As the team are busy at Grassington Festival 18-23 with the third part in the Converging Paths series, Associate Director James Blakey takes time away from the process to share his thoughts on making ‘Retrospective’ and what the future holds for Part 4, Memorial.
As I write this we are six days into rehearsal for Slung Low’s latest Converging Paths adventure: Retrospective. One week in and we are already gearing up for our preview performance that will take place tonight for a selection of invited guests ahead of the first public show on Monday evening. Retrospective is the third in the Converging Paths series and takes place in the town of Grassington as part of its annual arts festival. It is the first instalment that I have worked on, which has felt like getting on board a train that already has its own forward momentum. This momentum, borne out of the skill and industry of the core Slung Low team, is what allows each show to come together so quickly. But there’s something else at play too – a sense that the overall story that originates and connects each play is present as a mythology that presides over the whole project. The company has the story ingrained in them now. So the process of making each piece is not like building something up from the foundations but more like deciding from which angle to illuminate its architecture.
Converging Paths is inspired by The Ground Remembers, a novel by writer and Slung Low founding member Matthew David Scott and each show the result of a collaborative adaptation by Scotty and artistic director Alan Lane. For those of you keeping up with the development of the overall narrative – we now focus on the life of Tiger Thomas. You may know Tiger as the man who helps Edwin to find his estranged friend Philip in order to deliver Helen’s final letter. Or you may not. Because if you weren’t in Scarborough or Richmond for the previous shows this context is not particularly helpful. If this is the case it doesn’t matter because the story of Tiger Thomas is a fascinating one in its own right. Tiger Thomas, raised in Grassington, is a former light-heavyweight champion and holder of the Lonsdale belt. After serving a term in prison, he turned his life to a very different sort of mission. This is the mission on which in a precise moment, a precise place and a precise state of darkness we join him. It also doesn’t matter if you haven’t seen the previous shows because the story needn’t unfold in a straight line. Perhaps ‘instalments’ as I call them above is not the right way to describe how the individual shows comprise a whole. The next doesn’t pick up where the last left off like episodes of a television drama. They are more like pieces of a jigsaw, each bearing individual detail and connecting with one another to create a larger picture. And each piece strives to be grounded in the location in which it is set. Having spent this week in Grassington it is now impossible for me to imagine Tiger’s life evolving anywhere else. I know which house Tiger grew up in, where he was in the town when he got into a fight in primary school and there is one moment in particular (which I won’t give away for the sake of the people coming to see the show this week) which is just a perfect meeting point between a story that has long since existed and this place where it is currently being told.
With half an eye on the upcoming Memorial in Harrogate the meeting point between story and place is going to be centred around Edwin’s journey to find Philip. So if you are coming to that one you can expect to travel the furthest an audience has ever gone in a Slung Low show.
Back at Retrospective HQ we are just hours away from the preview performance. Actor Christopher Brand has just done his final rehearsal run and the design and stage management team are putting the finishing touches to the moments of magic that plot the journey of our fiction through the real world. Early performances are a crucial time in the making of any piece of theatre – a chance to see the show through the fresh eyes of an unsuspecting audience, to gauge whether we are telling the story in the right way and get a sense of an audience’s emotional journey through it whilst there is still an opportunity to respond and adapt. For the type of theatre that Slung Low make this seems especially true. As an admirer of Slung Low’s work from before I was invited to be part of the Converging Paths team, I was consistently struck by the implication that we the audience are the crucial ingredient – the sounding board, the amplification, the witnesses or whatever word you want to ascribe to it. In a world that is changed by the telling of stories we are lost without auditors. This has been a major preoccupation in the making of Retrospective and is reflected in our attempt to ensure that all of you coming to see the show this week have the specialised experience of a welcome guest. Here we go!