January 2015 and we were back immersing ourselves in 1940s Britain. In fact Jim’s new dietary requirements closely resembled war time rationing. If only they had known the joys of quinoa and brown rice too. This new period in the development of the show found us in a new location, the salubrious surroundings of Chipping Norton. They know all about quinoa there I can assure you. Chippie (as we would learn to call it) was home for the next one and half weeks. There would be further devising, writing and rehearsal culminating in the terrifying prospect of a work in progress performance open to the public.
This initial phase in our research and development was in conjunction with the Theatre Chipping Norton. By working with them we had secured some vital funding to make this project happen in the first place. It also meant that we got to work in their lovely theatre. Not only was the theatre space itself perfect for our show but they also gave us other rooms to rehearse in and free reign of their props cupboard! It really should be renamed the ‘Lovely Theatre Chipping Norton’. So we knew, come what may, our scratch performance would look really great, we just had to come up with the goods on stage.
Just to make life interesting our digs where on opposite ends of the town. John and Jim were installed in a spacious town house a stones throw from the theatre. Dan and Matt were given an old map and a compass and sent out into the icy wind. Ok, so it wasn’t quite that bad, they stayed with a most upstanding gentlemen, Pat, a patron of the arts himself and former local Mayor. But the digs were a modest schlepp from the theatre. And up a hill. Rehearsing in January, let’s just say the costumes found at the theatre from a past performance of Scott at the Antarctic came in handy.
Monday morning and we got straight back to it. There was a re-introduction to yoga, and a re-acquaintance with the associated pain. Ah, that comforting wrenching of the hamstrings – focusing body and mind. Character, character, character was the mantra for this stage of development. We’d been set some tasks to work on since Steeple Aston and we took those further here. All of us striving to bring life and reality to the characters that would be vital to drive our story. The afternoon was spend in a 2 hour long improvisation. This was an incredibly useful exercise forcing us to evaluate how much we really knew about our characters and how they interact in any given situation.
Tuesday morning followed a simile pattern with more character work; shorter improvisations, hot seating and reworking earlier scenes. We took a break in the afternoon to talk show structure and throw around some ideas for scenes and set pieces. Matt went away and wrote a quiz on Britishness, Jim learnt some basic Morris Dancing while Dan spent the afternoon developing a WI sketch and researching the finer points of jam. Elderberry and fig*, not a combination you normally think of, but it was delicious – so thanks again, Dan.
*We’ve made this up it’s probably disgusting. I mean think about it, elderberry and fig! Please don’t make this jam, you’ll only be disappointed.
Wednesday morning still buzzing from our jam overload we put all the bits of the show we now had together in a loose framework, and put the whole thing on its feet. This is a bit like doing a rehearsal without any actual rehearsal. It’s much harder than you think. The scenes you write and read out can become quite different once you start to walk around reading them and attempt to imbue them with a real sense of character. We discovered that we were good at writing. Good at writing a lot. Way too much. We also learnt that there wasn’t the cohesion the show needed. This ushered in our next phase of development – refining and distillation. Not unlike the techniques used in jam making, so we celebrated with some more jam.
Next morning Jim and John were up early to conduct our first schools workshop at the primary school in dear old Steeple Aston. The workshop devised by John explores what it might have been like living in Britain during the war, what that meant, and the day to day effects of living on the home front. There’s role play, group exercises and lots of exploratory and imagination games. Jim and John returned to base beaming from their educational exploits. They had thoroughly enjoyed themselves and by all accounts so had the children.
Matt and Dan meanwhile were slashing away at the script. Red pens in one hand, coffee in the other. Their job was cut, cut, cut and also find a better, more satisfying plot and structure to bind the show together. Cuts were made, scenes rewritten and slowly, a clearer path began to emerge. Which then of course prompted more rewriting, disagreement, compromise and another round of coffee.
The whole group reunited in the afternoon to look at the show changes. We ‘um’ed and ‘ah’ed and agonized over everything. Does that work? Would this be better here? Is that historically realistic? Why is that important to this character? Who ate the last biscuit? Is there any more of that Jam? Until finally we had a show we thought might actually work. Well, we had half of it. Now we had go away and write all the bits that were missing. It was going to be a long night.