The event's theme was: the future's bright? That question mark was loaded. The topic had been picked bearing in mind the Sherman's 40th birthday and questions about its future under a new artistic director and questions about theatre generally. Each piece had to be three minutes long and we all had from 10pm to 8am to write them.
Now I'd done some thinking on the question before I arrived. The line was meant to inspire so I couldn't exactly help it. I had an idea I really liked. And I still think it would have worked. I think it would have worked in any number of spaces. Except the one I picked out.
The long corridor.
The long corridor was my idea of theatrical hell. The audience was to watch from outside and could see the action through windows, which only opened slightly. Brickwork obscured much of the view. There was a train line (working) running parallel with the road where the audience were to stand and a working air conditioning unit overlooking them. Hearing the actors would be a nightmare. The audience was to walk down a cobbled road towards a pair of large gates. To the left of them, before the train track, was barbed wire. The yellow lines on the road were breaking up. There was the odd weed. This little stretch of road reminded me of a death camp. I was verbally bouncing ideas around with my director Simon Harris and his assistant Brent Morgan when Simon said something to me (politely) along the lines of 'shut up for a minute and look at them'. And I did.
The actors were inside the space, talking, moving around it, exploring. They had no idea we were watching them and for that very reason they were hypnotic to watch. It was a bit like being at a zoo watching animals who had ceased to care. Or like watching an episode of Big Brother when it was an interesting experiment and before it became bonkers.
This was a real challenge for me. I felt this keenly when I went to rehearsal, coffee-in-hand, the next day. It was very apparent that the whole piece had to turn on watching the actors, on their bodies, their movements. And yet dialogue is what (I think) I do. It's where I feel happiest. But, even if we had the windows open, there was no guarantee the audience would hear it. This space made me feel really vulnerable. No, not vulnerable. Removed from the audience. I was creating something for the actors to use. I know I'm meant to do that, but this time I was creating something solely for the actors. The audience wouldn't hear my dialogue. If they did, it would be shouted, it would look (I felt) ridiculous. We all felt that taking the text, but doing something experimental, keeping the windows shut, was the more interesting way to go. It was a way of pushing the idea and space absolutely to its end. It challenged the actors, the audience and it certainly challenged me.
I've posted the pre and post rehearsal versions of the piece below. As you can see, I initially didn't write for the actors' ages, but, playing around with it, the grandfather/granddaughter relationship came out more strongly in performance. I also cut the ending. I woke up after a quick nap and knew it was overdramatic. Still, better to write it and cut than have to add. I cut a few other bits and bobs as we went as you can see from below.
I loved being up all night writing. I thought I'd hate it but I loved having that focus. The piece pushed me when thinking about space and performance in ways I haven't experienced before. Anyhow, see below for the texts.
If a train goes by, BOY and GIRL put their hands over their ears and scrunch up their eyes in a similar manner.
BOY presses his face against the glass. He pulls faces at the people outside. GIRL is exploring the corridor, walking around it, counting her steps. She loses count and starts again from the beginning. She sees what BOY is doing and approaches him. She pulls him back from the glass.
GIRL. Stop it!
He does. GIRL retreats from BOY, continues her counting game, her back to BOY. BOY starts to bob up and down, playing peepo with the people outside. GIRL sees.
GIRL. I said stop! We’re not to play with them. Dad said.
BOY. They won’t play anyway. They’re boring. (He shouts at them.) Boring boring boring.
BOY continues playing peepo, only this time, when he pops up, he blows a raspberry. The repetition of this action amuses him. He could carry on like this for ages if only GIRL would let him.
GIRL. If we play with them, there could be contamination.
BOY. What’s ‘contamination’?
GIRL. Didn’t you hear Dad?
BOY. He was being loud. I can’t hear him when he’s loud.
GIRL. You should listen!
BOY. We’re to be kept separate from them because they’re going to heaven and can’t be distracted.
GIRL looks confused.
BOY. Mam told me.
GIRL. That’s… She only said that because you’re still a baby.
BOY. I am not!
GIRL. Heaven doesn’t exist anymore, stupid.
BOY. So where are they going?
GIRL. To the tip! With the rubbish!
