This week, Oct 9th – 15th 2014, marked Baby Loss Awareness week. On the 15th I went to see, and participate in the post-show discussion of ‘I Hate This’ a one-man play by the American writer David Hansen, produced by Freerange Theatre at The Lowry Theatre in Manchester. It is a wonderful, tragic, at times darkly comic play – originally performed by Hansen himself – about his experiences before, during and after the stillbirth of his and his wife Toni’s baby in 2001.
Just before the performance started, the director announced that the actor originally cast to perform the show had had to withdraw, and that another member of the company had been drafted in – with very little notice – to perform the play. Because of this he would perform the whole play with the script in his hand. The director hoped this would not detract from the performance. He was more than right.
What fascinated me was not only did the fact of reading from the script not detract at all from the play, it actually – in a strange way – enhanced it, aided by a very strong performance from the actor.
In the bar after the show, I congratulated the actor on his performance. He said that there were a couple of weeks before the next performance, which would give him time to learn all the words and throw away the script.
I (humbly) suggested that the play works really well keeping the script in full view.
Normally, the custom in theatre is for the audience and actors to conspire together to pretend there isn’t a script, that the characters are ‘real’, and that the words that they speak ‘trippingly on the tongue’ are spontaneous. But in the case of ‘I Hate This’, it’s clear that this is very much David Hansen’s own story. The actor obviously isn’t David Hansen, but he is telling David Hansen’s story. Rather than playing the ‘pretence’ game, by holding on to and acting out the script the actor introduces what, in Brechtian terms, might be referred to as an ‘alienating’ element, providing both a certain distance and also an opportunity to really empathise with the story itself rather than the performer/performance.
So, it’s not always necessary to throw away the script.