There’s a game where one person stands in the middle of a circle of chairs. The chairs are filled by the other participants of the game. The person in the middle says something terrible that they have done. All the people that have done the same thing have to leave their chair and find another – leaving one person, each time, without a chair. That person then has to confess to something terrible they have done and… you get the picture.
It’s a frightening parlour game for many reasons. It can get out of control. Not only the scramble for chairs but what you confess to. When you’re in the middle, on the spot so to speak, you can let things slip that you didn’t mean to let slip. You become braver than you intended to be.
This game gives a glimmer into the process for Invisible Ink’s new show, The Terrible Things I’ve Done. We asked people to confess and they did. We made it as theatrical a confession as possible (setting up a confession “booth” in various venues, complete with red telephone, the gentle strains of Radio 3 and instructions to relax, make yourself comfortable and have a cup of tea… and now tell us something terrible you have done or had done to you.”)
We (that’s the company that also includes director Sita Calvert-Ennals and producer Nia Skyrme) were amazed at the response we got. Not only in the content of the stories but in people’s reactions to telling them. It’s not often you see someone visibly shaken by the experience of telling a story – but many of the people who came out of our “confession box” were literally shaking, with some saying “I have never told anyone that before”.
A liberation on their part and a responsibility on my part, as writer. This is not a verbatim project but the show will be based on the stories that we collected.
(By the way, I swore I would never do another verbatim project after writing one for the Sherman about the closure of the Burberry factory in the Rhondda about five years ago. I loved the subject but hated the transcribing. I’ve mellowed since then and found a programme that will actually transcribe for you. Amazing.).
While writing The Terrible Things I’ve Done I did feel that weight of responsibility – how accurately do the original stories have to be retold? Am I getting the tone right? The sentiment behind them? The regret or, and this happened in lots of cases, the lack of regret?
I like thinking about such things during a writing process. It gives me time to order my thoughts about what the play should be, how it should feel and what it’s about. To justify, much like many of the “terrible things” confessors have justified their actions. My conclusion?
All drama is the truth stretched to its limits. It’s what writers do; cherry pick the best bits of life and stitch them together to make a narrative. The goal? Be as brave as the people who told us the original stories.
I know the actors and director are brave – I’ve seen them in rehearsals and playing that parlour game as a warm up. The play throws up interesting questions; if you had to confess what would you confess to? Maybe more importantly what wouldn’t you confess to? Why not? Why should you confess? It’s a moral maze from which there is no escape.
I played the parlour game once in rehearsals with the actors and the director and it did feel rather oddly liberating to confess. I don’t do it very often (confessing or playing games) but when I started it was addictive.
Each writing project, whatever the medium, brings it’s own challenges. But for me being as brave as those people who opened up a piece of themselves that we never get to see has been the hardest part.
That bravery doesn’t come in the grand stories, it comes in the smaller ones, the ones that touch you, personally; a loved one let down, an easy lie, a selfish act.
Thank you to the people who share and the actors who bring stories to life, I’m in your debt, as always.
29 September- 1 October / 29 Medi-1 Hydref 8pm
The Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol
0117 902 0344 /thewardrobetheatre.com
5 -8 October / Hydref 8pm
8 October 3pm
Chapter, Cardiff / Caerdydd
02920 304400 / chapter.org