Writer/director Kit Brookman writes from Bath, where our production of The Stones is in rehearsal before its season at the Edinburgh Fringe.
We are in the middle of a heatwave. For Australians like us, applying this descriptor to a string of barely 30-degree days feels a little quaint, but we’re in England, and here this kind of heat is uncanny. On our way to rehearsal, we watch as tourists, parched and red-faced, stumble along the well-worn tracks between Bath’s major attractions. Earlier this year, when I was in Sydney, it rained more or less constantly for three months. Floods that were meant to be once-in-one-hundred-year events were instead happening for the second consecutive year. Given that The Stones is about evading one’s own complicity in terrible events and the guilt that keeps us from acting until it's too late (don’t worry — there are jokes), these strange, out-of-kilter days feel entirely appropriate for rehearsals.
We are in Bath because Luke is performing in Deborah Warner’s new production of The Tempest. The location, too, feels apt. Bath is Britain’s most intact Roman town, and everywhere through the centre of the city are the faded remnants of a society that was almost entirely swept away. I don’t just mean the Romans; Bath was a famous Georgian spa town, and even that society, with its control and repression, feels unimaginable in the chaotic and disjointed present.
Even more fitting are the enormous seagulls that dominate Bath’s central district. Signs in various languages implore you not to feed them, but the gulls aren’t all that interested in a voluntary exchange in any case. Sleek-winged gangsters, they bully children for their chips, or pluck astonished tourists’ sandwiches from their hands. We are of course about twenty-five miles from the nearest coastline; the gulls don’t belong here, they’re just making the best of what’s available. Perhaps we’ll all need to be taking lessons from them sooner than we’d like.
Revisiting The Stones now, three years after its brief premiere in 2019, is both strange and rewarding. In an artistic sense, there’s an added potency to the play’s subject matter “after” the pandemic, but on a personal level, for those of us working on the play, it also feels like we’re coming back to a piece of our lives that existed before the utter disruption of 2020. We were meant to tour the play to Edinburgh that year, but, well, we all know what happened. But there are benefits to having more time than you had anticipated — benefits that we don’t always get to experience when making theatre. Those “lost” years have given us the opportunity to make the work richer, more resonant. Certain moments land differently — lines that before seemed like a far-off conceit still elicit a laugh, but now it’s one of recognition.
Rehearsals themselves are a joy. We talk with our far-flung collaborators while Luke, to invert a phrase from The Tempest, conjures a world out of thin air.
And speaking of rehearsals, we had better get back to it — there are lines to learn, decisions to make, and gulls to avoid on the walk back from lunch.
The Stones plays from August 8-29 at Assembly Rooms, Roxy Downstairs.