I’ve just been commissioned to write a new play for AsOne Theatre Co. Its about the Lyme Regis scientist Mary Anning. I thought some of you might be interested in the process that I go through that ends of with delivering the finished script to the company. If I make occasional notes on my blog it might also help me concentrate on what I’m doing and thus with meeting the deadlines.
So where do you start when writing a play? Obviously a bit of research into the character but not too much at this point. I know a bit about Mary Anning and what she did but i don’t want to get bogged down with detail. The first process iinvolves lying in bed trying to imagine one or two stage pictures. These begin to give me the flavour of the piece. How do I want it to look? Even at this stage I know how many actors will be involved, what sort of venues it will play in and what limitations or opportunities there will be in the staging. I also know that we’re going to aim at it family and, possibly, schools audiences. On the other hand I know there are plenty of biographies and life stories of the great Woman so I want to find another way into telling her story. Not a simple biography, then. A single point of view; Mary’s own view of her life. I already have a picture that I’d like to work from – Mary standing on the cliff just after the landslide has buried her little dog Tray. A simple, evocative image. And then there’s her own shop in Lyme with the glass cabinets full of cleaned and prepared fossils. Perhaps she could show us round her cabinet of curiosities. Opportunity for some nodels or even puppets..... Now perhaps, I’ll read one or two of the biographies and see what has already been written . Then I can avoid what’s been said and find the sort of gaps that are the places a playwright can fill in with imagination.