In the Octagon Theatre’s rehearsal room, the dimensions of the stage were marked out in colored masking tape: a white outer ring showed its edge, entrances and exits; a red ring marked the central playing space; a blue circle denoting the built-up trap was center stage (the theatre’s stage level was elevated for the production, as the Octagon was not built with facilities beneath the stage). David Thacker and his company had been rehearsing for one day over two weeks when I joined them on 7 February, the process having begun with a week’s prior rehearsal with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in London, commencing on 23 January. On 30 January, the full company had joined them when rehearsals moved to Bolton. On 7 February, just under two weeks of regular rehearsals remained before the technical rehearsal with the first performance scheduled a few days later on 23 February.
The morning began with Thacker arranging blue, padded kitchen chairs in a small circle in one corner of the room. Once the cast was assembled and seated, the day’s work commenced with a textual exercise that began with a variation of a line run. For this, cast members were not allowed to consult their scripts, but Thacker and his DSM, Sophia Horrocks, were on book. The exercise was designed to ensure actors were word-perfect when speaking the text, requiring cast members to repeat lines and review speeches until the script had been cemented within their memories. As Thacker expressed it, the goal was to enable actors to be confident with the words, thus allowing them to be free to find the truth in the moment —something that can be hindered if actors are struggling to remember their lines.
Phase two of the exercise also contained an element of repetition, which reinforced memorization but also introduced technical aspects of [End Page 560] performance. Still seated in the circle, Thacker asked his cast again to play the text but this time to pay attention to consonants as they spoke them. As would perhaps be expected, this resulted in a sometimes over-elaborate game of exploding “t” and “d” sounds with key words being elongated by the process. The director explained to the cast that this enabled them to drive the action forward through language and—perhaps more importantly—is a technique necessary for performing in the Octagon Theatre’s in-the-round configuration, in which audibility and clarity are paramount as an actor always has her/his back to one section of the audience at all times.
The final portion of this exercise focused on Thacker’s quest for clarity of meaning with the spoken word. Instead of interrupting an actor when a word had been mis-remembered (as he had during phase one), there were directorial challenges aimed at fleshing out the specificity of each word and phrase. Thacker also asked the cast to connect with each other through eye contact, suggesting that they include the observer (me) during their sections of direct address (I was expected to participate as much as practically possible as a company member). This was the section of the exercise Thacker referred to as the “acting” portion, which emphasized the fact that phases one and two had been dominated by two technical aspects of performance: memorization and audibility. Thacker later explained that the primary purpose of this part of the exercise was to encourage actors to listen to one another because: “genuine listening involves understanding what your acting partner has said, allowing it to [have its] impact upon you mentally and emotionally, and discovering, for the first and only time, the...