Cosmic Scallies rehearsal diary

Week two
By Reuben Johnson – playing Shaun

You form bonds pretty quickly in theatre, it’s really the only way. So at the start of the second week  the banter had commenced.  A pair of sandals sported by our Assistant Director James being one of the early talking points. As a team we’re now pretty comfortable with each other and we’re all vocal in our input as we discuss our thoughts and ideas about Cosmic Scallies. And with a two-hander play you have to be. With a cast of 20 there might be a few days where you can drift into the background, with a smaller company you need every brain engaged at all times.

This week was all about getting each scene ‘up on its feet,’ continuing on from last week’s work which was more table-based. Amit (Director) poses the following questions to myself and Rachel “What is your character trying to achieve?” and “Why are they saying this now, at this particular moment?” Amit wants us to constantly ask ourselves these questions for each section of the play. Sometimes it’s difficult to answer. Jackie’s writing really comes off the page well and so immediately you think you know what’s going on, but once you start to explore further you realise there’s much more to what we’re saying. The back and forth between Shaun and Dent in the script is electric, but if it becomes just about having digs at each other then we lose the colour of the play. “What does Shaun actually want at the end of this exchange?” We’re starting to find that extra bit of detail and the characters are becoming more three-dimensional as we hit mid-week.

Rachel and I filmed a video diary towards the end of the week where we chatted about Cosmic Scallies and it’s themes. I definitely waffled on a bit but I think we did okay. I’m way more comfortable acting on camera than just being myself on it, I’m not sure what that says about me.

With this being a brand new play the script is ever changing.  There are various incarnations of the script to be found all around the rehearsal room. Just as we are challenging ourselves as performers, Jackie is challenging herself as a writer. So as we work on the play and discuss it, Jackie has been taking everything on board and going away making improvement’s to an already solid script. This does require patience from us actors but it goes with the territory of new writing. And to be honest it’s been pretty exciting to read the new material each day, some of which I can’t get through without the giggles on a first read. There’s so many killer one-liners in this play.

Culminating everything we’d worked on this week, which also included some physical work with Chi and accent-work with Elspeth, we did a stagger through of the whole play on Friday. Putting the scenes together you really sensed a robust, dynamic energy that the play brings. It’s fun, it’s fast and it hits hard. I think as the run went on, Rachel and I got more confident and started to really enjoy ourselves. We started to relish Shaun and Dent’s up and down relationship more as well as their ‘wonky personalities.’ I’m looking forward to starting week 3 tomorrow and I should probably go to bed now as it’s getting late.


Week one
By Rachel Denning – playing Dent

Monday Day 1
I love first days of rehearsals. I always “treat” myself to something new for each new job….this time it’s a new water bottle.

We have a very modest call time of 1.30pm. At 1.30pm the whole company comes together for the “meet and greet”, it is always a lovely way for everyone to ‘meet and greet’ for the first time, although it is very rare that I will remember all the names.

COSMIC SCALLIES is a co-pro with Graeae Theatre Company and the Royal Exchange Theatre, for Northern Stage’s programme at Summerhall this year. So that’s a lot of people to meet!

After the meet and greet, we have the first read-through. Everyone has read the play and knows it, but it’s always good to get to listen to it for the first time – to see what’s landing and what isn’t and for us just to get it off the page.

Next is the model box presentation, this is one of my favourite bits of every first day, for me it’s a time when it becomes real. Bethany, the designer presents us the model box, which is basically a model of the set. It’s great to see the design and to see what we will have on stage, practically.

Bethany also shows us some stimulus that she has used for her design; photos of Skelmersdale, places that are mentioned in the text and other images which have inspired the design.

That’s pretty much the end of a successful day 1!

Tuesday Day 2
Today we have writer Jackie Hagan with us. So Amit starts the day with another read-through of the whole play, to allow the writer to hear it with the actors voices and for Reuben and I to have another chance to give it a read. For this readthrough, Amit suggests that we place ourselves in the space and this seems to free us up a bit.

Amit then asks Reuben and I three ‘simple’ questions;

1. What is the play about?
2. What does our character want?
3. And what does our character want from the other?

These ‘simple’ questions are not as easy as they may sound, but we eventually amalgamate our answers, which will keep for reference for if we lose our way during the process.

Wednesday Day 3
After a cup of tea and a quick warm up we begin day three.

We begin with continuing to unite the text, which is basically splitting the scenes into sections of thought and/or action. We talk about each unit in detail focussing on what we want from the other character? Why are we saying these things? And why now?

We also use this time to explore potential cuts and changes – using previous drafts and new drafts. At some point we have about 4 drafts in front of us! It may sound overwhelming, but to have the actors, director and the writer in the same room is a great opportunity to get the perfect story out there.

Reuben and I end the day with Elspeth, the dialect coach. Reuben is originally from Salford and I, from Essex so for us to get a true representation of the Skelmersdale sound – we need a little guidance to make it as accurate as possible.

Thursday Day 4
Today is spent continuing to unit – this is always a lengthy process but one that is totally worth it in the long run! The more detail we go into at this stage, the clearer it will be once we get it onto its feet.

Friday Day 5
We bring the first week to a close with a movement session.

For me personally, being a disabled actor – playing the part of a disabled character is an interesting relationship. Because yes, my character has the same condition as me (achondroplasia) but it’s her experience with this condition that makes her.

My character is in a lot of pain, and this pain may be similar to mine but in developing my role I need to consider her environment, her diet, her lifestyle and the support that she has, which will all contribute to her pain and the relationship that she has with this pain.

We spend the morning exploring our character’s physicality’s through many exercises and improvisations – which allows us to tap into them in ways that we haven’t yet tried.


Tour dates

Sat 5 – Sat 26 August 2017 (except Wednesdays) | 18:30 (70 mins approx).
Northern Stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh 
Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL
£12 (£10)
Tickets 0131 560 1581 |
Click here to book tickets now.