Anna Skellern star in Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown
Anna Skellern star in Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown

Women On The Verge rehearsal diary 3

Published December 22, 2014

Accidents, moments of genius and coloured tape; it’s all going on in the Women On The Verge Of  Nervous Breakdown rehearsal room, as Anna Skellern updates us.

We’ve just had our first run through. A whole team of people from production came to watch. It was utterly terrifying. We flung ourselves around the rehearsal room and somehow, between the naughty moments when Tamsin and I made each other laugh, we managed to create a version of Madrid in all its colour and glory.

The show moves at a very fast pace, seamlessly shifting between hilarious dialogue and evocative songs. It all went by in a whirlwind as we ran around the rehearsal room with guns, ducks, rabbits and a scooter. 

Jeffrey Lane, our writer, sure knows how to make people laugh. I guess that’s why he’s got five Emmys. His ability to immediately come up with new funny lines is astounding and if we suddenly restage something or tweak a transition between scenes, he’s very open to changing a line, dropping a line or writing something completely new. His genius, lack of ego and attitude to collaboration reminds me of all the people I’ve worked with who are at the very top of their craft. It’s often less successful people who have a fear of collaboration.

In the rehearsal room you start with very little: a script, some actors and generally a plain room with white walls and a wooden floor. In front of you is a table with the stage management and the creative team and, behind them, a mirror. The floor is stickered with little bits of different coloured tape that mark out the exact size of the stage with all its entrances and exits. It’s from here that we created Madrid in 1987.

In our rehearsal process anything goes and you really have to just throw yourself in.  Though maybe not so much as the brilliantly talented Haydn Gwynne. She plays a feisty woman who’s just been released from an asylum, all dressed up with 1960s hair and a huge leopard print jacket. In a moment of Jeffrey Lane genius, she looks at the Picasso on the wall (instead of the mirror next to it) and screams with surprise that she looks hideous. Haydn was so in character that she slipped on her heels in shock and fell straight backwards to the floor, looking like a deranged snow angel. She sat up, unhurt, streaming with tears of laughter and eventually we had to call a tea break because no one could stop giggling.

I’m relishing the rehearsal process. In film and television, which I’ve been working in recently, nearly all the work of a rehearsal process is done at home on your own. From the moment you walk on set, you’re expected to be camera ready. So to be able to work with others in this thoroughly detailed way again is an utter dream. I’m savouring every moment.

I’ve also grown really attached to my character Candela and have fallen more and more in love with her and her uncluttered, innocent view of the world every day. I always do this with my characters without realising it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but sometimes it’s quite hard to say goodbye to them. They can become like a good friend you’re used to having around who brings new colours and perspectives to your world.

Our director Bart is a very warm, very insightful person. He’s one of America’s top theatre directors, although he doesn’t act grand and above it all. He’s approachable and fun and has an incredible vision for the work. Working with him, you feel safe to make big choices or articulate whatever ideas you have, no matter how crazy. It’s a very creative environment.

We started off the process doing a ‘table read’ for three days, which involves… yep, I’m sure you can guess that one. As we talked through the piece, Bart explained to us the conversations he’d had with Pedro Almodóvar about how important this time – La Movida – was for Spain, how this post-Franco world was wild and liberated and that anything could happen. It reminds me of the Restoration post-Cromwell or the 1920s when there was suddenly much more overt celebration, colour and sexual openness. Next week we finally get into the theatre and I can’t wait to start bringing it all to the stage.