Nerves, excitement, anticipation…

Three days before opening night? How did that happen? It feels like only last week that we were auditioning! These are the thoughts going through mine and other cast members’ heads as we surge towards Thursday. The time has simply zipped by.

Rehearsals are very much a process of evolution and discovery. We learn what works and what doesn’t, develop our strengths and work on our weaknesses. Provided with the basic building blocks – our scripts – it’s our job to assemble the play into a piece of physical art, to infuse the dialogue with passion and energy. From the first tentative baby steps taken in the early stages, we’ve grown into confident, expressive strides – and, like adding the final pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, there comes a strong sense of achievement from surveying the finished product.

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I find getting to grips with your character to be one of the most interesting challenges of acting. It’s very difficult to give a worthwhile performance unless you really KNOW the person whom, to all intents and purposes, you’re grafting upon your consciousness. With the aid of director and cast, I’ve come to understand not only my character’s personality, but also his temperament, deportment and his relationships with the other characters. As we approach the very end of our rehearsal process, I think we’re all at a point at which we are very well acquainted with our characters, the transition from one identity to the other being easy.

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As always, the cast has been augmented by an excellent backstage team. For the first time, the club has enlisted the services of a stage manager, whose copious notes and methodical sensibilities have helped us flighty actors adhere to the structure. We’ve also been fortunate enough to get some stunning costumes, tailor-made for each individual. Staging a production – especially one of this size – is a wonderfully cooperative endeavour, each person having their own important contribution.

So here we are. I’m feeling a mixture of nerves, excitement, anticipation, all accompanied by the sadness of knowing that this time next week, it will all be over. The dreaded ‘post-show-blues’ will set in for a few days, but remedied somewhat by the fact that work on our next production, ‘The Memory of Water’ will start very shortly after ‘The Madness of George III’ ends.

Just like last year, I’ve had a great time – and am all geared up to go out there and break a leg! (Not literally…)

by Guest Blogger Michelle Gibson

Madness In Rehearsal…

Since becoming involved with Huntingdon Drama Club, I’ve noticed that the group’s ability to foster a stimulating creative atmosphere is partly due to being unafraid to experiment, stretch ourselves and undertake plays that are something of a novelty when compared to our performance history. The club is certainly entering new territory with the spring production – Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III is a large ensemble piece with more than twenty characters. Not only can those familiar with past performances look forward to seeing familiar faces, but our audience will also be introduced to roughly a dozen or so new actors making their debut with HDC.

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The Madness of George III is highly regarded both as a play and film, and as a lively and comical piece of theatre, it is an excellent choice to kick off the 2016 season. Set approximately halfway through the reign of King George III, the plot centres on the unfortunate monarch’s bout of mental illness. As the King becomes increasingly (and hilariously) demented, Queen and frustrated servants do their best to care for George and convince the political opposition that all is well. Matters are complicated by the King’s scheming son, the Prince of Wales, who is eager to wrest the power from his father’s hands, and who has the support of an army of Whigs, most notably George’s nemesis Charles Fox.

Since many of the players in this story are historical figures, the cast has the advantage of being able to research their characters and get a feel for who they are depicting. As for the titular character himself, the exact cause of his illness is still in dispute, though it has been suggested that he was suffering from porphyria, the symptoms of which match George’s mysterious illness.

What IS known is that at times, the King’s behaviour was genuinely disturbing. He would on occasion become physically violent and it was reported that “he often spoke till he was exhausted, and, at the moment he could recover his breath, began again, while the foam ran out of his mouth.” In a moment of lucidity in 1788, the King was said to have wept, “I wish to God that I may die, for I am going to be mad.” A largely popular monarch, George’s eventual recovery was met with celebration by most of the British public, although in the final decade of his life, ill health was sadly to plague him again.

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Despite still being in the early stages of rehearsal process, there are already inklings of the play taking shape. It is particularly funny to watch the King’s harassed footmen fawning and fumbling over their master and Milton – as the Prince of Wales – oozes a foppish self-importance which is strangely endearing. As King, Dean is delivering a character with whom we can easily sympathise, bringing a human quality to someone who could all too easily be presented as a blustering buffoon. Josephine, in the role of Queen Charlotte, is alternately bewildered and distressed by the bizarre behaviour of her husband. Supported by an enthusiastic cast, early signs indicate that come April, the club is set to bring its audience a wildly funny and energetic performance.

By Guest Blogger & cast member Michelle Gibson. Tickets for The Madness Of George III are on sale now. 

Into 2016…

It’s been quite a year for the club – one that has taken us from a Beverley Hills hotel room (California Suite) to a seemingly cosy, quiet patch of ‘Little Britain’ (Neighbourhood Watch) via the pre-fabricated, industrious huts of Bletchley Park (Breaking The Code). Ticket sales this year have increased with every production and our Autumn show smashed through that magic number of 300 in online sales alone.

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Now we want to take this momentum through to 2016 where two of our three plays are already in place – Mark Hebert will direct ‘The Madness of George III’ by Alan Bennett which will be our Spring production & for our summer show Josephine Hussey will make her directorial debut with ‘The Memory Of Water’ by Shelagh Stephenson. The autumn play will also be announced in the very near future & a director is already lined up to take charge of that one. In April I’ll be taking all three of our directors to a workshop at the Donmar Warehouse in London, where we’ll find out how the professionals run a rehearsal room.

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The success of ‘Breaking The Code’ in July proved that there is an audience here in Huntingdon with an appetite for challenging theatre, who are prepared to take a risk and try something a little different from the norm. We have taken this on board, whilst always remembering that first & foremost we are here to entertain and that a night at the theatre should be interesting, thought-provoking & stimulating but most of all enjoyable. Our 2016 season will provide all those things.

The cast of Breaking The Code
The cast of Breaking The Code

Another very exciting project in 2016 will see us performing at the Cambridge Drama Festival in April. It will be a great opportunity & challenge for our cast & crew to perform in a new venue, to a wholly different audience. With our increasing ticket sales we are also adding matinee performances next year. We think the added choice of a daytime performance will be popular with local community members and it also offers our cast an extra performance. Many a time have I heard the comment “three performances just aren’t enough”!

 

So, lots to look forward to in both the immediate and long term future. Auditions for the Spring play are in January and you can find more info here. On the social front we are heading to Milton Keynes in February to see our good friend Richard James in the touring production of David Walliams’ ‘Gangsta Granny’. For now, have a wonderful Christmas & here’s to the ‘madness’ in 2016!