Thursday, 28 July 2016

Half A Sixpence - Press Go!

On Tuesday night we finally pressed our beautiful new rendition of Half A Sixpence for the discerning Chichester public and the national and local press contingencies. After eight wonderful weeks of rehearsing, teching, re-rehearsing and previewing, the show was finally frozen and launched to the public who seem to have taken it to their hearts with as much joy as we have.

Press Nights are funny beasts. They can make or break a show and as such can be absolutely terrifying. They’re often also the first time many of our friends and family get to see the show, as it’s common amongst performers to make their friends wait until no more changes will take place before allowing them in to critique! That and the fact that all theatre people love a press night party and a free glass of wine!

Our press night began very early in the morning with the press photo-shoot. This is when we perform small segments of the show so that press photographers can get some great photos outside of the production shots we already have. They’re often stop start affairs with several set-ups and some staged images too to make sure the angles and lighting are all exactly right. Fortunately for me, my character Helen wasn’t in any of the sections being done and so I managed to spend my morning distributing my press night gifts instead.

The press night card and gift is a long-standing tradition in theatre, particularly in musicals I’ve found. It’s a ritual I utterly adore and one I try and take a lot of time and care over, yet it almost always goes vaguely awry for me! My cards this year were relatively simple, bearing the name of the show and the relevant dates and then a cheeky limerick and banjo image on the reverse side, I’d share the poem with you but it would give away one of the show’s surprises and we don’t want that now then, do we?

Growing up I was one of those awkward little girls who bounced between being uncomfortably shy and over-sharing to the point of annoyance. Frankly I’m just a bigger version of that geeky child now, but as such, I really don’t like missing anyone out, even inadvertently, and so I write approximately 70 cards per production to make sure I cover all departments. But my handwriting is so dreadful that I then spend several hours going back over each card adding my name very neatly in block capitals, followed by my character name in brackets… just in case anyone is still trying to decipher my illegible lettering!

Gifts are a whole other demon though. I like my press night gifts to be representative of the show we’re in, but at the same time I’m terrible for overcomplicating things and leaving it until far too late to organise them. Despite knowing the opening night date for well over two months, it took me until 12 days before to order my gifts as my first idea fell through due to time constraints! In the end they were beautifully iced shortbread biscuits in the shape of a house, to represent one of the songs in the show with the lyric “I only want to have a little house”. Simple enough it seemed, until you try bagging up 120 individual cookies and tying them with customised ribbon after a long day of rehearsals and then a preview, and find you’re still fighting with the scissors at 2 in the morning! Next time everyone gets a handshake!

Biscuits ago-go! From the wonderful 
Sarah at

Post-press call we gather as a company to have a gentle rehearsal. We sing some bits from the show to make friends again with the space and make sure everyone has had a chance on the stage before the evening show. Rachel Kavanaugh, our amazing director, finishes the afternoon with an inspirational talk and a funny (and slightly naughty) poem, written by her mother. We round off the session with co-producer Cameron Mackintosh making a lovely speech which sends us off to the backstage area with a spring in our step and a smile on our faces.

For the next few hours the Festival Theatre is buzzing. We sing and dance and smile and cry, there is rapturous applause – particularly for our outstanding leading man Charlie Stemp – and several standing ovations too! The atmosphere is electric and excitedly the entire company bundle their way back to the dressing rooms, into their first night frocks and off to the party which is being held in marquees on the lawns outside the theatre. Thankfully the weather is warm and dry so it’s a joy to be outside, even if the bumpy grass did make me forgo my four-inch heels for some far comfier, and safer, flats within half an hour.

Stunning flowers from my agents Cole Kitchenn!

The day after press night brings a different energy entirely. There are a few hangovers to be tempered and with our first non-rehearsal day ahead of us many of us decide to spend it…. in the theatre, listening to our book-writer Julian Fellowes in conversation with Kate Mosse. It’s a wonderful talk and one of several events that the theatre has lined up during our time here. The audience is packed and a show of hands demonstrates how many have seen, or booked to see, our show. With a plethora of good reviews appearing in the press hopefully it won’t be long before every show is at the very least limited availability.

For now though, we wave goodbye to the creative teams and relax into the show itself. They’ll all be back in due course to see how we’ve settled down, and to make sure we haven’t added anything superfluous to the production. It’s very easy to get carried away when mum and dad leave you alone to get on with a production! This is the final blog in the CFT series, but be sure to visit the show and say hi afterwards! And send any topics you'd like for future blogging my way! xx


  1. Have really enjoyed reading this series. Good luck for the rest of the run and I am looking forward to seeing the show with my mum on the 3rd September.

  2. It's been wonderful to get an insight into all the hard work behind the scenes! I saw a preview show with my husband and then enjoyed trying to spot the changes on press night with my family! It's truly an amazing show so much talent!

  3. Thanks for sharing these fascinating insights, Emma. Looking forward to your next blog already. Good luck with Half a Sixpence, and we'll definitely try to visit Chichester during your run. Take care, have fun and see ya soon xx

  4. I have really enjoyed reading all your blogs Emma,& thank you for your time in doing them with everything else you have to do!! I last saw you in Love Story in London Emma & will be coming to see Half a Sixpence on the 20th August! So excited about it & really looking forward as CFT is my 'second' fave TTheatre! Hope you are enjoying your stay, its a gorgeous little town! Jill x (Southampton)