Tess Rehearsal Diary

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Day One

Today we arrived in the village of Dundry for our rehearsal week.

Upon arrival we spotted a stone in the wall of the house stating that it was built in 1891, the same year Tess was published, it felt serendipitous.

After a family dinner and walk across the hills at sunset we sat by the fire together to read through our play. It was great to hear the play read aloud with Jon (our MD) playing the songs and improvising with his guitar through some of the scenes, particularly with the night sky outside of the windows.

Day Two

The day began with a dog walk at 9am. We said hello to the cows and sheep and walked through the meadows. Then followed a yoga practice led by cast member Emily, before the cast ran their vocal warm up in the rehearsal room and the band moved into the garden to warm up and jam in the sunshine.

We sat outside for a quick chat. Elske (our writer and director) introduced the collaborative care plan. She stressed the importance of looking after ourselves and each other this week, and that we were building a story that we would enjoy telling. Then we introduced the rehearsal room and the costume and the props and the venue plans. And talked about the tidying up of the space as an end of day ritual.

We spent the morning learning three of the songs Jon has written (‘Oh Hey Love/Birds’, ‘Daisies and Rosemary’, and ‘Green of Old’) and then in the afternoon we rehearsed outside devising some movement sequences to represent travelling, working, and the dance.

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Day Three

After the usual walk, yoga, and warm up we began the process of Active Analysis. This process involves reading through the scenes, bullet pointing the events of the scene, laying aside the scripts and improvising them, then discussing what happened in the improvisation that was different/similar and interesting to the scene. The process is then repeated until we begin to stop finding new interesting things. Working through the script like this means that the actors are finding out the alternatives to the way the scene is written, the subtext of the scene, and developing very swiftly character and actor relationships with one another. It is heavily based on improvisation and impulse, and feeds the creative mind enormously.

We reached the sequence where “Tess has her baby and it dies an hour later”. This was a huge step for our team - we devised a sequence together, with music, that was sensitive and very moving. A big moment for us.

Day Four

Continued working through the script, moving through it scene by scene as the play began to take shape.

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Day Five

Final day of Active Analysis.

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Day Six


On Day Six we began to work back through the play from the beginning. Finding the details in the scenes having explored the emotion and intentions earlier.

We used some storytelling exercises to help release the text and form our piece. One of these exercises included summarising the plot of Tess in three sentences, with some liberal use of commas this is one of the options we came up with:

“Tess Durbeyfield’s family are struggling, so she is sent to work for some dubious relations where she is raped by Alec, her supposed cousin and master. After she runs home to her family their child dies shortly after birth and the scandal sends Tess to a distant dairy farm where she falls in love but is eventually abandoned over a perceived lack of purity. She is left in poverty until Alec claims her as his, he abuses her in London until [SPOILERS]””

“Tess’s life is ruined because someone does something to her that is out of her control, and because of that, her self is deemed impure, and her life ruined. We must redefine our standards of purity.”

“Tess Durbeyfield goes on a sad adventure in the old old west. She will live this bad life until it is her good life. And she's still living, I hear”

Day Seven

Our day began as usual, with a dog walk through the dew covered fields, yoga, and warm up. We continued working through our play, creating a wedding sequence, working sequence, and playing through the scenes.

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Day Eight

We spent the day running through the six sections of the play, creating mood-boards for each scene to help record our work.

In the evening we ended our day with a run through. Then lots of celebration for an incredibly packed and creative rehearsal period!

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We’re so proud of the play we’ve crafted. Working and living together like this, deep in the countryside - in welly boots and with the occasional dog cameos - was the perfect environment in which to create our Tess. We hope you’ll appreciate it too! Tickets are on sale now for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and we hope we’ll see you at one of our performances.

This brazen retelling of Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles sees an all-female cast of three welcome the audience into our semi-immersive pub setting to gather and hear the tragic tale of Tess. With a live folk band, shocking new plot twists, and a healthy jolt of feminism, our Tess is fighting to tell her truth – and in this modern day and age, we thought it was about time to have it heard.

Photo credit - Louise Spence

Photo credit - Louise Spence