The Dark Road Rushes – four

Sep 16 2013 | By More

Dark comedy: Week three on the Royal Lyceum’s Dark Road

A song and a dance from Dark Road director Mark Thomson in the Dark Road rehearsal room. Photo © Dan Travis

A song and a dance from director Mark Thomson in the Dark Road rehearsal room. Photo © Dan Travis

The fourth rehearsal-room blog from Jo Rush, AD on Dark Road, the collaboration between crime writer Ian Rankin and Lyceum artistic director Mark Thomson.

By Jo Rush

It’s fair to say that Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson’s first play together Dark Road is not exactly a light-hearted farce – many apologies to anyone whose expectations have now been shattered. And yet the presiding theme of our third week of rehearsals has been laughter.

Maybe it’s the pressure from the ever-approaching deadline of first night or perhaps it’s the tension that builds up when you’re rehearsing intense, dramatic scenes simply finding a way to be released. Either way, it’s always the most serious scenes that are creating the most hilarity – with the steeliest of actors and directors reduced to fits of giggles by a surly sounding secretary or an unyielding prop.

There are several benefits to a rehearsal room full of laughter, besides the obvious fact that it’s a lot of fun. A company that are having a laugh and sharing in-jokes with each other is usually a well-bonded company. When you’re spending so much time together it’s a blessing if you can enjoy joking around and it boosts the morale and trust of the team, especially as you develop jokes that are personal to the show.

A particular source of entertainment in the company comes from suggestions of what would feature in Dark Road: The Musical with actors (and even our director) sometimes unable to resist the temptation to burst into a song and dance.

“this feels like the moment for a song…”

In a strange way, as you rehearse through each scene of the play it’s really good for the actors to get any accidental funny moments out of their system so that they don’t get thrown by them at a later date and end up dissolving with laughter mid-performance.

The particular challenge that we’ve been facing in Dark Road is how to allow for select moments of humour within the play but avoid unintentional humour at all costs. The last thing that anyone wants is a moment or phrase that seems too clichéd, innuendo-laden, or silly and raises a titter from the audience that destroys the drama of a scene. So we have to watch out along the way and flag up anything that might illicit an undesirable audience chuckle.

Playing in the egg... Sara Vickers in the Dark Road rehearsal room. Photo © Dan Travis

Playing in the egg… Sara Vickers in the Dark Road rehearsal room.
Photo © Dan Travis

Now that we’re fully into the process of finalising the play’s shape, seeing how each scene will look and what movements and moments will tell the story best, we are also adding in more props and costume to rehearsals. This is exciting as it fleshes out the look of the play, bringing us closer to seeing what its final appearance will be like.

Props are often not an actor’s best friend. It may seem simple to open a cassette player, place a tape inside and press play. But, under the pressure of a performance and with lines, movements and timing to remember, it’s surprising how easily those things can go wrong. Through practising the movements and action of each scene and using props as repetitively as possible throughout the rehearsal process the cast can build up their muscle memory which will allow them to move without having to think about it and result in an action that appears natural in performance.

With more props in the room comes more opportunity for hilarity and (temporary) confusion. The cast have particular enjoyed spinning round and round on the egg chair that features in the set, berating an imaginary secretary via telephone handset, and discussing how best to achieve a grotesque-looking eyeball. And our sincere hope is that all of the many things that could go wrong with props go wrong now in rehearsal rather than during the run…

Dark Road nightmares – they have begun…

Two of our cast members, Maureen Beattie and Phil Whitchurch, have already been experiencing show-related nightmares, which at present mostly centre on the horror of finding yourself in the middle of a scene with no idea of what the lines are or even what the scene is.

I was initiated into the nightmare-club myself on Friday last week when I dreamt that, having missed a day of rehearsals, I came back to find that the entire story had been relocated to America and turned into a cheap melodrama (complete with a tearful pregnant woman arriving on someone’s doorstep in the pouring rain – I’ve no idea who she was!)

I woke up absolutely raging that the exciting, Edinburgh-based play I’d waited so long to see come to life would never be put on the stage. You can imagine the relief I felt when I realised that it was all in my imagination.

Company illness of the week:

Metaphor fatigue – the loss of ability to express anything via an appropriate verbal metaphor, symptomatic of end-of-week-three-itis and evidenced by a string of unrelated nouns and verbs jumbled together and ended with a sigh
e.g. “when there’s – but you’re reaching – for the thing – the goal – and you still gather the cake”


Jo Rush is a director and theatre maker based in Edinburgh. Having just completed a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe with the production Hide And Seek, a devised piece of immersive physical theatre, she is now working as assistant director to Mark Thomson at the Lyceum on Dark Road, a new play by Ian Rankin and Mark Thomson, a role that has been made possible through the support of the Federation of Scottish Theatre.

Previously Jo has worked as assistant director at the Traverse and directed work as part of new writing events such as Words, Words, Words and the experimental theatre project Scrapyard, both at the Traverse, as well as directing work at the Fringe in both 2011 and 2012. Jo is interested in visual storytelling, classic works, and developing new writing.

Dark Road plays at the Lyceum from 28 September to 19 October with previews on 25 to 27 September.

Full details of Dark Road on the Royal Lyceum’s website:


© Jo Rush 2013.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.