In mid-April, we work-shopped the first draft of On the Record at the National Theatre Studio. A wonderful gift for which we are extremely grateful. Over two days, we prepared the play for a public reading, with the help of director Ed Viney (a former Director in Residence at the Studio) and a lovely cast – Lucy May Barker, Toby Wharton, Christopher Simpson, Ajay Chhabra, Sasha Behar and Jan Goodman. As well as the opportunity to get feedback on the script from the invited audience, it also allowed us to see what we weren’t able to see when the play existed only on paper. Some bits worked, others didn’t. Some scenes were too superficial – others overwritten. Is it clear what is holding all of these stories together? What are we leading the audience to? Should this character even be in the play?
Throughout the process of researching and writing the script, we have tried to remain as true as possible to the journalists who will be represented in the play. Now, in this re-drafting, our duty must be to the audience and hopefully this will lead us to be as adventurous and as imaginative as we can be with the material and stories that we have settled on and not fall into the trap of believing that simply because what has happened to the main characters is true, it must be interesting. Listening to David Hare’s recent lecture at the Royal Society of Literature, I was struck by his observation along these lines:
‘”This is based on a true story” … functions as a kind of prophylactic, a way of protecting the subsequent proceedings from undue criticism. By declaring in advance that something is true, the film-makers seek to absolve themselves from the highest demands of art.’
And while it is a somewhat intimidating prospect to be daring and experimental with the stories of people for whom we have the highest regard, we also know that without holding ourselves to the standards Hare speaks of, we will probably end up with a small play about interesting people. So, now for the challenge ahead. Let the re-imagining, re-structuring, debate, experimentation and sleepless nights ensue.
By Christine Bacon, iceandfire co-Artistic Director, and Noah Birksted-Breen, playwright and director