The Alice team will spend much of the Christmas season preparing for the two dates in January when the script-in-hand readings of Corseted at Leeds Central Library and Morley Library will mark the end of the research and development phase.
I have been working closely with the costumiers to firm up ideas for the costumes and found that questions they asked about the characters’ personalities helped me to develop those characters further – a kind of hotseating through fashion. With Leeds Central Library, we’ve been planning the exhibition and the related workshops, which will link in with the library’s Sanderson collection and Alice’s scrapbook but will also explore the artists’ process. Look out for fashion workshops Victorian Embellishments and The Pinched Waist and creative writing workshop, Wearing Purple.
I began to write the script using the poems I had produced at the residency in Morley Library, subsumed in facts, speculation, questions and opinions about Alice, inspired and a little overwhelmed.
There is so much to say about Alice and many plays could be written in her name alone but, wanting the show to be relevant to the world we live in and particularly to the lives of women, I knew there had to be a contemporary female character at its heart. Lisa came to me almost fully-formed one Saturday morning in November and I finished a second (shorter) draft of the script later than planned on 21st November. It consisted of 11,400 words – far too many for a show that had to come in at under an hour.
Since then I have been working with Director Ray Brown to edit the script, having regular meetings with him at his kitchen table to talk through who the characters are, the significance of particular motifs, which parts to cut and how best to realise the script on stage. Having a dramaturg involved (Ray is also a playwright) has been invaluable in shaping a script that spans more than a century. Alice had so many different facets to her character that it has been difficult to know which to include. Would leaving out her interest in animal rights or her accounts of her travels be a betrayal? As Ray has always said to me ‘the play is the thing’; sometimes we have to murder those darlings for the sake of the work. Fortunately, if anyone is interested in seeing the poems that didn’t make it into the play because they detracted too much from the narrative, there will be an opportunity to do so in the exhibitions.
What I didn’t realise when I began the r and d stage was that in the final show there will be a soundscape and visual images (that is the point of r and d; you explore ideas with the hope of forming them into a piece that works, discovering much along the way.) We don’t have the capacity to realise these aspects before the performances in mid-January but it is crucial that audience members are given a real sense of what the show will be. From the beginning, this has been a project of many voices and many ears. I hope that we will hear more from those who have contributed and from others too so that we can further develop the show and help it realise its full potential. Please join us and spread the word.
Hear more about Alice at Love The Words on 20th December from 7.30 pm when I’ll be reading with the wonderful Antony Dunn.
Corseted is written and performed by Becky Cherriman,
directed by Ray Brown,
and produced by Jenny Harris,
costumes are by Gill Thewlis and Allana Marsh.