest Blogger: Dean Laccohee (Currently rehearsing as Marvin in ‘California Suite’)

“Accrington Pals” opens!

Opening night! It’s such a famous tradition in theatre. The red carpet is rolled out, the glitterati waltz in to a Broadway or West End theatre to be the first lucky people to see the next big thing on it’s opening night. It’s first performance. Except, it isn’t really the first night. And they aren’t the first people to see it. I saw the new musical ‘Made In Dagenham’ recently, roughly a week after it had ‘opened’ on November 5th. The show had been running in ‘preview’ since October 9th – almost a month of onstage performance to fine tune & finesse the show into shape before the press arrive with their notebooks. In a recent Channel 4 documentary on theatre, behind the scenes footage of Sam Mendes’ production of ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’ revealed that the crew were still working on the mechanics of the Great Glass Elevator literally hours before the first performance. Recent (flop) X Factor musical ‘I Can’t Sing’ featured such an elaborate set that during one of the preview shows the interval lasted for one hour whilst the crew tried to reset for the second half.

In local, community or ‘amateur’ theatre, you don’t have such a luxury. Your opening night is literally that – the first performance. We’ve been rehearsing the play since September – 2 nights per week in our rehearsal space. Once you move into the theatre, everything changes. Everything is suddenly different. The entrance is further away than you thought, your voice sounds different in the new space, world war one-issue puttees are an absolute bugger to put on… The technicians & crew only have a few hours of on-stage time to get it right – to tie in all the technical elements that so far have largely been ‘imagined’. So on the night of that first performance, you really are walking a tight-rope. It’s like spinning a huge number of plates & making sure none of them hit the floor.

And so yesterday  we reached the opening  night of ‘The Accrington Pals’. I will stick my neck out here and say that it’s an ambitious production for us to stage in the Commemoration Hall. A big cast, a large number of scene changes involving sound & light cues, projections & scene-shifting. It’s certainly a million miles from the old amdram adage “try to remember your lines & don’t bump into the furniture”. I must congratulate my cast & crew for a wonderful first performance – the story was clearly & beautifully told & there were moments of poignancy, tragedy and laugh-out-loud comedy – just as the play is written. Such is the ambition and eagerness of this brilliant cast that I think this will drive them on to even greater heights in our second & third performances. If only we had a few more weeks of shows! (And a couple of weeks of previews…)

Guest Blogger: Dean Laccohee (Director)

Only the dress rehearsal to go!

From part of one of our rehearsal rooms’ roof falling two stories in high wind, through a move to new space in Tesco (disappearing from the crisps aisle and emerging to practice warm-ups feels somewhat like a surreal Narnia) and a wonderful Vocal masterclass from Richard James (no excuses for me not to project to the back of the Hall now!) it doesn’t feel like only three months ago we started.

We’ve gone gone far and wide, with individuals travelling to Accrington, experiencing trenches in Ypres, visiting Duxford and watching the RSC WW1 play Doctor Scroggie’s War, which has really left a deep impression on the cast and heightened our desire to represent the ordinary people who lived through this time to the best of our ability. Our Director’s use of photos as part of the set design and actual soldiers testimonies really brought home the reality and emotion during our tech rehearsal last night.

During the rehearsal period there’s been a lot of miming going on: from pears, apples and scales to entire brass bands and even a tin bath. So it’s a relief to finally get to use all of the amazing props and see the fantastic set, complete with Trench and May’s stall loaded with fruit and veg. And the costumes! Seeing the boys dressed in full uniform with their rifles and bayonettes for the first time really brought a lump to my throat. Just having so much of a period feel makes you relate so much more to your character, and getting on stage this weekend felt like I’d been transported back in time. Seeing it all come together and watching some of the scenes on the Sunday run through had me in tears. Knowing what a talented and hardworking group of people I’ve been lucky enough to work with, I think there won’t be a dry eye in the house come the first night.

Guest Blogger: Louise West (Currently playing Eva in “Accrington Pals”)

A request for stories…

Any mention of heritage in Huntingdon generally conjures up images of Oliver Cromwell and the old age debate for the legitimacy of Huntingdonshire. So it often comes as somewhat of a surprise when I mention the heritage of Huntingdon’s local drama club. They’re not exactly as ancient in history as our Lord Protector of England but seventy years does leave behind some great local stories.

The Huntingdon die-hards have been transforming the local stage for seventy years with their earliest known performance in 1944. The club continues to thrive and is enjoying yet another successful year of performances at the Commemoration Hall, Huntingdon.

Our previous productions page shows historic shots of casts past, including that of “Duet for Two Hands” (1960) the first production to take place in the newly built Commemoration Hall.  Doris Beaton is seated left & Jack Hyde can be seen standing behind veteran director Edna Peck (seated right).

The club would love to find out more about its impact on community life so please use the contact form  to submit your stories. We’ll post the best ones right here on the Blog!

Guest Blogger: Nathanael Spalding (currently starring as ‘Tom’ in Accrington Pals)


“California Suite” announced for our Spring Production!

I was delighted recently to learn that the Drama Club had agreed that Lindsay Kennedy and I could co-direct Neil Simon’s comedy, California Suite, for the Spring production.  Co-direct, you ask?  How has that come about?  Well some time ago I received the following email from Lindsay:

Dear Valerie,

I have just read a very amusing play by Neil Simon.  It is called California Suite.  I don’t know if you know it.  Cleverly, it follows a year in the life of a hotel suite and the different guests that occupy the room.  Each has their own problems and story. It made me laugh!  It also is full of pathos, so, a bit of everything for all tastes!

