Gareth Nicholls on Denouement - Making Theatre About the End of the World

News 22 Sep 2020

Denouement by John Morton is a play about the end of the world.

We know what you're thinking and no, we didn't predict the future. But seeing as the play was due to receive its premiere at #TravFest20 in August, you can't deny that we have a taste for timely dramas!

Reimagined as a work-in-progress audio drama, our Co-Artistic Director, Gareth Nicholls shares his experience of adapting this hilarious, apocalyptic drama from stage to audio play.

A year ago I read a play called Denouement by John Morton about an elderly couple called Liam and Edel, living at the end of times, frantically trying to connect with their children to say their final goodbyes. It was a funny, tragic and slightly absurd observation of what life might become.

In the play fires burned, dogs barked, mountains collapsed, diseases spread and families locked themselves away for protection, desperately trying to hold on to a world that wouldn’t exist much longer.

You know where this is going…

I loved it. It was a dark warning about the future but far enough removed that we could be entertained by the notion of it. The apocalypse it described was suitably vague enough for the audience to project whatever end of days scenario they found most enjoyable, leaving us to relish in the humour of a squabbling couple utterly bored by each other and an Armageddon that’s been dragging on far too long.

We programmed it pretty much straight away and started planning for its festival 2020 opening.

Fast-forward almost a year and I’m sat on a plane heading to our co-producers at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Being unable to stage the play for live audiences we’ve decided to put out an audio version. I’ve got a mask on my face, cleaning gel in my hands and an unhealthy suspicion that the person next to me is trying to infect me.

I’m sure it’s just my own paranoia but it's indicative of how our view of the world has changed over the last six months to echo that of Denouement.

Who do we turn to for meaning in times of great uncertainty?

What do we hold on to and what do we let go of?

What’s important when the world irrevocably changes direction?

Should this guy back off a little and stop breathing in my face?

The questions Denouement asked me a year ago seemed too pertinent now to wait.

Stepping into the Lyric Theatre it strikes me it’s the first time I’ve been in a theatre for 6 months. It’s a little odd. Usually, we’d all huddle around a table, share a cafetiere of coffee and read through the play at close proximity.

Instead, we’re spread throughout the rehearsal room, each with our own table and red lines marked on the floor warning us not to step too close to one another. It probably sounds like a horrible working environment but after a few moments the joy of the play and working with actual real life people (in the flesh!) takes over.

We have a frantic two days to do this - one days rehearsal, one days recording. It could have been stressful had it not been for the brilliance of the cast, the creatives and the teams at Lyric and Traverse. We’re incredibly lucky to be able to do.

The audio reading of Denouement is now out and I’m fascinated to learn how it will be received. Will it feel funnier than before, more real, more moving, will it all feel too much?

Given the chance, I’m fascinated to know how the piece will feel in a year’s time, once we’ve got through this, licking our wounds and starting to dream about the new world we want to see.

There’s a brilliant exchange towards the end of the play where Liam notices a scar on Edels arm just as the world begins to end….

Edel: Liam?

Liam: Yes?

Edel: Will you hold my hand?

Pause. Then he walks to her. He takes her hand and looks at it.

Liam: Is that a scar?

Edel: Yes.

Liam: When did you get it?

Edel: Remember I cut my hand chopping wood? When Frank knocked into me?

Liam: When was that?

Edel: Three years ago.

Liam: I never noticed it before now.

Edel: No?

Liam: No.

They pause. The noise of destruction gets louder.

Edel: Will you put your arm around me?

Liam: I will.

Once we finally get to stage Denouement perhaps it will help us to notice the scars we didn’t know we had. Perhaps that’s a silver lining to come out of this pandemic – a collective pause to reflect on what we had and what we want. Until then I hope the audio reading entertains folk a little, gives them a laugh and maybe a tear – feels like we all need that right now.

Denouement is available to listen to until Sun 27 September

Get your Traverse Festival Pass and listen now:

The Traverse Theatre is funded by Creative Scotland and The City of Edinburgh Council, with additional support from The Scottish Government Performing Arts Venues Relief Fund.