Playability and Physicality: Directing 2023, by Zoë Waterman

Zoë Waterman directing Richard Elis

2023 has had a very long inception period – playwright Lisa Parry and I have been working on it on and off for over six years. Over that time, we have undertaken several periods of research and development with actors; we have had the pleasure of working with scientists and experts in the fields of gamete donation, fertility and D/deafness; and more recently we have talked about how the play’s central couple are married gay men exploring the possibility of starting a family - and that for a play to have a homosexual central relationship which isn’t a key part of the plot or commented on particularly is rare. All of this external input into the script and the story, and exploration of the choices Lisa has made in framing the play as she has is important, and the bedrock of the production. However, as I often qualify things in the rehearsal room – it isn’t playable.

For the past three weeks the actors and I have immersed ourselves in the detail of the characters’ lives. We have considered them in the wider social and political context within which they live, and we have used research into the science that underpins the story, but our main drive has been to ask ‘who are these people?’ and ‘what drives them?’ This has been an exciting journey into their innermost needs and wants, using textual analysis, our own experiences, discussion, exercises and leaps of imagination and faith to discover who they are. In the real-world motivations are rarely simple, and as humans we often hold several conflicting feelings about someone or something in our heads at the same time, and this must also be the case for our characters if the audience is going to accept them as truthful people. However, the key to clear storytelling, and believable drama is clarity – in any one fleeting moment, what is motivating the action. As we come to the end of our final week of rehearsals, it is this clarity that I am seeking as I watch and note run throughs of the play.

At this point in the process, our job as a company becomes focussed on specific moments of the action – why does this character say this line at this moment in the scene? We have done the broad brushstrokes work earlier in rehearsals of pinning down the given circumstances of time and place, of setting the scene and filling in the history that informs it. In the second week of rehearsals we have revisited it, finding an approximate physical shape and mapping the emotional journey of the piece. Now, in this final part of rehearsals, we are problem solvers and detectives – finding the clues in the text and in the web of decisions we have made around, to solve the tiny moments that aren’t yet clear, specific, truthful. Once this is done, we move our rehearsals into the theatre space, and open up from the micro back to the macro, as we inhabit the set and costumes and add lights, sound and captions to our storytelling tools.

The final part of developing these characters and telling this story of course cannot happen until we put it in front of an audience. They are the final creative piece of the puzzle – receiving and responding to the characters, the story, the choices we have made, and having their own responses to it.