Twenty-one lives intersect in a city. Many stories flow through this devised panorama, including:
A woman is clearing out her dead father’s belongings but can’t bear to part with his shoes; she has a one-night stand with a postman, who sneaks out early in the morning and puts on the father’s shoes by accident; unfortunately the footwear isn’t the right size for the postman and their tightness is killing him as he does his rounds; luckily he meets a rose seller whose shoes are too big, and so they swap; but when the woman passes by the rose seller she is shocked to see her father’s shoes on his feet and, in a fit of fury and grief, she assaults the rose seller and runs off with the shoes, leaving the rose seller badly beaten and with bare feet.
Carol Ann Crawford
Jonathan Delaney Tynan
The initial idea was to create a work for the stage that operated similarly to Altman’s sprawling masterpieces Short Cuts and Nashville or Haneke’s Code Unknown.
The Red Thread offers up a series of snapshots, glimpses into lives that resonate without providing the complete picture. Sometimes several conversations occur simultaneously, with three or four people talking on top of each other. It’s a rich tapestry of fluctuating emotional states and theatrical ideas that can cut from comedy to tragedy in an instant.
We ended up with a show that encompassed fifty-eight scenes over three hours. Each night after rehearsals, I would stay up into the early hours poring over the many possible ways in which we could order the diverse sequences of events. In some ways it felt more like editing a film than a play.
The opportunity to work with twenty-one young and enthusiastic performers doesn’t come around too often; this was a rare chance to take substantial risks and explore new possibilities. As the deadline of opening night looms it can become all too easy to play it safe, to fall back on what experience says is the right answer, instead of forging ahead and finding a new path.
One such example of this was a scene involving a solider returning from Afghanistan. We first meet him when he is opening up a locker at a train station. He takes out a sports bag and buys a flower from a rose seller. Later he arrives home unannounced, shocking his wife who rushes out. The soldier begins taking off his uniform in silence, rolling up the items and putting them in his rucksack. Then he opens up the sports bag. It contains clothes that he left behind when he went abroad. He puts them on, picks up the rose, and leaves the house to find his wife.
This silent sequence in which the solider changed his clothes lasted eight minutes. Nothing happened other than what I have described above, yet in the rehearsal room the scene was charged with tension. I remember being under some pressure to cut this section because the running time was so long, and this scene wasn’t necessary plot-wise. But the actor (Alex Harries) performed it with such commitment that I wanted to see how the audience would react. They responded with rapt attention, and as the silence deepened the sequence became an emotionally involving experience.
Ever since this production, whenever I have been steered towards accepting a safe option, I think back to this scene, and aim to find the courage to embrace a new challenge.