“Days Like These” Gemma Alldred
For everyone who has ever been ’17’
I have been here before. I recognise this place. How many times will I stand here?
“Act 1” – ‘The Play’ Audience enter, Wait for them to be seated. The action begins in the darkness on stage. Then the lights then go up. Gemma ‘acting’. Scene 7 - Knightsbridge, Easter, 1956. October nights, those poor parachutists I do know how they feel even now. Cities. Fields. Trees. Farms. Dark Spaces. Lights. The parachute opens. We descend. (go back to group) Of course we were comparatively welcome, not always ecstatic. Not the Gaullists of course, but by and large we did make it our business to land in countries where we were welcome. Certainly the men were. I mean some of the stories, I can’t tell you. I remember a colleague of mine, telling me of the heat, of the smell of particular young girl. The hot, wet smell he said. Nothing since, nothing since then. I don’t think the Egyptian girls somehow….no. Not in Egypt now. I mean there were broken hearts when we left. I mean there are girls today who mourn the death of Englishmen who died in Dachau, men who died naked in Dachau, Men with whom they’d spent only a single night. But then… even for myself I do like to make a habit of sleeping with men whom I hardly know, I do find that once you get to know them you usually don’t want to sleep with them anymore. (mimes Brock pulling her away - Wait and respond to him) I would stop, I would stop fucking talking, if I ever heard anyone say anything worth fucking stopping talking for. 1
“ACT 2” – The Performance of the Play “Would you like to see some more of the play now?....” Gemma ‘Performer’: There’s Scene 3, Susan meets her husband to be for the first time, nothing very much happens, we can skip that one. Scene 4, Scene 4 is more exciting, its set in Susan’s flat, she polishes her gun whilst Alice her friend smokes hashish. Scene 5, well Scene 5 is quite dark, I don’t really like to play that scene. Scene 5 is the scene when Tom’s character breaks down, he falls to the floor crying. Someone gets arrested. Scene 6, scene 6 is a little more jovial, it’s set in a nightclub, a bar… all the character’s are there. It’s very lively. It feels like nothing could possibly go wrong. Scene 7, oh you’ll like scene 7, this is where Susan goes a little mad…. Not quite mad, not searching through bins for Jesus mad, no, that comes later….
“Act 3” – Falling Between the Lines Start Again Introductions Thank you very much for coming, to this evening’s performance. In a moment I will perform the play Plenty by David Hare Although we don’t have a proper theatre, so we’re going to do it now, here, instead. Mr Harnan the director, wants me to let you know a few things – As a theatre .... as a piece.... as a piece of theatre, it offers no clear conclusion in regards to the lives of its main characters. And the set…. The set is quite important, so this table well it’s a hill and these, ....these boxes ....represent all the memories a life… And I’m going to sit over here, I’m going to sit over here with my friends, I’m going to sit here with the other actors. And it will be impossible to leave, instead we’ll have to stay here, me and Hannah and Tom, we’ll have to stay here and say the lines as they’ve been written down for us to play over and over and over….. And when I’m stood (t)here ……. And when I’m stood (t)here, I will be 17, when I’m stood (t)here it’ll be the end of the play, when I’m stood (t)here it’ll be 1944. And I’m going to stand here, on the hill, I’m going to stand here on the hill in 1944, on the hill, on the stageblock, I’m going to stand here on the stageblock in 2001…
Make Again Make New Director’s Notes In 2001 everything changed, although in truth it had begun earlier than that. It had begun in August 1944, when ‘Susan’ had stood on the top of a hill in St. Benoit, looking down at the villages below, It was the end of the war and the children were lighting bonfire’s in the village. She turned to the French farmer she was speaking to in the fields and said, “There will be days and days and days like these” And I was there to hear her. I was there in 2001 when Philippa stood in a drama studio, the play was ending, she was stood on a stage block. A stage block, which symbolically represented both a hill in St Benoit and a bed, as she turned away from the ‘Frenchman’, she caught my eye. I believed her, I knew what she meant, when she said, ‘there will be days and days and days like these’. Years later, I found myself ‘awaiting the drop’ in a field in Yorkshire, I looked for Philippa but she wasn’t there, instead I found Susan, in truth she’s never left. Philippa was there, and Susan, and me, as I was when I was 17. In 2001 I was only beginning, only starting the days, which I’ve dreamed of ever since.
