Tim Rhys reflects on the writing of his play Stone the Crows, tracking its journey from stage to screen to stage with additional reflections from the director and cast.
My play ‘Stone The Crows’ has had an unusual journey. Chapter Theatre hosts its stage premiere at the end of March, yet a film adaptation of the play has already been made, starring Terence Stamp and Nick Moran. Spinning Head Films bought the rights after reading the play, and produced the film as Crow, which premiered at London Frightfest, directed by Wyndham Price.
The genre demands of the film industry (and backers) inevitably took the play into slightly different directions to fit the needs of its eco-horror/ supernatural-thriller genre, with myself, Wyndham and actor Nick Moran all contributing to the final screenplay. Although the film did well, picked as one of the ‘top tips to watch’ (Hollywood News) at Frightfest, I still have a particular passion for the original play and can’t wait to see it brought to life in the theatre, in the hands of Company of Sirens’ artistic director Chris Durnall. For me, live theatre at its best can be a uniquely powerful shared experience, in a way that no other form can.
This is my third writer-director collaboration with Chris, our previous two being Touch Blue Touch Yellow and Quiet Hands. I always find his approach to my plays challenging and surprising, with his desire to take risks and create powerful theatrical moments, encouraging the creativity of his actors.
These two previous plays featured autistic protagonists, trying to navigate the unpredictable strangeness of the social jungle of everyday life. This play, too, follows a character whose life experience and worldview places them outside mainstream society, though in a very different way. Chris has described the play as “An eco-parable for our times, and much more.”
Tucker is a man searching for peace, far away from the ugly, violent world he’s grown up in. Despite surviving and thriving in this brutal life, he longs for an escape. And he’s found it, in a beautiful, run-down old farm, far from the city, with its own large wood. The farm is a mess, needs a lot of work, but for Tucker it’s a new beginning. He can leave his old world behind.
But someone else has already made the same journey, years ago. Deep inside the wood, Crow sleeps in a scrapped old car, overgrown with brambles, listening to the spirits of nature and healing from the brutal events of a childhood trauma. Cut off from human society, emerging only to help out on the organic, communal farm on the edge of the wood, a unique pagan religion has grown in Crow’s mind, in which nature is sacred and powerful. Tucker buys the farm and moves in. Two worlds are set to collide.
The play explores our conflicted and dangerous relationship with nature in microcosm, through the story of these two people.
Reflections on the production
Tim Rhys (Writer)
Having seen the Company of Sirens’ production ‘Hitchcock Redux’ I was particularly taken by the live music played by Eren Anderson and the way this added so much to the mood and atmosphere of the piece. Chris and myself agreed that Eren would be perfect for ‘Stone The Crows’ and his specially composed music will be an integral part of the production.
One decision we’ve made is in casting Boo Golding as Crow (who was originally conceived of as male). This decision to transcend gender was a response to the great qualities Boo can bring to the role and to the dynamic between Boo and Oliver Morgan-Thomas. Chris has worked with Ollie before and was keen to use the intensity he can bring to Tucker.
Chris Durnall (Director)
One of the impressive elements of the play is its ability to allow the audience to see both sides of a pertinent argument. It holds the audience in its grip by shifting their allegiance in a similar way that David Mamet did with his play ‘Oleanna’. It never signals its intent or settles into the predictable. The casting of both actors likewise offers a fascinating dynamic to work with.
Oliver Morgan-Thomas (Tucker):
I first worked with Chris on Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur whilst I was still in drama school. That play was very special to me and is still to this day one of my favourite projects that I’ve been lucky to be a part of. So it is really exciting to be able to work with Chris again after all these years on Tim Rhys’ ‘Stone the Crows’. I’m looking forward to being able to bring the character Tucker to life, putting my own stamp on him and creating the dark world with Boo Golding’s Crow.
Boo Golding (Crow):
From my very first reading of the play, I was completely drawn into the wild and often chaotic world that Tim has created. There are some really sensitive moments from both Crow and Tucker and I think that’s what makes them so compelling as characters. There is a vulnerability and a longing for simplicity and peace within both of them. It’s such a tragedy that each of their attempts to gain that simplicity and contentment, directly opposes the other’s. I think what’s really tragic about Crow and Tucker is that although they are both expressing similar wants and needs they are fundamentally too different to ever realise this.
I felt like there was so much I wanted to explore with Crow. They have such a beautiful outlook of the world but their understanding of things can sometimes cause them harm. They are misunderstood in many ways. I felt protective towards Crow and wanted to do him justice in my performance and expression of him.
Since Crow was written originally as male, knew I was a sort of wildcard casting suggestion and that was very exciting to me. It was interesting to consider how Crow’s maleness might influence my interpretation of him, and how that might also influence the creative team’s preference to who plays him. I had to consider how much of “Crow-as-a-boy” energy I wanted to bring into the room and how much I wanted to ignore completely in order to offer a perspective which felt more truthful to me.
With little to no access to mainstream society, and therefore, no concept of gender as a social construct, it made sense to me that Crow would not be bound by arbitrary binaries of man/woman as they would have never been exposed to them. I’m really excited to work with Chris as I’ve seen some of his work and loved his unflinching exploration of the macabre. As Tim’s piece has some wonderfully dark and gruesome moments I think it’s a really exciting partnership between writer and director. I’m really interested to find out more about his vision for a script which has such evocative imagery and discover what other elements we will be incorporated into the performance to bring the piece to life.
‘Stone The Crows’ will show at Chapter’s Seligman Theatre Mon 28 March – Fri 1 April. Tickets are available now.