Created by: Leo-Paul Payen
Director: Marie Loury
Going behind the scenes of the rehearsal process is always exciting for theatre fans and backstage tours have long been a revenue generator for major venues. More recently, in response to increased live streaming as a result of the pandemic, the Royal Shakespeare Company has bought cameras into the rehearsal room for its production of Henry VI: Part One and now documentary IN Exchange goes behind the scenes with a French theatre company rehearsing its production of The Misanthrope staged at Camden People’s Theatre in 2018.
Bilingual theatre company Exchange Theatre are preparing for a production of Moliere’s famous play which they will perform on alternate nights in both French and English. Working in London for more than a decade producing work in both languages, IN Exchange explores all aspects of preparing for a show as actors reflect on their characters, the director discusses the production’s artistic choices and the Company’s mission while technical, press and creative team members explain their role.
The film, created by Leo-Paul Payen and Marie Loury, is a four-month process divided into multiple chapters looking at the audition stage, the creation of the set and the workings of the production office. Interviews with members of the company are interspersed with rehearsal scenes and shots from the final production which connect the preparatory work with the eventual staged outcomes.
While the creative process is very similar, the documentary highlights some of the major differences between working in a fringe company and a major venue. With no huge workshops for the in-house creation of props, the cameras follow a crew member collecting furniture from a small residential garage and the cast lend a hand in transporting and erecting the set in the tiny Camden People’s Theatre space.
It is second time around for this production, so Director David Furlong takes this chance to revisit his interpretation of the play and aim for an improved response. Several of the actors talk about the benefits of returning to the same role a year later, but the anxiety is clear as opening night draws near, and Furlong becomes more demanding during the technical and dress rehearsals.
This does create some drive in the final 15 minutes as the various strands finally come together into what the Company hope will be a cultural product that will find an audience. Other parts of the film are interesting if occasionally repetitive, capturing their collective belief in the creative process and some of the approaches used to overcome the physical challenges of lifting a text from the page and into being.
The tone isn’t always even across the 95-minutes which can make IN Exchange feel longer than it is, but even on a small scale it gives a clear sense of the variety of considerations, perspectives and contributions that must come together to create even one evening of theatre. With smaller theatres now finding ways to reopen after a long period of closure or remote performance, IN Exchange is a reminder of all the theatre companies creating work to feed London’s once thriving fringe scene and the hope that it will soon be flourishing once more.
IN Exchange – A Documentary is available from Living Record until 15 September.