New Wolsey creates a play of two halves around World Cup glory bid
- Credit: Archant
Ever wondered what the great and the good are like when the cameras are switched off and what they say to each other when they meet away from prying eyes? So did Silent Witness actor William Gaminara and this prompted him to put pen to paper and come up with a new play The Three Lions, which opens at the New Wolsey Theatre in a week’s time.
Gaminara was looking for a new project after he left forensic crime series Silent Witness after 11 years. “All I was being offered was more police or doctor roles which were very similar to what I had just been doing. I had left that and wanted to do something different,” he said.
It turned out that something different was writing a play about what happened when Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham found themselves holed up in a Swiss hotel together as they prepare their bid for England to host the 2018 World Cup.
“I was at a party when someone mentioned that Prince William, Cameron and Beckham were heading our World Cup bid and they were all staying together at a hotel in Switzerland.
“We started talking about it and it struck me that putting those three people in a room together was an innately funny idea.”
Writing plays is nothing new for William Gaminara, who describes his career as being a writer who acted a bit and now as an actor who writes a bit. His other work, Back up the Hearse and Let Them Sniff the Flowers, were more dramas with a touch of humour whereas The Three Lions he says is his first out and out comedy.
“I don’t want to give too much away but the whole thing speeds up as the play goes along and events unfold and by the end it has become a full-on farce.”
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He said that the idea was to explore the personalities of three iconic men away from the spotlight.
“I wanted to explore diplomacy in action – both political diplomacy and social diplomacy because these are three powerful people and there is an opportunity here for egos to clash.
“They are three very different people and they each have a very clear public identity which we all know, whether it is accurate or not, and they are all very high status individuals as well, so I thought it would be fun to imagine what they would say to one another if they found themselves locked in a room together for an extended period of time.”
He said that because they all come from different backgrounds and have different status in terms of public opinion, it would be fun to have them privately jostling for position in an undeclared game of oneupmanship.
Gaminara said that the play also takes a look at what it means to be English in the modern world, how pride at our heritage and achievements can still rise to the surface despite living in a cynical world.
“The play relishes the fact that despite the missed planes, the mistaken identities, the misunderstandings, the sartorial mishaps, they are all determined to win the World Cup bid for England and to bring our game, the beautiful game as they see it, back to its home for this important event.”
However, he explains, in spite of their eagerness to please the FIFA officials, misunderstandings still abound and they can’t help committing a series of faux pas which may threaten the bid. As the play unwinds and things get increasingly frantic it becomes clear that our three English lions, our three champions, are finding it hard to maintain their grip on that elusive prize.
Gaminara adds with a chuckle: “They find that their goal is slipping through their fingers and as things continue to go disastrously wrong they discover, too late, that for once three heads may not be better than one.”
He said that although he has been working on the play and fine-tuning it for more than a year now, the actual writing of the main drafts happened very fast.
“It took on a life of its own. The first couple of drafts were delivered in a couple of months. All the work that has happened since is really just fine-tuning it as a result of the original Edinburgh performances and then the rehearsal period.
“I have just rewritten some new scenes just to give the satire some extra bite.”
He said that although he views it essentially as a playful comedy, there are elements of satire in there because, as he put it, “we know now that there is such a lot of satirise.
“Things that we suspected at the time, in terms of FIFA’s role in the bidding process, have now been proven to be true. But, it’s not a play about FIFA, particularly, or a play about football, but rather it’s a flat-comedy about icons of our society who have been charged with doing an important job and there’s a satirical edge to it because icons are people, and sometimes their human side reveals flaws that you wouldn’t expect in an icon.”
He said that the comedy arises from the things that conspire to go wrong despite everyone’s best endeavours. Having just come from rehearsals, he said that he was pleased that the energy that the play gathered from the speedy writing process appears to be transferring itself to the stage.
Experienced director Philip Wilson, former artistic director of the Salisbury Playhouse, is helming the show but, surely, as an actor-writer there must have been a temptation for Gaminara to direct the play himself?
However, he is not convinced that would have been a good idea. “It’s always best to have another pair of eyes looking at it. You can become too close to a piece, too protective and you don’t always realise when something is not working.
“That’s not say it’s easy handing over a play to someone else. I remember in the past sitting in rehearsals and thinking to myself: ‘That’s not how I would have done it. Oh no there are saying the line wrong, that’s not how I heard it in my head when I wrote it,’ but that’s dangerous. You have to hand it over to someone else because putting plays on is a collaborative experience and you have to allow people to bring their own experience to the piece. They are not going to do it how you heard it in your head and as a writer you have to learn to let go.
“It is a strange experience going into rehearsal but directors and other actors bring things to your work that you haven’t thought of and they make it better.”
He said that he usually attends the start of the rehearsal process just to make sure the director and actors are happy with everything and then once rehearsals get down to the nitty gritty of line-learning and experimenting with bits of business, he tends to disappear and let them get on with it.
“Having said that I am in contact with the director, so if anything comes up, I can pop along and explain something. Also, because this is my first out and out comedy, I have found that I have done more tweaking with this than I have done with my more dramatic plays.
“Comedy is such a collaborative process that lots of good ideas come up during rehearsals and you want to hang on to them, if you can. So I have done quite a bit of re-writing and tweaking with this in order to incorporate bits of business or making sure that we make the joke funnier by getting the right words, the right rhythms and precision in the dialogue. During rehearsal it’s fine tuning. Most of the big changes come when you are writing the drafts and by the time you get to the rehearsal room that’s done and dusted.”
Creating a play which features three such instantly recognisable figures as David Beckham, Prince William and David Cameron means that you have to careful with casting but William Gaminara says that no-one wanted impersonators in the roles.
Instead, what he and director Philip Wilson wanted was a trio of actors who could put across the essence of their character without being a carbon copy.
“We are looking for an acting performance and that’s quite a tricky ask because there has to be a passing resemblance – you couldn’t just cast anyone, you couldn’t cast a really good actor who was 4ft 6 and weighed 18 stone and expect people to believe he was David Cameron – the audience has to believe, so we were looking for people who were the same physical shape without worrying whether they were their double or not.
“Also, vocally while we weren’t looking for someone to do an impression, we were looking for someone who could talk like them, capture their rhythms, their authority, if you get close enough to that then the audience buy into that straight away.”
However, he said that the fact that his trio of famous faces are behind closed doors means that they can drop their public face which means our actors can explore the man behind the name – “and of course that was the idea of the play in the first place – having a bit of fun with these icons of our age”.
The Three Lions is at The New Wolsey Theatre from March 9-14.