Examining music, time and attention in our digital age, Robin French has created a new play that he describes as ‘a little bit magical realist.’ As it tells the story of journalist Katy who is going to interview a world famous classical pianist, but things don’t turn out to be how they seem.
Robin has written theatre, television and film but had the urge to write a play after recently co-writing the BBC’s Cuckoo. “I knew Pippa, the Literary Manager at the RSC and had such a good experience working with her when she was at Plaines Plough,” Robin explained. “So I went to Pippa and said ‘Pippa, make me write a play’ and she sent me away for a week giving me a few rules that the play had to obey.
“So I went to the countryside and spent a week writing. Then a piece of music came into my life and I started to explore what exactly music is and its place in our world.”
After shuffling Spotify on a train journey, Robin heard Erik Satie’s second Cooked Dances (Danses de travers). “I just had a very weird moment with this song,” he said. “When you write you often look for little clues that show where to go and it was a bit like that. I knew there was something there to explore, so it all started with that two-minute piece of music.”
In the play, the journalist Katy is doing a piece about her final concert. After a disastrous interview, Katy discovers there is more to the story than meets the eye. Hunting for clues she finds the pianist has mystical books and a fixation with composer Erik Satie. Then a mysterious night-time encounter with the pianist gives her the scoop she was looking for.
The play ties together the contrasting themes of music and the digital age. “I think the play works on those oppositions really,” Robin said. “There is something that seems fundamentally different about them and I think that gives a lot of energy to the play.
“I don’t want to give anything away, but I think we are living in a very smartphone addictive culture. We are all part of it and we all enjoy massive positives from it alongside the huge negatives too,” he said. “I wrote the play at the end of 2015 and I was just really noticing my own addiction to my smartphone. A lot has been written about it but this play is a really different take on that.”
Working with director Elizabeth Freestone, Robin has loved seeing his ideas come to life on stage. “One of the really pleasurable things that happens to playwrights is just the discipline of actors starting to invest in the character,” he explained. “Writing is weird as quite a lot of it is subconscious, there are lots of things you’ve done that you didn’t know until you see it in real life.”
Robin expressed that every play he writes has its unique challenges. “What is wonderful is that the brief for a playwright is to write something original and personal so one of the things that is most exhilarating about it is that there isn’t really a rule book,” he said.
“A play can be as long as it needs to be and can be about anything. Every play is presented the unique challenge of finding out what it is. When you start you don’t quite know what it is and you are kind of groping in the dark of what it is going to become. The more drafts you do the more distinct it becomes.”
Robin became obsessed with the achieves of Desert Island Discs that were interviews with different classical pianists. He became fascinated with the effect music has on ourselves and the world we live in.
“I only know that when I go to the theatre and really love something that the day after I carry on thinking about it and enjoying it in my imagination,” Robin said. “I hope there are some audience members for Crooked Dances that feel like that. I like plays that stay with you.”
Crooked Dances is on at the RSC’s The Other Place in Stratford-Upon-Avon from 20 June – 13 July, tickets and information can be found on their website.
Photo credit // Andy Donohoe