Rehearsals this morning took place at Mountview School, meaning I was able to walk to work, which felt rather lovely in the beautiful sun. My route took me through Queens Wood and along the New River footpath which smelt like the causeway behind the house I lived in as a child. The smell was an odd combination of heavy earth and sticky leaves with a background hint of white dog poo!
The New River itself smells of silt and algae. I've never really walked along it before. It's a rather strange, very shallow, very straight man made stream which, if you drive around north London, will pop up occasionally. It runs through Islington and Stoke Newington, through Finsbury Park and up, via Palmers Green to Enfield. A quick Google reveals that it was opened in 1613, to supply the city of London with fresh water from the River Lea. It was apparently an engineering nightmare because the entire river relied on gravity to flow, and needed to follow a route which adeptly followed the most appropriate contours of London's landscape.
Being back at Mountview, the drama school where I trained as a director, was very strange. I sat waiting for the team to arrive in the car park outside, which was, by chance, also where we rehearsed Letter to a Daughter back in 1998 before some of the cast of Brass were actually born! Memories of Arnold came flooding back, as did a dream I'd had about my Grandmother whilst we were rehearsing the show, which I remember sitting on the wall and describing to Fiona. The dream remains in my mind even today. Beautiful, surging music was being played by a string orchestra, and I could see my Grannie on a distant, white mist-covered hillside, scooping up autumn leaves with a pair of dinner trays. She was piling them up onto a bonfire. My Grannie was always making bonfires. It was all incredibly beautiful, yet something of lucid dream because there was a crazy running commentary going on in the back of my mind which said, "this is a dream. You're dreaming this because you know that everything returns to the earth. One day your grandmother will also return to the earth, as indeed you will." It was very strange, but devastatingly emotional. There are very few dreams which have such an impact that they journey with you through the decades.
The room we rehearsed in was coincidentally also where our director Hannah was working when she heard about the 911 attacks, so I wasn't the only one on a nostalgia fest!
We travelled back down to Hackney at lunch time and saw the inside of the theatre for the first time. Hackney Empire is an iconic place. Charlie Chaplin and Marie Lloyd both performed here in its early days and it's one of the largest and most beautifully-appointed theatres in the world. The auditorium stretches endlessly upwards, with tier upon tier of seating. The ceiling is crowned with fabulous twinkling stars. When you come to see Brass, look up as you take your seat and you'll know exactly what I mean.
It was a joy to watch the cast standing on the stage for the first time, looking excited, scared and enthused. I entered the space to the sounds of the pit orchestra playing through the musical's eponymous song and Ben Jones giving it large. One of the band told me she'd been star struck when she heard him singing the song for the first time, having apparently listened endlessly to the cast album. Ah! To be 20 years old and already have a torch song.
Ben was followed by Kitty, who blasted out Shone With the Sun like her life depended on it. The orchestra is so impressive. You'd have to be made of steel not to want to raise your game whilst singing live with all that going on to support you.
The set looks great, the lighting looks great. Sound is already better than it was at Leeds. The costumes are lovely. The lassies look very fancy in their little jaunty hats and brightly coloured skirts and the men look very dashing in their uniforms, none more so than Oscar, who plays the role of Tom exquisitely. We're in a good shape.
Technical rehearsals are, however, desperately boring, sweaty, energy-zapping occasions. Many of the male cast spend the opening of the show with full First World War uniforms underneath woollen suits. I literally can't imagine how hot and itchy that must be. It is my idea of hell, and they spent about three hours trussed up in this manner. I guess it could be worse. Nathan spent two days of the tech for Mary Poppins with his body contorted into a doll's house on the fly floor of the Bristol Hippodrome. There's always someone worse off!