In the fouth writing provocation director and 2017 jury member Lyndsey Turner thinks about possibilities.
More than film or television, theatre is uniquely placed as a form to play with metaphor, to trade in the big questions, to ask ‘what if …’. Caryl Churchill’s play A Number is written around a single question: ‘what if cloning made it possible for a father who had mistreated his son to start again by creating a copy of the boy’? From that simple question, a narrative is built: the father is visited by three separate sons, all identical in appearance, all the result of his acceptance of a radical medical trial of a new scientific breakthrough. In fact, the dramatic form only heightens this idea: we the audience are aware that we’re seeing a single actor take on the role of these three sons, and the power of the work comes partly as a result of suspending our disbelief as this single actor meets his father three times. Working from a ‘what if’ can be a really interesting way in to a play, it allows a writer to alter one or more facts in the material world and imagine how differently something would play out in this new reality. Asking the unanswerable also allows the writer the freedom to not know something: plays which dare to imagine the world otherwise don’t have to be full of research and expertise. Sometimes it’s enough to share a question with an audience rather than answering it for them, and plays which start from a ‘what if’ can be profound and thrilling trips into the unknown for both writer and audience.
- Have you ever wondered what might happen if one of the things you had always accepted as fact was otherwise?
- Is there a big idea that you’ve been worrying away at which might be released by asking ‘what if’?
- Might you take a story or a story shape which is culturally familiar and change one key detail so that it plays out differently?