Almost didn't make it with this one. (And it's only Day 3...) I was out late on Friday night, and busy all day Saturday, so when it got to the evening I wasn't up to writing. So this got written in about an hour this morning. (The deadline for entries is 9:59am the following day.)
Anyway, the prompt this time was to go surreal: 'Tap into your dreams… and put them on stage.' Sebastian asked us to use our own dreams as inspiration.
Handily, I often write down my dreams, as I have incredibly vivid ones pretty regularly. (Especially when I'm not writing – it seems to be a release valve for pent-up imagination.) So, with such a tiny window, I used one of those dream records to make this script.
The brief was to make it dream-like but still a story. That's tricky, because the nature of dreams tends to be that there is no clear story – or it might feel like there is an explanation for what's going on, but it's out of reach.
Even so, I added a (sort of) structure to this dream, and wrote the script below. I liked the idea of a set of plays that changed every night – like your dreams – and you'd never know, going along to one of them, what it was going to be.
The other prompt Sebastian mentioned was using the Surrealist André Breton's 'automatic writing' technique – something I discovered at university, when I came across The Magnetic Fields in the library. It's always fascinated and excited me as a form of writing – even though, inevitably, you get your fair share of garbage.
This play wasn't written so freely, of course, but I tried to allow myself a bit of that to get it going. And what appears to be happening in the 'story' is perhaps quite a Surrealist ideal: merging yourself entirely with the dream, and the realms of the unconscious...
This would be the first in a series of plays. Each night it would be a completely different show. You wouldn’t know which one you were going to see.
The stage is clear, with a huge gauze at the back onto which are projected films of the locations. There are splits in the gauze for characters to emerge through. Vivid, almost lurid colours, over-saturated. Lighting also helps connect the stage to the scenes on the screen.
Open on a long garden. Far in the distance, a huge palace of a house, with parts of the building broken down, or missing. Central on the stage, a girl – late teens – is lying motionless, perhaps asleep, perhaps dead. She’s in a position that makes it look like she simple collapsed there.
Enter a boy, the same age. He’s wearing a t-shirt and shorts. He’s with a woman of around 50, dressed in robes, almost like a toga.
WOMAN She’s taken something. The experiment has gone too far. She’s been seduced.
BOY Can we get her back?
WOMAN Take her to the lake.
The woman points out into the audience. Then exits. The man nods and gets down to the girl. He gathers her up and stands with her in his arms. Walking on the spot and turning through 180 degrees as on the screen the camera does the same, until it faces the end of the garden, which runs down as a bank into a large lake. The light changes: evening, with bright moonlight playing on the ultramarine water. A little black jetty juts out into the lake.
He puts the girl down. He moves to the side of the stage and watches.
Creatures start to come out of the lake. First a sort of thick, cream-coloured sheet, flapping like a large flag.
It approaches the bank and – now puppeteers carry a physical version of it through the gauze – onto the stage. It drops itself over the girl like a blanket, rippling. Then rises again and flaps its way off stage.
Then a long pink creature comes out. Its front part shaped like a horse, but a rudimentary one, made from tube-like forms. Two legs trotting at the front. The rest of it is just a long pink tube.
The creature comes through the gauze onto the stage, operated like a Chinese dragon by people inside. It circles the girl – it’s very long, easily encircles her, moves around her in choreographed shapes. As it does, on the screen blue lights leap out of the lake and hover in the air: little electric-clue creatures dancing so quickly you can’t see their forms. They’re just darting blue/white lights.
The horse-thing exits, the blue lights leap and dance in the air. Stage lighting creates corresponding bright blue patterns around the stage and auditorium. Then the lights drop as one back into the lake.
The boy walks over to the girl, who is stirring. On screen, the scene dissolves into one of a rocky slope: we are looking down a short slope into a valley. A railway runs through the valley. A train runs constantly along the track, we never see the beginning or end of it, only carriages.
BOY It’s over. The experiment’s finished, you can’t go on.
The girls sits up. Looks at him.
GIRL I already have.
BOY It’s too dangerous. You can’t live in both worlds. You almost killed yourself.
GIRL We’ll take the train.
She stands. On screen, we are inside the train. Almost the whole screen is the window, with seats just visible on either side. Landscape rushes by outside: rocky plains, mountains in the distance.
