Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dear Scotland...

It must be a long time since I was in rehearsal as a writer. I'd forgotten the pleasure of it.

What happens is that I put so much into the words I write. Every bit of sensibility. Every ounce of skill.

It's never enough, of course. The words lie dead on the page.

But give them to a good actor (Sally Reid), working with a good director (Catrin Evans), and this magic happens.

Because they bring all their skill and their sensibilities too, and they breathe life into it.

And then suddenly the thing has a shape and a depth of feeling I sort of hoped it might have, and didn't know for sure.

Maybe I liked this process particularly because it is only a five minute monologue, and so the whole thing is manageable in the way a full length play never quite has the time to become.

It's still complicated enough seeing past the actor's uncertainties as she grapples with the unfamiliar text; and trying to see past my own self doubts and insecurities as I listen to an all too familiar one.

When I read it aloud early this week it came out at six minutes twenty seconds; when Sally read it yesterday it was the same.

But the piece is supposed to be five minutes: and looking at the schedule for the promenade performances round the National Portrait Gallery I could see that is, exactly, how long it needs to be.

Cutting one minute twenty seconds out of a five minute performance is one of those crazy challenges writing for radio has taught me to relish.

It's like pruning away extraneous foliage from a bush that's grown too shaggy: and what pleasure in seeing the structure's clear lines emerging from it.

I have a strange old-fashioned belief in the power of words. Especially spoken words. I believe they can do good in the world; I know they can do harm. So I worry a bit each time I see actors learning my lines; I hope they'll be OK.

Sally has to perform the piece ten times on the evenings audiences do Route A round the Gallery; I feel responsible for the experience she has.

But I've a feeling she'll be fine. And the audience, too.

I wrote the piece sitting in front of the picture in the gallery, and letting the subject speak to me. A lovely thing to do, in front of so beautiful a picture. A lovely thing watching Sally perform in front of even a small reproduction was to suddenly understand how important the interaction will be between her and the picture; and I can see, suddenly, how good an experience that could be for the audience to witness too.

It's a multiple portrait, and it's not altogether clear at first who the subject is. I hadn't quite intended this, but I loved the moment in rehearsal yesterday where it suddenly does become clear. And that's the main reason I don't want to tell you who it is quite yet.

But I'm aware, as I write this, that it truly is a love letter to Scotland, of a kind that, had she lived, my late partner Sue Innes would have loved to write.

And I hope that reality imitates art, and the wish at the end comes true.

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