"No one has the right to the secrets of your life. Do they?"
(Premiered at the Barons' Court Theatre, London, October 2021)
This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Stage Manager||Sharman Callam|
|Lighting Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Sound Design||Jacquie Penrose|
|Lighting Operation||Mike Jones|
|Sound Operation||Mike Jones|
|Programme Editor||Derek Callam|
We're often asked about the source of an idea for a play, and it's a very difficult question to answer. By the time a germ of an idea has emerged, been mulled over, slept on, forgotten, picked up again (this process could take years), then been turned into a draft, had another draft, some feedback, and another draft, and finally a plan for performance - and a cast – that original nugget has probably vanished in the mists of time.
I've always been interested in mother/daughter stories, having had, shall we say, a slightly tricky relationship there myself (not to mention her mother – but that's another story entirely), so there is a personal element somewhere in this. And families, too, are fascinating. What exactly are they, and where do they begin and end? And do they really matter? Is that distant cousin whose parents emigrated to Canada decades ago part of your family, and do you care? And that horrible bigot who turns up drunk at Christmas – do you owe them anything just because you're related? And yes, who owns the stories? But as soon as you start the process of turning an idea into a piece of drama, the issues of what is fact and what is fiction, what is fiction but still truthful, and what is dramatic as opposed to merely factual, puts even more distance between first idea and final production.
It's sometimes said that writers should not direct their own work. That's probably good advice. Nevertheless, in my own case, I am surprised by how quickly 'my' script becomes just another play, which I approach in exactly the same way as any other. It's no more 'precious' than any other. It is, however, useful to have the playwright in the room if you or the cast have any questions. This play is slightly different from others I've written/directed, because of that personal element. But there are three of us – me and two actors, all daughters with mothers, and it was interesting to discover quite early on in rehearsals that the play resonated with all three of us but in different ways and for different reasons. So I would hope that out of something personal, and after all that mulling and editing, a story has emerged that can engage anyone who has ever had a family.
This is not this play's first performance. It received a short run as part of a festival (the 'Reboot Festival' run by Kibo Productions in October 2021) at the very tiny Baron's Court Theatre in the cellar beneath the Curtain's Up pub. It had a five-night run, and I saw the first and last performance. It was a pleasure to see the play come to life, entirely in the hands of its director and cast. Beyond a Zoom chat with the cast, I had no involvement, but then there was the very enjoyable hour in the pub on the last night talking with the team, and their enthusiasm for the play encouraged me to bring it to the Bench for another shot.
2X2 at The Spring Arts Centre: 'Well worth your pennies and your patronage'
Bench Theatre are back at The Spring in Havant this week with two self-penned one-act plays – "Whose To Tell?", written and directed by Jacquie Penrose and "Freehold", written and directed by Roger Goldsmith.
Script-wise these are two very different offerings; "Whose To Tell?" examines family relationships and what right we have to know our own stories, our own histories while "Freehold" tells a charming and hilarious love-story.
Jacquie Penrose's text is fluid, free-moving and natural. A mother and daughter, trapped in extraordinary circumstances, pull their relationship to pieces to examine how they are where they are – with home-truths aplenty coming to the surface and a justifiable sense of betrayal on both sides becoming evident.
Are they both in the right? Absolutely.
Are they both justified in the steps they've taken? Absolutely.
The text is a glorious exploration of how we can be completely right and completely wrong at the same time. Playing the mother and daughter are Kia Wilson and Jessica Jones, respectively. The performances are solid but I would have liked more stillness – there’s a lot of needless walking around – and perhaps some more vocal variety. That said – the pain in the relationship and the fear it generates is well-played.
"Freehold", on the other hand, is a riot.
On opening night the show was struck by the illness of actor Megan Green and hastily-mustered cover Janice Halsey stepped in to play the bonkers Mavis.
Mavis is looking to buy a flat and when she can't gain access to inspect the property, she knocks on the door of the downstairs neighbour, invites herself in and makes herself – almost literally – at home. Halsey played the part reading from a script. Yes – occasionally she stumbled but her performance was probably the finest of the evening. She threw caution to the wind, jumped into the Mavis-pool and swam for her life.
She was paired in this by the wonderful Andy Rees as John, the unsuspecting neighbour whose home and life are invaded. Ree's handling of Goldsmith's Pinteresque dialogue was masterful and the whole piece is joyous.
As an evening of locally-created theatre it is well worth your pennies and your patronage.