SEACHANGEseachange

Seachange was first performed at Riverside Studios on the 4 July 1984, with the following cast:

  • JOHN - Terence Wilton
  • TOM - Kenneth Colley
  • EILEEN - Sheila Reid
  • DOCTOR - Christopher Guinee
  • DORIS - Elizabeth Bradley
  • PAUL - Michael Packer
  • HELEN - Michele Copsey
  • CASS - Caroline Embling
Directed by - David Leveaux
Designed by - Brien Vahey
Lighting by - Rory Dempster
Music by - John White
Assistant Directo r - Irina Brown
Wardrobe - Kate McFee
Casting Director - Simone Reynolds 
Stage Manager- Melanie Bryceland
Assistant Stage Manager - Mark Layton 

Set built by John Leonard and Peter Price Furniture built by Philip Parsons 

Starting Out

In the summer of 1980, I travelled with my family on a boat from Instanbul down the Aegean coast, criss-crossing from the Turkish mainland to the Greek isles. We boarded at Instanbul in a state of considerable political unrest, but, imitating well-trained tourists, we weaved our way among the military, and the demonstrators, to mosque and palace. As we left Instanbul, and travelled through the Straits of Messina at night, I could see the flame of the Unknown Soldier flickering on the mainland of Gallipoli. But the still air failed to carry the smell of its ashes across the sea, or perhaps the aroma of kebab and the sweat of the determined holiday-makers deterred its passage.

With the aid of the heat and alcohol, I fell into a haltering conversation with a Turk, a lecturer like myself, and we talked, inevitably, of education, and then slowly, delicately, of politics and socialism, using the excuse of language difficulties as a screen for silent reflection and assessment. And, always, the flame flickered in the distance, as we talked of Anglo-Turkish relationships, and, inevitably, of war.

His grandfather had run the garrison at Gallipoli, had ordered the laying of the barbed wire under the water. At his death, many years later, he told his children of his horror, as he watched the allies thrashing in the water, or swarming out of the sea onto the warm inviting, and equally deadly, beach.
I spoke for the first time in years of the legend of my wounded grandfather, dragged back from the beach onto a Red Cross ship and safety, only to meet death when it was sunk by a plane.

And of how he was a champion swimmer, spending every Sunday swimming what I knew later as the most polluted of rivers - the Trent. I wondered if, at that moment, we cut through the clear water of his grave.

My friend took himself off to bed, perhaps to tell the ghost of his grandfather of this simple meeting. I stayed with the wine to talk to mine, and grandfather and I that night shared an equally uncertain intimacy, born this time of those who love each other through blood, but are only too aware of how the sea of time divides them.

A week after our visit along that coast, the Generals took over the land, and this friend, along with many others we met there, found the Generals' promise of security a constant threat to the dream of freedom they contemplated.

I returned to the increasing insecurity of my own land, determined to write a play about my grandfather, and tried to glean what facts I could from memory.

Certain circumstances, both personal and political, prevented me, until two years later, in the spring and summer of 1982, I was reminded forcibly, like everyone else, of boats and death at sea, as our `armada' sailed out into the South Atlantic towards that well known `incident'. The ship's deck with the dark waters below was under all our feet.

Workshopping with students at Dartington College of Arts, I wrote, and they performed, the first version of this piece, the narrative of which was completed before the war itself ended.

We were all on the Ship of Fools and clearly had to look elsewhere than to the Captain and the crew for real guidance back to sanity. And amidst all that shouting we had to listen very quietly for the voices that might hold the key to hope.

To find the truth one could no longer trust the facts of politicians and the pathetic distortions of the media, but we had also to listen to both personal myths, and wider legends. It was at this point my grandfather spoke to me again.

Stephen Lowe Riverside, June 1984

The most beautiful thing about Seachange (first seen at Riverside Studios in 1984) is its use of language Lowe's lyricism washed over me like a warm wave. It is set, appropriately, at sea, and was inspired both by the memory of Mr Lowe's grandfather, who drowned on a Red Cross ship in the First World War, and by the more recent war in the Falklands.
Tribune

One of the most ambitious plays to be seen on the London stage for some time.Time Out 

Seachange is published in Moving Pictures: Four Plays, Methuen, 1985. 

