Rehearsals for The Steam Industry’s 2012 offering of King John took place in the late-Victorian faded splendor of Shoreditch Town Hall. Situated north-east of the City of London, Shoreditch is a mixed location of warehouses, workshops, and residences. The area has benefitted from its twenty-first century trendiness and association with the artistic renaissance of Hoxton. For Shakespeareans, the choice of Shoreditch Town Hall might seem unwittingly resonant as it sits 350 yards from the 2008-discovered foundations of Burbage’s The Theatre (most likely where King John was first staged), with The Curtain memorialized in street names nearby. In reality, it is just one of many suitable (and affordable) rehearsal venues in and around the capital.
The day chosen to observe rehearsals was Tuesday December 20, 2011. The choice was random, based on the availability of the observer and the rehearsal’s suitability in the view of the director. Phil Willmott was already known to me, since I had communicated with him following his successful 2011 professional UK premiere of Double Falsehood, also staged at the Union Theatre. Although we had not met prior to the day’s rehearsal, we had spoken on the telephone and via email.
Rehearsals were called for ten o’clock. The festive season ensured I had to negotiate an expansive Christmas tree on entering the Town Hall. I was directed down a cheerful corridor, up an iron and mahogany staircase, to one of several “conference” rooms available to hire for such occasions. The room was large and filled with light from two double-height windows. Its high ceiling and ornate black marble fireplace contrasted starkly with the ubiquitous strip lighting that smothered the space in a harsh, penetrating glare. Outside, London’s bitter winter chill cut to the [End Page 555] bone. Inside, two wall-mounted electric heaters blasted welcome relief throughout the day.
The rehearsal space was filled with office-style conference tables, arranged as a single oval unit, and surrounded by plastic seats for the actors and director. A variety of biscuit packets and sweets decorated its surface, providing sugar boosts to the actors throughout the day. Along the corridor, a kitchen area housed a sink and kettle for tea and coffee making during the mid-morning and mid-afternoon fifteen minute “tea breaks,” and the one-hour lunch break. Local cafeterias and supermarkets supplied lunchtime sustenance that was then brought back to the warmth of the room. Given that the Christmas break was fast approaching, and reflecting the consciously “regional” choice of accents of those from England, Ireland and Scotland (as well as the US), many actors had already left to spend time with their families. Of the cast of fourteen, six (in the afternoon two were replaced by two more) were in attendance, plus a directorial assistant and Willmott himself. The ten o’clock call provided the opportunity to talk, and make and consume hot drinks, although rehearsals proper did not start until a quarter past ten, shortly after the director’s own arrival.
This was day twelve of a six-week rehearsal period, seriously interrupted by the Christmas and New Year UK holiday season. This specific Tuesday encompassed the final stages of working systematically through the text to ensure that each word, line, passage, and actorly intent was discussed, digested and recorded. The director’s assistant, as well as the director and (so it appeared) each and every actor, marked their scripts with notes regarding thought process, definition of obscure or archaic words, motivation, and...