‘ow many donkeys d’you think I could get on the back of a flatbed truck?
As the fictional Carl Grose asks what sounds like the opening line of a bad joke, members of the real life production team are asking each other ‘how many standing humans can you fit into the Drum?’ All the while Stanley Bray is on a long journey hoping to find the answer to his hanging of 49 donkeys.
We’re in week 4 of rehearsals, and we’re all chasing answers to questions that will enable us to piece this strange story of missing sons and bizarre addictions together. The last few fight rehearsals are being run, the art of donkey hanging perfected, and the final songs composed. And just as the character in the play, the writer Carl Grose, doesn’t know the ending of the play he hasn’t yet written, so too has the real-life playwright Carl Grose been typing away in our rehearsal room to bring all the necessary strands together for the final coup d’theatre. Theatrical invention seems to mirror real life in a rather mysterious and ludicrous way.
The play began life in Soweto, when the real Carl Grose was on tour performing in a Kneehigh show (yes he’s an actor too – and there was once a radio version of our play where Carl indeed played himself). 49 Donkeys Hanged has taken shape and form since then, with a range of influences from the South African townships Carl visited, to Coen Brother films and even miracle plays, where travelling companies of actors-cum-craftsmen would perform to the public in the marketplace out the back of a cart. In similar style to those plays of the Middle Ages, we are turning the Drum into the arena of local community, a space where you can move freely around platforms upon which the story will unfold. Indeed, you will be a part of the same community as our players, who will tell you a story of miraculous intervention into the lives of Stanley and Joy Bray, the Cornish farmers from down the road in Ventongimps. Who will it be that has the final answer that can bring an end to Bray’s long suffering journey? Slaughterhouse Sally or the writer Carl Grose?
With such a dispersed playing space where the actors make strides across the auditorium from one area of action to another, and where audience members will have multiple points of view depending on how they choose to physically follow the play, this production defies all notions of domestic realism and denies any universal truth that everyone can accept and agree to. As it is for the characters in the play, our production highlights the disorderly and perplexing world in which we live; a world made up of different versions of reality and different accepted truths, a world that more often than not has a lack of answers to the big questions we’re faced with.
There is however one character in this community who provides the steady anchoring you may need; someone who is always there, ready to help the story along. That is Randy, the local country singer. Like you, he too will be following Stanley Bray’s journey into the unknown, but he’ll be doing so with a plethora of instruments to strum along and sing with. Here’s a sneak preview of Dom Coyote, our composer and performer, in rehearsal. If you’re a fan of Hank Williams or Jonny Cash you’re in for a treat…
‘You will find a fortune, though it will not be the one you seek. But first… first you must travel a long and difficult road, a road fraught with peril. Mm-hmm. You shall see thangs, wonderful to tell’
– The Blind Seer; O Brother, Where Art Thou?
49 Donkeys Hanged is a Theatre Royal Plymouth Production in The Drum 23 March – 7 April, tickets are available to purchase here or via our Box Office 01752 267222.