Blog: Marion O’Dwyer on Bookworms
 

Blog: Marion O’Dwyer on Bookworms

Inside the Rehearsal Room with Marion O’Dwyer

Only Thirteen Performances Left!

Monday 5 March 2012

I’ve been asked to revisit this blog with an update on how the show has been going and of course I’m just a gal who can’t say no, so here I am again.
It’s hard for me to believe that we only have two weeks left of Bookworms to play and because we don’t have a matinee on our last Saturday, (it’s St Patrick’s Day, rumour has it there’s a little parade that might make it tricky for our afternoon audience to make their way in to us), that means there’s only thirteen performances left! Hopefully they’ll be a lucky thirteen.

It seems like such a long time since we were in rehearsal and I was writing this blog, though of course it’s only been a matter of weeks. It’s incredible the difference it makes to how we all feel as we’re waiting in the wings to go on, now that we ‘know what we’re doing’ … allegedly! We’re a far more relaxed bunch, but there are always a few nerves going on.

Radio Interview

Phelim Drew and I did an interview for Newstalk last Friday; you can have a listen to me laughing away as if I’d been at the wine here (and I really wasn’t, I’m off it for Lent!). Tom Dunne was lovely to us and it was really enjoyable to do. I had been so nervous about it (maybe that explains all the laughter). I find nothing more daunting than being myself in public. When you’re used to saying clever words written by the likes of Bernard Farrell on a regular basis, to come on as your own self, the worry is that you will be like a carafe of vin ordinaire after the glories of a vintage Chateau Margaux. My red wine metaphor is drawn from the play, naturally…

AUDIENCES DIFFER AND ACTORS FLY!

I always feel each audience has its own unique dynamic. Noel Coward once listed off in an interview the different qualities the audience has on each night of the week. I think he cited Wednesday matinees as being the most difficult, so maybe we’re lucky not to have Wednesday matinees in the Abbey! (I hope I’m not giving anyone any ideas here)

I don’t find that there’s a reliable pattern to the audiences in the Abbey in terms of reaction. There are times when an audience is very vocal and we have to wait for the laughs to die down before we can say our next line. Definitely my favourite performance of the week is usually the Saturday afternoon matinee, though I am partial to Monday nights too, then again Thursday is always great craic … you get the idea, I could go on. My brother doesn’t believe me, but it is true, each night is different.

Sometimes the audience even talk back to us. We had a woman in the audience one night who loudly agreed with Jennifer (Donna Dent) when she reprimanded Robert (Louis Lovett) for drinking too much. We regularly get vocal reaction from the audience as one aspect of the play is resolved to their happy satisfaction and approval, which always makes me want to laugh.

One of the biggest surprises for me has been the amount of young people that have loved the show. We’ve had quite a few groups of students in, some from Ireland and others from America and it has amazed me how much they took to the play. I guess it has a universal appeal.

Sometimes the matinee on a Saturday afternoon has the place rocking with laughter, sometimes they’re quieter and save their biggest reaction for the curtain call. Shy and retiring or not, young and old, I’m glad to be able to report that every audience has seemed to really enjoy themselves. We’ve had cards and letters from people telling us what a good laugh they’ve had, which has been lovely.

What has been great about doing the show is that whether we have a jam packed roaring house or not, testament to Bernard Farrell’s clever play, the laughs always come, it’s the best fun to perform.

The Perils of Live Theatre

We’ve had our occasional ‘unrehearsed moments’ during the run thus far. I hope I’m not tempting fate for our forthcoming final performances, if I say that anything untoward that has occurred has never been to the detriment of the show or the audience’s enjoyment, and I’m not saying that just because the boss might be reading… I’ve managed to slop the ‘wine’ a tad too enthusiastically around the place and nearly choke myself with a biscuit. The rake on the stage has aggravated an old hip injury from last year (don’t ask, I was acting at the time and my ‘dramatic moment’ went awry, I blame the rifle), but thankfully it hasn’t turned into a full blown problem or that Quasimodo limp again, thanks to those lovely low-heeled shoes wardrobe gave me. (Am I glad those high ones were sacked) We’re all waiting for the day when one of us has an unfortunate trip somewhere in the vicinity of the matchstick cathedral (in truth, the real star of the show and certainly a fragile diva). We had a classic incident one night with a door handle that went on strike, locking one of us off the stage and forcing an unscheduled entrance via the library. We’ve called each other the wrong name by times and we’ve had a couple of challenging moments when we had to try and force ourselves to lose our sense of humour and not laugh! That’s live theatre for you. You never know what might happen. Oh dear, I’m getting nervous again.

