In the first of series of blogs for Keep Colchester Cool, the actor, writer, director and theatre critic Paul T. Davies asks the question “What are the songs of your life?”
Playing Something Theatrical
What are the songs of your life?
At a recent Q and A following a performance of my play Living With Luke, an audience member asked where I got my ideas. I was surprised and pleased by my answer, which was, “I don’t go out looking for ideas, I let them come to me.” Surprised because I replied immediately, without dithering. Pleased because, after a few years of this play writing malarkey, I realised that was the case. I never set out to write a play about a father literally wrestling autism in a real wrestling ring to try and make contact with his autistic son, but the subject and inspiration found me!
So we come to my new play, Play Something. The inspiration as something we do every day-well almost all of us do- and that was listening to music. Songs can take us back to a period and experiences in our lives that are highly sensory, we can almost smell the air as we transport to THAT song, THAT lover, THAT house, THOSE friends. I am a 70s teenager, not a punky one but a disco- loving- ABBA- fanatic- mainstream- pop-fan. Just the intro to anything by T Rex, The Sweet and Bowie can make me almost feel the cheap polyester and smell the Findus Crispy Pancakes. (We’ll draw a veil over anything glitter.)
And I began thinking of love and life situations, and I set out to tell the story of a gay couple who meet in a club, and take the relationship though to till death do us part. I went into a series of workshops with my trusted colleague Shane Whitworth. We began by looking at art, responding and writing to works and photographs by a series of diverse artist, and subconsciously we discovered we were identifying masculine and feminine qualities. Then we work shopped music, presenting our own version of Desert Island Discs, sharing what we thought were The Making Love Song, The Split Up Song, the Celebration Song etc. The closest we got to a telepathic juke box was Our Song, which we chose the same artist (Adele) but different songs. We exchanged frank discussions about our own personal experiences with relationships, and experiences of friends.
We didn’t attempt dialogue until the next workshop, and I discovered then the characters of M and F. We held open workshops and met some fantastic actors. The two hander play became a four hander, plus the DJ. To tell the story, the couple instruct the DJ to Play Something… and that song spurs the story forward. We evolved younger and older versions of each character. They should never be together. It was supposed to be just casual sex. M is closeted, paranoid about being caught, fearful of public shame because of his upbringing. F goes on gay pride marches, is vocal about equality. They keep meeting and fucking. How does an unemotional man become emotional? What do the songs say about real feelings? With no props or set, can I really attempt to reflect the changes in equality in our society using just the actors, words and music? Can I take them forward to The Forever Song?
It’s been fascinating, and the play is still evolving. The four hander became a two hander again as the younger couple had to pull out due to other commitments. Then another fantastic actor stormed into the rehearsal room, and we hung the DJ and it’s now it IS a four hander. It’s exciting. It may fail. But we Play Something at the Mercury Theatre Studio on February 26th and 27th. I will be occasionally blogging about the process, but I also hope the story will become universal. After all, what are the songs of your life?
PAUL T. DAVIES.