Playwriting

A Breakfast of Eels by Robert Holman

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One of the plays which we had to read for class is A Breakfast of Eels by Robert Holman. It was completely different from Jerusalem, and honestly it is very difficult for me to say which one I enjoyed the most. A Breakfast of Eels was published in 2015 and it received its world premiere at Print Room at the Coronet on the 20th March 2015. It was directed by Robert Hastie. I found it amazing and funny, and the dialogue was simple and delicate – I had no problems understanding it even if English is not my first language. There were some repetitions and weird chunks of conversation which made me think of Waiting for Godot. Francis and Penrose, the two characters of the story, are interpreted by Andrew Sheridan and Matthew Tennyson.

I loved both characters. Penrose was awkward and funny, while Francis was more reserved and harsh. Their relationship develops interestingly, and at the end of the play the two characters switch their roles and change a lot. Their relationship goes from the ridiculous to the miraculous. It cannot be named, because it is not a sexual or romantic love, but they’re not even simple friends or brothers. The secrets of their family and their lives are unveiled slowly, until you understand those characters a bit more and manage to see how they feel. Some aspects of their origins or features come later in the story, like Francis starting to speak his dialect when they travel up north, where he’s from.

Anyway, the play is all about this unnamable love. It’s not about wondering if they’re gay or not (they aren’t), it’s more about being vulnerable, loved, and being men. The whole play starts, as many others, with something that happens and will make life never be the same again. The incident is the death of Penrose’s father. This event triggers the story and the two are left alone in the world. They need to face their difficulties and weakenesses. Penrose and Francis are constantly doing things to each other – they’re interrogating, provoking and approaching each other. When Penrose knocks books off the shelf, he is challenging Francis to do something, he is challenging him.

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Studying this play and seeing it read aloud by my classmates made me think about many things which I need to consider in my playwriting. First of all, even when writing, it is better to hear your play read alive, because it gives to the written part the sense of what works and what doesn’t work. Secondly, when I read the stage directions of this play, I was puzzled by how much you can put on stage – but I was also confused and I couldn’t imagine it, so I was very curious to see it staged. This led me to think that it is very importanto to find the pure essence of what is needed in a play, both in dialogue and in the physical elements that the play needs. It is very important to think carefully about where action happens on stage, how everything is going and so on.

I also really enjoyed reading the introduction of the play, written by Robert Holman, about how a play is never totally of the author. It changes and evolves when it is produced, and authors can feel like the never had anything to do with the play at all. In the same introduction, he talks about writing for actors. It seems like the roles of Francis and Penrose were specifically born for Andrew Sheridan and Matthew Tennyson, and he says that writing for an actor means first of all to listen to them and understand which parts they would like to play. He compares acting, living in the moment and not knowing what you character is going to do next, with writing. He talks about how important it is to trust your own play and dig down. There may be good and bad days, but when you trust your play, then that’s it – you have it. Even if your characters don’t do what you wanted them to do, go with them anyway. I also loved how he said that the actors of his plays need to be brave because it needs more courage to keep silence than swings from a chandelier. It must have been very difficult to act Penrose and Francis parts.

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