In fact, although trembling a little, I was wondering whether to put it forward to the committee as a possible Spring production for next year.

I would love to direct it but, having only directed one adult play before, plus loads of Reception class Nativities of course(!), I was wondering if you would like to join me on this one as Co-director??   I know we would all benefit from your experience and it would be fun to give it a go!!!  What do you say?? 

Looking forward to hearing from you.

In anticipation,


What a fine idea, I thought.  As well as being flattered that Lindsay felt she could benefit from my experience with directing (all you actually have to do is direct from time to time and get old and hey presto – a wealth of experience!)  the play is both amusing and thoughtful and sometimes pure slapstick.  It was made into a film starring Alan Alda, Jane Fonda, Walter Matthau, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Bill Cosby and Richard Pryor.  And Neil Simon has a wonderful way with words and with comedy.

So, we decided to go ahead.  I told Lindsay to heed the advice given in The Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy and stop trembling.  We recently had our first meeting and are enthusiastically planning auditions in early January.  Lindsay mentioned again that she has little experience with directing, except for countless children’s nativity plays, and was afraid she would treat the cast like the little school-kids.  I suggested that might not be a bad thing!  Jokingly, of course!

It’s a great play for the club to do, as there are juicy parts for actors of all genders and ages.  It’s going to be a lot of fun.

Lindsay and I will be meeting up again next week for more pre-planning and I’ll keep you up to date on progress.

Guest Blogger: Valerie Gerrard (Co-Director)

Rehearsals are drawing to a close..!

It’s normal at this stage of the rehearsal process, so close to opening night, to get very protective over your show. In the case of The Accrington Pals, it’s doubly so. Our team have bonded so well over the last few weeks that I almost want to wrap them in cotton wool and store them in a safe & sterile environment where they can’t be affected by anything (or anyone!) on the outside. It’d also be a good way of getting those last few blasted lines learned properly…

There is a tangible excitement amongst some of the cast, a nervousness from others. We can all feel how close the performances are & we know we have something special on our hands with this show. It’s great that opening night is just round the corner, but I’m also glad that we have another week to rehearse. Running through Act 2 last night I spotted a couple of areas that need to be re-worked – all down to poor blocking by me, nothing to do with the acting that’s going on. So that will need to be looked at next week, as will the final moment between the characters of May & Reggie. A major breakthrough last night means that a pivotal scene in Act 2 is now working well.

It feels like we’re going to peak at just the right time. Not only that, but it feels like the rehearsal process has been exactly that – a process, a journey. And the next logical step is to take that process onto the stage.

Guest Blogger: Dean Laccohee (Director) 

From an Accrington Pals first timer!

October, 2014

This has been my first experience of being involved in Huntingdon Drama club and I have been very impressed with the professionalism of cast and director. Rehearsals start with a warm up, are business like and we get a lot achieved as everybody is focussed. The cast have been learning their lines from the start so we can be word perfect to show respect to Peter Whelan’s writing, and it’s exciting to feel the play start to come together.

I have enjoyed the rehearsals the most where the evening has started and I have felt a bit stuck as to how to play the scene and the director has made suggestions for changes to movement or emphasis on dialogue bringing the scene to life. There has been a real collaborative feel to the production and it shows on stage.

I am very proud to be part of this play and I think the audience are really going to enjoy it. Don’t forget your hankies!

Guest Blogger: Josephine Hussey (Sarah)

Rehearsals get under way for Accrington Pals

September, 2014

Acting is an active activity. That’s three uses of the word ‘act’ in one sentence. Which i suppose explains what I’m trying to say. You have to ‘do it’ to make it happen. And that was the basis of my notes for tonight’s rehearsal. You have to make it happen. There is no black magic or dark art that will make your performance become more realised. If you want to appear more scared, more aggressive, happier, sadder, wherever – you have to make it happen. Acting is action. Every scene has an action, every moment. What do you, as a character, want to achieve from this or that scene? My acting teacher advised us to ask ourselves three questions before taking to the stage – who am I, where am I and what am I doing? Answer those three questions and you’ll feel better prepared to take those scary steps onto the stage. Because a character in a play is always doing something to drive the action forward – look at your script (because that’s all you have) and ask yourself “why am I in this scene?”

Guest Blogger: Dean Laccohee (Director)

Accrington Pals chosen for our Autumn Production!

July, 2014

So the Huntingdon Drama Club committee have accepted my proposal to direct The Accrington Pals for their autumn 2014 production. Suddenly I think – “now I have to really do this”. The ideas I’ve had for this production now have to become solid ideas. I start to wonder if I will be able to find the right people to fill my cast – are the actors out there to play these roles? I have two or three people in mind that I’ve seen in their recent productions that I think may be suitable, but will they be interested? Will they be available? Can they do the Lancashire accent?!

I re-read the play with the restrictions and possibilities of the venue in mind. I have strong images and visions for the play but now it becomes a case of actually realising them. The music I have in mind for the beginning of the play is on repeat on my iPod in the car. I picture the rain on the Accrington street, the market stall and the opening scene between Tom & May. Voices other than those in my own head reading those lines.

I’ve always thought of directing a play like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Start with the corner pieces and build into the middle. Time to audition. Time to plan…

Guest Blogger: Dean Laccohee (Director)