08 Sep 2016

Ed joins the team!

The last blog I wrote was when I was just about to write about my experiences with Crohn’s Disease and living with an ileostomy bag. Since then, I have actually joined the team at SBL and am now heading up the Arts Wing of the company…so these blogs need to a bit more high-brow now, instead of being about me wittering on about my toilet habits (as disarming and charming as that might be…)

This also feels like a really disappointing opening crawl to a Star Wars film…

So…Being Mankind. I may sound biased, but having read the stories and listened to them being read aloud by their authors at the launch party, I must admit that I didn’t appreciate a) just how incredible a project it is, b) how humbled and, frankly, unworthy I feel to be involved and c) just how much it lends itself to being a stage play…

I just came back from Glasgow where I saw a production of Trainspotting – that’s not a condition of visiting Glasgow by the way, just in case you wondered – but it was easily the best production I’ve seen of that play and easily the best production I’ve seen for a few years. Anyhow, the genius of this production lay in the ease with which it went from almost verbatim-theatre monologues from Spud, Renton, Begbie and all to group scenes linked by incredible, beautifully choreographed movement and dance sequences.

Those movement pieces got me thinking about the potential Being Mankind has, and namely in the capoeira story from Boneco de Sousa and Nadenh Poan’s story about being a wheelchair dancer, and I got more and more excited about the potential that we have with all the stories.

I settled on the idea of following a few talking heads-like monologues, almost verbatim from the book and linking them with duologues, scenes and movement sequences that all comment on masculinity.

My starting point (pretentious klaxon alert) was to set the show in the round, or at least on three sides, and in a boxing ring in an old gym. So that we could play on the idea hyper-masculinity, of a boxer being conditioned and training, but slowly fading over the course of the play – it also ties into Anthony Joshua writing the foreword. The other reason for this is that ties into Brecht and the idea that any form of socially educating theatre should be viewed as watching a sporting event or boxing match (swear I didn’t just google that). We would then go into The Addict, an alcoholic, who stumbles into the space late and looks to find his seat, all the while stashing bottles of alcohol around the set and interacting with audience members. He would be the heart and soul of the whole play, as we watch him fighting addiction up until the very end.

The first half of the play would all be in this arena setting. We would drop in on a comic scene between two squaddies enjoying some downtime, playing cards and berating each other. This would be an imagined change from the actual story of Scott Meenagh, as his story takes place in a combat situation, but I quite liked the idea of subverting expectations; if you see a bunch of soldiers marching in formation and armed with fingers on a hair trigger, you kind of prepare yourself for some tense moment that may result in tragedy. If people are having a quiet moment and sharing a laugh, hopefully the last thing anyone would expect is for someone then to step on a landmine. And, playing with theatre, when this moment happens, we can really put the audience in the thick of that moment, so that they are rocked by the explosion, sprayed with viscera (water vapour), lose their sense of sight as the lights go black suddenly, and that they can smell the cordite and burning. Scott describes the moment as being rugby tackled and punched in the face at the same time, and this is something we can let an audience truly understand at its most shocking.

This would immediately be followed up by some lads running in from the bar shouting something like “Shots fired…” as they come in with a tray of sambucas, playing into the whole “lad culture” of excessive drinking. You could even have a lie about “man down” when one of them drops a pint. This whole sequence would be followed by the Alcoholic returning and candidly talking through his routine as an alcoholic and how it is slowly killing him but he cannot stop.

The second half of the play could be set in a hospital, as a lot of the stories centre around seeking medical help, and we would follow all these characters battling with their demons.

The only issue I’ve discovered when writing is that I have no female voices as yet, so I need to get some stories and female perspectives on certain scenes.

So lots to do, but all very exciting…


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