On Friday 11th May 2012 the Vivian Cox Theatre became the site of Will Stocks’ (LVI, North) playwriting debut. The whole process began in January when Will won the Cranleigh Playwriting Competition. He then spent few months developing his short play with LJB: together they looked at structure, characterisation and use of stage directions. Students and teachers, along with Will’s family, gathered for the rehearsed reading of his untitled piece about Adrian, a man haunted by his past and unresolved issues with his father surrounding his mother’s untimely death. A rehearsed reading is a playwright’s chance to hear their words aloud – the most valuable gift they can be given in terms of development – so the four Cranleigh actors read the script from chairs arranged onstage. Will’s words were brought to life both by the expressive voices of UVIth Formers Jon Oldfield, Tommy Lyster, Emma Collier and Kit Rowcliffe, as well as a piece of music (symbolising time passing within the dialogue) that Will had chosen.
Also present at the reading were Mark Davies, a playwright who has been in the industry for twenty years writing for such institutions as the Liverpool Everyman Theatre and BBC Radio, and Matthew Leventhall, a designer with experience in a number of national venues. They had been invited to offer Will feedback post-reading, a session at which LJB was also present. Both Mr Davies and Mr Leventhall agreed that Will’s writing was ‘strong’ and ‘compelling’, and were keen to discuss the links between Will’s writing and his artwork (displayed for the reading in the VCT foyer) – having seen his impressive drawings, Mr Leventhall commented that it was refreshing to see a playwright whose stylistic ideas were so well-formed. With themes of regret, suicide and murder, Will had chosen a challenging subject matter, but it was agreed that the palpable sense of tension in the room during the reading, especially towards the end of the piece, was a fitting testament to the linguistic dexterity of the writer. It was especially exciting for all involved to compare creative techniques and processes; it seems that whether one has been writing for a few months (Will), a few years (LJB) or a few decades (Mr Davies), the obstacles and rewards are much the same! After an enjoyable and extremely useful feedback session, Will was given email addresses and promises of assistance in the future, and Mr Davies’ closing advice was that Will needed to cross the final, most difficult hurdle, and give his play a title!
Cranleigh’s drama department and resources are incredibly impressive: there are very few places in the professional world where a first-time playwright would have access to actors, theatre space and feedback for a rehearsed reading at no cost. With the incredible range of productions and opportunities available at this school, students with even the slightest interest in drama should, and to their credit frequently do, reach out with both hands and take whatever chance they can to develop their extensive talents. Perhaps a playwriting competition is another important step towards providing students with the experience they’ll need to succeed in the professional theatre world.