Tue 16 Apr

Northanger Abbey diary of an Assistant Director

Namoo Chae Lee, the Northanger Abbey Assistant Director documented the various steps it takes to get a production like Northanger Abbey onto the stage in a trilogy of blogs. Read on to find out how Northanger Abbey got to Theatre by the Lake.

Part I – The Journey to the Rehearsal Room

20 Oct 2023 Script workshop, Orange Tree Theatre

Met Tessa, Zoe and the actors for the first time! Had a reading with the actors and received feedback.

27 Oct 2023 White card Meeting*

White card meeting with all the creative and production teams from the Orange Tree, Theatre by the Lake, Octagon Theatre Bolton and Stephen Joseph Theatre. The main design concept was chandeliers and lots of pink! Big discussion about how to travel the set to four different venues including one end-on theatre.

After the meeting, the production manager and the creatives discussed the logistics of the stages, the budget, and individual costumes.

*a White Card Meeting is where the designer and director explain their three dimensional vision of the show

3 Nov 2023 Lighting Meeting

Hannah, the designer, explained the initial design inspiration and Tessa, the director, discussed the style of acting to Matt, the lighting designer. Will the chandelier work as part of the lighting? How much we would like to incorporate the candles in the lighting? Sincere(!) discussion on the piano – do we need this big instrument for a single scene? What about something portable, like…. a lute??

Mood Board by Hannah Sibai

7 Nov 2023 Movement Meeting

Meeting with the movement director Jonnie Riordan. How to make the physical language with trunks and suitcases!

8 Nov 2023 Marketing Meeting

With the director, playwright, and the Orange Tree marketing team. Discussed the general approach to the existing and new audiences, the need to address the difference between the production and Jane Austen’s original novel, and the trailer shooting plans.

10 Nov 2023 Final Design Meeting

Hannah presented the final design vision for the show. Northanger is going to look EPIC.

Hannah Sibai Set Design

4 Dec 2023 Trailer Shooting in a mansion in Kent

Road trip to deepest darkest Kent to shoot the promotional trailer for the shoot at an incredible house (basically a mansion), armed with period costumes, facial hair, and lots and lots of snacks. The shoot involved lots of dancing and lots of haze!

11 Dec 2023 The first day of rehearsals, Orange Tree Theatre

Really exciting to have everyone in the room together for the first time (plus zoomed in from Keswick, Bolton and Scarborough) to hear Zoe’s wonderful script spoken aloud by our brilliant cast. Bring on rehearsals!

Cast of Northanger Abbey in rehearsal

Part II The Journey to Bath

The four-week rehearsal process was divided into two parts with the Christmas break in the middle. Tessa, the director aimed to reach the scene where Cath arrives in Bath before we all left for Christmas. And here is our journey to Bath!

Week 1

11th Dec. It’s finally the first day of rehearsals! The whole company and Orange Tree staff gathered for the first read-through of the script. Then there was a model box showing where we all got to see Hannah (Sibai)’s wonderful design for the show. In the afternoon, we started our table work with the playwright, Zoe Cooper, and the director, Tessa, which led to….

12th Dec. New pages! We kept doing table work with Zoe and the actors which led to….

13th Dec. More new pages! And more new pages would keep haunting Jeanette and Jamie, our fantastic stage management team, during the whole rehearsal process! As Northanger Abbey is a new play, and with Zoe in the rehearsal room for a lot of the process, tweaking and refining her work, we were all kept on our toes – very different to a play where the script stays the same from day one.

14th Dec. Whilst we were deep in the world of Zausten (Zoe+Austen!), Deborah, our voice and dialect coach arrived. We started our voice session with a map. Cath is from Northern England and Hen lives near Bath. What do they sound like? We watched videos, received some links regarding dialects and had personal coaching on how to unlock the perfect accents. The most delightful part was just to see Deb producing different sounds and dialects within a second!

15th Dec. The end of the first week started with the arrival of our movement director, Jonnie. We started the session with a simple warm-up, and by the end of the day, the whole carriage scene was made! Hurray!

Week 2

18th Dec. The second week was a movement-intensive week. We reviewed the carriage scene that we made the previous week. The carriage is made with trunks!

19th Dec. We went on to the next carriage scene and started experimenting with using straps. That was when I stepped into the middle of the rehearsal room, holding straps! A very important role! Then we started wondering… how to make this work without an assistant director sitting in the middle of the stage…? First, we need a stage weight, and we need a retractable strap…. like…. a dog leash…?

20th Dec. Weary of our two days of stage travel, we arrived at the Bath scene! Balls at last! And we started learning new dances!

21st Dec. More dances and more scenes in Bath till!

22nd Dec. The last rehearsal day of the year 2023 ended with Secret Santa and Tessa’s offering of bubbles! See you all in the new year!


Part III – Journey to the Orange Tree Theatre

Week 3

2nd Jan All back from Christmas! We reviewed what we’d done before the break, then moved on to more scenes in Bath.

4th Jan The first costume fitting and a rehearsal photo shoot with photographer Pamela Raith. Then we moved on to the country dancing with Jonnie (movement director).

5th Jan Worked on the Northanger Abbey scene, the title act.

6th Jan Worked mainly on the scenes with Iz and Cath.

Week 4

8th Jan The grass carpet has arrived, but it looks bulky! What do we do with that?

9th Jan Zoe (Cooper – our wonderful writer) is back in the rehearsal room! Kept on with scenes!

10th Jan Another costume fitting- we powered through to the end of the day, reaching the end of the script.

11th Jan The first run of the whole play with the presence of the whole creatives and Orange Tree staff. The total run time was 2 hours and 30 minutes without an intermission. The decision was made to cut the grass carpet…

12th Jan Zoe is back with some cuts of the script. Another goodbye to the lute and the bed! The bed will be back when the show arrives in Keswick!

13th Jan Working on the cuts!

Week 5

15th Jan Another run. This time it was 2 hours in total!

16th Jan More notes from Tessa and focused work on Act 4.

17th Jan First day in the theatre – it’s all pink and chandeliers! The actors look AMAZING in their costumes. Fixing some bits of the prologue till the first carriage scene.

18th Jan Tech work till the end of the first half. So, the tech looks like this: The designer (Hannah Sibai) and the movement director (Jonnie Riordan) sitting on each side of the director (Tessa Walker), kept reviewing the scenes with the director, when Holly Khan (sound designer), Matt Haskins (light designer), Gabriel  (light technician) and Jeanette (Deputy Stage Manager) worked on the cues at the tech desk. Jenny (company stage manager) ran the tech, Jamie (assistant stage manager) got the props ready behind the stage, and Anna (Costume Supervisor) constantly sewed something at the side of the stage. I am moving around constantly trying to make sure no seats have any view issues!

19th Jan Resume the tech from the second half of the show.

20th Jan Finished the tech for the last scene and did our first dress rehearsal. Then straight to our first preview!

22nd Jan Second day of the previews. Start the day with a note session from Tessa in the morning. Discussed changing the character of Ellie, to make her more of a camp, gothic, ludicrous and spooky girl!

23rd Jan Jigging around with scripts again! The actors are so quick at learning them. And another fully packed tech with detailed time limits for individual scenes. The final preview!

24th Jan Final tech session -and then… the press night in front of a fully packed audience.