It’s just after 11pm, I’m sitting in bed, and the lamp-post I can see from my window is glowing warmly. I’m chatting to it periodically as I do most nights. Tonight, though, the conversation has particular significance:
“Lamp-post, were your ears burning as brightly as your bulb?”
“You’re not a lamp-post, you’re a star in Brighton.”
“Lamp-post if you get a big head the pigeons will have more to sit on.”
“You’re not really a lamp-post, you’re a creative muse.”
“Lamp-post, you’re more famous than Aladdin’s lamp.”
I’ve just got back from Brighton where Leftwing Idiot and I previewed a new show we co-wrote for The Nightingale Theatre. The play, ‘Light of My Life’, is all about my lovely lamp-post. It’s a ‘relay play’ in the form of a monologue, which means one person performs it to another and then that person performs it to someone else.
This is the second relay play The Nightingale have commissioned. The first was ‘An Act of Union’ by Tim Crouch. Tim’s supported us through the process of creating the new piece, along with the whole Nightingale team.
When we first started thinking about it, loads of different ideas came to mind – none of them involving the lamp-post. But during the development process I looked through this blog and found myself being drawn to entries about my favourite streetlight. I’ve involuntarily teased, scolded and complimented it pretty much every day since I moved to the castle five years ago. Leftwing Idiot and I both really liked the idea of focusing on this unexpected feature of my life with Tourettes for our piece.
‘Light of my Life’ is a mix of lamp-post-based anecdotes and actual tics, and I was really excited to share it with audiences for the first time. We did two performances, each of which felt quite different from the other. The play itself is only five minutes long. In both of tonight’s showings Leftwing Idiot and I kicked off, each of us reading the text simultaneously to a different member of the audience. Even though we were sitting at separate tables, echoes of each other reading were audible as we moved in and out of sync. When we’d finished we passed the text to the listener for them to read to someone else. We then went to a different table to read again, so the number of people reading and listening kept growing. And the murmur of the text gradually grew.
Although this basic structure stayed the same in both performances, the way we managed it changed dramatically between shows as we experimented with the form of the relay. To help explain this I’ve drawn some diagrams.
For the 5.30pm performance Steven, from The Nightingale, had devised a system of coloured cards that were given randomly to each member of the audience. These indicated which round people would enter the performance, first as a listener, then as a reader. Steven kept the system on track and we waited until everyone was ready to read before starting a new round. While this worked well it was quite complicated and meant that the audience had limited agency over when and for how long they participated. Lots of people in the later rounds said they’d have liked the chance to read the text more than once.
So for the later performance we decided to abandon the card system in favour of a more fluid approach. The instruction was simple – when you’re ready to be a listener, find a reader who’s got their hand up, and when you’ve been a listener and have the text, raise your hand to show you’re ready to start.
This seemed to work really well because the audience were choosing when to get involved. They could choose to read and listen multiple times, or to watch the ebb and flow of the whole performance from the side-lines.
This version of the performance allowed everyone to read and listen as many times as they wanted to.
I loved seeing our text move between people and hearing snatches of ticced phrases reverberating through the room. At one moment Leftwing Idiot said to me, “I can’t imagine there’s anywhere else in the world where the word “lamp-post” is being said so often”, and I grinned with glee at the thought of it.
I’m lucky that my tics draw my attention to obscure details in the world around me that I otherwise wouldn’t notice, and I’m hoping that through meeting my lamp-post, audiences will get the chance reflect on their own surroundings, and forge new relationships of their own.
I’m excited to see what happens next with ‘Light of My Life’. For now, though, at least my lamp-post is showing none of the diva-like behaviour you’d expect of a big star. It’s still standing solid outside, leaning slightly and glowing reassuringly.