From Script to Stage: directional notes from the author
Before being published for a wider audience Dear Mother originally toured around small theatres and festivals in the Dorset and Wiltshire area for approximately 2 years. Even now 3 years on, I am still receiving requests to produce the play at various venues, most of which have already hosted Dear Mother before.
The secret of Dear Mother and its success is not in elaborate scenery or big, over the top movements , but in the words that are portrayed and the actor’s ability to convince the audience that he is actually living the life that he is talking about.
The play has gone on to win many awards both for the acting and also for the production as a whole, so there is a formula that works to get the best possible reaction from audiences. This has been perfected over the run of the show and I am hoping by sharing my experiences, you will be able to produce Dear Mother to the highest standard possible, from the off.
My biggest piece of advice for any actor and director undertaking this play is to work closely together to really explore the character you are trying to portray. When you first glance at the script it may seem a bit boring having various monologues being delivered, whilst all the time the actors are sitting down writing. As I said before, the movement on stage is very minimal and so are the props. It will be the tone of the actors voice, the change in pace and emotion and the way that they are able to connect to the audience, that will make your production of the play a success.A director has to be able to give the actor space to understand his feelings and situation at the different points in the characters life, whilst the actor has to be able to respect the director’s advice to ensure that they are not peaking too early when it comes to emotion or blasting the audience with anger for too long. They need to ensure that enough emotion is being emitted too.
Each of the characters has a vital role to play in a successful production of Dear Mother. No matter how long the scene, or the time that the actor is on stage, each part of the play is intrinsically linked to another and therefore all of the lines should be delivered with the same passion and enthusiasm as from the other characters.
The Mother role is a great example of this. As the character that both starts and finishes the play she need to be able to draw the audience in with the warmth and love of a Mother to her child. As the play concludes, she has to portray the heartache and devastation of losing her only son to the tragedy of this war.
The Mother’s appearance also needs to change from the first scene to the last, as she will have aged from the time of the first letter to the last.
Thomas is the boy that will grow up in front of the audience, so for them to care about what will happen to him during the war, Jnr Thomas has to deliver the awww factor. He should be charming and sweet, child-like in manner and innocent to things going on around him. This should be conveyed in his enthusiasm to explore new things and play games and in the way he deals with confrontation.
Snr Thomas must then continue in the same vein, evolving his character in each scene. Whilst sitting at the docks, Thomas doesn’t really understand fully what he is heading for. His primary concern is that his Mother will be upset with him for joining up, not of the battles that are awaiting him. He has full confidence in his ranking officers and the training that he has been given, so doesn’t show much fear of anything.
As you head into the trenches in scene three, the harsh realities must show, not only in Thomas’ words, but also in his voice and the way that he deports himself. Fear has taken grip and the reality of war has now all but taken away any sign of the boy he once was. Lost and confused in a world with little or no affection, he craves the love of his mother. Thomas should use his words to make the audience feel that he is pleading to them for their help.
In the final scene, as there is only a voice over, Thomas’ voice needs to sound at peace and the audience have to feel the acceptance of his fate. Thomas is now battle hardened, he has lost more friends and observed death on a daily basis. The reality of his own mortally will have stared him in the face for months. In this letter, his only objective is to let his mother know how he feels about her. He should be calm, soothing, consoling and loving.
As Dear Mother was originally set for festivals, it was designed so that the scene changes, set up and striking of sets, were all quick and easy and this simple starkness also adds to the feel of the play.
By using a basic picture projected on to an area at the back of the stage with sound effects in the background and each area of performance set in an area lit with only a spotlight, you are able to draw the focus of the audience to the area that you want.
Don’t forget, however, that even during a blackout there will still be a glow from the projector and silhouettes will be visible moving on stage between scenes. You can use this to your advantage, by allowing Thomas to be seen marching towards the trenches between scenes two and three. If you have curtains, carefully control the speed they move at and remember, a slow fluid motion will gently open and close the scenes.
My final hope for your performance of Dear Mother is that you have fun and fully appreciate the play; if you do, your audience will too.