Bookworms Rehearsals Week Four

Friday 3 February

We begin our Tech rehearsals today. Even though I’m in the same theatre, I’m in a new dressing room. Even though I played here a week ago, it’s as if it’s been ages since I was on stage.
The bliss of acting is that you’re always doing something new and fresh but the downside is the terror and self doubt that goes with each new venture. I’m now in semi-terror, semi-delight mode. In other words, by the time Tuesday comes around, along with our first preview in front of a paying audience, I will be feeling the full fear. No worries; as my late Dad used to say, ‘the time to be nervous, is when you’re not nervous’.

The Tech goes relatively smoothly, which surprises Olivia Dudley, who is doing work experience with us on Bookworms as part of her final year of a BA Hons Stage Management course in Birmingham. We explain that Techs can often be hellish, but a few factors have made this one smoother. Because we have done the play before, most problems have already been sorted. We also have almost the same crew as last time so they are all familiar with the show.

All of which means we end up having a surprise treat of Saturday night off, my first since Christmas Eve. A proper weekend. Not quite able to believe my luck, I head home in time to give Mum a lift to meet her pal. Then I get home, much to the cat’s surprise and figure out how to use the remote control on the television again.

Monday 6 February 2012

Deep breath, here we go. Lots more technical rehearsals this afternoon. The minute I hear Ben Delaney’s witty Bookworms music, I can feel that old familiar feeling of stepping off the edge of a cliff as I stand by at the beginning of the show. Nerves really starting to kick in now. The stage feels good though, a home from home, of sorts.

Apart from one horrible reality. The rake is steeper than before. (Sometimes the floor of the stage is raked at a sloping angle so the audience get a better picture of the action onstage)
Every time I want to get downstage near the audience, I find myself picking up speed and momentum in a most unsettling way. Between the angle of the slanted floor and my high heels I may as well be en pointe and I ain’t no ballet dancer. The other thing that now creeps into my performance as I try to cross from one side of the stage to the other, is a less than balletic hobble. In truth, I develop a Quasimodo-type limp. Not exactly what I need for Ann.

Later, chatting to my agent Derick Mulvey, he cheerfully recalls another client making her dramatic entrance where she was supposed to run on (in one of those long-skirted period costumes) from the back of the stage and fall to her knees when she got to the front. The rake was so extreme that when she fell to her knees she kept sliding, toboggan-like, almost off the edge and then had to sidle back up the stage, on her knees, to make her ‘big speech’. This story does little for my confidence. Especially with all the liquids I handle during Bookworms.

There’s nothing for it. The shoes are sacked. I almost cry when Vicky from wardrobe hands me a pair of shoes with a friendly heel a good three inches lower than their predecessors. To hell with glamour.

7.30pm Dress Rehearsal

But before that happens, I give my Ann (a la Quasimodo) in the Dress Rehearsal. There is a saying in the theatre that a bad Dress Rehearsal makes for a good show. We’re in luck so. It’s going to be great. We are blighted from early on with glitches and gremlins galore.
Unknown to themselves, when some of the lads were working on the ‘ceiling’ coving on the set, they managed to turn off the large television screen on which our daughter Aisling (played by Liz Fitzgibbon) appears. Which means she doesn’t appear. Useless in a crisis, I mutter a couple of ad libs until mercifully Phelim Drew has a titter of wit and gets us back on script and we play to the smaller computer screen instead, where thankfully Liz’s face is to be seen.

We have a couple of other less obvious minor disasters but the show begins to come together. There are very few people in the auditorium watching and we are grateful when they laugh. We need our final character for the play to be complete. The play is crying out to be seen and heard. The audience needs to come in to the equation now.

Tuesday 7 February

So here we are, our first preview and they’re laughing! A lot! The blessed relief of hearing the audience laugh heartily is a great steadier for the nerves. I now realise why a certain line eluded me in rehearsals, I was missing the laugh that came from the audience before it. Many ‘ah ha’ moments like that occur as the play unfolds. When we get offstage, I might as well admit it, like the luvvies you suspect we all are, we hug each other. We’ve got through it and out the other side. A big huge Phew!

