On Thursday I popped over to Hull to see Hull truck Youth Theatre perform two of my plays, one first commissioned by York Theatre Royal called The Circle of Chalk, inspired by the classic Chinese tale with a smattering of Brecht. The second was an entirely new play, The Castle, adapted from Kafka’s unfinished tale of a man, K (who shares the same name as the protagonist of one of Kafka’s more famous novels, The Trial). Both were directed by Tom Bellerby, and both were fantastic productions.
The Circle of Chalk employed a huge range of music to weave the story. Not just a few musical interludes, but a really effective backdrop of folk sounds to drive the tale along. Brilliant committment to the story-telling, drawing us into their world balanced on a knife-edge. Watching it back, there’s a lot of ideas peppered throughout the play. Family, duty, country, fascism, home, identity and race constantly crop up, and I hope the play tries to explore what displacement means, and how governments react to displaced people with racism and walls.
The Castle was a different beast in the sense it had one driving theme throughout, the ineffectiveness in the face of a sheer power. Within that, there’s the destabilisation of relationships, the abuse of power, the reliance on contacts and pressures of business and ambition. But the base idea is that our protagonist, K The Land Surveyor, is desperately trying to find work but caught in a bureaucratic nightmare and told if he isn’t work, he is worthless.
This is the same message young people across the country and being told, as their support networks have been, and are being, slashed. Removing EMA and student grants limit their access to education. Removing housing benefit, and the stigma of not being able to ‘make someone of one’s self.’
I’m very proud of the final script. The cast brought out eccentric and unstable characters full of mischief and malevolence. The atmosphere was gripping and haunting. Kafka has a certain level of grim humour which I toyed and recreated for the stage. But in Kafka’s novels, characters are trapped, cursed, doomed and never make the right decisions. And all other characters are seen through the tinted eyes of the protagonist. In our version, we tried to show characters actually making good and negative choices. We showed empathy, sympathy and rejection of these traits. Because this is an ensemble, and though K is at the very centre, it is a connected web of Villagers and Officials who each have their role in the story.
That is essential in a Youth Theatre play, where every actor needs to feel, and should be, relevant to the story and have a part they can get their teeth into. Young people deserve quality scripts. I may not be able to give them security, but I can at least give them a bloody good play to work with. Thanks to Tom and Hull Truck for having me!
To swerve this somewhat, I tried to change my Twitter handle from HenryRabyPoetry to HenryRaby. Because as much as poetry is my core skill, I’m also doing more play-wrighting and theatre making. Alas, HenryRaby is taken. The account has 0 Tweets. I can only hope it gets deleted. It’s a dog-eat-Tweet world out there.
Feels a little Kafka-esque doesn’t it? This great vast system of Twitter dictating rules and names, and myself, powerless within the loopholes, to make any leeway. I just have to sit and wait.
This week I also worked with director Natalie Quatermass on a new show about punk and politics. It’s called Whatever Happened To Vandal Raptor?, and we’re scratching it at Derby Theatre on the 6th March. It’s still early days, so I’ll blog about it in detail once we’ve fleshed out more of the show. But watch this space!