My first involvement with Fine Comb was almost a year ago. I answered an ad placed on Manchester ADP’s Facebook page for a director. I’d not met either Rachel or Cat before, but after a lovely meeting and me blabbering on about my initial ideas for the script extract they had provided me with, they kindly offered me the role of director. Matchsticks had been produced in a shorter form twice before, the piece had involved a larger cast, and had under gone some rewrites. It was now going to Greater Manchester Fringe for three performances in The Pod at 53two. My job was to balance their previous work and vision of the piece but also to bring a fresh set of eyes and new ideas.
From the first day, it was clear both Cat and Rachel were also keen to experiment; they weren’t stuck to their previous ideas, and their openness and willingness to play meant my job as a director was made instantly easier. I hadn’t seen the previous incarnation so I didn’t have preconceptions.
An initial table read is vital with any project it seems to me. Regardless of time scales and how up against it you feel. Making sure the company is on the same wave length and sees each section similarly is so important. Sometimes having the writer in the room is a challenge; it can change the balance in the room. But Rachel’s primary aim was to serve the play so we were collaborative from the start.
My role of director was never to dictate but rather to facilitate. With new writing especially, the role of the director is key. Whereas with established work you might bring a ‘vision’, an angle you wish to explore, with new writing the director’s role is one of teasing out all the possibilities the piece contains and honing them towards a single goal. Rachel was always open to suggestions and edits, but also was a fountain of knowledge about the subject areas covered in the script. Fine Comb’s strap line is ‘Inspired by fact, infused with fiction’. That foothold in reality is what makes Rachel’s writing so powerful, she absolutely balances the drama of the situation along with sensitivity and respect for the real person’s story.
One of the things that attracted me to the piece was the notion of how much Art matters. Sometimes I find it hard to justify myself to the universe, that I spend my days dressing up or even telling others how to dress up. But this piece absolutely demonstrates why we do what we do... why art matters, why choice, why opportunities and why telling stories matter!
You would be forgiven for thinking this is Dani’s story: the story of a young mum, catapulted into the prison service due to a serious judgment error and crime of passion. But whilst Dani shouts, screams and generally acts like a bull in a china shop, driving her way through life and the play, the character I found instantly intriguing is that of Cat’s character Heather. All we learn about her life is through a handful of answer phone messages, and memories. As Dani is rebuilding her life, Heather’s life is slowly crumbling away from her. It was how little we know about this character that fascinated me. How key silence was to the piece and this role. This was one of the areas which differed from the previous version of Matchsticks; whereas previously the husband appeared in the flesh, in this version he was just a voice at the end of the phone. Striking the balance between the two characters was vital for this piece.
Directing is a strange business. You work to make yourself invisible and redundant, but rather aim to facilitate your cast and serve the play. There is no better moment than handing it over to them on opening night and your role simply being to pick up the matchsticks after. I am delighted that the piece has been taken on by Oldham Coliseum for their Studio Take Over scheme, and I am excited to see where Fine Comb and Rachel’s writing take them in the future!