Friday dawned to reveal the first cloudy and miserable day that I have seen so far on my stay.  The early rush hour traffic’s lights were reflected against wet roads, providing a light show more akin to my Christmas tour. 

The routine has become fairly well set now, and as the rehearsal was not called until 1pm, I had the morning to myself.  I ate my customary breakfast of Muesli topped with blueberries, raspberries and banana whilst reading through Jeffrey’s notes from the last rehearsal, so I could incorporate them into  my morning run through of the play.

My temporary set had become more elaborate as the days have gone on, and for this rehearsal I discovered that I could remove a length of wooden dowelling from the coat hanging space, which became one of the walking canes that Dickens uses as a prop through the show.  Quite apart from the lines and the basic movements on stage, Jeffrey has directed in an awful lot of ‘business’ and it is vital for me to ensure that the various props end up in the correct place on the stage, ready to be used again.

 

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Scarf and Pole, ready to go

 

The run was one of the best I have done in my apartment: the lines were accurate, whilst my scarf (representing a scarf), and my coat hanging rail (representing the walking cane) both ended up in the right places.  I am very pleased with the direction that everything is heading.

After my excesses of exercise the day before I gave the gym a miss, as my running programme calls for a session every second day.  I have to be totally honest with you and confess that I was rather lazy for the rest of the morning, and spent a lot of time following the breaking news about the background of the  London terrorist (a story that was much closer to home than I had first realised).

At noon I made myself some poached eggs on toast, and then gathered my things in preparation for our afternoon rehearsal.

I was hopeful that we may be able to launch straight into a complete run through of the play again, and may even have time for a second, after notes, but those plans were foiled by yet another session going through sound effects, some of which had been tweaked or changed since last we went through them.  I have to say, that this time my patience was wearing a bit thin, but I kept myself to myself and let the process play out, until Jeffrey announced himself satisfied with the effects and we were at last ready to run.

This would be the first run through using the costumes, and I would have to be changing clothes for real, where in the past I have been miming, so I was anxious to discover if our timings had been right.

The play opens with Dickens in an angry mood, and the frustrations of sitting around in costume for an hour were positively used to create a very strong beginning to this performance.  Actually the show went well, and I was pleased with the progress I have made since our last run through.  Naturally there are still a few places I want it to be tighter, but everything seemed to run smoothly – even the costume changes.

We stopped after scene 3, and Jeffrey gave us all a few notes, before picking up the action at the big costume change: everything sort of ended up in the right place, but it was a bit clumsy and rushed, so I need to work on that.

The second act – sorry, scene 4 – went well too.  I was a little off colour at the start of it, due to the break, but was soon back into the story with a great intensity, that bodes well for the coming weeks.

With the run finished we only had a short time for notes, fortunately of which there weren’t many anyway, before Dennis appeared to whisk me away for an evening treat.

Dennis lectures at the University of Northwestern at St Paul, and my visit happens to coincide with their production of Mary Poppins, so Dennis had bought tickets for me, his wife Ann and her mother Betty to go and see it.

There is something so exciting in watching students perform – such energy, such commitment and such passion for the show, but this was just something else!  It was easy to forget that we were watching an amateur show cast purely with young adults – this could have been a fully professional touring production

To begin with (now, that’s an idea for a title….), the sets were incredible, either being flown in or moved around the stage on trucks.  Most amazing was the kitchen scene, which destroyed itself as the Banks children tried to make cake icing.  As we watched, the shelves slipped, plates fell, the table broke in two an iron chimney flue fell from the wall and the scene was a complete wreck.  But one ‘Spit Spot’ from Mary and everything righted itself again before our very eyes.

The ensemble numbers were all beautifully choreographed and perfectly performed, but standing out above everything was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, which filled the stage with noise, energy and colour.  The choreographer has created a sort of turbocharged YMCA dance on steroids – every performer created every letter of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious in an ever faster and more manic whirl during which no one seemed to lose time or concentration.  It was one of those moments that exhausted the audience as well as the performers as we cheered and stamped and clapped.

Finally was the flying: of course Mary Poppins has to fly with her umbrella held aloft, but I had not been prepared for Bert to casually stroll up the side of the proscenium arch (parallel to the ground), and when he reached the top turn, and walk (upside down, now), across the top of the arch whilst still tap dancing and singing, and all of this as the sweeps of London belted their way through ‘Step in Time’ beneath him.  Whew.

I do tend to get rather emotional when I can see how much energy and love has been put into a show like this, and I unashamedly was wiping tears from my eyes as the cast took their curtain call to a boisterous standing ovation which became even more boisterous when Mary flew from the Heavens to take her bow.

A stunning, stunning show, and one that reaffirmed the sheer joy of live theatre. 

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