Vanity Fair

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Lucy Harrison Shaw 

in association with

Rust & Stardust Productions 



This dazzling, ensemble-led production of Declan Donnellan’s frenetic adaptation of Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray’s satire of social mobility, is coming to the historic Middle Temple Hall in January. Fast, brash and full of song, Vanity Fair will delight audiences in the beautiful setting of Middle Temple Hall, the venue for the first performance of Twelfth Night in 1602. 

Expect experimental lighting, high-octane physical storytelling and laughs aplenty.

The experienced acting company includes Emily Plumtree (Nerissa in Rupert Goold's Merchant of Venice - RSC/Almeida), Nicholas Boulton (RSC's Wolf Hall - West End/Broadway), Patrick Warner (Stanley Stubbs in National Theatre's One Man, Two Guvnors - West End/Tour), Tom Davey (recently seen as Prince William in the hit show Three Lions - St James' Theatre & RSC's Hamlet starring David Tennant) and Andrew Macbean (She Stoops to Conquer - Bath Theatre Royal).

The show is directed by Hal Chambers (Soho Theatre, Eastern Angles, Company of Angels), whose recent work includes Raymond Briggs' The Bear (Polka Theatre / Albany Deptford) 

'Move over War Horse... Profoundly moving.' The Guardian

'Shakespeare for the OMG generation? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, when it’s as good as this'.

★★★★★ The Times on Hal's Romeo & Juliet 2013

'Superbly directed...A revolutionary and ambitious production of Much Ado....'

★★★★★ The Stage on Hal's Much Ado About Nothing 2015

Vanity Fair is designed by Lizzy Leech (Creative Associate of the Gate Theatre), with inventive movement direction from Kate Webster (Shakespeare's Globe) and features an original score by Tom Recknell, who has worked with Florence + the Machine and King’s College Choir, and whose music features on national television and in international film festivals. The show is produced by Lucy Harrison Shaw in association with Eleanor Conlon of  Rust & Stardust Productions, whose work has performed in Brighton, Edinburgh and Oxford, and whose show The Wild Man of Orford was shortlisted for the Fringe Sustainable Practice Award.

Vanity Fair is suitable for adults and families with older children.

Rehearsal Blog

Day 1

Hello! Jess here, of team vanity fair.  I'm the assistant director and chief rehearsal-blog-writer during the next 3 weeks of rehearsal.

First days of rehearsal definitely have the potential to be a bit uncertain I think. Loads of new people to meet and loads of ideas and thoughts to start pinning down so that the whole company are on the same page of what type of play we're going to create. Luckily everyone involved is LOVELY and the first day was so much fun!

We started with foursquare, a game which certainly brings out the competitiveness in people (hearing mutters of "I must not be competitive on the first day!" is always a good sign!) then a little bit of volleyball to get warmed up (Earning Lizzy, our designer, the nickname 'Chucker'). We saw her design ideas and then got on to a read through.

Vanity fair is a huge book - and on first glance the text of the play could seem quite dense. But with 7 actors, each playing on average around 5 characters the play is very quick with its storytelling and the read through absolutely brought the play to life. I'm incredibly excited to see what happens when we get properly stuck into it.

We're devising bits and playing around with lots of different ideas so there is lots of potential for play. The afternoon involved the cast working with our movement director Kate to start developing physicalities and creating some simple images to start working with the play. Sounds normal enough... by the end one of the cast had his trousers down and another was terrorising anyone watching with his incredibly creepy Lord Steyne!

Tomorrow we're playing with alternative lighting ideas (candles, fairy lights, LEDs) and probably some more foursquare...

That's all for now, I'll be back in a few days with more updates from the rehearsal room!

Jess x 

End of Week 1

What a week! It’s sort of hard to believe we only started 5 days ago.

The last couple of days we’ve really got stuck into devising the play. Taking sections at a time, we’ve been finding different images and movements that help tell the story. Some bits have been fairly straightforward, and others have been a bit more complicated. What’s really fun is having a rehearsal room full of creative ideas being chucked around, tried and tested. We’re about a quarter of the way through and it’s looking great.

Outside of devising specifically for the play, we’ve also explored alternative lighting ideas that we can use in and out of scenes. It means that we have a host of ideas involving different lights that we can pick up and use in a scene when we’re testing out ideas. So far our collection of lights includes; fairy lights, handheld LEDs, lamps, floodlights, candles, birdies and par cans. It’s quite a range...