“It is hard to identify the patterns of history while one is embedded in them, we ‘invent’ these patterns, pulling the past together into a manageable picture, retrospectively” - Amelia Jones 2 “Days Like These” was made as the result of trying to make something new from the archive of my performance history. It became a journey, only I didn’t have a map. I got lost frequently and found myself stuck in repetition, nostalgia and dead ends. “What does that even mean? How can you ask me to speak these words now? Don’t you know who I am? Don’t you realise who you become and how difficult it is for me to speak the stories you wear like a prize, like your identity, this is who you were, this isn’t who I am.” - Make Again, Make New, Blog. October 2011 I struggled as a trawled through my history to re-perform my performances past, it was as though the words didn’t fit in my mouth anymore, I wasn’t that person and as hard as I tried I couldn’t find her. I’d set off on a journey that led me further into my history than I had anticipated. At the start of a performance journal, written in October 2001, was a piece of writing about a show I thought I was making, I didn’t make that show then. I wouldn’t have known how to. It became the performance that I made, now.
I had spent the last 5 years reminiscing about what I had and who I used to be. I have shoe-boxes full of memories that stop dead, no new ones have taken their place, my photo albums abruptly end somewhere around 2005… I have tried to make new ones, to make the same experiences again but I can’t. It’s not the same. It’s different. I started to think about trying to have a conversation with myself in the past and not simply just a retrospective, passive, remembering of who I think I was. But somehow I wanted to try to access that person again, at times, I think that may of happened. Always unexpected, these were moments that caught me out and which I couldn’t hold onto, moments when I forgot myself and remembered myself at exactly the same time. “If all the world’s a stage, if I have performed my life, in accordance with the lens I view it through, perhaps I could reperform not only a ‘show’ but a ‘life’.” - Make Again, Make New, Blog. November 2011 I did try to ‘re-perform’ myself, it became something of a compulsion, which I had to try on. I failed of course. Instead I found myself whilst in a nightclub, (trying to ‘re-live’ my teens) I caught the reflection of a young girl of 17 or 18 in a mirror, for a moment I mistook her for myself. I could see her future, where I saw my past.
“I know my past, I have come one full circle. I know who I was, I am resolved, answered. satisfied.” - Make Again, Make New, Blog. November 2011 Of course there were tragedies, the character of ‘Susan’ never lets go of the life she had, she never moves on. After the war, she never really lives again, she just re-lives her past. What becomes of the people she once knew, and what became of the people I once knew? I wanted to talk about this, I wanted to find some meaning in the lives of the people I love who have fallen through the cracks, through the lines on the page. Looking back, it’s so easy to see the trajectory of what was going to happen, I was lucky. Others weren’t. Nothing can change that now. “I’m trying to retrace my steps, but I’m not going anywhere, it’s like I’m stuck. You can’t go back, you can’t live your life again.” - Days Like These, Gemma Alldred
10 roses this time, last time there were 12, a dozen, a symbol of love. These roses I bought for myself. These roses I bought for all of us. I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.
“I have kept everything I will forget nothing I don’t know who I am anymore”
‘Susan’; as performed at ‘Play Me’, York 2010
‘Susan’; shortly before a night-time performance in the Yorkshire Dales, 2011
Being ‘Susan’ I have been performing ‘Susan’ one way or another since I first performed the character in April 2001. Maybe this was because, as far I was concerned, it had the best speech in the play, Act 1, Scene 7. So great that I fluffed my lines in the actual performance. Maybe my fixation on the character is because I couldn’t let go of my embarrassment of forgetting my lines.... especially those lines. Maybe it was because I was 17 and I was so aware of my life, maybe it was because of all the after class conversations I had with ‘Mr. Harnan’, who was a teacher in the proper sense of the word. He was the one who told us that Susan’s story was in many ways like our own lives. That school and our teenage years were most probably going to be the best years of our life and as we graduated into adulthood we would realise this and look back fondly on what we had. Mr Harnan told us there were certain songs he couldn’t listen to, because of the memories. Maybe it was because I was happy in drama class, Maybe it was because I caught Philippa’s gaze, as she said those last lines in such a way that I can still remember that feeling so clearly. I have ‘performed Susan’ and thought about her often since. ... I think that this is the final time I will feel the need, the compulsion. I think our journey together is coming to an end. I will leave her in the past and I will move on. I won’t become her. Although occasionally I may need to glance back.
