Journey to Edinburgh Fringe 2018 – Stage 4

Dulce et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers

Last time, I wrote about how the title of the show came about. At this point, a lot of further discussion with Director and Designer Penny Gkritzapi ensued to try to sort out exactly what kind of story we would try to tell. Penny’s work can really only begin once we know this. We have to have an idea about character, about setting and about story, and these preliminary discussions with her are a vital part of that process.

Of the three, I honestly believe that story is the most important part of my process. When I’m writing, the characters, the setting, the dialogue all flow from the story. My starting point, as I mentioned last time, may be something quite trivial – and sometimes I have several story possibilities in mind when I start. It can be quite frustrating, as you can imagine, to have several stories floting around in your mind on on the screen while you try to find the one that really fires you up!

We began to talk story. At first it looked like I might begin, as I often do, looking at a one-man show. This was a straightforward idea, the man who should be in the coat in the picture would tell the story of why he was unknown. We envisaged this, perhaps, as the story of a soldier who did not return from the Great War. Perhaps the story of a real-life soldier, told from published accounts such as diaries or memoirs. I remembered the Accrington Pals, my very first professional role and felt that there would be fertile ground there among the poignant and disturbing history of the Pals battalions. I tried several times, from several angles to build a story around a variety of sources, but none of it was satisfactory. For one thing, there was too much temptation for it to become a ghost story (an area we’ve already worked in, so it felt like repetition, artistically) – and for another, the harrowing tales of the Great War have been told many times. I wanted to do something different.

The idea of approaching a subject from a perspective previously unexplored is, perhaps, a signature of our work together as Polymorph Theatre. Penny and I both like to find surprising viewpoints, twists and turns. This usually involves looking at the perceived story and then wondering “What if…”. One of the “what if” discussions turned up what I thought would be a most intriguing possibility – “What if this man didn’t die? What if he chose not to return?”. It was a short step then to “What if she thought he had died when the photograph was taken…?”. That was kind of THE MOMENT. I wanted immediately to know why he wouldn’t want to come back, why he would have left the woman and the child alone.

I went away and began to write. I knew (because I wanted to play the man) that the period setting would be many years after the photograph. I was immediately struck by the idea of World War 2. What setting more likely to make this man revisit his past than another war? How could I make him confront his own past?

Now I have questions to answer. Next time, I’ll go into how I began to answer them.

Until then, Dulce et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers will be at the Space Triplex, 6th-11th August 2018.
Tickets are on sale now and available here:

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