“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” had its first public reading on Sunday night at the Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond.
The trick with readings is that you want to set audience expectations – it’s a work in progress and the actors haven’t had that long with the script. But you also want to get a good indication of what’s working and how much the audience is enjoying the show, based on the script as is – not on their expectations.
When you get a pair of actors like Petra Elliott and Ben McKenzie – ably assisted by Patrick Hill, who read the important stage directions to set the scene – the script suddenly comes to life in ways people love. And in ways that surprise the writer.
After a reading of a work-in-progress, I try to set an expectation for the audience themselves – stick around, have a drink and give me feedback. What did you love? What do you think needs more work? And did any of that make any sense for you people who have never watched Doctor Who in their lives?
But the best feedback for a new comedy script is getting laughs – in all the right places.
And what surprised me was the emotion in the dramatic beats. A writer can’t really know if the jokes are going to land or if the pathos is going to be there until they see it with an audience.
Getting an audience to a reading is tricky, too. Some people don’t want the expectation of having to give feedback (it’s okay, I never force anyone) – and some aren’t interested in seeing works-in-progress. That’s fine, I’m quite happy for most to see the finished product! But the reading is an important part of the creative process for me – and for “Who Are You Supposed To Be”, it was invaluable.
The audience was made up along a scale of 1 to 10: 10 being they knew lots about Doctor Who (John Richards, semi-professional co-host of the Doctor Who podcast, “Splendid Chaps”) and 1 being they knew nothing about Doctor Who (my family). Everyone in between was Old Who fans. Or New Who viewers. Or know enough about the concept to get what I was talking about, but probably don’t know who Peter Davison or Paul McGann are.
And everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. And there were lots of laughs. Though not so much at the appearance of the theme to “Red Dwarf”. Ah, well, they can’t all be jokes about sexual perversion and Daleks.
This is not to say I didn’t learn valuable things about pacing, structure and character motivations. The script, after last weekend’s re-write, is a lot more dramatically sound than it was only a few days ago. But there’s some character motivation stuff that needs clarifying.
Thank you to everyone involved in the reading, everyone who was in the audience - and big thanks to Jason Cavanagh for the generous use of the Owl and Pussycat for the evening.
All that said, this show is for everybody. As long as you know that the Doctor flies around space and time in a blue box, occasionally changes faces and often changes travelling Companions, that’s all you need to know.
This show is really a comedy about meeting people, arguing about trivia, getting to know someone new and finding a place and time to figure out who you’re supposed to be. Even if you enjoy dressing up as someone else while you do it.
“Who Are You Supposed To Be?” is on at Edinburgh Fringe from August 14 to 26.
Next thing you'll say is they don't know who Tommy Westphall is, either.
Glad the reading went well. I'm sure the feedback gave you a surge of new ideas to work into the script.