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A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsal diary: Week Two

May 4th, 2018 Comments Off on A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsal diary: Week Two

‘The Watermill Ensemble encourages everyone in the company to be daringly experimental and think outside the box’

Assistant Director Robert Kirby updates us on what has been happening during the second week of rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After a rehearsal free weekend, the company met back in Bagnor armed with a truckload of factor 50 to fend off the glorious sun that decided to hang out with us for week two. Movement director Tom Jackson Greaves gave the company the rare opportunity to dash out of the rehearsal room and do a session outside. When there wasn’t interference from ducks and dogs or actors making quick dashes through the grounds to make their next entrance for the matinee, Tom focused primarily on exploring the dynamic between Puck and the fairies. Whilst difficult to sum up in words the delicacy of Tom’s exercises and the way in which they led on seamlessly from one another, essentially we began to look at a grandeur vs animalistic nature of the chorus of fairies in relationship to Puck. There is arguably a push and pull type energy between them, and the space outside enabled the company to fully play around with and explore this idea in more depth, placing any discoveries they’d found back in to the rehearsal room in the context of the scene.

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of The Watermill Ensemble and was really interested to see what the room and process would be like. With half of the cast having worked together on Twelfth Night and Romeo and Juliet last year, there seemed to be a playful, gently anarchic and crisp energy which makes the process a very special and exciting one. It encourages everyone in the company (which has a 50:50 gender split) to be daringly experimental and think outside the box. I’ve no doubt that, as a result of this process, the show will be fresh, dynamic and bold.

Week Two also involved a visit from Susan Elkin, a freelance journalist and author who often writes for The Stage. She popped down to observe a rehearsal in order to learn more about the pioneering integrated signing, spearheaded by The Watermill’s Community Associate, Lixi Chivas. For two performances (13th & 16th June), Lixi along with interpreter Ana Becker, will be fully integrated into the show, making it dynamic and accessible. By being in costume alongside the company and through taking on the mannerisms and essence of the characters they are embodying, sign language is brought to the heart of the action, unlike traditional interpreting that takes place to the side of the stage, creating a split focus for audience members.

Having been in the room for rehearsals to interpret for Sophie Stone (playing Hermia), they have a deep understanding of the play and its story and during some rehearsals, have started the translation and integration process. Having Sophie in the company offers the production and the actors further choices to play with. For example, Sophie is able to sign without voice which empowers her, equally, the other three lovers can cut her out of the conversation during the quarrel by turning away from her, meaning she is unable to lip read what is going on, all of which creates a different dynamic between them. Another choice available to us and being explored throughout the process is the extent to which the lovers communicate with each other using sign. There are moments between Hermia and Lysander when they talk in BSL/theatre sign, deepening the intimacy between them and cutting out those characters who are unable to understand what is being said between them. This is in stark contrast to Demetrius, attempting to marry Hermia, who knows no sign language and doesn’t even bother to try, perhaps giving us some further insight into him. It also means that Helena, having been childhood friends with Hermia, uses it at times to offend and to spite her. Throughout the process, Sophie has translated lyrics to our songs into BSL, and this is being fused into the choreography of the show by Tom and the company to support the physicality of the piece. It creates something quite special that I’ll leave to you as an audience member to experience when you book to come and see it!
We had a Saturday call, filled up with roast dinners on Sunday and were raring to go for week three.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is touring the UK in September and October 2019. See the tour dates here.

UK tour supported by The Sheepdrove Trust.

This rehearsal diary was written prior to the first performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Watermill in 2018.

Principal Sponsor of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Watermill

Sheepdrove logo

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsal diary: Week One

April 23rd, 2018 Comments Off on A Midsummer Night’s Dream rehearsal diary: Week One

‘Laughter filled our joyous rehearsal room’

As the Ensemble convened at The Watermill to begin rehearsals for a new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we caught up with Assistant Director Robert Kirby to find out what’s been happening behind the scenes.

The first week of rehearsals for A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a well and truly jam packed one. The week was filled with our ensemble of ten company members throwing themselves into the read through. This was quickly followed by improvisations, music calls, movement, exploring character relationships and time spent getting our heads around the language, before starting to put the play up on its feet.

