Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 2: Entry 2: Giving Tilly a Voice (a)

I had initially intended to commission a professional playwright - the acclaimed British writer of stage, screen, television and radio, Lucy Gough - to write Tilly No-Body for me. I had met Lucy about ten years ago, when I had been cast in one of her BBC Radio 4 plays, The Raft. I had instantly fallen in love with Lucy's writing, and as soon as I met her, I fell in love with the person and the talent as well.

Lucy and I had talked a good deal about Tilly Wedekind, and had both found the material very alluring. As I undertook various pieces of research, I would send Lucy information from US to UK, with extracts from Wedekind's plays, Tilly's autobiography, personal responses to the material, etc. Then in July 2009, Miles and I made a trip to Munich to stay with Margret Greiner, my German language & research collaborator. Margret is another woman with whom I had instantly fallen in love at first sight. A striking lady, with a great wit and sensitivity, she and I had also become mutually entranced by Frank and Tilly as we'd developed our collaboration in September 2008.

That July 2009, Margret took myself and Miles around Munich, and we walked the streets, sat in the cafes, saw the apartment and visited the theatre where Frank and Tilly had worked. Margret also took me to the Wedekind archive, where we're poured over letters scripted by Tilly. Two struck us particularly - one written on tiny paper in tiny handwriting from the sanatorium when she recovered from her poisoning: it was addressed to a theatre director with whom she wished to work. The second was in huge scrawling letters on a big piece of paper to a lover who had spurned her, and in which she accused him of cold-blooded murder. (The lover turned out to be Tilly's daughter's husband...) The two sides of Tilly were blatant and exciting. (I'd already fallen in love with Tilly, long, long ago.)

One of the most impressive moments for me was visiting the graveyard shared by Frank and Tilly in the Munich cemetery. Although Tilly outlived Frank by nearly 50 years - during which time she had several other love affairs - it was with her husband that she found her final resting place. Beneath the art nouveau Pegasus which adorns the memorial, I knew that they lay together - I trusted they were more tranquil in death than in life?

The following week, I met up with Lucy in Cardiff and began to share with her my research. We were staying the night in a B&B, and at 2am I awoke as if possessed. I suddenly knew I had to find the courage to write the play myself. I felt such a bond with Tilly and such a deep rooted need to tell her story, that a strange energy worked its way through me. Had Tilly's spirit wisped its way out of the ground at her graveside and entered my imagination? I sat on the bed in the B&B with all the research spread out around me and I suddenly saw the whole structure. It began with an empty stage. It began with a bottle of pills. It began with the attempted suicide... Then the rest was a kind of flashback through Tilly's life, showing the audience what had brought her to this point of such utter despair.

I didn't go back to sleep that night. I knew I was on some kind of strange mission.

At 7.45am, I gingerly knocked on Lucy's bedroom door. 'I think I've got to write this...' I said.

Lucy, being the unique person she is, absolutely understood. And that was it... I knew I had to leap into the river Spree with Tilly... I had to feel the freezing water and wonder whether on earth I could swim to the other side. I hoped that if I couldn't, Lucy would be able to throw me a life buoy...or at least alert the lifeguard!

No comments:

Post a Comment