The playwright as hostage

Recently I’ve seen a couple of indifferent productions, (one amateur, one not), which have highlighted for me, the relationship the playwright has with the director and cast; reverting to a child-like state of total dependency on them to be true to the play. The playwright as hostage to their interpretation.

Being a hostage (as those aware of Stockholm syndrome know,) can be a good or bad experience. I have had both: wonderfully empathetic directors who just get what the play is about straightaway and would not dream of changing a thing without asking the writer. They are happy to discuss any changes that might be necessary for the good of the play. Most playwrights aren’t actually nightmares to work with, we just want what is best for the play, and most of the time we are happy to rewrite things if it makes it better. This approach to directing engenders a state of mutual respect and shared creation that is the ideal place for a new play to be nurtured and evolve, and hopefully you end up with something that is better than before.

On my first play I had the misfortune to work with an inexperienced and very un-empathetic director who created an environment the opposite to that ideal place of respect: a place of fear where I had to fight to keep the integrity of what I wanted to say every day of rehearsal. His attitude really was that ‘the only good playwright is a dead playwright’. Without my knowledge he even decided to change the sex of the lead character, going so far as to advertise the role! (Fortunately I was able to persuade him it would not be the same play he had liked so much at first, if that happened). The fact that the play made a small profit, sold out on several nights and got a nightly raucous laugh at my favourite joke, just about made the experience ok; though I would never work with that particular director again.

Don’t get the impression I don’t like actors or directors, or am in the least bit precious about my work – I will cut it if it needs to be cut. The play is the sum of its parts, the words, the setting, the lighting, the music, the actors and their interpretation, but also the audience’s interaction with it. That’s why it’s different every night and that’s why as a form it’s so exciting.   

I am 100% for actors and directors. I think what they do can be wonderful, it was as much actors and magical performances that inspired me to write as it was reading plays at school. Without that magic, the play is something lifeless to be read on a page (no matter how poetic the language). The cast and crew are like Frankenstein, they are the ones that breathe life into the creation. But just like with Frankenstein, you’ve got to take a bit of care with the parts you assemble and how you put it together…

About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
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