After being welcomed to The Watermill by Artistic Director and Director of our production, Paul Hart, we kicked Monday off with Designer Katie Lias and Paul sharing the model box and costume designs with the cast, creative team and Watermill staff. Set in an abandoned Victorian theatre, the play begins initially ‘backstage’ until the full set design is revealed later on.

After a read through of the play, the company then explored the ‘play within the play’ and in small groups came up with their versions of Pyramus and Thisbe. As laughter filled our joyous rehearsal room, this was a terrific way to playfully discover key ideas that we can revisit in the next few weeks when we begin to shape this part of the story in greater detail. This also enabled the company to quickly engage with the energy and improvisational nature of the ‘mechanical’ characters in the production.

With a talented company of singers and actor-musicians, music calls took place with our Musical Director Joey Hickman (who is also playing Demetrius and Flute… the character, not the instrument). Joey led us through his initial harmonies and arrangements for some of the songs that would be fused into our production. From the get go, the soulful sounds inspired by Simone, Lennox & Holiday sounded just beautiful as our ensemble got to grips with Joey’s magic. It’s pretty tricky to stop humming after rehearsals!

We blinked and ‘twas the weekend.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is touring the UK in September and October 2019. See the tour dates here.

UK tour supported by The Sheepdrove Trust.

This rehearsal diary was written prior to the first performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Watermill in 2018.

Principal Sponsor of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Watermill

Sheepdrove logo

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Work Experience Journal – Winter 2017

January 17th, 2018 Comments Off on Work Experience Journal – Winter 2017

One of our regular participants who attends Duologue, our weekly drama group that mixes deaf and hearing young people and adults, recently joined us for a short work experience placement. This is how her week went…


This morning, I was feeling a little excited but not nervous at all (which is quite unusual) I arrived at the office at 10am and I started work on threading baubles ready to decorate the theatre for Christmas. Then I got the exciting job of assisting Emma at Waterminis with two groups of little kids who are at least 4 year olds. It was quite fun although I don’t generally engage with small children very much. They gave me a smile on their face!

Afterwards, I went to the office to have lunch and then as time flew by it was suddenly time for an afternoon drama session with the adults. We played a fun game named ‘Invisible Obstacle course’ with the theme observation. That was the most fun I thought and the adults were friendly and we had a chat although it was a bit weird being in a class with those much older than me! Finally, I returned to the office and restarted threading baubles and here I am writing this journal.



Today I joined in with the sharing of Fourth Wall (a drama group for adults with learning disabilities) with Lixi as well as other staff. Their theme of the month was ‘reviews’ and they watched a performance of Under Milk Wood in the theatre and wrote a review and acted it out on stage. They were also joined with a group from the Castle School – post 16 year olds with learning disabilities. I thought that was really interesting to see the way they interact and understand things.

In the afternoon, I ran some errands for Kerrie (The Watermill’s Company Stage Manager) and her colleague who was busily making a boot for the upcoming show The Borrowers and I helped a little bit with that.

Then I went to the office and created a spreadsheet for the application forms for Fourth Wall. That was all I did today other than eating lunch which consisted of looking at the view from the office and letting others do their work.



Today I had the exciting task of watching a full run through rehearsal of The Borrowers. I thought they were very good and I could follow most things although I had forgotten the storyline. I was impressed that the actor playing the Dad used sign language as part of the song. I enjoyed learning about the different people involved in the rehearsal room and what job they do as part of the company.

I would definitely like to watch The Borrowers again with family and friends or I would recommend it!

The Horizons Programme is an ongoing opportunity that is available all year round. Please click here to find out more.






du Pre, Principal Sponsor of the Horizons Programme


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Rehearsal diary: How to direct two shows in two different locations with one cast… at the same time.

June 5th, 2017 No comments

House and Garden Director Elizabeth Freestone talks us through the benefits and challenges of rehearsing two simultaneous plays in two separate locations with the same cast.

It’s the day of the annual garden fete. A lunch and various entertainments are planned. Guests are arriving and the village is coming together to mark the day. So far, so simple. But not with Alan Ayckbourn. In House and Garden, he turns what should be a familiar English country scene into a whirlwind of drama and chaos.

