Woke up again somewhat earlier than usual today at about 5.30am. The Gite is incredibly comfortable… I just couldn’t sleep for the excitement. So I read up on some Nazi war crime trials for a while and, finding that wasn’t getting me back to sleep, I just got up and went and worked on some new lyrics for the opening of The Wicker Husband in the garden.
Ants and George picked me up at about 9am and we went for a trip to the local market town where myself and George were deployed to get some fresh things from the farmers market while Ants went along to the Ol’ Supermarche to get some bits. Unlike a Tesco tomato you could smell the veg from half a mile away. George very ably navigated the stalls speaking in what appeared to be rather good French, although (to my untrained ears) he could have been faking and the stall holders might just be used to his gibberish. I took French at high school in an attempt to impress girls. Tragically I never really got past how to understand directions, so even if a girl had shown a flirty interest I probably would have just directed her to the local biblioteque. I was also introduced to the local Boulangerie where croissants and bread were collected. Apparently the French are quite good at baking stuff. Who knew? This particular bakery is the heart of the village and quite famed through the region. They even have special licenses to produce special kinds of bread.
I like to imagine them being pulled over on the road by the Gendarmerie and asked for their license to bake.
Breakfast achieved. We returned to the villa on the hill where they prepared a delicious breakfast and I was introduced to a honey dispenser that (in Ants words) looked like it had dysentery. Fortunately the honey tasted far better than dysentery. After a brief battle, Ants and I on one side, the paper jammed printer on the other we managed to print copies of the latest synopsis for Ants and George to go over. I left them to go through the synopsis in the kitchen whilst I brutalised the grand piano in the other room, where the beginnings of a couple of songs including the new opening I had been working on began to take shape. The other song I began was for a moment in The Old Basketmakers workshop, a crucial turning moment that we had overlooked until this point. I was happier with the opening work, it turns out the tune that I was working on for the basketmakers shop was actually Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose”. At one point George shouted his approval from the other room of a particular chord progression I was playing with. To be honest I had wondered whether I would be able to work effectively with two brilliant practitioners within hearing distance. But they have made me feel so welcome that it was just as if I was on my own and there were no problems in that department. I worked until about 1pm whilst Ants and George dissected the synopsis for feedback later on. Then we went to pick up an excited Rhys from the train station, regaled on the way with excellent tales of how Ants and George got started on their career nearly 33 years ago.
We returned to a beautiful lunch that George had set out and Sixpence was delighted to find a new friend in Rhys. We had lunch outside and then got down to business.
Our mentors put on very serious faces and I can’t help but think that our faces were equally serious as we faced each other across the table. Rhys with notebook, me with laptop and George and Ants with printed and hand written notes on the synopsis and our original submitted script. They prefaced this feedback session with the fact that “They are just writers- albeit writers who’ve been doing this for a long time.” They made it clear that their feedback was just that, their thoughts and advice which we could take or leave as we liked. With that out of the way they proceeded to give us their thoughts on the larger shape, the bigger picture and the themes that had jumped out at them. They had both read the source material (Ursula’s original short story) that morning and as a result their thoughts put an incredibly fresh perspective on what we had done. Whilst we had created some beautiful moments, in our attempts to make the characters far more three dimensional our new synopsis had gone too far. Simply put we had made what was quite a simple story (although not without its twists and interests) far too complicated. Their suggestions immediately opened up new passages for us. They suggested new, simpler ways of showing the same development. And while our intentions and instincts were good we needed to de-clutter by about 40%. Over the period of a couple of hours they dissected the story with us, asked us questions, listened to our answers, gave us thoughts and then gave us the rest of the day to mull things over and work on things together.
It was obvious that Rhys and I agreed with the vast majority that Ants and George had said. The work would involve some big changes but all for the better and we felt like we had a much stronger street map to work from. Having done the story work with George and Ants we then went to the piano and I showed Rhys the new material that I had been working on… as suspected Rhys loved the first one and thought that whilst good, the second one sounded a bit like a song by Seal called “Kiss from the Rose.” I attempted pathetically to defend my originality as we tried out different key changes and odd bits but after a short while it became obvious this wasn’t the right song for that moment (although to Seal’s credit it was incredibly popular in the 90’s and remains a karaoke staple in the trendier parts of Shoreditch and Plymouth). So we talked about what that moment needed to be and I twiddled at the piano, we talked back and forth until the moment became clear and an accompaniment figure popped into my brain from another song that I had written a while ago for a different project but had not made it into the final show for dramaturgical reasons. That key unlocked that moment for us and we decided to quit while we were ahead and go to the garden with the guitar to discuss the story dramaturgy that Ants and George had provided us with.
We spent the rest of the afternoon working through the story and playing the various musical themes as we went through. Occasionally we would hear shouts from Ants in the kitchen “That’s an exciting one!” Which was very encouraging. When our brains got tired we went and threw the ball around with sixpence. There has been research done to show that concentrated physical activity stimulates the subconscious (the part of your brain that makes interesting connections between seemingly unrelated things - so essential to poets, lyricists and writers in creating original imagery) and indeed it freshened our perspective when we returned to work and things started to fall into place quite easily.
At dinner time we were given another lovely meal and all manner of everything was discussed and at about 11pm we were driven back down to the Gite where we had decided we would write up a new synopsis based on the feedback and all of our work that day. We finished the synopsis (vastly improved and less complicated in our opinion) at about midnight and then stumbled into our respective beds exhausted but delighted with our progress on the show.