Stepping onto a West End stage

Michael Grandage leading an MGC Futures masterclass with students. Photo: Marc Brenner
Veronica Aloess is a playwright and freelance arts journalist, writing for publications including A Younger Theatre, One Stop Arts and Broadway Baby. She trained at Arts Educational Schools London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University.
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The Futures company have been devising a response to MGC’s current production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, and last month we finally got the chance to perform it in front of an audience of family, friends and theatre professionals (including the cast themselves).

How many people dream of performing on a West End stage? We’ve previously had the opportunity to get up on stage at the Noel Coward Theatre where Michael Grandage’s season is based, and check out the sets, meet the stage and company managers, but performing on it is something else.

The first opportunity we got to rehearse on the stage was on the day, which was our first challenge. The Cripple of Inishmaan set designed by Christopher Oram is a revolving stage in three segments, so it’s difficult to accommodate 24 performers in just one section.

All of our blocking required reconfiguring to make the best use of the space and management of props (this mainly meant potatoes). What I found most difficult about performing on a West End stage however, was being able to project my tiny voice into the depth and breadth of the stalls, learning the difference between projecting and shouting, and spacing ourselves so that delivery was visible to the entire audience.

[pullquote]Grandage told us that he felt the most striking thing about the performance was the group dynamic[/pullquote]

It brought back memories of our directing masterclass with Grandage, in which we learnt a lot about balancing the aesthetics of staging with what it makes sense for your character to do on stage. So many people dream of performing on a West End stage, but that made the opportunity all the more daunting, and so all of this couldn’t help but fuel the second challenge we had to conquer: nerves.

As well as being a learning experience for us, it enabled us to inform those around us about what we’ve been up to every Tuesday evening, by following up the performance with an audience Q and A.

Tracing the process from beginning to end for the first time after having performed it, lent a sudden sense of perspective on it all that you don’t have in the middle of it when you’re not exactly sure where you’re headed. This was Futures’ first production as a company and therefore there was definitely a sense of experimenting with our way of doing things, and in a discussion we had altogether afterwards, we thought that finding our feet in this way was a good way to gel as a new company.

And apparently it worked because during this same discussion Grandage told us that he felt the most striking thing about the performance was the group dynamic: the way we trusted one another onstage to pick each other up if something went wrong (which thankfully it didn’t), and I agree.

Performing on a West End stage proved to us, just as much as the audience, that Futures has grown from a disparate array of people with a shared interest into a fully-fledged theatre company now.