About this time last year Sarah Robertson, a young(er than me) playwright and poet asked me if I would direct a play of hers. I said yes. I hadn’t read the play yet – she hadn’t finished the play yet – but I like Sarah’s work, she’s worked with us in Shaky Isles and on Chaosbaby as a writer, I love her poetry, and I like Sarah.
This year we’ve worked together on several drafts of the play. Sarah’s sent me drafts and I’ve sent back notes, and she’s gone back to work. We did a reading at my house with some lovely actors (3 of whom are doing the run) and now, in three weeks, the play opens at the Hen & Chickens in Islington.
We’ve already been rehearsing (not full time) for three weeks. We work a day or a half day or a whole evening (good, solid four hour stretches that are exhausting and invigorating in equal measure) and then have a day or half day break and then repeat. We’re working in this way because everyone involved is also making other work, other films, other theatre, other writing. But we’ve found it really helps – people go away and think about what we’ve worked on, the process allows mulling time, growing time. It is what it is, and we’re working this way to accommodate (all of our) need to pay bills, but I suspect, if I could, I’d choose to work this way regardless. Even if not full time, a six week rehearsal period is infinitely preferable (to me) to the pressured and goal-oriented usual three week process. There is more time to play, to make mistakes, to find the magic in the mistakes.
We’re working in Open Space (it’s how Shaky Isles chooses to work as a company) – previously we’ve used Open Space for creating devised work, it’s working brilliantly for scripted work too.
And then there’s this thing that’s become apparent in the past few weeks …
It’s dark, Sarah’s play. And funny (or at least it’s making us laugh in rehearsal). And we’re choosing to play with it physically, searching for a heightened realism/hyper naturalism, for it to be both real (in emotional content) – and lifted above what is ‘only’ real.
It’s about four people in a room, about sex and sexuality, about violence within and without that, about current politics, about those on the edges of political movements (who sometimes use the masquerade of a movement for their own gain) – and, oddly, weirdly, given Sarah started work on it over a year ago, it’s also about an older man grooming younger women for sex. For the sex industry (or his version of it).
And on the page for the whole of the past year that really did just look like a love-triangle gone wrong, gone nasty, gone dark, gone somewhere else.
But in the room, with two women in their early 20s playing against men in their 30s, and with what’s in the news right now, it’s beginning to look like something else. It’s beginning to look like what our newspapers are full of right now.
And I don’t want us to make those current news parallels be the only thing the piece is about (because it’s not, it’s about a whole world of things that are not quite right). I don’t want the audience to leave feeling battered over the head by a ‘topical’ piece. I always want to be kinder to the audience than those who think our job is to ‘challenge’ or ‘confront’ them – me, I’m just grateful people can be bothered to leave their homes on a cold night, and I want them to have a good time. (And I know that doesn’t always mean an easy time, that hard and complex can be good – I hope we can achieve that.) But I do want to be honest, in our work and working, about what is a very clear underlying thread and what was in Sarah’s script all the time, it’s just that until it was in the mouths and the bodies of people in a room, neither of us saw how very clear that was.
So we keep on with finding the heightened, the physical, the poetic, the flying, the funny and the dark-funny in a tightly-scripted piece about politics and edges and violence and, ultimately, men and women. Men and girls.