Back in 2009, 1 week before our new thriller M opened, I stood with my co owners Adele Stanhope and Karl Burge and said I wanted to pull the show, refund the sold out extended run and pretend it never happened. You see rehearsals for the show were tough, the piece was not coming together as it should, and I stood back from it all looking in thinking ‘I have no idea how to repair this’.  Luckily co owners and incredible cast and crew talked me off the ledge and the show opened, and opened to rave reviews..... it’s a funny old business theatre.
 
Now three years later we are bringing back M with a mix of old and new cast and many new plot twists and turns, so since the turmoil of the original rehearsal period almost sent me to an insane asylum I thought this time around I would do these regular blogs following it from conception to closing night, now you can all go insane with me.
 
My company Vertigo Theatre Productions has been producing shows for the past 6 years, unlike many other fringe companies we are completely in house. If we are doing an original show we will do everything from writing the script, direction, advertising, set and costume designs, casting etc, this way we can truly enjoy the success of the show or take total responsibility if it fails. When we produce a UK Premiere of an Off Broadway play (something we seem to have become famous for) it’s a little easier if it goes wrong......... we simply blame the script (just kidding).
 
With almost 15 plays under our belt we have been called one of Manchester’s premiere fringe theatre companies’, but others have also tried to label us too commercial to be fringe.  You see our shows are a little bigger than usual fringe shows, more accessible at times and tend not to follow the fringe pack.  We are proud to be called commercial fringe, but make no mistake we ARE fringe.

Some of my friends who own other fringe companies in the city think I’m insane ‘why make the productions so big in small venues’ or ‘you could make more money if you slashed your budgets and did it on the cheap’.  Maybe I am insane, maybe all of us at Vertigo are insane, but we want an audience to remember us when they leave our shows (we have picked up a dedicated following), remember the script, the actors and the production.  Doing it this way of course means our rehearsals and pre-production tend to be.... well crazy.
 
When we decided to do M again myself and my co writer Adele were simply going to pull the old script out, make a few changes and put it on. Week 4 in to rehearsals this has not been the case.... but I jump ahead of myself.

Casting on M is very important, we see many actors come through the doors for auditions but a piece like this stumps many. You see M pays homage to those trashy 90s thrillers such as Cruel Intentions, Wild Things and Gossip, the acting style is stylised, almost American soap opera but with an edge. We needed a cast who could set the stage on fire, ooze sex, deception and manipulation as well as realistically convincing rich American socialites without becoming a silly caricature. Straight away we knew Adele would again play the role of the beautiful but morally corrupt M and Rick Carter an actor who started with us in 2006 and left us in 2009 would have to return to play Mark, both got great reviews the first time round.
 
The rest of the cast would be new, including the role of Tony who I played in the original show. Luckily through countless audition nights we landed a great cast. However as with many fringe shows we found out 1 week before the start of rehearsals that an actress we had cast to play the role of Catherine could no longer do the project.  So the hunt was on to find our new actress, however it was proving impossible, everyone we saw was unsuitable, was my 2009 rehearsal period from hell going to start all over again..... pass me the straight jacket!
 
Luckily one of my actors suggested a friend who had not done much acting before but was eager. We agreed to see her but I think it was safe to say the ‘friend who had not done much acting before’ was not filling us with confidence.  Well we were wrong, she gave one of the best auditions we had ever seen and we cast her on the spot, so many professionally trained actors had stumbled in auditions (too stiff, too much technique) yet the untrained actress threw caution to the wind and nailed it (I think there is a lesson in there somewhere).  So we were now finally fully cast, Adele and Rick would be joined by Richard Allen, David Degiorgio, Ciara Tansey, Nathaniel Hall and Mark Hill, let the madness of M begin.
 
One thing I never look forward to is first rehearsal, that awkward first read where nobody reads the roles right (how could they, it’s their first time) and myself and Adele sit there questioning the script throughout. M suffered the same fate, it was long, stilted and messy, ‘oh god is it the script or a bad first read?’ I started smoking double the amount I normally do in rehearsals and painted on a happy smile and found myself saying ‘I’m fine’ a lot.

After the first read we decided to spend the afternoon blocking a couple of scenes, especially ones with Rick and Adele who had done the show before, this way the cast could see the kind of show they were doing.  This seemed to pay off, by the end of first rehearsal I was giddy with excitement, the cast got it, they understood they must have their tongues firmly in their cheeks throughout, they got the trashy narrative of the piece and after only one day characters started to emerge...... I put the straight jacket away.
 
Maybe because things were going so well myself and Adele decided to overhaul the script, after all we have both become much stronger writers since 2009 and we also wanted to bring new twists and turns to the piece so that any audience member who had seen the 2009 production could enjoy it all over again (well that and one of the 2009 reviews for the show revealed every twist in the show..... who does that?).  So over the next 7 days myself and Adele rewrote and rewrote..... because here is the thing about a thriller with as many twists as M, you pull at one thread many more come undone. Luckily we got it done, the piece became sharper, sexier, more twisted and more trashy, exactly what we wanted..... M 2.0 is exactly what we want it to be.
 
So the venue is booked (the fantastic Three Minute Theatre) the opening night set (Jan 22nd) and rehearsals have begun.  Of course that was the easy part, now we have to produce the best version of the show we can whilst working on a fringe budget.  Lights, Sound, Sets, Costume, Advertising etc. are all waiting in the wings for us to tackle, but I’m ready to welcome the challenge. This is a big small play and the challenges will be many and I will keep you informed as the weeks go on. So if you ever want to put on a fringe show.... especially a larger commercial fringe show, well this could serve as guide..... or a warning, who knows?

But I’m sure it will be a fun journey, regardless.

- Craig Hepworth