We meet up with Fiach, Bernard and Jim in the bar, along with other friendly Abbey faces like Andrea Ainsworth. Everyone is pleased with the first preview. Michael Glenn Murphy and I discuss a moment in Act 2 which we want to refine and ask Bernard about reinstating a line from the last run. We all discuss the reactions to various parts of the show, pleased with some and wanting to improve on others.

Wednesday 8 February

I am up with the lark for another audition this morning. I would love to ‘mitch’ it, but as I have a gap of exactly three months between the end of Bookworms and the beginning of my next theatre job, I need to find something else to pay the bills in the meantime. Auditions always seems to come along when you least want to do them, like now, the morning after our first preview, but I figure if I’m not in, I can’t win, so I drag myself out of bed.

It’s probably a good thing to focus on something else even for a little while, but it feels strange to put on another character, another voice. I arrive too early for my meeting so I head into a coffee shop and go over my lines, trying out different English accents. There’s no point in worrying about people thinking I look like a madwoman as I mouth away to myself.

Outside the casting room, myself and an actor, complete strangers, exchange conspiratorial whispers. “What part are you in for? What time are you in?” Turns out he is even more previous than I am, so I’m in first. Ten minutes later I’m free again. I take a stroll across the Sean O’Casey bridge and ponder the leftovers of the Celtic Tiger as I head through the Chq building. If only we had been left with fully functioning hospitals instead. The lovely Luas pulls up and I use my new Leap card to get myself home to my Bookworms script, before this afternoon’s notes session.

Notes

Notes sessions are a feature of what we call ‘Production week’, the segue from the rehearsal room to theatre, from tech rehearsals to previews, opening night and then ‘the run’. In this case, we have our notes in the Abbey bar, so that the crew can continue to work on sorting out any outstanding minor technical problems with the set, lighting and sound.
‘I’d forgotten how funny that was’
This is when Jim the director will refine the results of the last three weeks of rehearsals combined with audience reaction. Last night’s audience have told us what is working, sometimes even better than we’d hoped. It’s a positive session.

Opening Night Dilemmas

Here we are at last. As usual I’m disorganised. No outfit sorted for tonight. No cards written. How do I thank Bernard for the glorious lines I get to say in this play? Or Jim for casting me in the first place? How do I thank Orla, Elaine and Stephen for stage managing us onto that stage? Or Eoin and Derek, the lads up in the control room on sound and lights? The women in wardrobe? So many thank yous to deliver and not a thing done.
We’re not due in work until late this afternoon for an hour long note session and another hour on stage to work on any bits and pieces Jim wants to look at. I should be able to get my act together by then. Hopefully, as my character Ann might say.

The Morning after the Night Before

It’s hard to describe the blissful feeling of waking up the day after Opening Night, knowing that it went well. Opening nights are such a mixed bag of emotions. I love the traditions. The cards, the flowers, the champagne. There is a frisson in the whole Abbey building as everyone pulls together to make it a good night. I have Good Luck cards I made on my computer for tonight. My printer has let me down, so I have the grand total of three. Luckily the lads are all in one dressing room so they share one, Deirdre and Liz share another and Donna Dent gets a card all to herself, as she and I share a dressing room.

Saying Thank You

Myself and Donna focus on writing our Thank You cards, a great displacement activity in the lead up to getting ready for the show. Saps that we are, there are sentimental tears a-plenty. I open a card from Bernard Farrell. Donna looks up. ‘Are you gone again?’ And I am.
I have worked with many generous playwrights in my time, but Bernard takes the biscuit (and not just because his wife Gloria has given each of us an opening night present of a beautiful biscuit tin filled with her handmade treats). Each of us have received a bottle of champagne from Bernard along with an individual card. Each of us has received a note from Fiach too. I always say theatre is ‘written on the wind’, so these mean so much. As for the champagne, well!

Thankfully there is real cause for a champagne celebration afterwards. The show has gone down a treat. Some people even gave us a standing ovation. A rare thing for a comedy. Bernard and Jim come backstage to congratulate us and we allow ourselves a little bit of post-show analysis. (Yes, it can be a bit obsessive, this theatre thing).

The Abbey bar is buzzing afterwards. Con Doyle has very kindly organised seats for my Mum and her friend Nancy, so I head over to them. The Abbey bar staff are working flat out, but they still manage to treat me royally. More spoiling from Jim on Front of House, who finds a taxi for my Mum and Nancy at the end of the night. I head to the pub where all the Stage Management team and some actor types are enjoying a well-earned pint. I have my favourite opening night treat (after champagne) a glamorous packet of Cheese and Onion crisps. Before I know where I am it’s 4.30am and I’m in a taxi heading home.

