Writing novels is solitary work. You have to enjoy doing independent research and sitting in front of the PC for months or even years. If you’re lucky, at the end of 2/3 years of drafting and re-drafting, someone else may read it, but until then, the characters, the words and the scenes really only exist in your own mind.
The process of putting a play together could hardly be more different. Collaborative throughout, it develops its own energy and momentum that comes from the director, the actors, the technical crew, the set and costume designs, the soundscape, the music. Rapidly the images in your mind start to shift, the characters’ voices become the actors’ voices, the intonations and expressions alter.
Dialogue is something I’ve always enjoyed writing, but it’s certainly not the only factor involved in writing drama. I had little previous experience of structuring the scenes, or managing the transitions between them, and had never considered the implications of having a large cast who had to learn to sing 17th century music in four part harmony! So I’m glad that, early in the process, I took my ideas and research to Carol Davies, who has done a spectacular job of turning them into a play!
It seems a long time now since I attended the lecture given by Victor Khadem at the Saddleworth Historical Society, where I first learned about Elias Hall – the Oldham choirmaster who introduced women into a church choir. Given the social and political power of the church this extraordinary event was equivalent to women getting the vote. Although women had been allowed on stage a few years earlier, the theatre, unlike the church, was not a respectable forum. To allow women to sing on consecrated ground was in effect, to give them a sanctioned public voice. I keep waiting for someone to tell me that it did not in fact happen here, in Oldham, for the first time. But six years and much research later, no one has.
I can still hardly believe it’s happening. I’ve attended all the rehearsals, not because I’m useful, but because I’ve found it fascinating! We have a wonderful team, enthusiastic, supportive and dedicated to bringing out the best in this great story. I will miss them when rehearsals are over and the play has finished. But I will always see them as the historical characters in my mind!