Reflecting on The Emperor’s Clothes


So, it has been a week since we closed the wardrobe doors for the time being, and stowed a tremendous variety of clothing items away after the final performance of the debut production of The Emperor’s Clothes. I have come back down to Earth after a tremendous post-production high, and therefore I feel I can write about the experience.

A blue wardrobe with a yellow interior. The clothes inside show the title The Emperor's Clothes.

It was magical. Absolutely magical. No theatrical experience I have had can compare to experiencing an audience reacting to something you have created. Hearing people laugh at jokes or funny moments I dreamed up, or hearing the (sometimes incredibly sustained) applause following my friend and colleague Phil Hornsey’s songs was thrilling. Seeing the characters take three-dimensional form and continue to grow over the five performances, and experiencing the amazing company spirit from everyone involved was heart-warming as well.

The audience reaction was phenomenal, beyond anything I could have expected, and we are quite determined to take this show (and specifically Legacy Performers’ production of it) further.

But first, we need to reflect. The saying “Plays are not written, they’re rewritten” is attributed to 19th-century actor/playwright Dion Boucicault. And it is certainly true of The Emperor’s Clothes. The script that was performed was at least the third complete draft, and won’t be the last. We now have a much better idea of what plays well and what doesn’t, which moments land with an audience, which don’t, and which could if they were set up differently. So the rewrite pencils need to come out. Thankfully, we don’t think we need to do major surgery, just a few nips and tucks. Mostly because the show needs to run a bit shorter, so we need to shave off 10 or 15 minutes. We know the songs all work, though we may trim one or two reprises. The majority of the editing needs to be from the book.

So how will I go about that. In a few ways.

First, repetition – experiencing the show with an audience made me spot areas of repetition which read throughs and rehearsals simply didn’t highlight. There are a few things which we get told twice. So my job is to work out which telling is funnier or more essential to the characters. The other one will need to go.

Second – unnecessary utterances. Looking back over the script, I can now see lines which really serve no purpose. They don’t advance the plot, set up a laugh or expand the characters. So they can go.

Third, pace. We can review the recording we made of the show (for our own purposes) and see where the pace flags. The director and performers did an excellent job of maintaining energy, so any flagging in pace is likely to indicate that the script could be tightened.

Finally, being brutal and asking the question of “do we really need this?” Some exchanges are there because they’ve always been there, but do they still need to be? Or they were written to serve a particular purpose in drawing the characters, but that purpose may now have been answered somewhere else. For example, during the first act we make sure that the audience really doesn’t like one particular character – he is consistently unpleasant to other characters (other than the Emperor) and even if he doesn’t do anything technically villainous, he makes himself very easy to dislike. But do we need every instance of this? Are some of them overkill, or have we got just the right amount of nasty?

Editing is going to be tricky, but ultimately rewarding if we can make this piece (described to me by one enthusiastic audience member as “a gem”) eve better. I would not have missed the Emperor’s experience for anything, which was as much to do with the talented and lovely group of people who came together for it, and it is certainly not going to be the last time my work gets performed.

Onwards and upwards!

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