RACHAEL'S CAFE: Rachael Arrives...
Rachael's Cafe is my first play and, as such, getting it ready for its London premiere has been quite a manic whirlwind of firsts. For months it was all go - getting a creative team together, set design, rehearsals, feminisation sessions, press, marketing - all of it was focused and functional. Slowly it took over my life. I was eating, sleeping, breathing the show. The team were great, the actor was transforming before my eyes and, of course, I was in touch regularly with Rachael to discuss ideas and more. But overall it felt very much like my show, my baby. And then, two weeks ago that changed.
Because Rachael arrived. The real Rachael on whom the play is based.
Now, Rachael's not an overbearing presence, she's a very calm, kind and thoughtful individual, but the minute she walked into a rehearsal the entire dynamic changed. I even stopped blogging regularly about the show because, for the first time, I felt like someone else had more to say about it than me!
Two weeks on rehearsals have finished, Press Night is behind us and Rachael's on her way back to America leaving us alone with the play. So it's time for me to reflect on how Rachael's arrival changed everything.
Obviously I know Rachael is a real person, I met her four years ago, I spent two years interviewing her and another year transcribing these interviews and making them into a play. I'm always thinking about her and running ideas by her but hearing her voice or having her in a room has always made a big difference. The first time, in 2011, that our very nervous actor Graham Elwell took to the stage as Rachael at the Edinburgh Fringe it was an international phone call from the lady herself that made him realise it, quite frankly, wasn't about him and consequently put him at ease to just get on with the job!
Two weeks later she arrived in Edinburgh to watch him on stage. It was probably his worst performance as it dawned on him that he was standing in an intimate space, talking to a handful of people telling private stories that belonged to the lady in the front row staring back at him! Again, it was the same presence that had so thrown him that ultimately helped get him back on track. Giving Graham feedback, spending time with him, coming more frequently to the show (but sitting in more hidden positions!), Rachael slowly learned to hand over part of her experiences to Graham and he, in turn, handled them with the utmost honesty and respect on stage.
Three years on and it happened all over again! After a four-week rehearsal period we were feeling like we were reaching the pinnacle of our work for the London premiere of the play, we'd built up a comfortable rapport between actor and director and, within seconds of Rachael entering the room, this had shifted remarkably. In my opinion there is nothing that more aptly tests your confidence in your work than the person who it's all about being present. We strove for authenticity more honestly than ever before and we became aware, naturally, of anything that we had created or altered in Rachael's absence. Props, costume and behaviours that felt so authentically hers to us were, in some cases, just memories we'd embellished over time. They didn't always quite strike true when the living, breathing Rachael was in the room.
This wasn't a negative experience by the way; unsettling at times perhaps but there were also plenty of success stories from that day. The first point at which she cracked a smile, the moment she laughed out loud and when she nodded in agreement with something she recognised as her truth, we all breathed a collective sigh of relief. That was when we knew it was going to be okay and, from there, we continued to work together, as a three, until opening night.
RACHAEL'S CAFÉ runs at the Old Red Lion Theatre until Saturday 15 March 2014. For information and tickets visit www.rachaelscafeplay.com