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Preview: They Will Be Red

Cherwell’s Verdict:
“An organic piece of theatre”

It’s a confident producer who can advertise a play not as “a polished final product”, but rather as “a piece of theatre that is alive and growing.” But, however counter-intuitive and humble this might be, it seems to be working.

They Will Be Red is a two-hander: Maisie Richardson-Sellers plays Anna, an ecologist battling the ash tree dieback, while the narrator and every character with whom the ecologist interacts is played by Nick Williams. Despite the commonest use of narrators in drama being in school nativity plays, this actually works quite well. The pace is maintained by rapid interchanges of character for narrator and back again, and the narratorial comments he offers can be very witty.

The flip-side of this is that it makes Williams’s part excruciatingly difficult to play. Within split-seconds he has to morph into another character, and then, barely with time to establish one, he has to change again. There was another fortnight of rehearsals to go when I saw them in action, and Williams needs to work on executing these swaps. I felt that his attempt at Anna’s mother was rather imprecise and needed to be refined.

All these comments about characters and the narrator might imply that there is a stable script to They Will Be Red. In fact, there isn’t, and nor will there be. Each night it’s performed, the cast are aiming to make it about ten per cent different. At the moment only about a fifth has been fixed, and the play is emerging through an unconventional rehearsal process. The cast have been off to Wytham Wood, a university woodland west of Oxford, to play around in the leaves and work out their characters.

The rest of the time is based aroud improvisation, and occasionally a good line or idea will come out of the process that Milja Fenger, the writer-director, will latch on to, and permanently lock into the script. While I was there, they performed a scene where Anna is nine years old, and I was invited to contribute ideas for the cast to improvise around: Richardson-Sellers, not knowing what was coming, seamlessly dealt with my suggestions of Pokémon cards and traffic light jelly.

Unlike most Burton Taylor shows, the set won’t just be a table, two chairs and some paperback books. The trees that Anna loves will be recreated with wooden sculptures and the floor will be covered with several inches of bark.

An organic piece of theatre, this certainly is, but it might end up being far more polished than most BT shows.

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