Sea and Land and Sky
New play from Abigail Docherty at Tron Theatre
Almost exactly a year ago Abigail Docherty picked up a flyer in the foyer of the Tron Theatre. Already a playwright with showings of her work at Mayfesto, New Works New Worlds and Imaginate festivals in the pipeline, Docherty was attracted to the playwriting competition detailed therein perhaps not so much by the prospect of an extended run at the Tron for the winning piece, but by the promise for the finalists of several months of mentoring and intensive work with the theatre’s creative team.
‘It’s been a dream, for a writer,’ she says, her role in the production of her play, Sea and Land and Sky, now finished as she waits for preview night. ‘It’s been an amazing process having a really good dramaturg [Pamela McQueen] who pushes your plays into places that you didn’t know it might go. You finish one draft and you’re so relieved, and then they go ‘what if …’ and because they’re sort of objective your play just does a somersault and something really interesting happens. So I’m really full of gratitude for that opportunity.’
The fact that Sea and Land and Sky was chosen by public vote from the three finalists (the other two plays, by Rob Drummond and JC Marshall, can be seen in rehearsed readings in matinee slots during the run) may have as much to do with the promise of the play’s first draft as the fact that it deals with war – a topic that Docherty asserts is ‘something we can’t stop thinking about, because it’s always somewhere’.
Curious about the story of Edinburgh doctor and suffragist Elsie Inglis, who set up many field hospitals during World War I, she went to the Central Library, and there found the meticulously kept and illustrated diaries of nurses employed in those hospitals. What touched a nerve was not just the hardship suffered by these young and, in many cases, woefully underprepared women, but the way social hierarchies, petty disputes and the need to maintain a stiff upper lip remained through the horrific and monumental events around them. Catalysed by the need to submit her competition entry on time, she abandoned Inglis and created a play around three fictional characters that was still much inspired by these extraordinary documents. ‘Normal life, in a way, continues in this excessively dangerous situation,’ she says, ‘and I think that’s a really good position to put a piece of drama in.’
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 7–Sat 23 Oct