Verbatim: The Fun Of Making Theatre Seriously
Salamander Street Ltd
Mark Wheeller is a prolific playwright with his plays performed, mainly by schools, throughout Britain and internationally.
In this new handbook, Verbatim: The Fun Of making Theatre Seriously, published by Salamander Street, he traces his personal journey from his early childhood to becoming one of the most performed living playwrights in the UK. He gives a sincere insight into his early schooldays where he was a chorister at Lincoln Cathedral School but it was apparently an abusive experience. It certainly influenced his philosophy of how not to be a teacher.
He really wanted to be a rock star—and perhaps still does—with his hero being David Bowie / Ziggy Stardust.
Mark explains that after studying Drama at Goldsmiths in London, his first teaching job was at Stantonbury Campus with its democratic way of working with both staff and students on first name terms. It was here that he discovered documentary plays which he developed when he moved to St John’s School in Epping where he explored this genre with his youth theatre.
He describes in great depth his “light bulb moment” when he met Graham Salmon MBE, the blind athlete who became the fastest blind runner over 100 metres in the 1984 summer Paralympics. He formed a relationship with the family and it greatly influenced his ways of bringing this new verbatim theatre to the stage.
Readers may identify with the frustration, challenges and successes when working with young people. It is encouraging to be reassured that students’ lack of line learning, attendance issues and their struggle with characterisation were all part of the doubts created in a director’s mind and they are not alone in this creative adventure. But the rewards certainly outweigh the problems.
Mark solidly believes that, “rehearsals are a period of extended exploration of the script and truth is so important on stage.” This is honestly explained as the production process continues. Helpful guidance is given on the importance of the press and getting them to support and review productions and the positive influence that entering competitive drama competitions can have in improving productions. There is a useful chapter on the challenges of performing and taking part in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the rewards that this can bring.
Many testimonials from former members from the various youth theatres, staff, teachers and the brave families whose stories are told in the plays are included and they bring an intriguing, truthful commentary on their experiences.
Although there is much focus on the development of the story of Race To Be Seen, which forms a large part of the book, there are also many helpful tips on performing the canon of Wheeller’s plays including Too Much Punch For Judy, which has been performed over 6,000 times, and Chicken, which had a similar number. Missing Dan Nolan and Hard to Swallow are now set texts for GCSE exams and are professionally performed by theatre-in-education companies who visit schools.
The appendices include a wealth of helpful advice on ways to perform many of the plays that teachers and students will find very useful.
This is an important handbook that demystifies the 'making process' and for those who want to discover and explore the world of verbatim theatre.
Reviewer: Robin Strapp