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The Sin by David Whalley

September 2009

Director: Chris Honer

Dramaturg: Ged McKenna

At  the preliminary meetings with director Chris Honer and dramaturg Ged McKenna, I was forewarned that the process would not be an easy one, and it would be best to prepare thoroughly for the three days. In the first instance, the play was read through without pause, which was the first time I had heard it spoken aloud. It was revealing when the director asked the actors what, in general, the play was about and what their opinion was of the characters they were about to play. This was the start of the play coming alive. The director also drew a distinction between guiding the actors and dictating to them how he thought the text should be interpreted and played, asking little of them at first but a general understanding of story and character.

The demands grew as the workshop went on, until the actors could second guess the intentions of their characters and play them accordingly. Time and again I was asked after a scene was played out if that was what ‘I had in mind' and more often than not it was, though sometimes it was a surprise to see it actually happen from the page. It was always revealing and done with enthusiasm and with what seemed like genuine interest. At each stage of the workshop it was to the writer that the most crucial questions were asked, almost always as to why a character would say such and such a line and what would be its intention.

What was most impressive was how each scene was deconstructed and pieced back together, discussed and acted out, often several times, to discover its true meaning. There was sometimes conflict between the members of the workshop in its interpretation and at times there was some confusion, but more often than not, any problems were resolved. The detailed scrutiny of the script by all concerned gave an insight into how collaborative theatre works and I was often told be become more involved in the process as it was, after all, my play.

There was also the question of stagecraft, the position of actions in relation to each other in each scene and the sightlines of the audience in performance, which was addressed in detail in rehearsal before the showcase. This time turned out to be a very good script-in-hand performance, which was carried out with surprising coolness. The showcase was more of a guide as to what the play might become and to see passages of The Sin professionally performed was splendid. The comments after the show were most concerned with how the play would end and did Ben kill Mary? This brought into focus what an audience would want to see from a play: engaging characters and a strong story.

The main conclusion I drew from the four days was that the play could be shorter. Much of what was repetitive and opaque could be shorn from the script. There is also the opportunity to be more ambitious with the depth of the story and the language used to express this. What became most clear after a live performance is that a stage play is first and foremost a work of drama, rather than simply literature.

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