David Sear, writer of Horrox, recalls the opening night of his new play.
It’s 7.44pm on the 28th March 2023, and I’m wondering how all this happened. There are people (real people) sitting in a theatre waiting to see a play I’ve written, and co-Directed, and stage designed and… well you get the picture. I can’t claim someone else screwed up when I’ve got my fingerprints all over it. Worst of all it’s a fabulous cast. If they get it wrong, then it certainly can’t be their fault. I begin to pray for a comet.
The music starts (for the avoidance of doubt, not me, and lovely Nigel Bennett) and the lights come on (also not me and just wonderful, masterful from Kerri John) and then Mad Rudolph Holy Roman Emperor appears in an amazing gold costume (Tracy James, knocking it out the park every time). Oh God. They’ve all done their job, and now it’s just the words…
I sometimes wonder how any new play ever gets to the stage. It is something of a miracle and if I wasn’t vegan, I would say it was a ‘chicken and egg’ situation – although maybe I can say that, as it is I suppose an origin parable rather than a menu…? Plays don’t necessarily read well off the page, and certainly new writing – where you don’t have a context or a vision of how it will look and sound and feel to be in the audience – it’s just difficult, I know that. Add to that a non-linear timeline of two parallel astronomical careers, one a young man very few people have ever heard of… oh and did I mention a 3.5m square video wall which is integral to the plot? It’s 7.47pm. I’ll blame Lesley.
After all who would look at me parading around in tartan (nice tartan, Tracy) in Dunsinane and think ‘this man playing a Scottish Chieftain with a rather fluid accent must be a good writer’. For most people, certainly a stretch. Instead, she said ‘I hear you’ve written a play?’. ‘We like new plays… perhaps we should read it. Send it to me.’. Jeremiah comes to Cambridge in 1632 and says (or ‘we’ do) that he should be welcomed at Emmanuel because ‘it is blessed with a mind open to that which is new’ – perhaps Corkscrew Theatre are a new Emmanuel.
7.48. Speaking of which, and terrifyingly, there’s a historian from Emmanuel in the audience (Alexandra Walsham, a real Professor) who asked me before the show, after she’d given an amazing speech about the historical context of the play in Cambridge in the 17th century, if I’d been to Emmanuel… I didn’t like to admit I’d been to a comprehensive school in Coventry… and I suddenly felt like the biggest imposter ever. Like Pluto. Not only that but Matt Bothwell – professor and public astronomer at the Institute of Astronomy – is here. Heavens, what happens if I have made an enormous astronomical or historical error? Even in the slightly larger legroom of row B at the ADC Theatre there is no room for a 6’2” man to hide for two hours. Not only that but the Chair of the ADC, Dr Mark Billinge, is in the audience having welcomed everyone to the theatre beforehand, and he might be horribly offended if I am a blubbering wreck in B1. Is the earth moving? More than it normally does I mean?
7.49. Rudolph suggests that astronomical tables might be livened up by the odd erotic drawing or two in the margins. Somebody laughs. Someone I don’t believe I know. They laugh because they find it funny – in a GOOD WAY. It is 7.50pm on the 28th of March and tonight, people, five planets are aligned in the night sky (they were, literally) to herald the arrival of LAUGHTER. And I cry.
And then time folds in upon itself and at 10pm or so, after young Jeremiah makes his last speech from the grave hoping that Cambridge will preserve truth and knowledge, a lot more people cry. In a good way. On Friday night someone asks me to sign my autograph on the programme (fabulous, Kate Molloy) after the show and I laugh until I cry.
I blame Lesley. Thank heavens.
David Sear, writer of Horrox