Picking up from my previous post What We Love and to attempt to put words to the insight I had, it strikes me that in a range of interests one has that the depth of interest will vary from the very deep to the slight. The depth of interest will extend from the history of the area of interest and the depth of interest in the structure of the interest.
For example, I am interested in aircraft, always have been. But my interest is not deep. The history of aircraft is deeply attractive to the point of reading the history of the de Havilland Aircraft Company, for example. But the depth of the knowledge of the structure of aircraft is slight. I know the aerofoils, chords, span, lift, drag, etc. The fundamentals of aerodynamics I am familiar with. After all I studied it at university. But my grasp of it is not sound. My love of aircraft I don’t doubt. My depth of love is not that great. Possibly this is linked to intellectual capacity, I don’t know.
If I turn to theatre and plays, my knowledge of plays is profound. My love of theatre, of plays is very great. My ability to grasp all of the elements of play writing is undoubted.
With discipline and effort I could write plays. I have had more ideas for plays than a lifetime would suffice to develop them. What I have lacked is the discipline, the sustaining power to take a sketch, an idea, and to flesh it into a fully worked one act or three act play.
As I have observed in the previous post What We Love, the love is not sufficient. Hard work is involved in developing the play from the idea into something that actors can act and an audience can enjoy.
I have fully developed a play It is a full 5 act play, the House of Atreus. It runs all the way through to the Island of Aulis and the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father to favour the course of the war.
But I view the developed stuff as worthless. It seems flat, lifeless. I laboured many weeks, months; many drafts exist but I don’t think the results are worth tuppence.
What does it lack? Creativity, in a word. It was written mechanically. I need say no more.
I will turn instead to two ideas for plays where the spark of creativity for them these many years later still lives within me.
The working idea for the first one is the Festival of Britain play. It has no known source that I am aware of. The Festival of Britain took place on the South Bank of the Thames in London, where the Festival Hall still stands, in 1951. Britain showed at that point that the county was finally recovering from the aftermath of WWII and a new sense of hope emerging after years of deprivation. There was talk of a Second Elizabethan Age to rival the First. That it didn’t transpire that way is beside the point. At the time, hope were high.
The second idea has in me an even greater spark of creativity. The thought of the idea of the play stirs the phagocytes within me still.
The working title of the play is the Blood of Spain and is suggested by a book published some years ago.
The idea of the play is to tell of the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939.
The idea of the play is to tell of the Spanish Civil War which led to the ascension of General Franco to taking power, through the eyes and mouths of the women as they live through the experience of the war taking place around them, whether Fangalist, Republican or Communist. Wives are never any of these things, only their husbands are.
How do you develop the play? Easy. Choose some central well defined characters and play tells itself.
The success of the play, the writing of the play lies in the balance of the characters. This is possibly a fairly mechanical exercise. You can imagine for yourself how it would (will) be done. At the most basic level, you have a balance of strong and weak characters. Of course, when one says weak – they can only appear weak. Strengths appear later when the stronger characters love their strength as the fighting takes it toll on loved ones.
Then the other basic selection factor is age. This is crucial for young characters bring to the stage hope and older characters bring experience, perhaps even stories of previous wars.
Then, within this mix might, I say might, be individual circumstance; the young unmarried, the newly married, the middle aged woman, the widow, the grandmother.
After that, you probably have to decide how many central characters there are. I don’t know. Six – too few. Eight – too many.
Since this is an oral tale, that is to say, the war is taking place around the women, so you have the audience hearing of the war as it unfolds directly from the women reporting to the audience what is happening at that moment.
The play would gain strength from having a chorus of women who would support the central characters.
So the basic design structure is of choral scenes describing the stages of the development of the war – a week, let’s say, the final crucial week would be a good choice, interspersed by development scenes between central characters. Since these are women, these could easily be alternating scenes between one side of the battle-lines and the other.
So we are talking of a 3 act play. You could open and close acts with choral scenes, This is too symmetrical. So an alternative would be to have Act 2 close with a development scene which cuts for intermission and then picks up again a the beginning of Act 3. You would almost certainly not want the play to close with a chorus. No triumphalism. So close with a deeply distressing, tragic development scene.
A chorus could close with some paean to to the futility of war and no audience would want that and rightly so.
The appeal of the play is that in war, during war, the women’s point of view is seldom told. We are not talking here of combat wives. We are talking of women who are losing husbands and children as we speak.
You could certainly not stage characters, women, loosing husbands and children right there on stage in front of you. It would be far too harrowing, not least for the actors attempting to perform it. But chorus members can mine it.
Ronald Fraser’s book Blood of Spain, an Oral History of the Spanish Civil War was published first in 1979 and is based upon the three hundred or so interview that Fraser conducted between June 1973 and May 1975. So, although he, or his publisher, refer to the book as an Oral History, it is really an interview of memories.
The play, as you have seen is structured quite differently. The play would be oral in the correct sense.
One of the problems that anyone faces wishing to study the Civil War in Spain is the dense jargon associated with the various sides and political positions (CEDA, JONS, MAOC, POUM, etc.) taken at the time. Ideology runs rife during this period. The play sidesteps all of this. Women, by and large, are not devotees of jargon.
Fraser makes two points in his Introduction to the book, Blood of Spain, that are worth repeating in the context of the discussion we have been having.
“To turn one’s back on the past, a past like this anyway, is always a temptation. but to do so is to forget that the past cannot be forgotten, only repressed. To forget that Spain today, and a generation of Spaniards, have been shaped by the outcome of the civil war… To deny the past, rather than confront it, is to deny not only history but a generation’s experience.” (p10, The Blood of Spain)
I think Fraser vastly understates the case. When the United Nations, and the Americans after them, went into Bosnia, after the fall of Yugoslavia, to separate the warring factions, the past, bottled for 30 years by Tito in an attempt to create a unified state, erupted and a horrific vendetta of Serb against Croat and both against Muslim bystanders began. This, despite the fact that widespread intermarriage had penetrated many of these peoples. The deep divisions created by the actions of the various groups during the Second World War, one side siding with Hitler, the other with Stalin, which Tito bottled up, viscously spit the former Yugoslavia into a myriad quilt of pocket sized states with tragic consequence.
When Apartheid finally fell in South Africa, wisdom had South Africa engage in a Truth Commission that may have been clumsy in its execution but nonetheless set the course for a possible, I repeat, possible future.
Has such a reconciliation not been attempted, widespread bloodshed would surely have resulted. Was it successful? Only time will show that.
The other passage is perhaps of greater resonance in our times when shopping appears to dominate all other human activities (other than being perpetually on the cell-phone) and ideology seems as quaint as penny farthings (a kind of Victorian bicycle).
“If the roots of the Spanish war seem remote to us today, it is because capitalist development has tempered the antagonistic style of class relationships … has modulated the virulence of ideological commitment, moderated expectations. Spain of the 1930s … was part of what we would call today the third world.” (p10, The Blood of Spain)
The class conflict is writ large in the history of the Spanish Civil War. The ideological commitment, still held when Fraser wrote these words in 1986 to disappear, a few years later, almost overnight with the fall of the Berlin Wall, was fierce indeed in 1935, and perhaps fiercer still at the close of the Spanish Civil War and the commencement of the Second World War, which, at several levels, was a war of ideological confrontations, a few months later, which, in passing we might note, the Fascist governed Spaniards sat out in supposed neutrality.