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A Bard’s Advice: drama workshop with John Binnie – 6 February 2019

‘I’ll have grounds
More relative than this – the play’s the thing
Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.’

Hamlet’s frequently quoted words on the power of theatre persistently lodged in my brain as I tried to find the words to encapsulate the pleasure provided by John Binnie’s workshop on Wednesday night. Open, friendly, encouraging, stimulating , thought-provoking……I need a thesaurus to find all the appropriate adjectives to reflect upon the success of his third visit to our club.

John’s opening gambit was to encourage us to write a monologue on a variety of themes that he distributed amongst the large audience of club members. If my notes are correct, they comprised – ageing, touch, journey, different, shout, tender, communal and content. Four minutes to conjure up a piece of writing seemed sparse, but the room was silent save for the sound of enthusiastic pens scribbling on note pads.

The few chosen to disclose their ideas produced sparkling pieces as varied as the impact on Scotland as a community of the death of Jock Stein, and the sheer exhilaration of body surfing in a challenging sea.

Having grabbed our attention, John proceeded to the main event of the evening – to announce the outcome of the Drama/Scriptwriting Competition. He had advised us in advance that he proposed to use the entries in his workshop to illustrate his ideas on the essence of a successful script. He emphasised the need for persuasive and realistic dialogue, genuine characters and narrative drive.

Limited space precludes a mention of all ten entries. John provided a thoughtful and encouraging critique for each entrant. The standard was evidently very high. As coffee break approached, John read a captivating and amusing extract from his award- winning play A Little Order. As in this play, episodes and scenes from his own life are his main inspiration.

The climax of the evening was a performance by John and each scriptwriter of the runner up and winning play. Second place was awarded to Nicola’s Women in White, a disturbing piece about a father haunted by his dead wife trying to persuade him to kill himself and their baby to enable them to join her in heaven. The film-like style and limited but forceful dialogue was effective and shocking.

The evening came to a triumphant conclusion with the prize-winning comedy, scripted by Linda – Monday Morning Madness. The theme was the complexity of modern life, exemplified by the main character’s attempt to make a simple banking transaction on the phone, assisted ( or obstructed ) by a pedantic bank clerk. This lively and funny two-hander exemplified John’s assertion that there is great skill in crafting a script that gives such pleasure to an audience. Linda modestly advised the audience that it was her first attempt at a drama. There can be no doubt that it will be the first of many prize-winning pieces from that productive and skilful pen.

John closed by taking a few questions. The audience would I am sure stayed for more. He concluded by advising us all to bring our own unique style to our writing. We all have the capacity to write a play.

We have had two outstanding and diverse speakers in the past three weeks as well as Nigel’s entertaining and informative workshop. What exceptional value our club offers!

Chris Palmer

One comment

  1. Anne Walker

    Thank you, Chris for sharing your notes in this inspiring post. I have tried ‘touch’ and ‘communal’ and surprised myself with the results…

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