Acting Technique: Stanislavski & Chekhov Emotion Memory & Psychological Gesture I am stood in a theatre studio but I need to make you imagine, maybe even believe that I am in a forest in France, in 1943. I am 17 and a courier for the resistance. I am alone and frightened. The lights change, this helps, it helps me focus, I start to speak and as I do I try to remember the way I felt on a night time walk through the countryside, I was at the back of the group, I felt vulnerable. My breathing starts to change... I keep saying the lines... I focus on feeling small, as if I were hiding, I don’t want to be caught, I make myself small by making that gesture inwardly, I make myself as small as I can, I feel the the muscles in my stomach draw together, my voice changing as they do.... the line about the Gestapo is coming up, I focus my mind, I remember visiting Auschwitz, I remember the room with all the shoes behind a glass display, I remember how it made me feel, I imagine its real for me now, I imagine it’s my shoes behind the glass. I remember visiting the bunks where people had lived, I remember the black and white photos and children standing barefoot for hours in the snow. I remember, I remember.... The lights change, a slow fade, just as I requested. I want you to see that its just a story, my gift to you, but still just a story. It’s not ‘real’, its just ‘acting’.
A Memory Made in Poland, January 2007 As noted at the time, â€˜I have no doubt that one day I will find myself using this memory in a different wayâ€™.
“I got to thinking about the conversation I’d had this time last week and that it somehow foresaw this walk. I got to see how this conversation years ago foresaw this walk….. I thought again of that walk in the woods, that story told. I thought I might’ve felt it. At least felt the bodies that came before me. Still we walked, I was alone. I was no longer me. I was no longer me. Did I know this? Was it my imagination? Is there really any difference between the two? I can’t really say what happened next , it was as if everything sucked into me, all at once. Overpowered I stood. I simply contained. I felt like a vessel. I touched a stone. Flat. Cold. It became colder and I cried slowly. With my eyes closed the stone and I spoke in silent un-speaking conversation. I was aware where I was but I was surprised when I opened my eyes; the wall had grown. Our conversation over, we drifted back to our original states, no longer able to see each other, yet we knew each other now. I know this walk.”
- Reflections. Performance Journal October 2011
There will be days and days and days like these
There will be days and days and days like these
There will be days and days and days like these
There will be days and days and days like these
Memories of “Days Like These” “When you laid out the outfit on the floor I was reminded of my bright red corduroy flares, Art shoes and long stripy socks, and being withdrawn, going to circus skills classes, falling in and out of love. All in those clothes that I wore, all at once, in one photo years ago.”
“I remember your shoes black crocodile patent with a small heel and a gold band around the heel.... I remember closing my eyes for too long and feeling I was missing out on something... I remember your real you clothes and thinking of my signature outfit as a teenager...”
“When you told us to close our eyes, I remember keeping my eyes open and then closing them and then opening them again, because I didn't know what I was meant to do; and I remember wondering if not knowing what I was meant to do was perhaps what I was meant to do all along. I remember trying to remember what your real voice sounded like, succeeding, then wondering which was your real voice anyway. I also remember finding you on the stage. And I remember being told it was Brechtian, which seemed pretty Brechtian itself.”