Back to normal now. Days off. Show at night. Twice on Saturday.

Time now to reclaim my home from the detritus of the past months of double-jobbing. Time to address the issue of a new light bulb for the bathroom and tackle those weeds in the garden. The place looks like no-one lives here, but then I suppose I haven’t. The Abbey Theatre has been my home day and night this past while. How lucky am I.

I’ve enjoyed wittering on in this blog and thank you for your lovely comments and feedback, but I think it’s time to sign off now. If you want to know more, you’ll just have to come and see the play. Won’t you?

Bookworms by Bernard Farrell. At the Abbey Theatre until March 17.
See you there!

—-

Bookworms Rehearsal Week Three

Friday 3 February

But first, goodbye to The Government Inspector

‘That thing you do, Pyotr Daly’

Saturday 28 January … It’s the last night of The Government Inspector, a bittersweet feeling. Great to only have Bookworms to think about now, but sad to say goodbye to such a huge cast and crew of lovely folk.
I have been holding on to myself for this, the ultimate night. Tonight, after the show, I can finally tell Peter Daly (who shall forever be known to me as Pyotr Daly after his character Pyotr Ivanovich Dobchinsky) about a certain moment in our scene which has nearly killed me for the entire run, such was the torture of keeping a straight face as I looked him in the eye. It was only a tiny moment, but every night, for no random reason at all, it was beyond hilarious to me when he waggled his hand in my face. When I tell him, he almost sobs with the relief. Had I told him during the run, we both know neither of us would have made it through the scene or possibly even remained employed. We spend the rest of the night exchanging said gesture to our mutual hilarity and the mystification of all.

Me: ‘Would you like to try on my wig?’
Millie Doherty: ‘No. No thank you.’

Mark Doherty (who plays Pyotr Ivanovich Bobchinsky) brings his five-year old daughter Millie to meet us in the dressing room. She is impressed with the giant papier-mâché rats from the set, which Company Manager Kevin Mullery has left on Clare Barrett’s place to greet her when she arrives in for the matinee. Millie firmly rejects my offer to try on the wig I wear as Anna Andreyevna. I don’t blame her, it doesn’t look all that appealing, not even when Pyotr Daly pops it on, to see if it turns him into a rock god.

Last of the Lightning Quick Changes

Saying goodbye to a show is always a mixed bag of regrets and some joys. For Helen, who worked as dresser, tonight will be the last time she has to help me in the quick change I have between Act 2 Scenes 1 and 2, into the infamous yellow dress (designed by the brilliant Catherine Fay).

This will be the last time Helen will be on the receiving end of an electric shock for her troubles. Since November the poor girl has approached the buttons of my blouse with speed, tempered with fearful caution. Sometimes we would both suffer, sometimes only poor Helen got the shock. I buy her a pendant with a Blue Obsidian stone, purportedly a ‘grounding stone’ as a parting gift. Nothing prepares me for the manic glee on Helen’s face when I arrive in the Quick Change room at the side of the Abbey stage. She is waiting for me, fully equipped, wearing a pair of medical rubber gloves. The tears of laughter threaten to ruin my stage make up.

Revenge on Prankster Nolan at last

Another issue we finally sort is Rory Nolan, now known as ‘The Nominee’ since he has been nominated for an Irish Times Theatre Award for his performance in the show. Having endured many an offstage prank from said Nominee since November, the four women in the show (in a cast of nineteen, let that be a warning to any aspiring actresses reading this) stand huddled in the bitter cold outside a door we know Rory has to come through, before standing by at the top of the show. He walks through. We get him. (What can I tell you? Now and then, there is a profound satisfaction to be experienced whilst working in the theatre).
The show is about to begin its last hurrah. Our Stage Manager Tara Furlong’s voice over the tannoy. “Stand by, Mr Deadly.” Our final performance has the audience on their feet and cheering. Glad that the grown-ups, aka Roddy Doyle, Fiach MacConghail and Jimmy Fay were in to see it.

Back to Bookworms

Monday 30 January

Things are now hotting up in the rehearsal room, even if the weather is a bit colder. We are now using the actual matchstick cathedral prop instead of a cardboard box to represent it. It’s such a delicate prop and I’ve seen Emer, the Props Master in the Abbey, toiling away at it, checking the matchsticks can stay in place. It slightly terrifies me whenever I’m near it in case I trip or something.

