A Clockwork Orange - Director's blog (pt 5)

Monday: It feels like the countdown has begun. We're now in the final week before we open and we're onstage trying to make sense of it all. We have less than three full days until the first audience will arrive. We spend four hours over the first three pages of a 67 page script. But no-one panics. The actors are amazingly patient standing around waiting for all the technical work to be done around them, or re-doing scenes over and over again, or running quick changes. The detail is necessary and I know there are less sound and light cues later in the play. We're still a bit short of music at times. Gradually the soundtrack is being built during the technical rehearsal. I can begin to see a shape emerging, although we have no idea yet if the different sections of the play, which are in quite different styles, will work as a whole. The whole show is in Alex's head - he is Our Humble Narrator looking back over his past - and the first section of the book is the most visceral. The actors work from 9am until 9pm, as it's a designated 13 hour day, and Alex is onstage pretty well all that time. Then at the end of the day we have a stunt to perform from height and Jay has to be taken through it so that he won't hurt himself during the run.

Tuesday: the technical staff have been in the theatre for a week and a half now setting up the stage for us. In a break in technical rehearsals, Jay Taylor and I rush off to the BBC to do an interview. We're sat in a room answering questions from the unseen interviewer. My mind is scrambled at first - I'm still deep in the technical rehearsal - but I'm very aware this is live! Everyone wants to know if this piece is still relevant, whether we're copying the film, how we stage the violence. Gradually my mind clears and I explain that this show is as relevant now as ever, that current government policies will make people's lives poorer, mass unemployment leads to a more violent society, that violence among the young and overcrowding in prisons are not problems that will go away. I also say that we're not copying the film but making our own version. We talk about the style of the piece. We're still in the middle of trying to find out what it's final shape will be as we're still a long way from the end of the play in our technical rehearsals, having not yet finished the first half! I still have a very long list of to-dos.

Wednesday: we finally finish the technical rehearsal - two and a half days after we started - and have our first audience tonight. It's another long day: technical rehearsal all morning, dress rehearsal for photographs in the afternoon and then our first show to an audience this evening. You need stamina to do theatre, especially the actors. In the morning we're trying to work out how to end the show - we tech two different versions until it feels right and will go on refining this end right up until Friday (the first time we have it fully working is the press night). It's been a very creative tech which is not often the case - more often it's just a rush. Working with a familiar team - Charles Balfour on lights, Graham Sutherland on sound and Jason Southgate on design - means I can trust them absolutely, so things keep improving even when I'm not directly involved. It's a huge bonus. At the start of my career I would work out all timings on cues, but now Charlie does it for me instinctively having watched runs, and keeps changing it in tandem with the sound.

Graham is the same. It means that when there's a problem of timing, it's often fixed before I've even had a chance to say anything, and so the staging starts to become really fluid. It leaves me more free to look at the staging and work with actors as we go, while they sweep up after me. Ella Vale, movement director, is also putting in suggestions and tidying up business. Amanda Gaughan, Trainee Director at the Citizens whose first Citz show this is, is also putting in ideas. We're all working towards the same vision and it's wonderful. None of the creative team are worried about saying things don't work, or talking about which story we are trying to tell. The best creative teams work this way. I learned a lot from Backbeat at the Citizens which had a top West End team (Christopher Oram won the Tony Award for best design of “Red” a month later). All of them had very definite views on the production they were making. It's the same here. You need vision to be a director, but the final show is never just one person's vision as so much is contributed by others. Our joy-riding sequence, for instance, appeared on the very first morning of rehearsal before we'd even done a read-through and less than an hour after the actors had first met, when I simply divided the actors into two groups and told them to make up a car journey, giving them a few pointers but nothing more. We've refined that, and set it to a soundtrack, but it's not far off where we began, most of which came originally from the actors. The dress rehearsal is OK. We're all expecting disasters onstage - it's a complicated show technically - but everything goes remarkably smoothly.

Laura Walshe, our stage manager, does an amazing job of making sense of a show which is very full of cues, all of which she has to call at exactly the right moment, and often with a number happening at the same time. We're all looking forward to the evening now, but have no idea what to expect. As Director, I consider previews as another chance to tweak the show, there's still quite a bit not finished. But for the actors the audience means that this is the first night. In the event the first preview also goes well, with whistles and cheers at the end of the evening. It's been a long week already and we've got two more days to press night, but there's a sense that we've created something different and also good.

Thursday: there are two five star audience tweets from last night, but we don't feel the show is finished yet. We work during the day, changing, refining, talking about the experience of last night. We're building back up towards the second preview, and this is the last day for major changes. We re-tech some sequences that aren't quite right, change two scenes, partly based on audience feedback cards from last night. We've staged one scene completely differently and it now works much better. We work without the actors for a while and so pretend to be all the characters. At one stage Ella is asked "Would you mind being a one woman horrific experience up on the bridge please?" The process of working on a play is often worrying away at little niggles until things are solved.

When you run out of time, you're left with things you don't like in a production but haven't had time to solve - they're often solved a few days into a run, but by this time the press are gone. In the evening there's a full house. An interesting, mainly younger audience. One audience member is overheard saying "It's the first time I've been in a theatre in ten years". More whistles and cheers at the end including one person who starts clapping early - it makes the perfect end to the evening as Alex eyeballs him menacingly...

Friday: nerves, good luck cards, last notes. A sense of anticipation. Some rehearsal, but not much - changes on press night tend to be forgotten so it's better to consolidate rather than change. The actors are also tired after a long week in the theatre, particularly the amazing Jay Taylor who plays Alex and is onstage almost throughout the play. It's time to conserve energy before the press arrive. One of the actors is ill but has to carry on regardless.

We've had great feedback so far - 'the best show at the Citizens ever' is written on one audience response card. The first comment posted on our website is five star. We do get a couple more interesting comments from the audience response cards - one about our use of the moon and the other about one specific moment in the play. As a result we change the way both work in order to clarify them. Overwhelmingly it seems the public are saying "I thought I wouldn't like A Clockwork Orange but I love this". It can be a difficult story to tell because of the violence in particular, but people seem to be responding incredibly well to the way we've staged it.

Now for the press.... the play and production seems to have struck a nerve but tonight will tell what the critics make of it. Most important of course is what the audience make of it and how it sells. There are huge cheers and whistles at the end of the show and a real feeling that this show is a hit. I'm really pleased and proud. A Clockwork Orange and the Citizens seem a perfect match, and this feels like the kind of iconic theatre for which the Citizens got its world class reputation. People are already planning to see the show more than once. We finish off with a legendary Citizens party in our workshop space. It becomes a delightful and very touching send off for me after seven years at the Citizens, but also a wonderful celebration of both the show and the fantastic staff at the Citizens. I wander off into the night, happy after one of the most joyous experiences of my professional career.

(Photos by Jeremy Raison)
Read Part 1 of our Director's blog
Read Part 2 of our Director's blog
Read Part 3 of our Director's blog
Read Part 4 of our Director's blog

A Clockwork Orange
13 Oct - 6 Nov

Watch Trailer
View Jason Southgate's Production Design sketches


Unknown said…
Thank you, Jeremy for this five-part blog. It was really educational and beneficial to get an inside view on the whole production process and see it from the other side of the auditorium.