Sunday 31 January 2016

Back to the dinner table

No sooner is Partus done than we’re up in Newcastle, in residence at Northern Stage.

We’re here to work on two shows – one new, one re-staging.

Photo: Martin Fuller

We’re reworking Presumption, returning to the original cast. Rachael, Chris and I made Presumption back in 2006, the two of them performing the couple Tom and Beth, and it ran for a week in the Crucible Studio in Sheffield. The following year, Rachael redirected the show with Lucy in her role, and the piece went on tour in the UK and internationally, becoming our most performed show at the time.

Back in October 2015, we remounted the touring version of Presumption, with Lucy Ellinson and Chris, in Sheffield, to mark our 20th Anniversary. [Here’s what I wrote about that atthe time.] At the time Chris and Lucy hadn’t performed the show for six and a half years. Rachael hasn’t performed it for ten.

There’s a section in the show where things ‘go wrong’ and the performers/characters have a couple of brief, semi-improvised exchanges about what’s gone wrong and what should have happened. Sometimes in rehearsal I can’t tell if they’re discussing, rehearsing or performing. And occasionally they can’t. “Hang on, is this the show now?”

On Friday last week we did a first ‘run’ on the set, using all the furniture and props, Rachael almost caught up with Chris in terms of knowing the text. Both of them figuring out how this works again/now. And – *obvious klaxon* – it’s different. Rachael plays Beth differently. She hasn’t performed the show as much as Lucy – and Lucy “made it her own” – but Rachael co-wrote it and performed the first run, then re-directed it. She knows this stuff. It doesn’t feel new, or weird, but different. Different to how she played it 10 years ago, and different to Lucy. And of course [*klaxon*], Chris plays Tom differently opposite Rachael. They say the same things, but it’s a slightly different relationship. There’s a different tone. We like it.

Digression. We know anecdotally that watching Presumption has played a part in at least three break-ups, two decisions to make another go of it, and apparently at least one marriage proposal. One couple also asked if they could read out the closing speech as part of their wedding service.

People naturally watch the show through the prism of their own relationships. Those of us who made it probably have different views on what’s going on in between the two characters. After a performance at Leeds Metropolitan Studio Theatre in 2007, I spoke to a friend who had seen the show that night, and 18 months earlier in Sheffield.
  “You’ve changed the ending,” she said, “it’s much more optimistic now.”
  “We haven’t,” I said, “it’s exactly the same.”
  “Really?” she asked, genuinely surprised.
She was with another friend, who explained: “It’s the same ending. What’s different is you. You’re in a very different relationship now. You’re more optimistic.”
It felt like a moment of truth. And I’ve told that story several times over the years.

But on Friday afternoon, it occurred to me, that we *had* changed the ending. Not the ending, specifically, the whole thing. We had changed one of the people in the relationship, so the whole thing might have felt different enough to have contributed to her feeling that we’d actually rewritten the end.

Or maybe she was just happier.

But whether you’ve seen it before or not, we’d love you to come along and see what you think. It’s on at Northern Stage this week.

Alongside that, we’re at very early stages of working on a new show. At the moment it’s called Global Teatime, and we’re exploring ideas about timezones, mealtimes, food distribution and water security. There’s not much more I can say about at the moment, other than that we’re at the exciting/scary point in a process where it could turn in to anything. We’ll be sharing some of our findings here at Northern Stage on Wednesday February 10th, and I’ll be using some of them as the basis for a workshop the day afterwards.

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