“I remember you describing the key dramatic elements that were the base of the play that you described to the audience, the false ending that even had the front of house think it was the end of the play.” “I think you picked up some books from the table and threw them to the floor, asking: 'Books, books, books! What does it all mean?' But then maybe I have misremembered. Maybe you threw them later, after you had explained that you were performing Plenty and had taken something out of the box. I also felt melancholic remembering myself at seventeen. It was 'brilliant' and 'awful'. The girl that wore my shirt, who I held (and made her feel safe?), the girl who I thought said she liked me, then didn't, then did and the sinking feeling in my stomach. Of the friends I knew, and thought I would know for longer, but that are gone and I haven't seen for years.”
Original Poster ‘Plenty’ by David Hare Directed by Mr Harnan The character of ‘Susan’ was played by Gemma Alldred, aged 17, 1 day, 19 hours and 30 minutes.
White shirt. Cotton. circa 2000 Label bearing the name ‘Gemma L Alldred’. Written on in marker pens, Various colours.
Example of written text Reads:
Found in back of wardrobe.
“Gemma 4 ever, her name isn’t Trevor, but she likes bever...ages... apologies, Pip xxx”
Selection of School Books Circa 1999 - 2001
Key ‘Wren Bird’ Circa mid - late 20th century
Covers: Inscribed with doodles. Contents: French homework, love letters, secret messages.
Original purpose unknown. Used as theatre prop in a production of ‘Plenty’ in 2001, Nottinghamshire. Also used as a good luck charm.
Black & White Checked Shirt. Circa 1990’s
Cheap plastic bracelet. Handmade. Circa 2001
Some stains, notably green paint on cuff and ‘dirt’ around collar.
Found, one day in the loft.
Plastic beads, green, pink, blue. The order of the beads is quite precise, most of the meaning of which has long since been forgotten. There may be a connection to France in the sequence of blue hearts.
Page from school diary January 12th 1999
Red Dress. Zip up ‘shirt dress’ Circa 1990s
Details weekly homework including ‘Maths test’. ‘Offspring!!!’; other similar inscriptions have been found on the same date in sequential diaries, indicating this was a meaningful date.
An example of a popular fashion from the era. Manufactured by ‘honey’, a division of the clothing chain ‘C&A’.
Smells old. Previously forgotten.
Some small areas of damage, otherwise very good condition.
“Seventeen” #2 She kept these notebooks you see, she kept them knowing they were important. What I mean is she knew they felt important when she was making them at the time. And I think she knew that one day I would come looking for her and that I would find her here in these books. I doubt she knew then, that I wouldn’t recognise her. I feel amazing. I feel all skinny and sex and drugs and rock n roll. I feel out of control. I feel alive. I am alive .I am living. I am on the edge. I am in the cracks, I am between the lines. I am unpredictable. I feel like I am someone. I feel like I’m doing it. Really doing it. I feel in control. I am shining. I am a mess, a fucking beautiful mess. I am being watched, Look at me, I’m good at this, look at me...
“I am all skin & bones & hair & black eyeliner.”
Gemma Alldred Aged 16 years, 363 days, 20 hours & 28 minutes
Reminders. Remembrance. Itâ€™s important to remember. To write things down. To hold on. To document a life. No words for the realisation of passing time, of letting go.
The very important past, boxes of happiness, of sadness, of people. Shoe-boxes to support the waning memories that come into mind suddenly, briefly causing a smile or a laugh or pain or humiliation.
Memories that make you reply out loud in the middle of the street as though you werenâ€™t there, surrounded by people and passers by, but back in that moment, changing history, making it different. Gemma Alldred, October 2006.
“Days Like These” Performance Written and performed by Gemma Alldred. With inspiration and adaptation taken from ‘Plenty’ by David Hare.
“Days Like These” Documentation Written and designed by Gemma Alldred.
With Thanks & Recognition With special thanks to the kind friends and audience members who took time to share their memories with me. Kind thanks to York St. John University & the Faculty of Arts. Mr Harnan, I never said it first time around, but ‘thank you for everything’.
Photographs Performance photography: Elfi Childs All other images and editing: Gemma Alldred
References 1. David Hare, Plenty, 1978. 2. Amelia Jones, “Presence” in Absentia, 1997.
Research Blog www.makeagainmakenew.wordpress.com
Artist's document accompanying the performance, "Days Like These", as part of the wider research project, 'remake redo'.