Working out how to rehearse the plays is as much as a puzzle as rehearsing the plays themselves. The story takes place simultaneously in two places – inside in House and outside in Garden. The characters constantly move between the two locations. So when a character leaves House, they invariably arrive shortly afterwards in Garden and vice versa. So we need two rehearsal rooms with the actors moving between the two spaces. And I can’t be in two places at once – so sometimes I’m in one room and at other times in another, with my assistant director keeping an eye on things wherever I’m not! Then we need to make sure the scenes in each location run roughly at the same length, so that when a character turns up we can be sure they are entering at the right moment so our stage management team are armed with stopwatches. Then we need to time the journeys the actors make from the theatre (where we are performing House) to the grounds (where we are performing Garden) so make sure they can all get to where they need to be on time. As you can imagine, I’ve been waking up in the night sweating about the wrong actor arriving in the wrong scene at the wrong moment!

Brilliantly though, House and Garden is more than a technical challenge. It’s a complex story for the characters, all of whom go through life-changing events during the course of the day. Marriages break down, relationships are formed, families are re-built. We watch the characters go through personal crises, wrestle with political issues and work out what their futures will hold. So in rehearsals we’re getting to know the characters inside out, making decisions about who they are. We’re looking at how they hope the fete day will unfold – and then enjoying working on how they feel when the day doesn’t quite go as planned. I’ve always felt that comedy and truth go hand in hand – things are funnier when you really believe what the characters are thinking. So we’re working on finding that balance and treading that fine line.

Rehearsing at the Watermill means we can work outside and discover how to make the best of the theatre’s natural environment to bring the world of the plays to life. We just have to be careful the ducks don’t trip the actors up as they run to their next scene.

Elizabeth Freestone will discuss her approach to directing House and Garden in a Lunchtime Talk on Wednesday 7 June. Click here to find out more about this fascinating insight into the production.

Buy tickets for House and Garden


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Patronage through the ages: philanthropy and the arts

April 26th, 2017 No comments

Eleanor Teasdale, Development Officer, delves into the fascinating history of patronage and the arts. To find out more about supporting The Watermill Theatre click here.

Patronus is a magical word. Not just in the world of Harry Potter. It’s a borrowed term used by JK Rowling which dates back to Ancient Rome and the Latin translation for our modern philanthropic term ‘Patron’. It’s nothing new. Just as Harry Potter and pals summoned mystical guardians to offer help in difficult times, artists throughout time have called upon the support of wealthier benefactors to provide financial aid and help bring artist vision to life.

As a thank you to their patrons for their generosity, writers and painters have flattered them with a likeness. Either in paintings, or in a character portrayal or with a dedication in the foreward. The powerful banking family, the Medicis, are all over Florentine art; their faces popping up in scenes – sometimes discretely in the background or to the side, and in others jostling for prime position in the foreground. Even the golden balls of the Medici family crest are evident in many artworks of the time, and have been picked up more subtly in Botticelli’s The Three Graces as orange globes of fruit.

Shakespeare was well-known for his reliance on his Royal Patrons to stage his work, notably Queen Elizabeth I and King James I. With its complimentary eulogy to the (fairy) Queen, it’s said that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was most likely created for a special performance at Court. In the Tudor court, money and power went hand in hand and art was a powerful political tool among philanthropic courtiers and being seen to give to the arts often earnt them influence in the Court. Contrary to later Victorian paintings (as below), Elizabeth I never would have attended a public performance in an arena like The Globe. Instead she would have had the entertainment brought to her.

Thankfully King Charles II reopened the theatres in 1660 after the Puritans were booted out and monarchy was fully restored. The playhouses were once again invested in and returned to their former glory. As a result, the theatre became bawdier than ever. A frequent attender of the theatre, King Charles’ patronage of, and dalliances with, actress and prostitute Nell Gwyn (below) are infamous. Nell certainly knew how to work her position as one of Charles’ mistresses to her advantage. Indeed even on his death bed his parting bequest was for Nell to remain looked after – “Let not poor Nelly starve”.

Today patronage continues to flourish. Sainsburys have their own wing in the National Gallery, Saatchi has his own gallery, and the Sacklers have their own bridge at Kew Gardens. In the last financial year, individual charitable donations in the UK totalled an incredible £9.6bn proving that philanthropy is still popular amongst us Brits.

