Day 1/Thursday/Travel from South to North
Southern rail and the RMT are at deadlock and all trains from my current spot on the South Coast to London are cancelled.
Laden with image cards, sound recording and photographic equipment and a bulging suitcase a journey by National Express coach to London begins at dawn.
Cruising over the misty South Downs in blue leatherette comfort a nostalgic coach travel charm descends. This is actually very pleasant and relaxing, alright I can’t read due to the risk of motion sickness but look at that view and there’s even a metal thing to rest your feet on…
Two hours later, static in a coffee shop/tattoo studio, the charm evaporates.
The wait for the Victoria connection at Brighton is endless.
I sip bitter coffee and stare at a skeleton dog.
A coach pulls in.
Euphoria engendered by the idea of any kind of momentum sees me barrel onto the London bound express like a projectile.
Bisecting London on the tube feels like supersonic travel and the Virgin East coast to Huddersfield is warp factor 9.
I arrive at dinner time with the wind in my hair.
Day 2/Friday/Rehearsing the Dark Horse ensemble
Actors from project collaborators Dark Horse are part of the large creative team for the play and production development process and are facilitators at the events this week, introducing the narrative to up to 40 people in each location, and leading and contributing to voice, movement and relationship exercises.
On arrival at the Lawrence Batley Theatre I check that the external door stage left hasn’t been painted. Backdrop to a sequence of initial marketing shots for the work, I want to shoot a couple more, a lick of paint would be a disaster.
Thankfully it’s still in its shabby, peeling, textured state.
In the rehearsal room I tell the actors the story of the play for the first time.
I talk it through scene by scene, with visuals.
The actors pick up the planned shape in the space, moving around the room, one actor communicating plot per scene, Alice Rogers nudging creative team and participants around the large spaces we’ll be working in, directing the movement of people.
Joe Sproulle, playing THE MAN, has learned some opening dialogue and I direct him and Toby Meredith, playing CLARENCE, loosely into the first scene, ready for Tessa Parr, playing SAMANTHA to walk into on Monday.
A couple of runs, some revised warm up exercises and clarity on who’s doing what and we’re done.
A good days work.
Days 3/Saturday drone activity
Final pre event communications with team and venues, scheduling and planning in the Premiere Inn Central Huddersfield with its view over the canal.
Premiere Inns are my temporary residence in towns and cities across the UK over the next few days. They’re identical. One purple strip of branded fabric across the bottom of a bed is exactly the same as another and at least twice I wake up without being entirely sure of where I am.
Breaking down elements of story and place for examination in the events I venture into town with head buzzing.
Drones feature in the narrative. Drones are on my mind. I spot and buy a mini drone with camera. The idea is to a) shoot some marketing film and/or b) take it for a demonstration flight in the spaces we’re working in.
Back at the purple ranch I discover I’m a terrible drone pilot. Heavy handed, all lift no pitch, license clearly revoked. My aircraft crashes into the ceiling, then plummets and lies on it’s back on the purple carpet whining. I lose rotors behind the purple chair. I can’t get the camera to work. I think I’ve broken it.
I put it away and pick up the notebook again.
Day 4/Ipswich bound
It takes four and a half hours to drive to Ipswich from Huddersfield in a minibus on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I’ve hitched a ride with Dark Horse to avoid another potentially snail paced journey, engineering work this time.
Lynda and Steph take turns with the driving while five actors and me alternately talk through the work to come, and reminisce about work done in the past. Actors are very good at reliving their greatest hits and we’ve all worked together a lot on productions in the past so a shorthand of songs, insect impressions and gags about orange peel and cross dressing come thick and fast.
Only time for one rendition of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ and we arrive by a beautiful marina at Regatta Quay, Ipswich.
It feels spookily appropriate as SAMANTHA’S apartment, location for much of the action of the play, overlooks a harbour full of luxury yachts.
A wonderful meal this evening as the full creative team meets for the first time.
And what a great team we are.
Day 5/New Wolsey- Event 1
Arriving at the High Street Exhibition Centre early Tessa, Loz, Pip and I are oddly excited by the huge rocks outside aware of Ita’s work to come with earth and air and inspired by the idea of using their weight and shape to inform movement.
Thankfully the rocks outside are too heavy for us to lift.
The clock ticks towards the start, Dark Horse arrive and post rigging sound system and sweeping the floor (Pip in full ‘designer prepares’ mode) we’re ready to welcome participants.
Razed Roof theatre and their Artistic Director Annette Lidster, representatives from Freewheelers theatre, playwright Judith Johnson, community drama group CoCocare and various interested individuals fill the huge space with diverse, energetic and enthusiastic energy.
A total blast of a day covers narrative, characters, voice (Over 30 people record sounds and opinions for the score) and movement.
At the end of the process participants say the day has been ‘powerful’ and ‘intense’ and that they can’t wait to see the play when it goes on tour.
Once participants leave and the creative team reflects its clear progress is marks in the two key areas we’re aiming for 1) play and production development and 2) active engagement with a target audience.
A happy producer playwright director and team.
Day 6/To York
A day to travel up to our next destination, York Theatre Royal.
The view from the train window offers a moody sky and resolute flatness for most of the journey.
A day to reflect on progress and areas to push at during the next event.
Emails and ideas fly between the team, as they have for some time now, all aware of the need to make the most of limited time and inspired by the possibilities evidenced at the New Wolsey and the extraordinary levels of engagement of people in a dark, contemporary story.
Day 7 and 8/York Theatre Royal
A catch up day poring over a Macbook in a room in the Premiere Inn and trying to locate compost and pots for movement director Ita O’Brien in Central York- not easy- Barnets’ hardware store is the answer…
And then a phenomenal day in a huge beautiful space, the De Grey ballroom at York Theatre Royal.
Over 50 people work at terrific pace on narrative, sound and movement.
Hubbub theatre company and Artistic Director Jen Sumner join us from Derby, the full Dark Horse ensemble facilitates, the new York Theatre Royal learning disability group Access All Areas is here, as is Blueberry Academy and some extraordinary individuals.
Toby Meredith does some exceptional improvisation with Tessa Parr and Ita O’Brien excites the whole room with her hairdryer experience.
A fantastic way to explore the height and airiness of character SAMANTHA’S fourteenth floor apartment.
Loz incorporates recorded voices from Ipswich into the draft score and an eerie evocation of a dystopic future, and peoples predictions for it, fills the room.
Designer Pip talks us through the contents of CLARENCES suitcase and finally Tessa and Toby improvise SAMANTHA and CLARENCES final scene at the end of the play with great impact.
The whole team feeds back in the cafe bar at the Theatre Royal and ideas form for the final event at Lowry. There are explorations of the writers vision. Some answers are found. The physical world of the production is coming to light.
One thing is very clear.
Something extraordinary and exciting is being made by exceptional talents, collaborating.