We’re also using our prop ‘red wine’ and cheese and crackers, biscuits, cake and such, to get used to the timings of pouring/eating during the play. There’s a lot to think about but the more we rehearse it, the more second nature it becomes. Rehearsing a lot with ‘pretend’ red wine is beginning to take its toll on me, I’d quite happily never drink the stuff again. All in the name of art.

Comedy Calories

Yet again, I have to mention foodstuffs. Bernard’s wife Gloria has sent us in several tins of baked treats over the three weeks of rehearsals, all sorts; Carrot cake, Chocolate Biscuit cake, Anzacs. We may not be an army like the Australian and New Zealand Army Corp for which these divine biscuits are named, but we’re certainly being fed as if we’re going off to battle. You won’t often get an actor refusing home baked treats, so Bernard is sent home with empty tins every time. Thank You Gloria.

Will I still fit into it?

I have my final fitting for the costume. After scoffing so many of Gloria’s gifts, I’m a tad trepidatious about the dress, but it still fits. Donna wants to perfect the neckline and she carefully pins it into place on me. We also try on a few different cardigans. Kate takes photos of me in them to email over to Anthony the designer, who is in the UK, so he can make his decisions on which he prefers, before we get too close to showtime.

Tuesday 31 January

Our first run-through of the play threatens to dissolve altogether, even though we have Andrea Ainsworth, the Abbey Voice Coach and Kevin McFadden, our Lighting Designer, in watching us. We manage to pull ourselves together and make a reasonable stab at it in the end. Phelim Drew has a new move at the end of the play which makes me laugh again. Just looking at him cracks me up (he is the master of the deadpan expression). Some of this laughter is, believe it or not, a necessary part of the rehearsal process (honest). Well, it is vital that we are purged of it all before people start paying good money to see the play. I’m not so sure I am yet.

Tonight is my first chance in a long while to go and see a play and it’s a real treat in every way. I ♥ Alice ♥ Iin the Peacock is a beautiful, funny yet tender story, starring Clare Barrett and Amy Conroy who wrote and devised it together. Myself and Jeanette Keane from the Abbey Communications Department (and instigator of this blog) go backstage to say our congratulations to them both and I mortify myself as I’m still teary after it.

Wednesday 1 February

Myself and Louis Lovett have an early start today as we are due in the recording studio to work on the radio ads for the play. We each have a few lines to do as our character and then put on our ‘Sunday voices’ for the ‘Tickets from Fifteen Euro’ bit. All goes smoothly and we head to the Abbey with ten minutes to spare, so we can get ourselves a coffee in the Abbey foyer before going on to the rehearsal room. While Ciara gets our coffees ready, I spot the newly published Bookworms for sale. I’m mortified but not so secretly delighted to see myself and Phelim on the cover.

Time for our run-through in front of Fiach. He looks happy afterwards. Great to hear him laughing in the right places. Donna Dent has done an amazing job of learning the role in a short rehearsal period and has lost her ‘newbie’ status. Now she’s just one of us. Looks like we’re on course for the show to be ready to preview in just under a weeks time on Tuesday.

This evening gives me a rare chance for a meet up in the Trocadero restaurant, with my cousin Kate. We sit at the bar and Rhona Teehan, whose Trocadero it is, joins us. We end up having a fond gander down memory lane with her. The stories about the waiters in the Troc are legion and we trade anecdotes about the lovely late Frank Harrison and his great buddy Lutz, who has now retired.

Thursday 2 February

Hard to believe it’s the last day in the rehearsal room. Louis Lovett is looking suspiciously well dressed, even for him. We eventually find out he is collecting a couple of awards today, one being the overall David Manley Entrepreneurial Award for the theatre company he and his wife Muireann Ahern run; Theatre Lovett. He says we really don’t have to speak any differently to him from now on.

The final run through is the tightest and snappiest we’ve managed so far. As Deirdre Donnelly, who plays Dorothy, pointed out one day, this play really is an ‘orchestral piece’. I think this is what makes it both such a challenge and a joy for us all to do. When everyone is on their toes it just sings.

Our set and costume designer Anthony Lamble and Abbey Voice Coach Andrea Ainsworth sit in this afternoon. Good to hear them laugh, but we really are in need of a proper audience in the theatre now. We’re all looking forward to getting on that stage and tomorrow’s the day. Friday morning we start our Technical Rehearsal. All going well, we should get through the technicals, the lighting and sound cues for the entire play in a couple of days.