The Watermill is also fortunate to receive donations from generous patrons whose philanthropic support ensures we are able to continue to produce great theatre for all. We rely on individuals, trusts and foundations and corporate supporters to stage our work, keep the theatre open and expand our participatory work in the community. 13% of our annual income last year was earned through fundraising activities. You can read more about our finances in our Annual Review.

We are currently staging Twelfth Night, which will later tour the UK in rep with Romeo + Juliet. This is made possible by the support of Principal Sponsor Sheepdrove Organic Farm & Eco-Conference Centre and of UK Tour Sponsor Neal’s Yard Remedies. Co-Founders of both companies, Peter and Juliet Kindersley have been longstanding supporters of the arts in Berkshire and have previously supported The Watermill Theatre’s Shakespeare productions as well as the development process of our rural touring programme.

With a keen interest in Shakespeare, they thought it only fitting that with their combined love of food and the arts that they support The Watermill’s bold restaging of Twelfth Night. We are incredibly grateful to Sheepdrove Organic Farm and Neal’s Yard Remedies for their support and as part of their sponsorships, The Watermill will deliver a range of benefits to promote each brand.

Principal Sponsor

UK Tour Sponsor


Eleanor Teasdale, Development Officer

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Week Three: Faust x2 Rehearsal Diary

March 2nd, 2017 No comments

‘Our video, sound and lighting designs are instrumental: they could be thought of as a fourth actor’

The final week of rehearsals and our move into the theatre has been tremendously exciting. Our video, sound and lighting designs are instrumental: they could be thought of as a fourth actor. Luckily we have had a flavour of sound and video design in the rehearsal room; but realising the show as a whole only happens when the lights dim, the creative team hunker down with their laptops and the technical rehearsal commences.

In order to prepare for our move into the theatre, the third week of rehearsals has ended with us welcoming designer Georgia Lowe, sound designer Richard Hammarton, lighting designer Elliot Griggs and video designer Zsolt Balogh into the rehearsal room. We moved from close text work and the rehearsing of small sections of script at the start of the week into runs by Friday – piecing together all of our work thus far. Watching Jacques, Daisy and Ian’s performances take flight is one of the most joyful parts of the rehearsal process. And as I write this, watching Faust shaping up on the Watermill stage, I am hugely excited for our audiences to come and share this story.

Chloe France, Assistant Director

To find out more and book tickets for Faust x2 click here.


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Week Two: Faust x2 Rehearsal Diary

February 27th, 2017 No comments

As opening night approaches, Jacques Miche looks back on the rehearsal process so far.

When reflecting on our second week of rehearsals, I realise how quickly the time has gone! Nevertheless, it feels as though we have used our short span of time effectively. This week we’ve been delving further into the text and really exploring our space.  A trip off-site to a nearby studio has also been an interesting addition to our schedule (you’ll have to come to see the show to see the final results).

The more time I spend here at The Watermill, the more I enjoy it. There is definitely a sense of community here which is lovely to come and be a part of. As I look forward to the rest of our rehearsal process I am excited to see this piece come together and then finally give it an audience… bring on week three!

Jacques Miche is playing Mephisto in Faust x2. Previously, Jacques played Jason in Saving Jason at the Park Theatre, Knuckles in Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith and The Artful Dodger in Oliver! (West End).

Faust x2 is a gripping story of lust, sacrifice and regret. Featuring innovative projection and a sparky original musical score, this contemporary retelling of the legend of Faust opens at The Watermill on Thursday 2 March and runs until Saturday 25 March. To find out more and buy tickets click here.

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Faust x2 Rehearsal Diary: Week One

February 21st, 2017 No comments

In her first week at The Watermill Theatre, Daisy Fairclough talks us through what the cast have been up to as they prepare for the world premiere of Faust x2.

The first week of rehearsals for Faust x2 has been extremely productive. For the first step of our journey, we began by going through the text, meticulously deciphering it and understanding its meanings and metaphors. Then we began working through the piece scene by scene to get an idea and feel of things, loose blocking and starting to build our world. We were able to get through the whole play by the end of the week, which is quite incredible.

Daisy Fairclough is playing Gretchen in Faust x2. Daisy was previously a member of the National Youth Theatre Rep Company. Her previous theatre credits include DNA, Pigeon and English (National Youth Theatre Rep Company). She can also be seen in the television production of The Strike Series and the film Just Charlie.

