About a year ago, I was shelf-browsing in Samuel French on the hunt for plays for my theatre. I’m part of the production committee at The Miller Centre Theatre in Caterham, Surrey and each year, we read about 40 plays in order to put together a (hopefully balanced?) season of 9 productions – comedy, drama, thriller, modern, period, and everything in between. It’s incredibly shallow of me, but I like an interesting title or a front cover that grabs the eye. One of the plays I picked up was A Fine Bright Day Today by Philip Goulding. I flipped onto the back to read the blurb:
“Since the death of her trawlerman husband -“
“Oh God, that sounds miserable” was the first thought in my head. But I carried on reading. In spite of the sombre tone, there appeared to be something hopeful in the reviews: “Philip Goulding’s play is an enticing piece of understated but effective writing. Leaves you with an optimistic sense that everyone deserves a second chance at happiness.” Guardian. So I bought a copy in the hope that it might be worthwhile.
I fell in love with it on first read. I knew at once how I’d stage it, how I thought the set should look and what music I’d like to use.
It is a warm and gently funny play about love, loss and second chances. Milton, an American artist, is visiting a quiet English seaside town to paint the local coastline. He rents a room in a small cottage belonging to Margaret, a woman for whom life has stood still since the death of her trawlerman husband 30 years previously. Over several weeks of shared stories, meals and bottles of wine, an unexpected mutual bond slowly draws them closer together. The characters are well drawn and there is something wonderful in the ordinary-ness of two people finding each other when they least expect it. It’s not going to win Romance of the Year, but it is full of heart and far more believable than any depiction of love that the Disney machine might conjure up. That is precisely why I love it.
Fast forward several months and with the thumbs up from the rest of the production committee for this to go on the season along with 8 other brilliant plays, the next task was finding directors. I jumped at the chance to take this one. (Almost – I did rather like the part of the daughter).
But on the condition that I had a mentor.
While I have very firm ideas on some aspects, there is more to directing than telling people where to stand, when to move, how to say a line. There is people management, diplomacy, finding out what is and isn’t feasible, knowing when to push for something and when to let an idea go, solving problems, being able to step back and see things from an audience perspective, the logistics of getting props on and off stage, costume changes, working out what the hell to do when one of your cast suddenly goes down with tonsilitis or that snow has snarled up all the roads and no one can go anywhere (we start rehearsals in early December and performances are in February – snow is a possibility). Quite honestly, just doing justice to the play itself.
I first directed panto at university (when I should’ve been writing my dissertation) – it was a lot of fun, but also incredibly stressful – not least for losing Alice Fitzwarren at the dress rehearsal because she’d neglected to tell me she couldn’t do the second performance because her Dad was picking her up that morning for her to go home for the Christmas holidays. The second time was in 2009 and I had been given a murder mystery/thriller. It was a steep learning curve directing people twice my age (who weren’t perpetually drunk). We discovered late into rehearsals that one of the cast had to work on one of the performance nights, so I had a mad scramble to find someone who could rehearse immediately and cover that one night. In addition to this, I was at the mercy of side effects from some very strong medication (I’d been diagnosed with ITP a few months before) and made redundant the week before we opened. All things which would have tested some of the most experienced directors I know, and I was very grateful for all the support I received to ensure that the show went on.
So with my impending 3rd directorial experience looming, I have outright asked for help. Not to mollycoddle me through every little thing, but just to be on hand when I need advice, a second pair of eyes, an honest opinion – the reassurance that I’m on the right track. So I am filled with a mixture of anxiety and excitement as the days tick down to the various milestones along the way. But this time around I’m older and wiser. I’ve seen a lot more theatre. I’ve drawn inspiration from unlikely places. I’m armed with a script that I absolutely adore and a story that I want to tell.
I should probably get my audition notice finished…..choosing excerpts is hard. I can just ask them to do the whole play, right?
‘A Fine Bright Day Today’ will be on at The Miller Centre Theatre, Caterham from 5th-14th February 2015. Tickets on sale from 10th November at http://www.millercentretheatre.org