Time to get my hair done.

Bookworms Rehearsal Week Two

Monday 23 January, 2012

‘Did I tell you I was in Texas for the weekend?’ Louis Lovett

We begin the week with another bit of offstage drama. Louis Lovett, who plays Robert the Bank Manager (I wonder will the audience love to loathe his character even more this year, after our further misadventures with the banking sector?), is missing this morning. He had to go to Texas for the weekend to do his one-man show The Girl Who Forgot to Sing Badly and his flight back has been delayed and rerouted through Paris. We all hope this means Paris, France and not Paris, Texas.

The latest news is that he will now arrive in the rehearsal room for 3pm. The rest of us are sitting around on the sofas in the ‘sitting-room’ part of the rehearsal room. Up to now, bin collections have been the bitter topic as we get our morning caffeine into us. Now we begin to speculate if Louis is sipping on champagne and eating oysters in Paris as he awaits his connection back to Dublin.

When Louis was off to Texas on Friday, Liz Fitzgibbon read in his part for rehearsals. She was a bit brilliant at the ‘blokey’ acting, she’d make a magnificent Rosalind in ‘As You Like It’ if she ever gets the chance to play it. However, she’s not due in to rehearsals yet, so Michael Glenn Murphy, who plays Vincent, does a fantastic job of playing both his own part and that of Robert. This doesn’t confuse our newbie Donna Dent one bit.

We make a fair bit of headway through the second act of the play even though there are a fair few ‘Did I stand up here?’ or ‘Do I pour the wine after he says that or before?’ type questions from all of us.

Elaine is our Stage Manager with the prompt book from the previous production and refers to that when we get stuck trying to figure out what the moves should be. It can be strange re-rehearsing something we’ve all, apart from Donna, played before. Occasionally one of us will be astonished at a move which suddenly seems so alien to our natural instincts that we can’t believe we used to do it before, night after night. Usually when we’ve rehearsed it a couple of times, the reason for the offending move becomes clear. In the meantime, Elaine has to listen to quite a bit of ‘Did I really do that? I don’t remember doing that? Why would I have done that?

The play is still making us laugh.

Louis arrives back and takes the sting out of his glamorous trip by bringing us back sweets. Giant Hershey and Goodbar chocolate bars, Texan Graham crackers and Gourmet Jelly Beans are piled on the coffee table in the rehearsal room. Us serious actor types working in the national theatre of Ireland react with alacrity and there’s an unseemly scrum.

Panic Stations

Tuesday 24 January, 2012

After the night show on Monday I head over to my Mum’s to see her. We discuss the Panic alarm she has had in the house for years, maybe it’s time to start wearing the alert bracelet. She decides to press the button ‘just to see if it’s working’. Lights flash on the alert unit but other than that, nothing happens. I worry an ambulance is going to arrive. I find myself talking to the machine. I assure the machine that this is just a false alarm. It has nothing to say to me. My recalcitrant mother begins to snigger. It dawns on me. ‘Mum, when did you last pay these people any money?’. Ah right. Back in 2006. That might be why the cavalry aren’t on their way. Next day, a quick phone call, and we’re back in business. Now we can rest easy on the panic front.

We find out that yesterday was Louis Lovett’s birthday, so there are two birthday cakes for him. One for his American birthday and one for his Irish birthday as he was in two time zones for his actual birthday…
Remarkably despite the jet lag, he’s remembering his lines and rehearsing away as if he hadn’t even gone to Courtown for the weekend.

‘Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.’

True to form Stephen Dempsey is pushing Lemon Puffs today. The sugar rush keeps us going as we zoom through the blocking (the moves) of the play; we’re nearly done.

I often compare working on a comedy like Bookworms to working out a mathematical equation. Once you’ve worked it out, stick to the formula. The discipline is crucial. You figure out how the laughs work, why they work, where they work and after that, the trick is keeping them fresh, so that we can make them continue to work for the six weeks of the run.

People often talk about timing being so crucial to comedy, but the rhythms are just as important. Whenever one of us paraphrases a line, it’s incredible how the comedy is comprised. Bernard may be one of Irish theatre’s most unassuming playwrights, but by God, he knows what he’s at.

