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Tag Archives: Protagonist

Reading of The Ballad of Hobart Jones

Director, Hayward B. Morse, photo by Paddy Gormley

Director, Hayward B. Morse, photo by Paddy Gormley

Tonight, my play The Ballad of Hobart Jones was honoured with a reading at Actors and Writers London‘s regular meeting. Actors and Writers London is an organisation that helps actors build their careers while helping writers develop their scripts, and that’s certainly how I have experienced the organisation since I joined in 2014.

When I was contacted about this script, one of the first suggestions that was given to me was to remove the narrator. The feedback I’d had prior to this had been equally for and against narration, and I’d followed a more moderate piece of advice in developing the third draft, which had led me to connect the narrator to the story more closely by making her an elderly version of the play’s heroine. But in order to reduce the length of the play to meet the requirements of Actors and Writers London, I reluctantly produced a fourth draft with no narration. Though I lost some exquisite turns of phrase, I still think this improved the work. I was forced to rethink quite a few scenes and find ways of bringing action to the stage that had previously been merely described (something I always thought was cheating anyway). So the work began before the reading was even cast.

Keith Warren as Hobart Jones. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Keith Warren as Hobart Jones. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

I was surprised, while working with Hayward Morse, the director assigned to my play, that he, having read only the fourth draft, sought some narration to clarify the settings and the passage of time. While most of the difficulties in this regard would be readily solved in a feature production by the change of a set or a mere lighting state or a sound effect, in the minimalist context of a rehearsed reading the narration had every reason to exist. So, small snippets of the original voice of the luminary were reinstated, for one night only, as it were, and I was very glad an audience got to hear them. There’s still a question in my mind as to whether or not they’re needed. Various members of the group gave me suggestions both for and against the narration, with more of them in favour of it, but I’m still favouring doing some work to exclude it altogether.

That audience was very receptive. Within a few seconds of the play commencing, I was relieved to hear some titters amongst the crowd. Within a minute, there’d been a chortle, and it wasn’t long before proper belly laughs flowed. This was a relief. I’ve written a drama and found out through skilful direction that it was actually a comedy, which is good; but to write a comedy and find out it’s a drama is no laughing matter, pardon the pun. The laughs came thick and fast through the first act, but slowed too much in the second, so there’s a little work to do there, too.

The comments from the meeting after the performance were all very positive. I was somewhat overwhelmed by how enthusiastic some of the members were, and took down their suggestions for draft five. The most useful of these, I think, were comments on the one female character. From the beginning, this character was always intended to be the real protagonist despite there being a superficial focus on the hero named in the title. The action still allows her to take a back seat, and remain something of a passive participant rather than the protagonist I always intended her to be.

Henry Lawson introduces Sydney to Miss Adelaide Harris. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Henry Lawson introduces Sydney to Miss Adelaide Harris. Photo by Paddy Gormley.

Of course, there can be no greater praise than to hear an audience laugh at the moments that were actually intended to be funny, and aww at the moments that are intended to inspire an aww. In addition to the very thoughtful and helpful criticism I had from my peers at AWL, these almost involuntary reactions are extremely encouraging, and give me confidence in the value of what I’ve created.

I’m really very proud of how this script works on stage. It jumps along at a merry pace (as attested to by several members of AWL), and allows the characters to shine. There are only a few adjustments to make, most of which revolve around Ada, the would-be protagonist. So, I set to preparing a fifth rendition of my Ballad. And then all I need is a producer. Anyone interested?

 
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Posted by on Monday, 2 November 2015 in Actors and Writers London, Theatre

 

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The Place Beyond the Pines

SPOILER WARNING: my apologies, but what I want to say about this film requires a spoiler, so if you’re going to see it, do so before reading, though I really wouldn’t bother.

place beyond the pinesI’m not quite sure what to make of The Place Beyond the Pines. It’s not a bad film, really, but I did come to the end and wonder what it was I’d just watched, and why. I don’t insist that every story needs to have a point, a story can certainly be just a story, but I can’t help thinking that all the writer really wanted was that elusive excuse to kill a protagonist immediately after the exposition (the psychosis of writers’ innate desire to kill protagonists, though, is a subject for another post).

Said protagonist is, in this instance, Luke Glanton, a circus stunt motorbike rider played rather passively by Ryan Gosling, who discovers that the woman he had a fling with on his previous visit to an upstate New York backwater has given birth to his son. Quitting his job, he turns to robbing banks, which ultimately leads to his demise, and the rather flaccid cop who shoots him in the line of duty becomes the new protagonist. I couldn’t help but chuckle aloud when an inter title announced we were moving forward fifteen years and a pair of protagonists (the sons of the first two) emerged as a duo.

I’m not sure what I think, partly because this film does well what I think all stories need. It is driven by its plot, which is a tick, though the convolutions in that plot are are not really justified by what they return to the viewer who carefully follows them. It boasts some well developed and nicely performed characters, which is a tick, though none of the characters are very likeable, nor do they elicit enough empathy for me to care what becomes of them. The cinematography is beautiful and moody, which is a tick, but these lovely images don’t quite pull the disparate elements of the plot and characters together the way they should. And it has a subtle soundtrack that supports the mood, but doesn’t really take it anywhere new (not really a tick at all).

Really, this is a trilogy of short films with a contiguous plot. They might not be separable, as they share a single exposition, but they are three very distinct stories. I can’t be too harsh on the film because all three are interesting, but I’m not sure that they’re quite interesting enough for two and a half hours of slow-moving American angst.

And so what I’m left with is a film that I think I like, but I’m not quite ready to give it a tick. I guess what I fear most, though, is that I may write a little like this. My characters can be held aloof from their viewers and my plots aren’t always worthy of the effort required to follow them. I hope, therefore, that a decent number of people like The Place Beyond the Pines more than I do.

 

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