Last night my journey of repair began at the National Theatre over a lime cordial and soda. It was suggested to me some time ago by one of the many patient and supportive theatre colleagues I know that a Dramaturge would help me to shape structure and refine the jumble of material that is “The Search for Wisdom”. The play reading has taken place and the feedback was generous spirited and rational. Overall: too much talking, not enough action. But interesting, informative, moving.
So we started, Lara Muth and I to think about the story. What is Alfred and Ada’s story? To find out, you could read Bermondsey Story by Fenner Brockway and be informed but you wouldn’t be engaged. You wouldn’t be moved and you wouldn’t see the necessity for putting this story out there. For instigating change. For making a difference. Alfred Salter tried to do this. Some may say he failed. Others would say “Who was he?”
So what, many have asked me, is a Dramaturge? Well, this is what I think: A Dramaturge is someone who is a sculptor of words and actions. There are two ways of molding text. One is to treat the text like a lump of clay; the other like a piece of granite. Having chosen your medium you and your sculptor begin to chip and cut in the case of granite until the shining body of Venus emerges from the waves of words, leaving much behind on the shore.
Or you can take a lump of clay and mold it, ply it and encourage it into its own creation, shape and being. Create from the soil like God creating Adam. Well I am creating Alfred and Ada and all that knew them. So we work from the inside or the soul of the piece and we strip away from the outside. And the park is where I work; where the ideas and the post it notes and the reminders and the coffee vie for attention.
An exciting thought today from Robert McKee on “Story”. Plato says that those in power fear the threat that comes from emotion. Whereas there is no threat from an idea. Those in power never want us to feel. I remember as a Drama Teacher, way back in the eighties when Drama in the Curriculum was under threat and the redoubtable Philip Hedley, then Artistic Director at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, protested at every opportunity at this repression. Drama is an important, no a vital tool for the young to understand their place in the world. It is, to quote Philip: “The yeast that makes our society rise”.
So Emotion as a threat? This is a controlling idea for the play. Salter always told the truth, to the extent that he urged people not to vote for him if they disagreed with one single moral principle that he held. Somehow, I don’t think we hear that today. “Don’t vote for me folks unless you want the truth!”
So where to start with my story? Not with birth or even death. Neither with the marriage to Ada or the birth of their only daughter Joyce. But maybe the inciting incident is the moment of decision. The moment when he and she decide to live in Bermondsey among that community. To work all their lives for the poor; never stinting, never giving in. That decision led them into bereavement, into government, local and central, into two world wars and the fight for peace. At the end, the question I need to ask is. Did they win? Did they lose?
Alfred couldn’t help but feel disillusionment as the bombs fell on his beloved home. Both were exhausted by their work and few people know of him. That is why I write this. To spread the notion that truth matters. Or as Robert McKee says:
“…..given story’s power to influence, we need to look at the issue of an artist’s social responsibility. I believe we have no responsibility to cure social ills or renew faith in humanity………………….We have only one responsibility: to tell the truth.”
I ask myself the question: Is this story the truth? And myself answers “Yes”. In that case, urges Robert, “do everything possible to get your work into the world.”
Will do Robert. That’s a promise!