Faust x2 is a gripping story of lust, sacrifice and regret. Featuring innovative projection and a sparky original musical score, this contemporary retelling of the legend of Faust opens at The Watermill on Thursday 2 March and runs until Saturday 25 March. To find out more and buy tickets click here.

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Murder For Two Rehearsal Diary: Week Three

February 9th, 2017 No comments

Assistant Director Chloe France takes us through the last week of rehearsals for the British premiere of Murder For Two.

In any rehearsal process the heat is on in the closing stages. To safeguard against Ed and Jeremy combusting we have been engaging in weekly rounds of ‘forced fun’. The fun this week took the form of an early Burns Night celebration. When actual Burns Night rolls around next week we will be deep into the heart of tech. And so we gathered prematurely at the Actors Cottage where our resident Scot, Ailsa Bonner, had whipped up a feast of sausages, haggis (including an alternative version for those brave souls undertaking ‘Veganuary’), wine and whisky. Meat was consumed, toasts were made and the following morning we rounded it all off with a mini Ceilidh to warm up before rehearsal.

The final week in the rehearsal room looks ahead to the next phase: the stage. Amongst other deadlines the third week is crunch time on the prop and costume front. Designer Gabriella and our stage management team, along with wardrobe wonders Amanda and Eloise, have delivered us a stream of carefully designed paper props (book covers/ police paperwork/ mugshots), retro cafetieres and carefully distressed three piece suits. Trying out props and costumes in the rehearsal room is vital because once the set is installed in the theatre on Sunday and Monday the tech rehearsal, aka the race to the finish line that is the first preview, will begin.

The final week also heralds the  opening of the rehearsal room doors to our fellow creatives who will bring the show to the stage during tech week: designer Gabriella, lighting designer Chris Withers and co-sound designer Michael Livermore came to watch us piece the full show together. We have also welcomed the wider Watermill staff in: because it’s always useful to have a friendly face, an audible cackle and a bunch of new recruits to practice some audience participation with. As we move through tech and dress rehearsals towards previews the show we have nurtured in the rehearsal room will really take flight. Murder For Two is an uplifting dollop of American murder mystery and an ideal counterpoint to new year despair. So come and join us for a good old whodunnit.

Chloe France


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Murder For Two Rehearsal Diary: Week Two

January 18th, 2017 No comments

‘Murder For Two is a script which yields ever greater gems the longer you sit with it’

As the snow descended over Bagnor this week, we have continued to plough through the script, and have now completed a ‘first pass’ of the play. This roughly translates as having looked at all of the text and music once. Whilst working on this, we have also begun to revisit the beginning of the show and make ‘upgrades’. Upgrading takes place once the actors have some of the music and text off book (learnt) and we can begin to tentatively put the script and score to one side. Upgrading will continue into week three until we complete the ‘second pass’: going through the entire show for a second time and adding greater specificity.

Unlocking Joe and Kellen’s glorious non sequiturs and rapid-fire comedy duo antics has been a joy. Murder For Two is a script which yields ever greater gems the longer you sit with it: Ed and Jeremy are certainly working their socks off to master the various skills required to do it justice. As well as music, lyrics, lines and blocking, we have thrown some choreography into the mix this week. Luke Sheppard has dusted off his childhood tap skills in order to impart his knowledge of time steps to Ed, who gets to bust some moves whilst Jeremy accompanies him on the piano.

One particularly exciting challenge, not least for our deputy stage manager Ailsa Bonner and company stage manager Kerrie Driscoll, has been to communicate the movement of an invisible character around the stage who interacts with people, props and furniture. At The Watermill we have our lovely assistant stage manager Sara Shardlow to – quite literally – pull the strings in the wings, whereas when we transfer to The Other Palace we’ll be on our own. So we have had to devise methods of moving items using the actors on stage, but without seeing either actor touching any object directly. And thus we have arrived at String Technology. This equates to set and props having long pieces of fishing wire attached to them which are pulled over/open/closed and so on by someone at the other end, who hides the action behind their back (or the conveniently situated piano). So keep your eyes peeled for said trickery in show!

Chloe France, Assistant Director

Murder For Two opens on Thursday 26 January and runs until Saturday 25 February. For more information and tickets click here.

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