Have a think. I bet that you can even come up with a list. Occasionally, just occassionally, you meet people that just tick all the boxes. You gel. You hit it off. They get you and you get them. It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's great. And often, it's luck.
When collaborating on any project, it is essential you everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Or, in our case, writing on and reading from the same palimpest of a traditional song.
Luckily for me and then us we have met quite a few like-minded people on this journey. The first for me was Jeremy Scott, my co-writer and a music geek. Jeremy is an amazing writer. As soon as the idea begun to formulate I took it to Jeremy and in the Black Dog over a pint of their finest ale, told him the idea.
“Jeremy, I want to make a musical about Brexit and this is what I have so far”.
“I love it”, he said, and bought me another pint (how I miss the Black Dog; bloody Covid...).
The next integral components in the structure of Plant Assembly Theatre were to fall perfectly into place in the form Robbie Humphries and Dave Turner. Robbie and Dave are magnificent theatre directors and practioners, and all-round amazing geezers. Lucky me, yet again.
The Plant is a reflection of all the theatre I have watched over the last many years and much of the traditional ideas of theatre embedded deep in my DNA: dance and movement, songs and musicals, kitchen sink and Shakespeare, realism and surrealism, vaudeville, panto, comedy and tragedy. When Jeremy and I told Robbie and Dave all about how we saw the project at that point, they begun to tell us (and show us) how we could realise our ideas and put them into practice.
One or two plays in particular had made an impact on my visions for the play: Coal, by the Gary Clarke Company, and Rebecca, by Kneehigh theatre and directed by Emma Rice. And so, a style and a method began to emerge.
The buzz at the first rehearsal and seeing the characters come to life during improvisations conducted under Robbie’s directorial eye was an amazing thrill - and as inspiring as we had hoped it would be. Jeremy and I had decided we wouldn’t write the script in the traditional, author-centred manner, but develop it with the actors and the director through a process of devising and improvisation. We had a structure - a synopsis with a clear narrative to follow - and a rough list of characters and their traits, but none of this was set in stone. Each week Robbie and I would think about scenes, themes, character’s needs, possible dramaturgy and so on, then Robbie would devise a series of improvisation set-ups/games.scenarios to explore our ideas. These sessions were filmed and transcribed.
From these improv sessions, the script begun to develop a clear voice, tone and feel. The dynamics between the characters soon evolved, new characters began to take shape, others receeded, and the whole process began to influence and mould the script.
At times, the high levels of emotion in the room were tangible. Even hair-raising. During one session, each actor spoke about the morning after the referendum vote and how they personally had felt and then how their character would have felt (Brexit voters and Remainers). It was a powerful and emotive session and really important for the balance we needed to strike in the play, showing the issues and exploring them, but not showing coming down on one side of the debate or the other.
The cameras were always rolling. We even captured some of the actors on camera during our coffee and cigarette breaks: discussing the play, or the rehearsal spaces at Kent Uni, or their careers (actors love to tell a tale and name drop). We loved what we heard so much that some of it ended up in the script. You can see examples of this work in progress here on the website.
Some of the scenes in the final script are a more-or-less faithful transcription of an improvisation, some developed from specific lines or even words/phrases that had stood out, from movement exercises, or ideas from the actors. And, especially, from Robbie. The whole script is a result of creative collabor
ation, and an example of how group dynamics can shape work which is even greater than the sum of its parts.
What's your process?