It’s been a long time since my first play – about twelve years now. Not so long ago I wrote this post, which mentioned a little about how I write. This was especially true for Work in Progress, my first play. I had joined the Theatre Club at RAF St Athan to get out of the house a bit, having spent some time as a houshusband with Eldest Weasel in her early baby days. Mrs Dim said I should socialise with people who could use entire words, so I wandered off one evening and found myself lined up for a part in the pantomime (I was Wishee Washee in Aladdin. One of my finest moments on stage.) When the panto was done, we started looking around for a play to take to the annual one act play competition. Someone pointed out that if we took a play that the group had written, we would have a shot at the award for “Best self-written play” as no one else ever entered for that. The odds seemed good, and then someone pointed out that I was pretending to be a writer (I had just sold an article to “Mother and Baby” and a short story to “Take a Break Fiction Special”) and therefore I should write the play. There are times in your life when “No.” is a perfectly reasonable answer but totally impossible to say. I dashed off a play in an embarrassingly short time and passed it around the group. Everyone seemed to like it and asked if I would direct. I hadn’t directed before, but hey, up until that week, I’d never written a play before. How hard could it be? The secret at the heart of “Work in Progress” is that I had no clue what I was doing. I wrote a play about the things that really happened to me. If you haven’t read it (and it’s available to read HERE), the play is about a struggling author who can’t get the ending of his Detective novel right. While he’s trying to write it, the characters argue with him, and drag him into the action to make him see how wooden and false it all is. By seeing things from their point of view, and seeing them as real people, not cliche cutouts, he’s able to draft a more suitable story. Yes, this is what happened to me. I was trying to write a novel, but the characters wouldn’t do what I wanted. They said unexpected things, pushed the plot in new directions. Sometimes they did dull, tedious things and I could do nothing to move them along.
Writing plays was like being released from a straightjacket. I could forget wrestling with adverbs and the fiddly details of description and get on with the action and the dialogue. No more worries about whether the main character had steel grey hair or steel blue eyes, or cast iron trousers. None of that mattered! I was free and I could write a mile a minute. And anything is possible on stage! I had the three fictional characters dress in black and white, and their section of the stage was all tones of grey. The guy playing the author wore a loud Hawaiian shirt and we shone a coloured light on him too. When the curtain opened on the performance in the competition, there was a gasp from the audience. My happiest moment. The adjudicator raved about the bold nature of the play. He compared it to the work of Pirandello, which was news to me (but go read about him here , unless SOPA has closed Wikipedia) and he said lots of other nice things. I felt like I had got away with a huge con trick, but the play has been performed again and again, and it would be disengenuous to say I don’t believe there’s something to it. It’s not really a good idea to write about being a writer, but I think what this play is about is showing that characters can be real. Just as a reader can feel affection, or friendship or revulsion for a character in a well-loved book, so an author can find his characters being more than words on the page. If you’ve performed in Work in Progress, or have pictures of a production, please do drop me a line in the comments box and we can arrange for your pictures to join the gallery, plus adding in any links to group websites.