One Day on the Island, Part Two


This post follows on from one I wrote almost exactly twelve months ago, where I railed against those who denigrate The Island as a backwater without recognising the depth and diversity of artistic talent that exists here. This year, to my delight, Mudlark Theatre (in the person of the utterly fabulous Stuart Loone) invited me to write for One Day Ten and I thought I would document the process.


So the countdown began just over an hour ago. I have a stimulus, a director (Nicole Lewis), an item of set and a cast of three–Matt Taylor, Caitlin McCarthy and Natalie Reid.

One Day Ten the stimulus

This is the stimulus; a Rorschach inkblot. Everyone I have shown it to thinks it looks like a vagina. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to think when you see these things? I’ve actually decided that this leaves the wrting brief fairly open; anything could be read into this. That’s a good thing.

My set item is a mannequin, painted stark white, which can come into two pieces or (apparently) together as a humanoid shape. Without a head.

So I have to beaver away now and have a ten-minute script for three actors finished by about 5 am in the morning. Ideas are coming…

One Day script beginning

9.59 pm

Listening to Ave Maria. My play has three characters: the Man, the Child and The Mother. It is about grief and it is not about grief; grief is something of motif in my work. It underscores, perhaps subtly, my novel The Blue Cathedral and I explore it in poems like ‘Cigarette’ and ‘What is a Road’. Grief is fascinating.

Sartre: “A cry of grief is a sign of the grief which provokes it, but a song of grief is both grief itself and something else.”

10.20 pm

Okay–listened to Ave Maria twice and most of Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor. Hooray for YouTube. Probably edging into procrastination territory now though. Time to knuckle down.

11.49 pm

Catch me first draft

About half way through the first draft. Not gone quite where I thought it would but it’s shaping up very nicely. The challenge with such a short script–only ten minutes of performance–is to serve the twin masters of economy and clarity while somehow retaining a sense of the throughline. So I have three characters and there has been a death, but of whom we are not sure, and the cause of the death also remains a mystery. An original intention was to replay the same scene three times with different emphases or from a different character’s point of view; I’ve rejected this idea I think, because I think it’s too unwieldy given the ten-minute time frame. So instead I have gone with an idea drawn from the movie Memento, which begins right at the end (or just before the end) of the story and then unfolds in reverse chronology. I have started with the end of the story and I am trying to work back from there. I don’t know how it will work…I suppose that’s why we have drafts! And the Delete key.

1.23 am

Just finished the first draft. Not happy with the ending: too much of a blatant yank on the heartstrings. Time for a break and a stretch and a wee and another coffee and a think. I’ve drawn some inspiration from what I’m doing from Augusto Boal, founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, who in his book of that name mentions that Brecht, as a Marxist, believed that theatre “must show the ways in which society loses its equilibrium”. I may have lost sight of that a bit towards the end of this draft.

1.58 am

At a rough read, my masterpiece is eight minutes long, which is good. Stuart would rather it be under than over the time limit. Also good to know I have a couple of minutes to play with, in tweaking and fiddling, which is what I’m up to now; although, with stage business, I wouldn’t be surprised if I fill out the ten minutes pretty closely. So there’s no scope for major revision. Also I have to write out a white sheet I wanted to use in the opening scene; no extra props! Damn it. I think I’m still being allowed to use some blank sheets of A4 paper, so that’s okay.

2.54 am

I think it might be done. I am not sure what else I can do with it. Have spent the last hour fixing the structure of the last scene (of three) which I simply couldn’t get to work but I think I’ve cracked it. I am sure–in fact, I hope–that even though I have this sense of finality about it now, the director and the actors will surprise me with how they deliver the script to performance. I’ll read it again and try for a rough timing and then, if it really does seem that I should stop tinkering, I’ll email it in.

3.58 pm

And it’s gone. Emailed to Stuart and Nicole, the director I’m working with. The second timed reading clocked in at 8 mins 50 seconds, so with dramatic pauses and stage business that should almost certainly push ten minutes in performance. I think I have regained a sense of the Brechtian notion I referred to earlier, about equilibrium. It’s not a completely cheerful piece of theatre but I think that ‘kick in the guts’ stories have their place. I vividly recall films like Once were Warriors and Trainspotting for that reason.

And so it’s done. It was exhilarating–I have crafted and more or less perfected something that didn’t exist, except as an inkblot, a few hours ago. I have to let go now–something I’m not really used to, since with fiction and poetry I retain the Last Word, as it were. Not this time. So let’s see where my baby–it’s called Catch Me by the way–is taken by the talented and interesting people into whose care it is now trusted.

And with that, it’s probably time for some sleep. Good night. Or morning, as the case may be.

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