Work restarts on the second look at Act One. It seems sometime ago since the Company worked through this, although in reality it is only 6 days. This second pass through the play starts the process of bringing together the character choices into a cohesive and clear whole, establishing the pitch and tone of scenes and firming up the decisions on all aspects – practical needs, character through lines, intentions etc. The production is focussing upon creating strongly dynamic visual images, and the company work on creating visual images and moments is key in enabling this theatrical language to come to life onstage.
With act one and act two having had a thorough exploration, today is dedicated to a rehearsal walk-through of all the staging, characters and ideas of the production. It’s not a full run, but rather a chance to see everything it its correct order and place, a chance for the acting company to consider the overall arc of their character and to establish the rise and fall of their character throughout the course of the show. This is incredibly useful both from a practical perspective (providing for example approximate running times – 48 mins and 40 mins respectively per act) but also from the point of view of the overall tone and impact of the production, highlighting key aspects of the connection between the production and the audience.
With the completion of Davie’s journey, the conclusion of the story line turns back to his rightful inheritance of the House of Shaw’s estate. The ‘kidnap’ plot of the novel forms the outer structure of the storyline, proving the opportunity for Davie to undergo his education, and the conclusion – his rightful restoration as Laird of the House of Shaws – provides the resounding conclusion. Yet Stevenson leaves an alternative thought in the text: Yes, Davie regains his inheritance but, as Stevenson indicates, all he can really think about is Alan Breck Stewart. His victory over his Uncle is welcome, but it comes at the cost of a friendship lost. This counter-point is key for us. The plot resolution is useful in concluding the storyline, but the more important aspects are: at what cost does Davie recover his Estate? What have his experiences done to his view of Scotland and its future? What purpose or role can people like Alan Breck play in Davie’s ordered Presbyterian world? This is the sting in the tail of the novel, a question left hanging over a neatly re-ordered plot: Alan has shown Davie much, he has changed Davie, Scotland can no longer be as simple or as clear-cut as it was in his mind at the start of the novel. His world view has been fundamentally changed to include new, radical, more dangerous ideas!
Work continues on the staging of act two, exploring and discovering different options on staging the many different legs of the journey across Scotland. Different approaches to presenting travelling are tried and developed, or discarded, according to suitability. Everything needs to revolve around conjuring up the essential spirit of each place visited and each path travelled, each different detail is important: time of day, the weather, the landscape, season, passage of time, length of route travelled etc. all become key ingredients in distinguishing between just “general travelling” and “travelling with purpose from one place to another”. The journey must change over time, the characters must know their environment changes as they walk through it and are shaped by it.
With the key themes, world of play and characters established in the first week’s work on act one, week two begins with an exploration of the key creative challenges of the second act. The main thrust of the plot in act two concerns Alan Breck and Davie Balfour’s journey west to east across Scotland, through glens and over mountains, pursued by Redcoat Soldiers. The challenge here is to create this onstage pursuit, the sense of travel, passage of time, risk and danger, whilst remaining throughout onstage. How to take the characters and the audience from Mull to Glencoe, Rannoch Moor to the lowlands of Lothian and all points in-between. There’s a temptation here to make the journey overly comic, to have great fun with the running around, the near misses, the general heightened sense of emotion. But this inevitably leads to a loss of the atmospheres and meanings of these places. Instead, the pursuit/journey story needs to be taken seriously. Davie’s physical journey across Scotland is a map of his intellectual and emotional story as his relationship with Alan Breck grows and he begins to learn more and more about the communities and people he visits: a Scotland, a language, a highland community, a way of life of which he knows very little. His journey of learning is as important as the physical journey to escape the danger of arrest.
This is, perhaps more than any other, the most important day of the creative process of making theatre. A collection of individuals, highly skilled actors, stage managers, composers, designer and director, come together to try to form an exciting, working, creative group of artists that can engage and inspire one another. They may know each other already, or more likely they may not. Day One provides that first small glimpse into what it might be possible to achieve together as a team, a sum greater than its individual parts, in just 20 days from start to finish.
And so Day One is to some extent all about rituals and traditions: scarves and coats off, welcomes, introductions, conversation, tea and coffee, health and safety and of course, the first read-through.
A new play-script, a brand new adaptation of that much loved novel Kidnapped. Its a weighty responsibility – this seemingly simple novel is much admired and continues to exert, even in our more cynical post-modern time, a powerful hold perhaps due to its evocative descriptions of Scotland, and young Davie Balfour’s kidnap adventure that sees him travel the breadth of this land.
And as with any adaptation, the question/dilemma of ‘faithfulness’ will arise. To what extent can or should a piece of theatre be ‘faithful’ to its source material, the novel? What has been kept? What has been discarded? And why? Of course, the process of adapting a novel for drama is inherently unfaithful – for the minute the form is changed (where the reader must become the audience, the individual becomes the collective) then we have become unfaithful by default. Stevenson envisaged a novel, he wrote a novel. And so by changing this very fact, we’ve become unfaithful to him by some large degree.
What we can seek is a ‘faithfulness’ to the spirit, the idea, the momentum, the creative purpose of the novel. These things become central to the debates, discussions, and discoveries. What was Stevenson exploring with Kidnapped, what did he seek to evoke in his reader, what passion, what questions, what thinking did he as a writer desire that we engaged with? It is these central tenets that concern us as we grapple with the first read-through. Our adaptation seeks to relate to Stevenson’s core ideas, the spirit of his novel, and thus to retain its faithfulness-in-essence whilst not being slavish or unduly bound, to a literalism in moving from novel to stage.
And as we read this new play for the first time, some of these ideas begin to become clear. Stevenson’s central character, young Davie Balfour, is the heart of the matter. His journey in the novel is a hard, physical, journey from place to place, but the real purpose of this is that his journey represents that of a relatively naive young man entering an adult world – of injustice, of vengeance, in a Scotland rapidly changing its social structures. Kidnapped is an adventure story, yes, but set in a complex world of social and political turmoil in mid Eighteenth century Scotland. Davie Balfour’s’ boy-to-man tale is more than an enjoyable yarn of intrigue and mini-boys-own-adventures, it is also a complex morality tale of (some) good and (some) evil and one in which Davie learns, perhaps for the first time, what kind of country Scotland – or more precisely Highland Scotland – actually is.