Sophie Good blogs about her week at Lumb Bank in November last year for ‘Theatre – Exploring and exploding ideas’ with Tim Crouch, Rebecca Lenkiewicz and guest Alecky Blythe.
A little-known playwright once said ‘All the world’s a stage’ – and this felt especially pertinent as we all arrived at Lumb Bank for our Theatre course on a dark, cold Monday evening in November. Such promise filled the air as we each introduced ourselves and what we wanted to achieve from the week. Much like that expectant ‘moment of hope’ just before the curtain goes up in a packed auditorium.
And what a cast of characters we were. From some who wanted to simply find out ‘Should I write? Can I write’ to others who were in the middle of writing something already – from real life stories about hairdressing in Brighton to Burlesque drag acts and sweeping monologues about Napoleon.
Setting the scene
Settings seemed to play a big role in our week at Lumb Bank. Each of us felt humbled and dwarfed by the beautiful Yorkshire landscape and the glowing autumnal light which filtered in mid morning and faded all too soon later in the afternoon. The barn became an intimate performance area as our tutors Tim Crouch and Rebecca Lenkiewicz performed excerpts from their award-winning plays, and Alecky Blythe brought to life her unique verbatim technique as a guest one evening. Plays which have graced the stages of the National Theatre and the Royal Court – brought to us from the comfort of our sofas with glass of wine in hand. What a privilege to experience these pieces in an informal sharing (complete with after-show discussion), without so much as a ticket.
One of the high points of the week was when Tim set us the challenge of using the physical environment to inspire us and write a small piece set in a location of our choice, in the house or grounds. And so, wrapped in coats and scarves – we staged our own spontaneous promenade performances. It was wonderful to see each writer embrace this challenge with their own unique style – we listened to the ghostly voice from the past of a Yorkshire boy trying to save his sister’s life, we watched Napoleon address his troops, reflected on a school desk which had become a memorial to a lost child and were all promptly locked outside the house as one writer staged a hostage situation. It was especially heartening as a fellow writer who has previously claimed ‘I only do traditional theatre’ took us deep into the woods and invoked a Navaho Indian sitting on a rock. What a journey that task took us all on.
The week culminated in a sharing of our work on the Friday evening. In keeping with the week’s activities – there was a fantastic and awe-inspiring range of pieces performed. Some writers performed their own pieces – with Napoleon’s Josephine making her final appearance, some writers addressing the audience directly, some cast fellow writers who performed superbly including our resident Doctor becoming an Essex eel gutter. There were interactive pieces, whereby we were invited to float poetry exerts into bowls of water and finally led into the dark woods by torchlight in to witness a surreal and dark tale of an abduction controlled by the audience itself.
My own personal challenge? Rebecca gave me some fantastic and valuable advice during my one-to-one tutorial – that I should explore the emotional heart of my characters further and ‘go for the jugular’. As my fellow writers superbly acted out a new scene I’d written, I noticed a tear rolling down Rebecca’s face. I hope that means I met my aim…
I feel we all left Lumb Bank in a very different place from where we’d started. Each of us had challenged ourselves and certainly challenged our perceptions of what we can achieve under the auspices of ‘theatre’ and its definition felt much broadened by the experience. We could all legitimately cast ourselves ‘playwrights’ as we headed home. I’d like to give a massive standing ovation to my fellow writers – a supporting cast who I can now call friends and Tim and Rebecca, under whose directorship we all seemed to flourish.
Sophie Good, Jan 2014