It had been my intention to write something each day of our development week at the National Theatre Studio – it turns out that wasn’t the only change of plan during the week!
Interestingly (and perhaps inevitably), our plans had changed by the end of day 2 – but then that’s one of the joys of creating/devising theatre – it’s very likely to take exciting and unexpected turns!
It had been our plan to make the first 20 minutes or so of the piece. On day 2, however, we ran into one of those small, niggly glitches which is absolutely fine in a longer creation process, but with just 4 days to make a coherent and exciting presentation for potential future partners, we decided that there was probably a better way to go about things.
On tuesday evening we decided that we had to embrace the form of the ‘trailer’ – a (relatively) short burst of theatre that would give a strong sense of the world of the piece, it’s shape, the characters involved and enough clues to the plot for people to want to know more.
This turned out to be incredibly useful. Because the trailer had such clear requirements (to intrigue, excite, entice), we were able to make a lot of strong decisions very quickly. This was very clarifying from a devising/writing point of view, and an important reminder to always go to the essence of things.
All the reasons that devising is an incredibly exciting way to make theatre are also the reasons that it can fail. One of these pitfalls can be an over-saturation of ideas, whether they be visual or textual. By choosing to make the trailer we knew that we had to cull anything that wasn’t strong enough or clear enough. It helped us to decide what we needed, prioritising that above what we fancied. Given more time we would inevitably have worked hard to make those other ideas work – we would have succeeded in some cases and not in others, but maybe (and of course it’s just a maybe) at the expense of the clarity of the whole.
By making the trailer we have set really clear guidelines for the making of the show – we have the visual, rhythmical and textual framework on which to build the eventual production of ‘The Secret Agent’. This still allows for invention and creativity, but with a clear knowledge of the constraints within which that invention and creativity can flourish. When I talk about ‘constraints’, I am talking about them as an exciting and positive thing.
Of course, the main reasons that the week was such a positive experience were the people and the place; our whole team was really fantastic – we had almost everyone we needed in the room (only lacking sound designer Gareth Fry) – Carolina Valdés, Dominic Burdess, Emma McKie, George Ramsay, Helena Lymbery, Leander Deeny, Matthew Hurt, Marc Teitler, Natasha Nixon, Paddy Molloy and Simon Daw. It was immensely useful to have the whole design team there for the week so that everyone could move forward together, so that each element could grow from the same seed. To be in the National Theatre Studio was a privilege and a pleasure. There’s a great team there and it meant that we could focus on the work knowing that we had the practical support we needed to make the most of it. So a huge thank you to all of them.
And now the next phase begins; funding applications, private donations, tour booking, and finding co-producers. Our aim is to make the show at the beginning of next year, tour it and bring it to London. We’ll need a lot of support of various different kinds to make this wonderful project happen – so if there are ways in which you can help, then we’ll let you know! In the meantime, here are some pictures from the work we presented last Friday. We wanted to create a world that is strongly reminiscent of the Music Hall tradition of the end of the 19th Century, as well as with early cinema. This is the era that Conrad wrote in and it gives us a chance to explore a theatrical equivalent of Conrad’s detached and ironic writing style in The Secret Agent: