Friday, 29 May 2015

Off the Block 2015 - The Totherington Secret

This is where I ended up...
Richard Warwick and Daniel Creasey in "The Totherington Secret"
(Ian Legge Photography)
This is how I got there...

It turns out that this writing lark is harder than it looks.

I found this year as hard if not harder than the very first year.

This is my fourth year of writing for Off the Block...


At 7.30 on Wednesday April 29th I received an email from Dani at RBL:

"Well, here we go again... here is your start point and starting line. 

Your start point that has been passed on from our second writer, Beth, is:
She is unexpectedly, wonderfully happy. (feel free to change she to he if you like)    

This is only a start point and need not be an inspiration for the whole story line.

Your starting line that has also been passed on from Beth is: "Let's go home.""
I was also given info about the actors. This year I had four fellas...
There were two questions that needed to be considered.
1. Where are they (whoever they are?) as one of them wants to go home...
2. Why is someone happy? What has happened?
Soooo... reasons to be cheerful...
Hindsight is a wonderful thing! Listening to this only now crossed my mind.
The first thoughts scribbled in my pad were:
  • Guy has had proposal accepted
  • Guy has had proposal rejected
  • Guy has just got a job
  • Guy has lost his job
What started to interest me was negative things that might make you cheerful and so I spent the majority of the day thinking about schadenfreude.
To help me come up with a starting point I considered what if the person suffering schadenfreude is the reason someone else wants to leave - and where are the worst places or the worst occasions to experience schadenfreude...
So I drew some matchstick men...
Because it helps...


Just so you know I had a full day at work this day. Five hours of teaching and my duties. I did incorporate this into my lessons and did some one-off creative writing workshops (which were mainly spent discussing schadenfreude - which students seem to have an intuitive understanding of for some reason...) We even came up with an idea for a character called Mr Schadenfreude which was very funny. I do think Roger Hargreaves missed a trick by not including him in the Mr Men canon...
This is Mr Schadenfreude.
He laughs at people in pain.
Old Mrs Smith has just tripped on her front step.
Does Mr Schadenfreude help her up?
Of course not!
He points and laughs.
Oh Mr Schadenfreude!
(If anyone would like to draw Mr Schadenfreude for me in a Hargreaves style I would love to see it!)
At the end of the school day I sat in my classroom and began...
It was the funeral that most interested me. Why would someone be happy at a funeral?
I considered the idea of someone dancing at a funeral, which would upset the others.
I decided that this would be the brother of the deceased... we would then work out what the deceased had done to provoke such a reaction.
So I wrote and I wrote...
The piece began to mould into a portmanteau moving forward and backward in time. Telling little stories. It became harder and harder to write... I slowed down and by 6pm I absolutely...
I looked at the drawings again and the settings...
An old haunted house had been suggested by one of the students...
I wasn't keen on possession but could a haunting make someone happy?
Hmmm... there is a moment in Poltergeist where the spirit of Carol-Anne passes through her mum and she suddenly feels happy.
And then I remembered this poem by Thomas Hardy:
The Glimpse
Thomas Hardy
She sped through the door
And, following in haste,
And stirred to the core,
I entered hot-faced;
But I could not find her,
No sign was behind her.
"Where is she?" I said:
- "Who?" they asked that sat there;
"Not a soul's come in sight."
- "A maid with red hair."
- "Ah." They paled. "She is dead.
People see her at night,
But you are the first
On whom she has burst
In the keen common light."

It was ages ago,
When I was quite strong:
I have waited since,--O,
I have waited so long!
- Yea, I set me to own
The house, where now lone
I dwell in void rooms
Booming hollow as tombs!
But I never come near her,
Though nightly I hear her.
And my cheek has grown thin
And my hair has grown gray
With this waiting therein;
But she still keeps away!

And it was from this starting point that "The Totherington Secret" grew. It was a very silly and very theatrical romp with multi-rolling, flashbacks and too many words! So sorry actors...
Ian Legge Photography
I finished at about 1am. Having written nearly half of another and starting the new version at 6pm...
On the Friday I was blown away by the quality of all the pieces. The winning short by Paul Houghton was about a mysterious poo on the floor of a posh house was brilliantly written and performed. The first main piece by Freddie Machin was a wonderful play within a play in which the breakdown of a writer's relationship infected her own entry in a writer's relay leaving her cannibalistic Vladimir and Estrogen like characters spouting inappropriate platitudes to each other in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Beth Flintoff's piece was an inspiring epic that dealt with mortality, family breakdown and growing up in a moving and poetic fashion. Her final line and action lead to my piece (of which more in a moment) and my own last line "Still, when in Rome..." and action "He holds their hands" was the starting point for the final writer's  (Paul Houghton) murderous chamber piece that ably finished off a superb evening's entertainment.
"The Totherington Secret" was very well-received by the audience. The director Thom Sellwood really got into the coarse acting and theatrical style required; adding some wonderful touches that brought it to life. The actors were all wonderful, energetic and clearly enjoying the madness of it.
The following photographs are courtesy of Ian Legge Photography.
The stunning Daniel Creasey and the fabulous David Bailey

The beautiful Richard Warwick as the Lady with the Red Scarf.

The lovely Max Roll.

The gorgeous David Bailey
At the end I managed to grab the actors for a quick photograph. They were exhausted! I do think that it was the maddest piece I had written yet...
Richard Warwick, Max Roll, Thom Sellwood (Director), Daniel Creasey and David Bailey
Thank you.
Until next year?


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