The Dark Road Rushes – Three

Sep 9 2013 | By More

Learning the walk: Week two on the Royal Lyceum’s Dark Road

His eyes are everywhere... Image by Eugenie Vronskaya; Photo © Jo Rush

His eyes are everywhere… Image by Eugenie Vronskaya; Photo © Jo Rush

The third 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

Getting the show on its feet so that the characters move and inhabit the world of the play has been the next stage of our rehearsal process for Dark Road.

It sounds so simple – step 1: actor delivers line, step 2: actor moves around stage, step 3: actor combines moving and speaking at same time – and there you have a fully realised stage production!

But thankfully it is far from being this straightforward and the kind of stilted productions caused by this oversimplified attitude towards staging are a rare mistake.

Just as we have subjected the script to intense questioning and played with the options available to us we have also approached the movement of the characters in this manner.

Anonymous actor – “you know when you start questioning yourself and you forget how to walk?”

Walking the walk... In the Dark Road rehearsal room. Photo © Dan Travis

Walking the walk… In the Dark Road rehearsal room. Photo © Dan Travis

You have to examine the impulses and energy of each character to find the way in which they should move in the stage space, asking the easy questions of ‘where do they need to be and when?’ and also the more complex questions of motivations and reactions: ‘how do they respond physically to other people?’; ‘how comfortable do they feel in this particular setting?’

Rather than fix on set movements from A to B at this stage in rehearsal Mark has encouraged the cast to move freely within the space in order to find what works and what doesn’t. Although some decisions – such as which door a character enters through – need to be made to make sense of a scene on the whole, it’s not helpful to get weighed down in staging movement too early.

If you do so, it can drain the playfulness and energy of a rehearsal and prevent the actors from fully exploring the dynamic and meaning of a scene because they are focused on where they need to move, when.

Walking and talking at the same time may sound fairly uncomplicated but when you’re asking an actor to speak and to move in a psychologically believable way for the character that they are playing you are asking a huge amount of them and it’s easy to over-think this, which is why it’s best not to get bogged down in it while vital work on the heart of the story and characters is still ongoing.

Keeping track of events

In my role as assistant director one of the ways that I have been best able to contribute to the production has been in creating a precise timeline for the play’s events. To do this I sat down with the script and went over it in detail for any reference to when events happen, how much time passes between one scene and the next, and what events happen in between scenes that we don’t see on stage.

Jo Rush is omnipotant ruler of the Dark Road timeline. Photo © Jo Rush

Jo Rush is omnipotent ruler of the Dark Road timeline. Photo © Jo Rush

As the play takes place over several months in 2013 but also includes events that occurred in 1988, it can be difficult to keep track of the order of events. For the actors this is crucial as they need to understand what their character has experienced and knows at each point in the play to inform their character decisions for each scene.

The actors have to forget the full context and storyline of the play that they are aware of as actors and only respond to what their character knows at any given point so they are able to create a truthful reaction to the events their character experiences.

Being given definitive control over the play timeline has let out all my worst pedantic tendencies earning me the nickname ‘Timeline Fascist’. But having a very specific timeline is also so useful in making sure that all elements of our plot make sense and for the design team who can change clothes and lighting according to the time of year it is in the play. For me, it gives me a real feeling of connection with the events of the play and an understanding of it. Tomorrow morning my timeline is going up on the rehearsal room wall for all the company to see and despite the unfortunate dictator-associated nickname I (not-so-secretly) love being a ‘Timeline Fascist’!

“FACIMUS: Ian Rankin” painting by Eugenie Vronskaya. Photo © Jo Rush.

Bizarre moment of week – Mark, myself and two of the actors (Philip Whitchurch and Belle Jones) took a day trip up to Inverness on Wednesday as the lovely Maureen Beattie who plays our lead, Chief Superintendent Isobel McArthur, was touring there with Stellar Quines’ The List. It was great to see a little of Inverness on a surprisingly sunny day and when we arrived at Eden Court we even found that Ian Rankin’s benevolent presence was there with us via this lovely portrait.

Jo 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.

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