GIRL goes to shut a window. BOY stops her.
GIRL. They smell of rubbish – of poo!
BOY. You know I can’t get too warm. Mam said. I’ll get a rash.
GIRL returns to her counting game. BOY begins to bang his head rhythmically against a window.
GIRL. Stop it!
BOY carries on.
GIRL. I said stop!
BOY. I want my blocks!
GIRL. They’re not here.
BOY. I want my truck!
GIRL. Maybe Dad will bring it.
GIRL. When he’s finished work.
BOY. He never finishes work.
GIRL. That’s because he’s bright. And very important.
GIRL. He’s the brightest man in the country!
GIRL. Shall I tell you a secret? The Assembly… They only want bright grown-ups now and they only want bright children. And when the bright children have children, they’ll only want the bright ones then too and, in the end, everyone will be super bright and we’ll be the best country in the whole world. Dad told me. He said the future’s so bright, we – you and me – we won’t even see it.
BOY. We won’t see the brightness?
GIRL. No. It will be too…dazzling. So can I shut the windows now? We need to stay away from them. We’re special.
GIRL goes along the corridor, shutting the windows.
Suddenly BOY spots a figure in the group he didn’t expect to see - their mother. As GIRL closes the final window, BOY runs to it, screams.
BOY. Mam! Mam!
BOY waves furiously, grabs GIRL and points. GIRL tries to open the window again. She cannot. She struggles with it, gives up and so moves to the next window. BOY follows her. GIRL finds that window has also been locked by an external control. She starts to panic and runs to the next window. BOY follows her. Again, the window is locked.
BOY. What’s wrong?
BOY starts to cough, gently at first. GIRL starts to cough too. The coughing increases in its severity. GIRL and BOY find it increasingly difficult to breathe as the corridor is flooded with invisible gas. BOY puts his face to the window, looks in the direction of his mother. She doesn’t approach. The people gathered outside watch as BOY and GIRL collapse. They die, out of sight.
GIRL presses her face against the glass, maybe even pulling faces at the crowd outside. GRANDFATHER observes her for a little while.
GRANDFATHER. Stop it!
She ignores him. He pulls her sharply back from the glass.
GRANDFATHER. I said stop! We’re not to play with them. Your dad said.
GIRL. They won’t play anyway. They’re boring. Boring boring boring.
GRANDFATHER. If we play with them, there could be contamination.
GIRL. What’s ‘contamination’?
GRANDFATHER. Didn’t you hear your dad?
GIRL. He was being loud. I can’t hear him when he’s loud.
GRANDFATHER. You should listen!
GIRL. We’re to be kept separate from them because they’re going to heaven and can’t be distracted.
GRANDFATHER looks confused.
GIRL. Mam told me.
GRANDFATHER. Heaven doesn’t exist anymore.
GIRL. So where are they going?
GRANDFATHER. To the tip! With the rubbish!
GRANDFATHER. They smell of rubbish – of shit.
GIRL returns to the window.
GRANDFATHER. Stop it!
GIRL carries on.
GRANDFATHER. I said stop!
GIRL. I want some books!
GRANDFATHER. There’s none here.
GIRL. I want some books!
GRANDFATHER. Maybe your dad will bring you some.
GRANDFATHER. When he’s finished work.
GIRL. He never finishes work.
GRANDFATHER. That’s because he’s bright. And very important.
GRANDFATHER. He’s the brightest man in the country!
GRANDFATHER. Shall I tell you a secret? The Assembly… They only want bright grown-ups now and they only want bright children. And, in the end, everyone will be super bright and we’ll be the best country in the whole world. Dad told me. He said the future’s so bright, we – you and me – we won’t even see it.
GIRL. We won’t see the brightness?
GRANDFATHER. No. It will be too…dazzling. We need to stay away from them. We’re special.
Suddenly GIRL spots a figure in the group she didn’t expect to see - her mother. GIRL runs to the window, screams.
GIRL. Mam! Mam!
GIRL waves furiously, banging on the window. Her mother doesn’t acknowledge her. Devastation passes across her face as GRANDFATHER looks on. She turns to him.
GIRL. What’s wrong?