I had the pleasure of reviewing Othello and Cyrano De Bergerac earlier this year, so I was pleased to see director Glyn Maxwell and playwright Alex Clifton added to the Essar Chester Literature Festival roster. As an outdoor theatre newbie and a late adopter of classical theatre, I wanted to hear more about the mechanics behind these plays. Messrs Maxwell and Clifton did not disappoint.
The evening resembled a cosy fireside chat. Alex, our host, gently coaxed Glyn to talk about his work and to discuss this season’s open-air theatre in general. They were comfortable in each other’s company. The mutual respect and warmth suggested friendship. We’re in pipe and slippers territory here, which was just fine with me.
The evening started with a reading of “Byelaw” from Pluto, Glyn Maxwell’s new poetry collection. I liked the poem as I could relate to the theme. Glyn seemed to enjoy bringing his work to life and it was a privilege to hear the poem read in its original voice. An anecdote about how actor Martin Jarvis (insert link) fluffed up a reading of the poem confirms this. Let poets read their work, exclaimed Glyn.
The poem sparked a discussion about the mechanics of poetry and plays. What governs Glyn’s work? It’s God for Shakespeare, time for Glyn. It’s wonderful to hear a writer talk about their drives – the passing of time, the uncertainty of truth. Glyn discusses his admiration for Auden and his rare ability to communicate an idea through poetry, which hints at insecurity. It’s deeply personal and for me this was worth the admission fee alone.
Prose or verse, that is the question – or topic for discussion, as it were. Directors work against a culture of prose, suggests Alex, with its pauses and its places to hide. The verse is ongoing and ever flowing, with the need to speak, the thought on the line. Both men prefer to dwell in the verse. I swing both ways, but I did enjoy Glyn’s description of a sonnet as “having fourteen lines to do something with before you really should be doing something else with your lover”. Remember that next time you make your play.
We finish with the pain and pleasure of adaptation – in this case Glyn and his Cyrano. Producing something different from what has gone before. Concentrating on those scenes that did not feature the three principal characters. The decision to remove much of the war, redressing the severe gender imbalance and adding a few songs. Retaining the ‘brave’ fifteen-year leap, that finds the characters in their dotage. Relishing the “love of the other and the love for another” dynamic that brings alive the Cyrano and Roxanne scenes. He makes it all seem rather easy.
As we gently strolled toward the Q & A, our hosts agreed that the joy of what they do is that if they have a bad day no one gets hurt. We, the punter, may not like the work and may feel we’ve wasted our money, but no one has died. And, we learn that Glyn owes his life to drama, of the amateur kind, as it brought his parents together.
A thoroughly entertaining evening.