The audience are a huge part of the equation of course and it’s our job to invite them in and make the connection happen. When it works it’s like magic. There is nothing more satisfying than the sound of an audience literally rolling in the aisles, which often happens when you’re doing a Bernard Farrell play. It is fascinating. You learn for instance that if you say the line two seconds earlier or two seconds later, you don’t get the laugh, whereas if you hit the line on the precise moment, it will bring the house down. All of which explains why we find ourselves in rehearsals worrying a moment concerning a plate of crackers and cheese repeatedly, until we are satisfied we have the timing right.

After rehearsals I grab a lie down on one of the rehearsal room sofas. Time to let one of the other girls use the dressing room for a rest. We’re all ‘double-jobbing’ this week, so there’s a queue for the lie down.

Clare Barrett is rehearsing I ♥ Alice ♥ I, Liz Fitzgibbon is both rehearsing Bookworms and along with Nyree Yergainharsian and other members of The Government Inspector cast, is working as a mentor to a young person for The Government Assistants. This is a new project developed by Phil Kingston, the Abbey’s Community and Education Manager. both Nyree and Liz are thoroughly enjoying working on performance monologues, which the young people they are mentoring are writing for themselves. Their big day is tomorrow when the young ones will get to perform on the Peacock stage in front of an invited audience. Everyone is really into it and discussing their ‘mentees’ like proud parents.

Wednesday 25 January, 2011

10.00am. Back to the Cutting Room. I have another costume fitting and incredibly Donna and Kate from the Abbey Costume department have progressed from the calico toile I fitted a couple of days ago, to the full dress with separate lining and I can begin to see what I’m going to look like as Ann. They’ve done a beautiful job. I tell our director Jim Culleton and he pops in to have a look.

We have made our way through the blocking of the entire play. Phew. Which is usually how both my character and myself feel by the end of it.

Actress and pal Cathy Belton is in at the show tonight. I allow myself one drink and a quick catch up with her after the show. Don Wycherley gives me a lift home and I start learning lines for an audition I have tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday 26 January, 2012

We do what is called ‘a stagger’ through Act I of the play. Not too bad. I make up a few lines, but fortunately Bernard isn’t here to witness the massacre of his carefully structured dialogue. There is good stuff too though. We have a lucky accident and find a new ‘moment’ for Ann (me) and Robert (Louis Lovett). Looking forward to seeing what Bernard makes of it.

I get to my audition on time. I remember all my lines. I leave, delighted with myself, only to pass another actress in the corridor, waiting to audition for the same part. If it was me, I’d give it to her. Probably best not hold my breath on that one.

Yet another lie down for this elderly actrine. Yet another full house for The Government Inspector.

Fiach has a tradition on the last Thursday of the run of a show, he treats us to drinks in the Abbey bar after the show to celebrate the run. He tells us we are now completely sold out for the final three performances of The Government Inspector, not even a house seat to be had. Brilliant.

But no time to bask in the glow of all that. It’s the end of our second week of rehearsals and it’s time to put it all together. Friday is here and this afternoon we have our first ‘stagger through’ of the entire play. I feel like going to Texas.

Rehearsal Week One

Monday 16 January, 2012

I’ve been looking forward to Monday’s read through of Bookworms. Normally, the first day of rehearsals fills me with dread and excited anticipation, in more or less equal quantities. As we have played Bookworms already for about six weeks back in 2010, the dread is lessened. No terror. Sure we know what we’re doing and didn’t the audience love it the last time. Not a bother. I fully expect to sleep soundly the night before, rather than have my usual insomniac night before the big first day of rehearsals. Not so. Turns out the rest of me is as nervous as if I’ve never done it before, no matter how much my sensible side tells me I shouldn’t be. I might as well be starting it all for the first time for all the sleep I get.

First days are always lovely and sociable, a chance to put faces on the names on those emails you’ve been getting from the Communications Department of the Abbey. Maura Campbell comes up to me to thank me for some PR blather I’ve done for her. She’s totally different to the older serious woman my imagination conjured up from her emails.

There is what seems an intimidating number of chairs set out in two semi circles at the edges of the room. These are where various members of Abbey staff will sit for the read-through. There are a couple of tables in the centre, piled with scripts. This is where the actors will sit, along with Jim Culleton the director and Bernard Farrell who wrote Bookworms, and Stephen Dempsey our Stage Manager. (He has a grander title, I don’t know what it is, Company Manager maybe). I always love working with Stephen; not only is he brilliant at his job, but he used to be a chef so he’s a fellow foodie. We’re bad for each other’s waistline but we enjoy leading each other astray.

