little sister’s big sister


Part of the thrill, and challenge, of making a devised show is that you discover the rules as you proceed. A methodology emerges as the material gets made. Having a pre-defined formula would make for a more efficient process but I choose to adopt a more open, playful approach – knowing that accidents will yield the more exciting possibilities. (I’m reminded of photo-shoots in which all the pre -planned ideas get exhausted but it’s the throwaway shot at the end of the roll of film which ends up getting used) It’s an expensive business – not only ‘cos it eats up time but because a lot of created stuff ends up in the edit-bin – but then the whole point of this unit is to investigate the theatre-making process.

The Bristol students have been terrific so far. Bright, keen, industrious, supportive of each other and committed to an emerging aesthetic. They have bought into the uncertain elements and seem to be actually enjoying themselves. My responsibilities to them as theatre director have to be complemented by those of tutor and ultimately assessor, so it’s vital to have an eye on learning objectives, be critically rigorous and offer the wisdom and practicality of my own professional experience.

Prompted by a R4 Woman’s Hour feature I heard early in the year (marking the 50’s anniversary of Chandler’s death and discussing his portrayal of women), I chose to tackle an adaptation of  his novel ‘The Little Sister’ with a gender balance of 10female ; 4male. We’re investigating the Chandler through the stylistics of film noir, as if the performance takes place on an LA film set. The four male students will play four actors who are being screen-tested for the role of Marlowe. Each of them possesses different qualities which will be exercised through the challenging environment of the entirely girl-powered studio mechanism (smoothie; lone-wolf;  troubled; sensitive). Their actress sparring-partners (all femme fatales in their own ways) are double cast – as if three pairs of exuberant, glamorous, sexy and dangerous twins are all trying to test/outwit their Marlowes (and their actors) whilst the theatrical space and narrative is driven by the remaining 2 pairs -the producers and the foley/narrator team, who direct the story and fill in any additional character parts.

The concept feels good, so now it’s just a question of getting the material down into a tight manageable structure – or do I mean script ? Shucks – I mean script…. we need a script.

I print a rough draft of some scripted scenes, compiled from their own adaptations, then hand it out. It’s eyes down and a sea of furrowed brows, as they start to dissect it…

My heart sinks.

I ejaculate a comment that the “Script is the stranglehold of the British Theatre … It kills creativity!”.

George (who is fashioning herself as the Katherine Hepburn-like Producer role), raises an eyebrow and coolly says “That’s a rather sweeping generalisation, isn’t it Graeme?”. She’s so right. Our script will be a wonderful consolidation of all the work so far. I skulk off, realising I made myself sound like an idiot. We could devote a session to the writing/devising debate – but we don’t have time. Back in my 2nd year at Lancaster, Richard Wilson was forever coming out with the most provocative statements – stimulated debate, raising questions about culture, politics, society – but in this instance I decide to shut up and go back to writing the script.


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