Mark Bell, who lives in Kew, is directing The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, by Mischief Theatre. He has directed plays across the UK and Europe as well as teaching at the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art (LAMDA)
‘When we’re rehearsing a play I like to get to the rehearsal room about half an hour before the actors arrive. I start doing the admin on the train into London, making notes for the deputy stage manager, designers and producer.
‘Rehearsals last about six weeks. For The Comedy About A Bank Robbery we’re doing four weeks of training and character building and finish with two weeks of technical training as this particular show involves a lot of stunts. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s about a bank heist and there’s a lot of falling out of things from high above the stage!
‘The group of actors who founded the comedy Mischief Theatre used to be my students at LAMDA – and now they’re my boss. We do a read-through of the play first and use games and improvisation to warm up. It’s important that they work as a collective, not individuals on stage. They get to play around like kids, but is also very physically and emotionally demanding.
‘I teach ‘clowning’ skills – which is Laurel and Hardy or Buster Keaton rather than circus clowns – it is very much about coming timing and interacting with the audience. As the focus is on comedy I need them to be funny!
‘Someone once said the job of an actor is to go on stage and make the other actor look good. That way everyone is working together – you can’t be selfish on stage.
‘We’ll work right through until six o’clock, but the nearer it gets to the first night, the later we stay, often until 10pm. It gets very intense.
‘Once the play opens, my day changes and I can actually get some sleep. I’ll watch the preview performances every day until the opening night, but once it’s running I’ll only go and watch once a week or to see if there are any problems as they don’t want the director breathing down their necks. Then I can start working on other projects.
‘We’ve never had to interrupt a play because of one of the actors, but there was one play when an audience member projectile vomited over the rows in front. It was so messy we had to close the play for the night.
‘It’s good to come back to Kew. I love the peace and quiet and that Kew Gardens is on my doorstep. The best end to the day is sitting with my 10-year-old son watching Captain America… again.
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery opens at the Criterion Theatre. Previews from 31 March.