We have the same cast as before with one exception; Karen Egan, who played Jennifer the first time we did Bookworms. She’s a big star in Finland and is currently finishing a six-month stint there, so we have Donna Dent taking over the role. This promises to be both good and well, frankly, dangerous. She and I have worked together before. Not to put a tooth in it, she’s what they call wickedly funny, but not just for the audience, which is the dangerous bit. I do find it difficult to keep a straight face when she’s around.

Costume Fitting

Tuesday 17 January, 2012

Today I had the costume chat with our designer Anthony Lamble and Niamh Lunny, Head of Costume in the Abbey. It’s only one dress and we’ve done it before, which should make things simple but it’s turning into a rather complicated brief. The last time we did the show I found myself dripping – you know that saying about ‘men perspiring and women merely glowing’ – let’s just say it didn’t apply to me when I was playing Ann the last time round. So I need a new frock, made out of some miracle fabric that will breathe and yet look right at the same time. It will also need to stand up to some serious wear and tear as it will be washed after every performance. The designer likes the idea of layers, while I like the idea of coolness. We both like the idea of swishy feminine fabric. Movement is key as Ann flaps around quite a bit during the mayhem of Bookworms.

Niamh personifies patience as I try on dress after dress and we eventually arrive at an agreed ideal shape of dress, which the Abbey Costume Department will now make. They have a lot on their plate at the moment as there is a big show coming up on the Abbey stage, Alice in Funderland, for which they have a large number of costumes to make, so the idea is to get started as soon as possible on my dress. During all this discussion, I find my chance to break it to the designer that the necklace I wore last time round gave me a rash. I forget to ask for a pocket for the hanky I need for the show (to mop the dripping when it happens) but luckily I bump in Niamh later on and ask for one. All in a day’s work.

Working on more than Bookworms at the Abbey Theatre

I’m playing at night in The Government Inspector, it makes the day a long, albeit, enjoyable one. I steal a nap in the dressing room after rehearsals to tank up on energy for the night show. Afterwards, I give in to temptation and when there’s no sign of a bus I hop into a taxi which gets me home a bit earlier so I can try the sleep thing again. I’m not the only one in the Abbey with a long day, Vicky in wardrobe also started at ten this morning and finished even later than me as she is the one who collects all the costumes for the laundry after the show. It’s a great feeling being part of such a big team working in the Abbey.

Apart from the other actors in my dressing room and occasional visit from the lads next door I hardly get to see the rest of the cast of The Government Inspector other than onstage. Don Wycherly plays the Mayor, I play his wife. We catch a rare chat in the wings. I subsequently catch a loose thread on his costume jacket onstage, a superstitious sign of a ‘contract’ and make a mental note to tell him the good news next time I bump into him.

Thursday turns out a little bit more dramatic than I would like. My Mum has a fall and I am grateful to Jim Culleton for allowing me to leave afternoon rehearsals to rush across town to her. A couple of very handsome ambulance men later and she’s fine, just a bit shook and in need of some tlc. I’m not the better of the fright and head in to the dressing room for another lie down before the show.

Actors often talk about ‘Doctor Theatre’, how the show takes over when you’re feeling ill or upset. The other girls in the dressing room are fantastic to me, especially Clare Barrett who, apart from being a brilliant actress, (after The Government Inspector, she will be appearing in the Peacock soon, in I ♥ Alice ♥ I) is also a trained nurse. She very kindly gives me great medical advice to pass on to my Mum. I have a quick chat with Mum on the phone before the show and knowing that she’s grand again, I head onstage with a lighter heart.

End of the first week of Rehearsals

Friday 20 January 2012

Friday now, my last early morning this week. For week one Jim is being merciful and we’re not rehearsing this Saturday. You wouldn’t believe how much I am hugging the prospect of two lie-ins this weekend. I suspect Sunday will be a lazy day.

Your Comments & Reviews

5 Comments

We really enjoyed both plays very much indeed.  Well done - and Thanks!

Just sat down to have a peek and read the whole thing.  Very, very enjoyable!  Hats off and hoping we see you in NYC again soon!

Great blog, Marion. I was almost in need of a rest myself reading through your schedule! Best of luck with the show.

As a fan of theatre, it is so lovely to get an insight into the “glamour” of the work behind the scenes. When this glimpse behind the curtain is written by an actress of the calibre of Marion O’Dwyer, it makes it all the richer. Well done and continued success to you all.
John.

Really well written Marion. Hard to know how you get time to blog as well. Is this multi-tasking?
PK

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