We had the first read through on Monday afternoon of the first draft of my new play, Cold Chicken and A fresh Gale. It's a one man piece, full-length, and the actor is Stephen Bradley from Derry, whose currently acting in Hamlet in the Helix. The idea is to run a Rehearsed Reading in Smock Alley in late April/ early May.
It's a strange experience hearing a play read aloud for the first time. Sometimes, as the writer, you feel an itch to grab it from the actors and read it yourself. You know the voice, the nuances, the tone. Sometimes the actors just do not sound as you imagined. They don't catch the meaning you intended in certain lines, they read too fast or too slow, they make funny bits sound onerous and fly through the thoughtful bits with a levity they don't deserve.
But you re-tune your expectations, appreciate the knowledge they are bringing to it as performers and the knowledge you gain from hearing it read. Sometimes, when they hear what you intended, a piece that wasn't working suddenly does.
So, if nuances are missed, if the tone or the language is misinterpreted, if parts feel slow and faded, maybe it's the writing that's at fault because, at this point, that's all you are in charge of. And if the actors are not ultimately going to perform the piece, they are doing it so you can hear the words and find the parts that work and the parts that don't. It's a huge honour.
Fortunately, this was one of the good experiences. Stephen hails from Derry, as did my subject, the restoration playwright George Farquhar (The Recruiting Officer). He has always felt a deep affinity for him and therefore brings genuine passion to the script. He wants to inhabit this man's skin and bones, if only for a couple of hours a night.
I sit at the head of the table - oh, such authority! - and read the directions. We stop after every scene and talk it through. To run through one act of the play takes nearly 2 hours. We end up shattered but exhilarated because we feel it works, mostly.
I know things are going well when I sit waiting for the play to continue and forget that I'm meant to be reading the directions; I forget I'm in my kitchen and the heaters have just gone off.
It was fascinating to hear the dialogue read in the accent that Farquhar would have had. I actually have no recollection of writing some of this play - this draft goes back over a year - but whoever wrote it, at certain moments, was a hell of a writer!
But there were parts that lacked energy, scenes that seemed overlong, blocks of dialogue that gave information too easily or simply weren't entertaining enough. The opening scene worked fine in my head, but read now, it feels too slow to start the play with. Some scenes make me want to sing because they sound and feel glorious; others need fine tuning, or to have a bit of fun injected into them although possibly not if we were to use the audience actively.
So there is work to be done.
Some of the parts that didn't work can be put down to the fact that we were sitting at a table and it was the first complete read through. Once you stand a play up and move it around, once you can direct the actor and really work with a script, you can explore the underbelly of each scene, each fragment of speech; you find the nuances and humour and colour that will make the script leap into life.
The great thing is that now I have a voice to work with, and a provisional date by which we need to have it prepared for an audience of our theatrical peers.
So I want it all to leap off the page. No matter who reads it.
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