How much would you pay for half a job? You wouldn’t pay someone who said they would install a kitchen for you, but didn’t. They put the units together sure, and the oven, that’s always the tricky bit with the gas and stuff, but they didn’t put the cupboard doors on. They put the fridge in the right place but it’s not plugged in. No chilled bottles of wine for you. We wouldn’t tolerate this on a day to day basis. Yet, in the art world, the theatre work, we are made to think we’re lucky dicks because we get to see a Work in Progress. “This will be amazing … soon … give it a go. Not many people get to see this stage of a show’s development.” But is that for good reason?
I’ve had a busy couple of weeks, months, years but I made time for a Work in Progress. I got to see a thing far from completion, a still fluid script where cuts and changes were made that day. I got to see something that no one else would because yesterday was different, tomorrow will be too. These idiots in Manchester will see the polished show which will be the same every night. What dickheads. I’m talking about ‘Tree’, a show for two people written and directed by Daniel Kitson, starring Daniel Kitson and Tim Key.
“It’s early evening. It’s mid-autumn. It’s starting to get dark. And on a quiet residential street somewhere in England, a man with a picnic basket, arrives at a tree. A new show about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree.”
When I say I paid, I mean The Boyfriend did, being a huge Kitson fan. Don’t get me wrong I enjoyed it, a gentle stroll around the capital, treated to a chip butty and a show, the kind of date only seen in Jane Austen novels. What I’m questioning is: who benefits from this? What does one get from presenting a Work in Progress that you wouldn’t from a rehearsal? The only immediate difference I can think of is: we know when the audience will laugh.
As someone who’s recently had a Work in Progress presented (oh, how I boast), most of the kinks I spied were during rehearsal. A good rehearsal will also tell you not to fill a cup with too much hot water if said water is to be transported up a tree by bag and rope, common sense will too, as will a dress and tech run. The theatre won’t make a great deal of cash from the evening, at £4 a ticket and a small intimate audience: they probably paid their staff more than what they got back.
In the case of ‘Tree’, it could be to engage with the audience and their reaction but I wasn’t asked by anyone. Kitson joked that he could tell if the audience were engaged by how many were on their phone. A fair scale of an audience’s focus but a polite audience will watch regardless. Get them a drink and actually talk to them. Then you might know, despite the nature of the piece, sticking one of your actors in a tree will reduce some audience member’s views. Some of the comedy comes from Kitson’s slight and awkward body language; too many leafs on the tree and that is totally lost. Why invite an audience but not their opinions? Maybe that’s the difference between Scratch and Work in Progress, one wants feedback and one already thinks itself almost practically perfect in every way.