Constance Interpreted

Yesterday, at Bath Spa University, a group of second year drama students performed their interpretation of our old show The Cleansing Of Constance Brown. The show is essentially wordless. Set in a 14m long, 2m wide corridor, all the principle action takes place in rooms opening off from the corridor. The audience cannot see into the rooms, so they must deduce what is happening by what they see in the corridor. It is an exercise in visual storytelling, which is why the students had been set the challenge by their tutor, who was once one of our Associate Artists and, as a recent graduate, had watched us devise the show.

The students worked from our published script, which describes the tightly choreographed moves of each actor through the piece. They had access to some photographs. Nina West kindly sent them a copy of her original soundtrack and we, equally kindly, leant them a few key items of costume and the enigmatic ‘orange billowing mass’.

Watching the student’s interpretation was a very peculiar experience. It triggered in me a huge surge of nostalgia and love for the old friends who had been replaced by these young avatars. I felt a great warmth for this galant troupe of students taking on this ludicrous challenge. Watching them struggle reminded of many things about the original show: how every single move was chosen and placed with clear purpose, how the show is sculptural and this minimalism requires great clarity, how sharp and demanding the lighting was, how particular the acting challenge was and how adept in it the cast became.

There were moments when the student show carried strong echos of our show and in these I got a lovely glimpse of what it may have been like to see our show with a stranger’s eye. There were occasional additions that generated intriguing new takes on our material, which I enjoyed very much and in contrast there were regular moments when I wanted to ask ‘why have you chosen to do that?’ and moments that brought to mind the Scandinavian soft rock covers band we encountered one summer in the Czechia town of Kolin, whose lead singer we were convinced was singing phonetically English lyrics he didn’t understand.

In 1999 Stan’s Cafe restaged Impact Theatre’s show The Carrier Frequency and a number of the original cast were gracious enough to attend. Yesterday, exchanging a few words with the Bath Spa students, I remembered a similar conversation 25 years earlier outside the Crescent Theatre in Birmingham and felt reassured. Of course I was flattered to have had such great attention and energy lavished on an old show of ours. Of course I was delighted to attend.

Maybe one day we can re-stage The Cleansing Of Constance Brown ourselves and show everyone how it’s really done.

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