To Arts Admin to observe the first day of a ten day exploration of Joel Horwood’s new play ‘I heart Peterborough’ commissioned by Eastern Angles. You can catch two rehearsed readings of the piece at Peterborough’s Key Theatre on Thursday 24 and Friday 25 November.
It’s always difficult to say what the birthing point of a new play is. In the case of ‘I heart Peterborough’ was it early observations whilst growing up in a small East Anglian town?. Was it walking around Peterborough with Eastern Angles artistic director Ivan Cutting discussing this commission?. Was it the point Joel started to put pen to paper or today when those words get first breath?. Or is it Thursday week when it first goes in front of an audience?
Whatever the answer (and the truth is its probably all – and more – of the above) its exhilarating to be here at the read through. From what was effectively a standing start Alex Beckett , Joe Arkley and Rebecca Oldfield breath real life into the finely drawn characters of Gary, Tiger and Polly
Regularly through the read through the company burst into laughter. Though the subject matter is dark Joel’s text at times is incredibly funny. He has a great ear for life’s natural humour and that same humour serves to sharpen the tragedy of the piece.
The rehearsal room mood soon changes though when director Michael Longhurst (who will be going straight into directing Rafe Spall in Constellations for the Royal Court after this workshop) invites the company to watch Swansea Love Story – a grim depiction of the life of heroin addicts. ‘That is the saddest, bleakest thing I’ve ever seen’ says one performer.
Lunch was dominated by a discussion of the art of the understudy. Alex regaled us of tales of ‘going on’ at 25 minutes notice in the recent West End production of Measure for Measure ( a performance which was prefaced by Catherine Tate announcing the change and introducing him as – potentially – the next Catherine Zeta Jones!). Joe talked of the weirdness of understudying Mercutio when your playing Tybalt – finding yourself sword fighting your ‘own’ character when you go on.
After lunch the process of dissecting the text really begins. Who is the onstage musician played by Arthur Darvill (and whose also writing the music) and why is he wearing animal slippers. How and when did Stig die? Who went clean when?. When was the world cup in Japan? Tiny detail building up gradually to create a compelling back story. It’s a reminder that theatre is a truly collaborative art – as the company – rather than just Joel – took responsibility for finding the answers.
The day ends with a brief meeting about ‘what happens next’ for what has already been described as Joel’s ‘funny crazy druggie beautiful new play’. It seems slightly strange – at this early, fragile stage to be talking about what the play will do in its mature life – but that’s the reality of this business. And the strength of Joel’s text makes it much easier to plan the future for this enfant terrible.
[This post originally appeared on the Eastern Angles blog]