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The Wipers Times Rehearsal Diary – Week Two

As Autumn falls and the play starts to take shape, George Kemp energetically details the rehearsal process and discusses the emotional journey that accompanies tackling such a poignant, true story.

Autumn is here. As week two of rehearsals for The Wipers Times comes to a close I think I can officially confirm that there’s a change in the wind.  As the temperature cools outside, it continues to rise in the Rehearsal Room on site.

Having got the whole play on its feet and had a ‘stagger through’ (literally staggering around the room trying to locate desks, lamps and papers whilst singing Nick Green’s brilliant songs) on Friday afternoon, we now have a shape for the play. A sense of the thing as a whole. Up until this point in rehearsals, it often feels like a case of stumbling from one scene to the next, solving each problem as it comes along and then pushing forwards. As soon as you put it all together though, much becomes clear as various things come into focus. The brilliant timeline that Chloe France (our assistant director) and Caroline Leslie (our director) put together for us before rehearsals began gets slightly re-jigged but becomes imperative for tracking the mental and physical journey of the characters.

But what is very clear now is that we have a play. It finally feels, if a little shaky, like it has arrived. We’ve found the dog hiding upstairs, all we have to do now is wrestle it into its lead and then we can take it out for a walk (sorry, I’m spending so much time around the many dogs that come to work with their owners at The Watermill that dog metaphors are now the only ones I can think of). Much of the week was spent blocking the second half of the play but we continue to tirelessly drill Emily Holt’s brilliant choreography alongside Nick’s songs with our fantastic musical director Paul Herbert – who it must be said has a remarkable amount of patience. When told how bad I am my excuse continues to be, “But surely not all of the tommies could sing?” It seems to fall on deaf ears, which is ironic.

I love this discovery time in rehearsals. Discovering the play, the character, where the thoughts come from, how the jokes work. It’s actor and director as detective which is my favourite thing. Not least because particularly for this play the research is so fascinating. We’re all fast becoming much more informed about the conflict on the western front than we were two weeks ago, and to know that through our work some truth about that war can be revealed is very touching. Especially considering we’re dealing with a true story with two very real men at the heart of it. I was transcribing a short hand written memoir by Jack Pearson himself (the character I play) at the beginning of the week and I suddenly thought, I may be the first person to do this. The first to pick through and write up this man’s words in a long time and I suddenly felt very humbled to be giving some sort of voice once more to this incredibly brave and indelibly funny man.

Next week’s work will bring detail and nuance to what we already have, tuning the engine that we’ve spent two weeks building.

George Kemp

George is playing Jack Pearson in The Wipers Times at The Watermill from Thursday 22 September to Saturday 29 October. Find out more and buy tickets.