Lizzy has been introducing bits of the set throughout the week so it’s all coming to life. We now have doors on wheels, which allow for lots of movement and quick scene changes in the space. By the time we finish devising the show I think they will function as many things other than just traditional doors!

We’ve also had some sessions with Tom, our composer, who has been teaching the cast the opening number of the show. Vanity Fair is not a musical, but a play with music. It’s hard to know what the difference is sometimes, but I would say that the songs don’t form the main bulk of the storytelling in our show, which makes a difference. In any case, the opening number is brilliantly lively - ‘Disney meets Sondheim’ was the description from one cast member, so you’re in for a treat.

We’ve covered a lot so far, but we also have a fair amount to do…  so it’s full steam ahead on Monday!

Rehearsal quote of the week: “You just have to act…”

Blog 3

We’re in week 2 of the rehearsal period and moving pretty quickly through the script! Act 1 is finished (for now) and we’ve got a lot of Act 2 done.

We’ve got much more in tune with the style of the play and the way in which we devise as we’ve gone through, which means we’re able to work at a much faster pace than we could at the beginning of the first week. It’s so important to have a strong company/ensemble feeling when devising a show, and a lot of the movement sessions in the first week that centred around ensemble are really showing through in the way everyone works together.

Often in devised work there can be a danger of talking about ideas far too much, but (so far!) we’ve been pretty good at trying lots of things out until we find the idea that works. Each scene and section brings challenges, and we’ve got a great balance of some complex sequences and some more simple scenes.

Towards the end of Act 1 we see the characters in Brussels going to the Dutchess of Richmond’s ball. (This happened in June 1815, and has become somewhat of a legendary event, with a 200th anniversary ball being held earlier this year). Our set includes ladders and doors on wheels, so the ball sequence offered a fun opportunity for using these in different ways to fill the space. Where, earlier in the play they have been used as doors/windows/seats and other objects, here they become people!

Aside from that, the cast continue to practice the opening song of Vanity Fair, with other songs being introduced as we go along. Becky Sharp has a really lovely song in act 1 that I’m looking forward to hearing.

We have a slightly unusual rehearsal schedule this week and next, what with it being Christmas and New Year so the rehearsal room is often filled with people scribbling down blocking and ideas as it will undoubtedly feel like its been a while when we revisit the beginning of the play.  Whilst a lot of people may be winding down for the end of the year, we are full steam ahead and will be straight into the new year (and performance week!) before we know it. Get booking those tickets….

Merry Christmas!

Blog 4

It’s production week! Both a scary and exciting sentence. We’ve moved rehearsals into Middle Temple Hall (the venue that we’re performing in), which has really upped the sense of grandeur in all aspects. It’s an incredible building – both Shakespeare and Thackeray have been in the hall, it’s where the first production of Twelfth Night was held!

But back to rehearsals; New Year’s eve saw our first stagger through of the whole play. There’s lots of work to be done but it was exciting (and very useful) to see the play as a whole. 

We’re now going back to working through the play in detail, sorting out transitions and restaging bits. There are a lot of movement sections in the play so now the focus is on making every moment specific. The stage is 13m long so there is also a certain amount of work in fitting the blocking to a new stage – we have an extra 3m on the rehearsal room space!

Yesterday saw us working on the battle of waterloo, and the combination of music, movement and lighting is going to make it a really exciting part of the play.

Today we’re finishing off Act 2, and tomorrow we start running the whole play. Then I think before we know it, it’ll be time to bring the audience in…

See you on Friday for the first performance!

Middle Temple Scholarship Fund

This performance of Vanity Fair will be in aid of the Middle Temple Scholarship Fund,  which is part of the Charities administered in connection with The Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, registered charity number 314246. 

Middle Temple has been awarding scholarships on a substantial basis since 1877. The Inn’s primary purpose is to ensure that those individuals of real ability (and whom the Inn believes can succeed in the profession) are not precluded from coming to the Bar by a lack of financial resources. The principal criteria for the award of scholarships are the quality of the applicant and their commitment to the principles of independent practice. All scholarships are awarded on merit. Once identified as a Scholar of the Inn, the amount of the award to an individual is tailored to ensure that significant assistance is given to those students most in need.

Middle Temple interviews all scholarship applicants and, uniquely, always takes account of means when assessing the value of any scholarship award. The Inn believes that it has a track record of channeling funds where they are most needed and to people, regardless of their background, who will ultimately be a credit to the profession and the administration of justice.