Adjusting the bosom of another woman, as you pull closed the clasps on her corset, is an intimacy best reserved for the more advanced months of a friendship. Unless, of course, you are Assistant Director for a period-costume play, in which case you may find yourself fondling others and making introductions at once:
“Hello, I’m Rebekah; I’ll be helping Sarah out.”
“Hi, I’m playing Charlotte Brontë. Should I take my bra off first?”
To be an Assistant Director is to multitask. One has, therefore, a truly unique perspective: a hands-on closeness to all aspects of production.
As first mate, I have watched the captain of our ship bring Brontë safely into port. Sarah Pyper (a development officer at St Peter’s) is one of those directors whom actors and production folk alike adore. She is intelligent, practical, and calm, and has done wonders with a difficult but rewarding script.
Here’s the problem: Polly Teale (our author) wants to write for television. Many’s the time when Sarah has cursed her for a stage direction such as ‘Lights change: it is 1835’ (“Ah!” thinks the lighting designer, “I’ll fetch my 1835 bulbs”) or ‘Emily releases the hawk’ (“How expensive is it to hire a bird of prey for a fortnight?”). But once the tidying up was done, Brontë started to look like a touching and, at times, truly poetic script: a fitting cousin for the BBC’s recent To Walk Invisible.
If you know and love the Brontës, this is a play for you. If you can’t quite remember who wrote Wuthering Heights, and had forgotten that the third sister was called Anne, the play will invite you to discover a world of purple moors and wild imaginations.
Being Assistant Director is a much more important role when things go wrong. It’s a bit like being the younger brother of king: if he’s loved you’ll never get to feel the inner contours of the throne. But open rebellion on a play-set is an excitement I have witnessed before and will happily do without.
Thistledown Theatre is not a student company, and everything feels rather more relaxed. Sarah and the rest don’t need my guidance, and for once I can enjoy the ‘assistant’ half of my job-description.