One Man Short of a Gang
Maisie Says She Loves Me was written by Jimmy Osborne. He only wrote words for one character, Sheldon. I play Sheldon and sort of direct. There is no other crew. In our recent London theatre run, Jimmy even op-ed the lights. It’s just Jimmy and Me. We are one man short of a gang.
Single Performer shows (in less enlightened times known as the One Man Show) seem pretty popular right now. I’ve been sitting on the programming panel for Vault Festival 2018 and there are a LOT of applications from people going solo.
Art is inevitably influenced by economics and – as it gets harder and harder to find pots of cash to put on a show – the space that is created in a budget by the subtraction of humans (those pesky creatures who need costly shelter and food) makes the probability of an idea moving from page to stage much more likely.
If drama is driven by conflict; if all communication is meaningless unless somehow two-way; if variety is the antidote to monotony: doing a play without playmates presents a number of challenges.
Why is the person talking? What are they hoping to achieve by doing so? And for that matter, who are they talking to? Themselves? God? The Audience?
I don’t pretend to know how best to answer these questions but when Jimmy showed me the script for Maisie Says She Loves Me, I thought trying to answer these questions about his character, Sheldon, would be well worth my time.
Jimmy has always been economical with his writing. Why have five words, when it can be said in one? As the last two sentences will testify this is not my natural style. So, I thought I would invest in his sense of economy and ‘direct’ the piece as well as perform Sheldon. I put ‘direct’ in inverted commas because of course what I really decided was just not to hire a director at all (though my friend Simon Evans – a brilliant director – kindly helped me in early rehearsals). But this was not just poverty being paid, but also my will. A director’s job (in my view) is to be the audience in the rehearsal room and to sculpt the work the actors, writer, and crew are doing into a cohesive whole. But my answers to the Why and Who questions above meant I thought that I didn’t need that external force in the rehearsal room. (Plus, the food and shelter thing)
My answer to why and who is conjoined. Sheldon is speaking to you, his audience. The actual person that you actually are. And he’s doing that because he wants you to become a member of his family. You bought a ticket to come and hear about Maisie telling him she loved him. If you can understand what he did when she said that, perhaps you’ll be his friend. If you’ll become his friend, maybe you’ll eventually become family. As a director, I couldn’t possibly answer the question of how you will respond.
So, in actual fact, it’s not a solo performer show. It’s a moment between Sheldon and the hundred or so people that he gets to talk to. It’s the biggest cast I’ve ever worked with. And Sheldon hopes that – in you – he will find his gang.
Maisie Says She Loves Me – next show: Lincoln Performing Arts Centre 29 & 30 September 2017.