Saturday, 7 August 2010

Tender Souls

... and then it's over. Theatre's so mean like that. Weeks of work condensed into one terrific evening and then gone by the next morning. Thursday went by almost as a complete blur, but the show went well and I think we managed all that we set out to do at the beginning of the project.

I really enjoyed the build up - working through the cues in the morning with the crew, writing good luck cards in the circle whilst the stage was prepared. The young writers arrived, palpably excited, and then the actors, everybody upbeat. We walked through and highlighted small sections that have particular resonance in the space and then into the routine, teching smartly, dress running and finally thanking everybody and letting the whole show go with an 'all the best.' I think this is always a heart break for directors - your direct influence is over, but nothing has yet been achieved. It's limbo land, at least for a couple of hours.

Put on a suit and headed down to the foyer where a sizable crowd was coming in. How mixed it was. All the theatre's loyal and ancients, many of those we'd interviewed, the curators working on the exhibition and then the families and friends of the young writers, few of whom had been to the theatre before. I was suddenly aware of how many Drama St. Mary's students were there. I think Karen had put out a facebook message. I was incredibly moved to see them all in the middle of their summer break.

Soon we were up and running. Some initial nerves from the actors, but an early laugh when the iPhone was introduced into 1898 brought relief and it began to settle. The Llewellyn Bowen scene got a brief round, as did the Johnny Depp and Lord Chamberlain sequences. My favourite moment came on Frank's line - 'In my day the audience used to dress to go to the theatre' which got a hearty burst of applause and a 'hear hear' from one of the Richmond Hill ladies - followed by giggles form some of the teenagers sitting around her.

And if this project has been about anything it's been about the relationship between these two things. Reminiscence and renewal. To have begun at the beginning and simply told a chronological pageant, wouldn't have recognised the way young writers think about either history or drama. It would have been a homage, a valediction but offered no hope or optimism for the future. Equally to have relied solely on imaginative fictions, encouraging the writers just to write about their own experience, would have been to dismiss both the need for inheritance and very real sense of continuum that keeps the theatre familiar, fond and seductive. I hope the balance was right in the play. It was in the audience.

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