BOY I’m taking you home.
GIRL I’ve come too far already. There’s no way back now. I’m here.
She touches his face, gently.
BOY I’ll come with you then.
She laughs. The creatures from before come back onto the stage, accompanied by several others: a gang of strangely shaped sea-creatures, one a mass of tentacles, one a sort of sea-cucumber writhing along the floor, one a bulbous jellyfish head with strings of lights descending from it, one a group of four globes, linked by multiple tubes of glowing tissue. The creatures gather behind the girl.
On screen, the window dissolves to show a hugely long bridge in the distance spanning a chasm between two mountains. Everything is coloured in dark reds and ochres.
GIRL You’ll find a way.
She steps backwards into the crowd of creatures. They gather excitedly around her, surrounding her, circling her. She disappears into them and the crowd moves off the stage. On screen, in the distance, we see them approaching the bridge.
The screen dissolves back to the garden. The house in the distance. He is alone. He turns his back to us and starts walking. On screen the camera moves up the garden towards the house. We close in on the front door, flanked by pillars. It fills the screen and the door opens. It’s now much bigger than the actor on stage. On screen the Woman from earlier opens the door. Behind her is darkness.
BOY She’s gone. I lost her.
The woman nods and stands aside. The boy steps in – moving through the gauze into the darkness. She closes the door behind him.
For the sake of completeness, and in the full knowledge that other people's dreams are often incredibly boring things to hear about, here are the notes I made of the original dream:
It starred a girl who was trying to live rough, as an experiment or a TV show, or an art installation.
She had taken something, and was sweaty, cold, needing to clear it out. She found a little bank leading down to a lake/river (sea?), with a jetty. She settled herself among the struts of the jetty, hiding underneath. She looked at the camera and said something like ‘Your girlfriend has taken something, she needs to get rid of it’
As she settled in, and maybe went to sleep, incredible aquatic creatures appeared, but on the land. First a flat, misshapen thing, like a large swathe of fabric but obviously animal – sand/brick coloured, as if camouflaged for the bed of the sea, came past on its edge, standing sideways. It had weird coral-like appendages that it used like legs or crutches to support it. It came along the bank – big, about three or four feet high and very long – and covered the girl up. I remember an anxiety about what it might do, but it just passed over her, or past her, almost protectively, and carried on, leaving her untouched.
Then a long, brightly coloured thing like a velour sea-snake, purple and soft, appeared on the bank. But its front part was like a horse: a horse’s head and body, and forelegs. But on the back of the horse, black and white markings like Rorschach ink, and then the head was – pink? Purple again? Its forelegs lifted and fell like a circus horse performing. Its legs were like cartoon legs: just soft tubes, uniform thickness, ending not in hooves but just in soft ends (the shape of elephant’s feet), purple and fuzzy. Behind it the long purple snake of its body.
Then I/we realised that it had its babies with it: several smaller versions of the horse, the same vivid colours: purple, black and white, maybe blue or pink. I remember the colours were hyper-real, trippily vivid.
The horse creature headed for the water, and now we saw lots of blue things, visible as little more than movement, leaping from the bank and rocks along the water’s edge into the lake or river. There were dozens of them, maybe hundreds – again, very bright blue, a clear cyan, shaped perhaps like question marks, like little springs, bounding from their perches into the water.
Then it was winter: a bright, beautiful winter with clean white snow on the ground and a perfect ice-blue sky, again the colours incredibly clean and vivid. I was talking to the girl’s son. He was part of the experiment. He stood on a – field? Garden? There was a house in the background – in a parka coat with a bright white fur-trimmed hood. I felt conflicted: part of me thought this was an incredible experience for him, but I was also worried about him being out, sleeping rough when he could be at home.
‘I left my phone in my room,’ he said, and I told him that was probably good. I think I meant for the experiment. But I also realised they had a home these two, if she really wanted to give up they could just go back there.
There was a coda scene: the bank she had been on was in fact a garden, part of an art exhibition of gardens. Her name was Holly Walsh, like the comedienne but not her. Her installation was at the end of a line of gardens being shown. But it really was the bank of a waterway: it led down out of the gallery to the water, somehow.