I'm so excited that my new play, Playing God, is debuting next week at the HatWorks Museum in Stockport.
Playing God has been a product of over five years' development. It started in a rehearsal room as a devised project, supported by Arts Council England. We gathered together in a process that took us through themes and situations influenced by the creeping corporatisation of our working lives.
The devising group comprised of some wonderfully creative players - Marlon Solomon, Suzi Wrenshaw, Carly Tarrat and Elliot Hughes, and we had a great week exploring, exploding, emerging and laughing - there was a lot of laughter.
After that I created a script, with the mentoring of my good mate, Cathy Crabb. I completed a draft which was performed as a rehearsed reading - it was to be the first of many.
As time went on, I found that, although the content was strong, I wasn't quite hitting the mark with what I was trying to say. It was funny, and full of great character comedy, but I was struggling to embed the theme with the subtlety I was aiming for.
The piece explores the way in which we're sleepwalking into a corporate world that is subtly eroding our rights - the spin, and the corporate bullshit that has invaded our verbal palette, reducing the individual into a number who no longer has human needs.
The writing process
After my seventh draft of the script, I decided to leave it for a while, as I'd found myself firmly planted behind the proverbial brick wall. I went back to uni and studied for my MA and worked on a number of other plays which moved into different areas of exploration. For my final dissertation piece, however, I was determined to get Playing God right. So, under the mentorship of the brilliant Lloyd Peters, we sat down and pulled the material to pieces, and I started again.
One of the problems was that my head was stuck in the devising room. It was hard to separate what I wanted to say with what happened word-for-word as we explored the themes, so I took a leap of faith -
I started completely from scratch. I trusted that I'd remember all of the great bits we found together as a collective, and I would be able to piece it all together with a fresh canvas.
One of the major influences on this piece is the work of Erving Goffman - a sociologist from the mid 20th century, who developed the concept of the Total Institution. In a nutshell, his theory is that we perform a favourable image of ourselves in social situations - treating each different person or group to a subtly different aspect of our personality that paints us in a favourable light. "Why do you laugh at your bosses jokes" is perhaps the central question that embodies the theory.
So, we perform in social settings (the stage). The adverse to this is when we're entirely alone (in the backstage area) - we become the true "me". The true me has no need to perform; so, the theory states that this is really who we are.
Goffman's theory, therefore, was that Total Institutions (prisons and asylums) holds the person entirely in the stage area, denying an individual the opportunity to relax in the backstage area. If you're constantly observed and never allowed to retreat into the natural shell of the "backstage", then you lose who you are ("the mortification of the self") and become something moulded by the institution.
Use of numbers instead of names, enforced uniform wearing, desensitivity to language - these are all factors that affect the mortification of self - and are prevalent in the modern corporate world.
How does this relate to Playing God?
So, Playing God is about a happy workforce who are forced into change as a result an aggressive take-over from a mystery company. As the play progresses, the happy-go-lucky crew willingly embrace a change regime that erodes their individuality and their understanding of their place within the wider context of their business.
It's funny and dark
Although the content sounds pretty heavy, it's actually really funny. Physical comedy was an aspect of the storytelling right from the start - it was the spirit of the devising process - and we've clung onto the fun and frolics that make it such a fun, dark piece of black comedy.
The show is being debuted at The HatWorks Museum in Stockport. We're really exciting to be transforming a space that's a celebration of industry into our chamber of comedic exploitation.
It's really easy to find The HatWorks. It's a couple of minutes walk from Stockport Train Station - situated on Stockport Road, directly opposite the old cinema, and right next door to The Stockport Garrick. There's loads of parking at Stockport Station if you're driving.
Alternatively, there's the 192 that stops right outside - it'll cost about £4 on the bus from Manchester.
Tickets are on sale now at viaducttheatre.co.uk
Running from Wed 28th Feb to Sat 3rd March.