I’m rehearsing at the moment as Meg for Iford Arts’ Falstaff and, as we don’t have a great deal of time, we need to stay reasonably focussed to keep up the creative pace. Luckily we have a great cast and production team and we are cracking on, despite having had to replace our Pistol on Day One due to illness. As in the best rehearsal rooms, there are plenty of jokes: in-jokes, practical jokes, joke re-writes of the text to include more sex and liberal amounts of innuendo-laden banter. Well, we are singers, after all and can’t go for more than a few minutes without a spot of clowning, especially in a comedy.
In our version of the Falstaff story, Meg Page is a horsey woman whose dexterity with a riding crop may explain Mr Page’s total absence from the drama. This means I get a great costume – for great, read WARM, as we are doing outdoor performances and on the evidence of the English summer so far, I’ll need all the thermals I can carry.
Meg’s a strange character because she is really just a plot device and doesn’t have anything significant to do musically. However, she offers lots of potential for character acting and she sings in the three great musical ensembles which, to my mind, makes her totally worthwhile as a role.
We are sharing a rehearsal venue with Opera Holland Park, who are also rehearsing Falstaff, but in the original Italian as opposed to our English translation. Today we had the Dunedin Consort as well, rehearsing the Messiah, which led to some Charles Ives-style moments of cross-fade between Handel and Verdi and some good socialising in the communal kitchen.
As a veteran of Diva Opera and other companies that don’t perform in conventional theatres, I have encountered many of the problems offered by unusual venues, but this show presents some new ones. Iford has not just a cloister, but a well, that sits in the middle of the stage and we are constantly looking for ways to incorporate it into the action rather than just trying to pretend it’s not there. So far it has proved good for sitting on, standing drinks on and stuffing cast members into.
We are, of course, performing in the round, which offers a whole range of other problems for audience sight-lines and traffic-flow around the stage. I don’t think anyone has gone so far as to suggest that Meg’s horse should actually appear in the show (unlike the Royal Opera’s recent Falstaff), but I have heard talk of small children. Oh, and did I mention that the conductor will have his back to us throughout the performance? I’m told that Iford has a wonderful, intimate acoustic that makes it easy to hear what is going on. I do hope so: when we all get going we make a fantastic amount of noise and the final Fugue is notoriously difficult even when staring directly at the conductor. Tomorrow we start rehearsing the third act, so we’ll find out what’s possible.