Friday, 12 February 2016

The Rose and Crown

Last December, when I began rehearsals for J B Priestley's The Rose and Crown, the one-act play I am directing for the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group ("The Grads") I toyed with the idea of blogging about rehearsals on a regular basis. The toy soon got put back in its box. I have enough to occupy myself during the day without taking on the extra commitment of regular blogging. More importantly, I couldn't, or wouldn't, be honest in the blog. I'm a naturally critical person, who finds it as easy to find fault as to give praise and any piece I wrote would automatically say things about the actors that they might not find acceptable. So, while I have, I hope, been at least a competent director insofar as dealing with the cast face to face is concerned, I have kept any extreme thoughts about their personalities or abilities to myself. That doesn't mean I have had many negative thoughts - I could probably work with any of the cast in a future production - but there have been moments when the vision I had for the play has not been reflected in the words and actions of the people before me. Will that vision appear a week from today when the cast first appear before an audience?  The odds are good that it will and my fingers and all other flexible parts of my anatomy are crossed in anticipation.

It is thanks to the J B Priestley Society that I am writing this blogpost. Earlier in the week I finally got around to some promotion for the play and they asked me for some comments for their newsletter. The rest of this blog is therefore an adaptation of the words I wrote for them. Why this rare play, they asked? Because I had originally offered to direct a full-length Priestley for The Grads and was thinking of Dangerous Corner or Time and the Conways.  EGTG didn't have a slot for a full-length play, but they needed a one-act for the Scottish Community Drama Association Festival and they asked me to put on something. I came across The Rose and Crown while looking for a suitable play and immediately decided I want to do it. It has all the elements of Priestley that I like - good characterisation with a touch of the supernatural.

left to right from top: Oliver Trotter, Oliver Cookson
Charles Finnie, Alan Patterson,
Beverley Wright, Hilary Davies, Hannah Bradley
I was a little nervous at first, partly because it is set in London and I wasn't sure I could transpose it to Scotland or find Scottish actors who could do a London accent, and partly because the play is very time-specific and I wasn't sure how much relevance it had today. The first problem was solved when I found a cast who could all do the necessary accents (not always perfectly enough to fool a Londoner, but the overall impression of Cockney is strong). The second problem - its relevance - faded as we got into rehearsals. This is partly because (spoiler alert coming NOW; to avoid it skip to the next paragraph) I have introduced The Stranger at the beginning of the play, who silently contemplates the empty bar as a series of sound effects takes us through the Second World War and into post-war austerity (he disappears until he returns as scripted in the middle of the play), and partly because the characters involve the audience so much that the period in which it is set in becomes irrelevant.

Priestley's script, published in 1947, involves very detailed direction - I think for the original television version rather than the subsequent stage play. It is very static, with no more than a group of drinkers standing around the bar. I read the Runnymede Drama Group's take on it for their 2013 production and saw that they had some movement with drinkers at individual tables. Our production also uses tables; how much our direction overlaps with theirs, I have no idea. As with any play, the more we have worked it, the more drama and action emerges and although some of the characters barely move from their seats, there's enough toing and froing among the rest to keep the eyes as well as the ears occupied.

I have been impressed by how much Priestley squeezes into a short play, creating not only characters but raising ideas and reactions that are totally unexpected. Assuming the actors pull out all the stops, our production will begin with (another spoiler alert...., or skip to the next paragraph) curiosity, moves on to comedy, then bewilderment and fear before ending in .... ah well, what does it end in? That's up to each audience member to decide for themselves.

At the moment we have only one guaranteed performance, on Friday 19th February 2016, in Edinburgh. It's part of a one-act competition and if we get through there are subsequent stages (in Fife, back in Edinburgh, then in London) where we might appear. No matter how good our production is, however, I suspect that the plays with a more contemporary theme are likely to be the ones that go through. Depending on the audience reaction, we will consider putting it on at the Edinburgh Fringe, but that would also depend on the fickleness of crowd-funding.

Finally, in case you are reading this in mid-February 2016 and happen to be in Edinburgh or are irresistibly drawn to the city, you can buy tickets for our play and two other one-acts on the same evening, from the SCDA website.