INTRODUCTION TO MOVING PICTURES: Four Plays

A Warning: an explanation: a couple of confessions, and a hope: all jumbled together in bad prose

Twenty years ago, at school in Nottingham, I played M. Jourdain in Moliere's The Bourgeoise Gentilhomme, and whilst, perhaps fortunately, I can no longer recall the subtle nuances of my own performance, the recollection of one of the aspiring M. Jourdain's epiphanies has remained with me. It is a very funny scene, where, attempting to rise into the `highest culture', he is first taught the terms verse and prose, and discovers to his amazement and delight that he has been effortlessly speaking prose all his life. Art, for one blissful moment, seems to him to be easy. And I have a sneaking suspicion that as I hammed my way towards ecstasy playing him, I thought so too. Years later, my first professional acting job was to play his teacher, and I learned otherwise. And, of course, M. Jourdain himself is in for a rude awakening, as are we all, and there are sometimes a few laughs to be had from that, and sometimes some very difficult silences.

This is by way of saying that as I sit attempting to write this introduction, this particular parcel of prose, the discovery I come to yet again, is that I am not, unlike my old friend, a master of prose, but more importantly for you (dear reader) I am not a writer at all, of prose, or poetry, or anything else between. And it seems only fair to warn you in advance in case you approach the task of reading my work with any expectations of literature. My pretensions, or aspirations, are in quite a different direction. As soon as I left university, having failed to complete my last attempt at prose in a postgraduate thesis, I had written onto my passport that I was a playwright.

Since then I have been trying to live up to that moment of conceit that is only really `possible when you've never had a play performed. As time goes on, the difference between literature and theatre has struck me with increasing intensity.and I'd like to quote in clarification from another playwright for whom I have the greatest admiration. In his book To Present the Pretence (a work I recommend to anyone interested in the theatre) John Arden articulates the crucial distinction.

A playwriter is simply a person who puts pen to paper and sets down dramatic dialogue. But the playwright pursues an ancient and complex craft analogous to the crafts of the Cartwright, the Millwright, the Shipwright or -- in old Scots -?the Wright. pure and simple. The origin of the word is Old English Wyrht = a work, or Wyrcan = to work. The playwright works drama just as the millwright works mill-gear.

Ironically, my true surname is not Lowe, but Wright, which I had to change when I joined Alan Ayckbourn's company in Scarborough as an actor. I took my mother's maiden name, and with it a professional identity. Wright, anyway, had always seemed to me a boring common name when I felt I clearly should have been called something more exotic, like Buchner or Shakespeare. This was during a period of seven years and twenty odd plays that no-one seemed remotely interested in doing. But now. having for the last ten years worked solidly in the theatre, I have become a great respector of just this commonality of wrights. A key factor in my continuation as a playwright is that such work involves so many other people's creativity working in different forms -- a number of which I have had the opportunity to practise in the past.

I have never been bored wrighting for the theatre, though often I've been depressed and frustrated by the state of the art, and probably no more than now, in the present political climate. But the language of theatre is as relevant as ever, and that 'empty space' remains there, only waiting for us to decide to work together within it. And its potential for expression in this collective language is well nigh infinite. Whenever I turn again towards that space where the magic that we need can be rediscovered I fee a real excitement, the nervous excitement of journeying towards the unknown that I experienced as a child at pantomimes before the curtain went up. And a thrill of coming to a space that argues possibilities, change, transformations.

The first play I ever recall doing (as an amateur, a lover, of the theatre) was when was seven and it was called Fat King Melon. No doubt kids up and down the country are still doing it. I hope so. I played the king who, having fallen in love with what would now be considered as an anorexic princess, diets to fulfil (his mistaken belief about) her dream of the ideal man. Meanwhile, of course, she is fattening herself up to be attractive to him. Such is life. I was padded up with a pillow, but 1 couldn't get the gradual stages of dieting to work satisfactorily until I discovered that if I ripped the pillow (leaving a trail of feathers behind me) it worked. I remember being told even then that it made no sense, having the king waddle around like a balding chicken, that it was in some sense, not 'real'. But it worked. And years later. I began to see why. Because it dealt in a desire of the character that made possible a visual trans-formation, and it acknowledged the theatre language itself as it did so. I didn't have Brecht to quote from at the time, but they let me get away with it anyway, and I've been trying to get away with it ever since.

Re-reading these plays again, I'm struck by how far M. Jourdain and his epiphanies, and King Melon and his transformation have influenced them. They have involved me in a theatre of embarrassment, of self-awareness, of people struggling to change, to break out, with people trying to connect. And I've been struck by how, like Fat King Melon, they seem preoccupied with the problems of love, in one form or another. Whether that will match your perceptions of the plays I can't tell. I don't recall that being consciously in my mind at the starting point, but then again one often forgets the point of embarcation and are left in memory with only snapshots of the beaches to restimulate our feelings. I hope my plays are more than that, that these `personal islands' will come alive for you and connect with your personal landscapes, that the creative effort you make to try to visualise beyond the words on the page will be rewarded by something that truly works as moving pictures.

Stephen Lowe. December 1984 

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