“You Got Whoops”

What a week that was.

The Tamasha rehearsals for True Brits started on Wednesday, and that’s when the intensity started to ramp up. I didn’t have to go, but my experience of theatre practice is so limited it’d be a total waste if I hadn’t. It turns out that Rich Mix is a cute space with a brilliant cinema so I really need to go there again. Of course, more importantly, it’s also where I met the director of my piece, Ian, and the actor, Jai.

This was the first time I was seeing a play of mine worked on since Kanika and Free Fall last year, so whilst very welcome, it was also unfamiliar. I’d never met Ian, he’d never met Jai, Jai had never met me. We started simply enough with a read through to check timings. Sixteen and a half minutes, as it turns out. I thought I’d managed to cut the script I’d handed in down to a minute and a half.  Whoops.

Over the next two hours, Ian ran Jai through the script, bit by bit, finessing moments. Mostly, this would involve either bringing Jai’s life experience to a section in order to find the pace and conversational quality that I was going for, or more strongly directing a moment to draw the comedy or punctuate a thought. Every now and then, we’d discuss lopping off a line or two, and I never had a problem with what was chosen for cutting. In fact, we lost the whole 7/7 strand. At my Hightide interview, Steven had suggested pushing this material back and, when Ian said it too, I could see they were both completely right. The opening of the play really needs to be you being drawn into the character above all. I have mentioned before that whilst writing what I have of True Brits, I had the convention of the multi-narrative film, the one that might jump back and forth (think Amores Perros) in my head. However, in my case, there really was no need to telegraph what’s coming. If anything, it’s more effective if I don’t.

So that strand was lost, along with a few other parts that, whilst useful for the overall play, didn’t pay off in the extract itself. By the time we did another full run through (hitting, more or less, fifteen minutes), it was five thirty and our time was up. I admit that I left with a few worries. Jai wasn’t how I pictured Rahul, my main character, and while I’m usually ok with that, it was so different that it made me anxious.* As for the script, I was concerned that people would find these opening fifteen minutes slow and that when performed just by themselves, it could be a bit confusing for an audience. Furthermore, I knew that Jai wouldn’t be able to be off script by Friday which wasn’t at all his fault – that would be far too much to memorise – but I couldn’t get over this image of a man delivering his lines into a piece of paper rather than really drawing in the audience from the off like a monologue performance needs to.

These thoughts were with me when I turned up to the Hightide Escalator meet up the next day. This was an outrageously useful session in how to approach our Arts Council funding applications, but more importantly I got to meet four of my fellow five playwrights (one was out the country). It was a diverse bunch, and though I don’t have much to say about them beyond them all being very friendly, I look forward to working alongside them in 2013, which, after this meet up and the talk of criss-crossing the east of England doing workshops and the like, I am really bloody excited about.

And then it was Friday. I turned up, smart on the outside, a mess on the inside, slightly counter acted by the swift double G&T I had with Nicky on the way. I love the Bush Theatre, especially in its new incarnation, and the image of my writing bombing in front of a packed house in the main stage was one I knew would haunt me if it became an actual memory. I convened with a mixed troupe of mates (from school days, Central and the Met) that had kindly come to watch, had a couple more drinks to settle the nerves, and headed in. Ian spotted me and hastily introduced me to Sudha, the artistic director of Tamasha. She told me she was going to call the writers up on stage afterwards. It all felt very real in that moment.

I took my seat. The lights went down. It started. Four pieces flashed by before knew and there I was out in the bar again for the interval. All the plays had been of a high quality and received warmly. Maybe I’d be fine. Then again, there’d only been light swearing so far, I wonder how my fuck-fest, with one C-bomb, would pass with this mostly genteel audience. My friend reassured me: it isn’t really a C-bomb, more of a Passing C. Besides Sudha had already delivered an expletive laden monologue and if the audience were laughing when an older lady said it, surely they’d expect it from a young fella. Tucking these thoughts (which were admittedly mostly anxious nonsense) away, I got ready for the second half.

Jai was in the first piece as well and it was the first time I’d got to see him properly act. And he was pretty damn good. “Ok…maybe I’ve been stupid all this time…” Happily, I was right. I’d been a total idiot. My piece came and went, the audience laughed where they should’ve, focused when it was meant to. Jai totally knocked it out of the park – my script handling fears were all completely unwarranted – and between him and Ian they’d made every beat of my script work. The applause was generous, with the occasional whoop. I galloped on stage after the final play, clapped the audience and took a Polaroid of them (sadly, it didn’t really come out).

The rest of the night was a blur of handshakes, high fives and drinks. It was nice to be able to tell the people that came to congratulate me that this wasn’t the end of the piece, that I was developing it with Hightide and that I hoped they’d come see it if it gets staged as a full lengther. I didn’t feel elated or overly happy, just a bit relieved, saying over and over to myself “that was ok…that was ok.”. But I think that’s the way it should be – the first fifteen minutes of True Brits sort of worked. Now the hard work starts properly.

*Just want to add that through the development process of this play, I’ve found out far fewer people have been punched in the face than I had expected. My view of the world is clearly very skewed.

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