This June I’m directing a revival of a play called Gaffer.
I’m finding it hard to articulate how I feel at this moment in time, 4 weeks before the show opens and 2 weeks before we start the next stage of intensive rehearsals. I was recommended the play by a friend of mine, Duncan Clarke, who’d worked on the show when we both worked at York Theatre Royal about 10 years ago. I have to confess I didn’t see the show, I was away in Holland at Drama School finding myself and learning a range of increasingly bizarre drama exercises. I remember it was well received and that’s about it. Duncan recommended it and I got a copy of the script from the writer’s agent and has a read through.
Before me was an incredibly funny play, one that was relate-able, that I instantly connected with, that had a dark and deeply poignant core. The central character had a warmth about them, a loveable cynicism and a brutal honesty. From the man’s lowest ebb to the highest moment of ecstasy he, as a character, drew me in, wanted me to know more. I was hooked and I know I wanted to put it on. It’s also written, I later found out, by Chris Chibnall who wrote Broadchurch (which recently won a shitload of awards*), Dr Who and Torchwood. It was a football play but one so broad and accessible. I later discovered my parents had seen it and both told me it was one of the best shows they’d seen – a rare accolade.
At the moment I find myself with conflicting emotions; excitement, fear, giddiness and panic, something common with starting a new project. I’m thrilled to be working with an actor, Simon Hedger, who I really admire and who I know will be phenomenal in the role (which is a tough role to fulfil) and also Julie Kearney who is our technical genius and incredibly supportive as a fellow creative. Every night while I’m working on the sound or AV for the show a terror comes over me, “am I making the right decision”, “does this make it better” and “will this work”. I guess everyone has these doubts. I think that being a standup (albeit an amateur one) has helped with this. I think when I was younger I would view each decision as absolute and final whereas now I’m more comfortable with a greater degree of flexibility in how a show evolves. And that I think is the core of it. Shows should evolve. The idea you started with should bare little resemblance to the finished product as levels of scrutiny and analysis are applied to artistic process.
There might be, I think, an understandable reluctance to see Gaffer if you’re not a football fan. I, I must confess, am somewhat of a football and theatre obsessive, but in Gaffer the writing is so strong that it transcends the need for specialist knowledge. It’s a show about love, about losing control, about the glare of the media, about tradition being replaced, about loyalty and dreams. But most of all it’s a damn funny show about a man whose world changes forever, and I’d argue, for the better.
If you’re unsure then there’s shows where tickets are just £5 (or £3 if you’re unemployed) just ask at the box office. It might be one of the best things you see this year.
Where: Unity Theatre
When: 26 June – 5 July
Prices: £5 – £14
Box Office: www.unitytheatreliverpool.co.uk
*That’s the technical term