Following a workshop day at HOME in September, PlayBox playwright James Harker reflects on the development of his new play Land’s End…
This week, halfway through our year-long attachment, each of the three PlayBox writers (Furquan Akhtar, Paddy Hughes and myself) is getting a full day’s workshop at HOME in Manchester complete with small rehearsed reading in the evening.
Scarily my play is second in the line-up which means, as I arrive to start the workshop for my play Land’s End, I have the memories of Furquan’s fantastic 30 Days fresh in my mind. A lot to live up to.
Fortunately, I’m dead excited to get my first proper chance to work with Hannah Tyrrell-Pinder and the two young actors (Oghenekevwe Emefe and Kimberley Knight) who’ll be playing the strange central characters of Land’s End: Candice and Louella.
And so we start …
We’re in the room, ready for the very first read-through. This is the first time I’ve heard my new play read aloud by actors and it’s an interesting experience. The opening scenes sound pretty good. Hmmm, maybe I’ve lucked out with this draft. But the final third definitely crashes and burns. Ok, back to the drafting board.
Hearing the performances reveals five or six dropped-plot-threads and not-quite-working emotional beats which hold back the play’s dramatic potential. On the plus side: some of the worries I’d had about the play (the plausibility of an early scene, the relatability of a certain character) are mollified.
Now for the dissection: Hannah and the actors’ thoughts on the characters, logic and impact of the play. We work out a timeline for the play’s events. In doing so, some of the less successful scenes and events start to iron themselves out. We talk about the level of theatricality in the script. I’d thrown in some strange experiments with audience interaction. We quickly throw those out.
Changes and re-drafting. I’ve got about 200 notes and amendments from the read-through and discussion. We work our way through the script implementing these changes. Trying out new ideas. Tweaking dialogue to better fit the characters. Cutting all the monologues. Why did I ever think a monologue would be a good idea? Hannah has lots and lots of amazing and completely logical ideas, all of which I totally steal.
Lunch. The pizza place has run out of adult-sized pizzas. I eat three tiny child-sized pizzas instead.
Back to the rehearsal room for a final full-length run-through before the reading. This time with some inventive staging and physical action. Cliff Richard blares from Hannah’s laptop. Oghenekevwe does some very inappropriate dancing.
And here it is: the reading. The audience are here and the play has begun. This is the painful part: watching the watchers react, or (at times) fail to react, to this work-in-progress showing. But it’s also great fun. The actors are going for it. The staging helps a lot. The play is patchy, yes. But the patches that work seem to work pretty well. And the rest … well, I’ve got time to fix that. As the day draws to a close, I’ve got much clearer-eyed view of the play than I’d ever have if I was simply bashing away at my keyboard at home. I’m excited about this script. And I want to do Box of Tricks proud.
Now for the next draft!
~ James Harker
PlayBox is a year-long writer-on-attachment programme with Box of Tricks offering bespoke residencies and support to three early career North West playwrights.
On Saturday 20 January 2018, Box of Tricks launches a day-long takeover of HOME’s PUSH Festival 2018 to showcase new plays from our current PlayBox playwrights and connect with local writers and theatremakers. Come join us! Full details here: http://boxoftrickstheatre.co.uk/production/playbox-takeover-2018/.