Report by Carole Hastings
Chairman Barbara Large introduced this evening’s guests and told the audience about Chawton House Library’s Jane Austen Short Story Award 2014 see: http://www.chawton.org for details.
The special speaker was Deborah Edgington, head of marketing for the Chesil Theatre. The theatre’s home for the last 40 years has been a former 12th century church. It is one of the oldest buildings used as a theatre today and is one of the oldest dramatic societies in the country, celebrating its 150 anniversary this year. They have six productions each year and are always looking for new members to be involved on a number of fronts. In 2008 they performed 10 plays written by members of the Nuffield Theatre that were 10 minutes in length. In 2010, The Chesil set up the 10 x 10 Drama competition open to members of the Chesil Theatre and local interested parties. This was extended to a county wide competition in 2012 and in celebration of their 150th anniversary this will be a national competition open to all writers over the age of 16. The deadline is April 25. For details on the competition, membership and to find out what’s on: ww.chesiltheatre.org.uk
Steve Hawes joined Granada Television as a sports journalist in 1976 where he became Head of Drama. He produced sport and documentary features for ITV’s regional and national networks 1978-82, and adapted Arthur Ransome’s fishing stories for Michael Hordern, Rod and Line, Channel 4 1982. He started producing drama in 1984 and subsequently moved to Paris to produce the first twelve episodes of the Maigret series starring Bruno Cremer, which ran until 2006 when the 54th episode was aired. For the last few years of the run he was lead writer on the series.
He is currently polishing The Great Charter, a play about the Magna Carta and his adaptation of Dimitri Verhulst’s novel, Probelmski Hotel, with Director Manu Riche and a multinational cast, as a joint film and theatre association between the Flemish film fund (VAF) and KVS at the THÉÂTRE NATIONAL in Brussels. His version of Beauty and the Beast, with songs by Stephen Solloway, ran for the Christmas season 2011/12 at the Haymarket Theatre Basingstoke, where his play set in a Venetian convent, Original Sin, also opened in 2009.Steve opened his session with a quotation from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar:
Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
He remarked that a university campus has too much thinking going on and was as such a dangerous place. He counselled writers to trust their instinct when writing, to write viscerally, shut off their critical self and to avoid over thinking. Keep to gut feeling rather than intellect. To keep focused on what will create the best drama, he suggested making notes with the opposite hand that you use normally, avoiding a lengthier version which may take you away from the heart of the piece. He pointed out that major turning points in drama are about the visceral. Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Aeschylus’s Oresteia are good [and bloody] examples of this.
When Steve was researching The Great Charter he discovered that of the 63 clauses in Magna Carta, a third relate to men possessing women and that women were fundamentally jailed by the church in marriage. When he set about his plan for it he focused on suspicion, aware that the only time a person’s word was trusted was when they spoke to a priest. Hence the need for the Magna Carta and due process requiring the state to respect legal rights of all individuals.
He set his first act in Winchester Cathedral with King John being re-anointed as King. He is avoiding confession as he and the Archbishop both know that there are things that the Archbishop should not know about. However the Queen inveigles the Archbishop into hearing her confession and she tells him things he otherwise would not believe. Steve creates this dramatic action by drawing the queen to the front centre stage, has her dropping to her knees facing the audience and positions the Archbishop directly behind her, fading out all lights on stage other than on their faces. An act of pure theater.
This juxtaposition of time works well on stage, where time is more elastic but on film another solution would be needed involving relocating away from the body of the Cathedral.
Steve feels closeups are a key benefit of film as expressive faces and eyes can create a contrast between text and subtext not achievable on stage.
He cites that on film you need to advance or retreat in each scene but not run on the spot as you can in theater where some of the most rewarding moments can be when time stands still. This view is also held by Robert McKee who asks “what is the value of this scene?” in determining whether it should stay or cut. In a film version of Hamlet with Laurence Olivier, the scenes in the second act were reduced from eight to three keeping the drama moving on in each scene. Steve maintains that the key to effective drama is maintaining an unstable equilibrium.
Steve talked about breaking down the fourth wall between actors and audience and said that in his experience actors like moments of complicity with the audience, but producers and editors don’t. He warned that often a writer’s favourite elements in his own play are often too writerly and often need editing. He reminded us that often the visceral moments are the quiet moments and left us with plenty to think about…