Old Bag premièred some time in September 2011, date unspecified, because I can’t remember. But whenever it was that it premièred, it dernièred at the same time – or so I thought.
Rapid Write Response is a programme at Theatre503 in which playwrights are invited to come to one of the previews of their current production, then given a week to write and submit a ten-minute play inspired in some way by what they’ve seen. If your short play is chosen, you then have a week to get it up on its feet for the Rapid Write Response night. Which is one night only.
Except that Theatre503 are reviving a selection of some of their favourite Rapid Write Responses from over the past 3 years for Rapid Write Rewind, from 5–10 March. And Old Bag treads the boards again.
My first revival.
Unfortunately, two of the original cast – Keith Hill and Molly Small – had other commitments and couldn’t be in this production. So me and Tinuke Craig, the director, are working with the remaining member of the original cast, Jessica Carroll, and two newbies – Hatty Jones and (the wonderfully named) Math Sams.
Being in the rehearsal room for a play that I have already seen go from page to stage, was strangely uncomfortable. Usually, I’m there to cut lines, cut as many lines as possible, as ruthlessly as possible. Where everybody else is charmingly deferential to the marks I made on a page at some point late at night, half-asleep, I get to say what they’re all thinking: “let’s just cut it”. Except that I’d already done that, first time round. So what is the point of me now?
But then it’s amazing to see what a new cast, a new process, a new set, brings to the piece. Different lines are funny, different lines are sad. Hatty Jones spits out the line “I need to go and meditate” as if she’s being held up at gun point, collapsing me into giggles. Math Sams' final betrayal is horrifying. And Jessica Carroll’s response to the ‘vagina line’? Priceless.
My conclusion? There’s less for a writer to do when it comes to a revival. The words on the page should have been pretty much nailed (although Michael Frayn is said to revise his plays with almost every production). But there’s a lot to learn from seeing how they can be interpreted, the points that are mutable, and those that are fixed. I suppose finally, you’d hope that as a writer you’d know from the beginning – where you want to leave flexibility and where you want to dictate.
My prescription? Here’s to many more revivals.