Day two in rehearsals meant a couple of things:
1. We’d already eaten 50% of the biscuits purchased.
2. We were going to look at – big breath please – “character”.
There are characters I’ve created when even before a single line of dialogue has been written I could have told you their potted biography. I don’t tend to write this way any more – partly because I’m more confident in doing my ‘thing’ than listening to the prevailing ideology on how a play should be written (the early to mid noughties was a prescriptive time in literary departments), but also partly because that’s not how my plays tend to work now. That doesn’t mean I don’t research beforehand (secretly, researching a new idea might be my favourite part of the process) – I’ve discovered more about walking, both the practicalities and politics of, than I thought humanly possible for a girl who, much to performer Andy’s bemusement when he took me on a walk, does not own a pair of walking shoes. But I prefer to discover the character details through writing than through the “50 questions you should be able to answer about your character”.
As the initial writing process probably makes clear, the speed with which the initial scratch for Beneath the Albion Sky was created meant that, when I started writing, I knew that the character’s name was Paul, he was somewhere in his late twenties, had a girlfriend named Joanne and a cat named Bob (the cat, though still in the blurb, got culled somewhere between draft 0.75 and 0.925). From this point onwards Charlie and I either independently discovered (read: made up) or quizzed each other about facts of Paul’s life as the script dictated. We came up with some of the answers that we needed to write the script but didn’t disclose them because – where is the fun in that? And, anyway, a lot of them might well be wrong and it’s much more fun to bash them out in a rehearsal room.
Which is sort of how Andy and I ended up sitting in a room and being shouted at by Charlie.
For the sake of all concerned I should probably clarify that WBN doesn’t condone shouting at actors or indeed co-writers (we save our ire for SHUTTERS, George Osborne’s face, and purveyors of bad coffee). Charlie was shouting in the name of roleplay. Specifically a roleplay where Charlie was the Malcolm Tucker of the police force and Andy and I were slightly hapless PCs (one of us slightly more hapless than the other as it turned out) trying to piece together the details of a “missing person” (one Paul from Beneath the Albion Sky). In this set-up Charlie would fire questions at us and we’d have to answer without hesitation or receive something of a Tucker-esque verbal bashing (possibly Charlie enjoyed this element rather too much).
Without the opportunity to either think properly (what with The Fear) or reference something in script we were forced to go with instinct. And if this caused my eyes to go a bit wide then it also worked brilliantly in tapping in to things we didn’t think we knew but really did.
Things we discovered:
We don’t know Paul’s surname.
None of us know where Kidderminster is.
Paul is 26 (on the younger side to the age I’d assumed beforehand) and was born on the 15th August.
Paul went to a Uni near his hometown, which is where he met Joanne.
We’re not exactly sure where this hometown is but we now suspect it might be in Lincolnshire.
Paul likes real ale, is a keen reader, listens to folk music, plays but doesn’t really watch sport, and once went to see Leonard Cohen in concert.
Paul and Joanne live in a rented house, she would like to buy a house, he has been avoiding this.
They do not have a cat, but if they did Andy is very adamant that it would be a black and white tabby named Magic.
Paul’s an only child, his parents split up when he was seven.
All three of us had independently come up with the same explanation for what has happened to Paul’s dad.
Things it forced us to confront:
All the people in Paul’s world who, to varying degrees, skip around, under, and in the gaps of the text.
The funny answer is some times (but not always) the right one.
Our timescale for events which lead up to Paul beginning the walk is a bit hazy.
As we went through the notes PC Furness had made during the session it became clear that often where we didn’t agree on a specific detail which had been conjured we did agree with the sentiment behind it.
And then, happy that we were all going in the same direction, Charlie stopped shouting, Andy put down his prop-handcuffs and we ate some more biscuits.