Author's Programme Note
The following note first appeared in the programme for Out Of The Blue's Production of Dead Certain in New Zealand in 2001.
"Chararacters in plays do not know what is going to happen next. Actors, on the other hand, do. They will have read the script. They will have memorized their lines and rehearsed their actions. For the duration of a play an actor inhabits a strange semi-deterministic world. He knows exactly what his actions will be and he knows exactly what the reaction to these actions will be. Directed by the script, he may, for example attempt to kiss a female character. She may kiss him back, slap his face or do whatever is required by the script. The male character may be surprised by this action but the actor will not. An actor will only be surprised if something goes wrong. When this happens a real (as opposed to staged) action may be rquired to rescue the situation. Someone may forget a line or a prop may malfunction. An actor must be on his toes, ready to save a character from the unexpected. It is a curious, schizophrenic existence - actor and character inhabiting one body. The stage is both a safe place for an actor and a dangerous one. Safe because for the most part he knows what to expect, dangerous because sometimes reality intrudes.
I have always been fascinated by the question: how much are we free to choose what happens in our lives and how much is predetermined? Perhaps we are like characters in plays - our destiny is already written. If this is the case wouldn't it be interesting to get alook at the script?
A few years ago, with this thought in mind, the idea for a play began to take shape. It would be a thriller and I knew that free will versus determinism would underpin it as a central theme but I was also interested in the nature of personal identity, particularly memory and its relationship to identity, and I wanted this to be another key element.
When I was about 14 I saw the film of Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth and I was knocked out by it. I was young enough to be totally fooled by Michael Caine's disguise but old enough to appreciate Shaffer's ability to keep me riveted throughout using only two characters interacting in real time in only one location. Of course, as a thriller, Sleuth is in a league of its own and I wanted to write something very different but I decided to set myself the same limitations: two characters, one location, real time.
It was clear to me from the start that one of the characters would be an actor. I also decided that he should have alcoholic tendencies. Since it is widely believed that many alcoholics have a genetic predisposition towards the disease, in a sense they are destined to be alcoholics. Those alcoholics who resist the condition can only do so by attempting to impose their own will on the situation. An internal struggle results - the person's will versus their genetic programming. I saw the play as being, in some respects, a dramatization of this struggle with the two opposing forces personified.
I decided that the other character would be a woman. She would be a free character, a former dancer, someone who was (or had once been) in control of her life. I wanted this character to be the opposite in almost every respect to the alcoholic actor.
I now had my themes, my premise, my characters and I also knew what the setting would be. Dead Certain was my first stage play and I naively thought that I had done the hard work. I suppose I thought I could just leave the characters to get on with it. I bought a notebook and gave myself two weeks to write it all down. This proved to be wildly optimistic. A number of people have asked me how long it took to complete but it is difficult to give an exact answer. In the end the first draft took me eighteen months to finish. It wasn't so much what went into the play that took the time, it was everything that was left out - I have several notebooks full of false starts and rejected dialogue.
Having no agent at the time, and no contacts, I entered the first draft for the George Devine Award - a competition run in association with the Royal Court. A few weeks later one of the judges, the playwright Donald Howarth, phoned me and we met up. He told me that because it was a commercial thriller, Dead Certain was totally unsuitable for the award but he liked it and wanted to help me get it produced. He arranged a read-through at his house with Fenella Fielding as Elizabeth and Jason Isaacs as Michael. This proved very useful and I did a considerable amount of rewriting as a result. However, although the play had definitely improved, we had made very little progress towards getting it produced. Then one day in 1997 Donald's ninety year old mother rang him to say that she'd read an article in which the theatre producer, Bill Kenwright had named him as his favourite playwright. Donald immediately phoned Bill and was invited for tea in his office in Shaftesbury Avenue. As he was leaving Donald casually remarked that he had "discovered" a "very commercial" two-handed thriller and could Bill offer any advice about how to produce it. Bill asked to read it and a few days later he took out an option on it. This was very exciting and I was looking forward to going into production at any moment. But then nothing happened for two and a half years. I occasionally made minor adjustments to the script and sent it into Bill's office as a reminder that I was still alive but to no effect. I started working on other scripts and, after two years when the option expired, I went to Russia to work on another project. I intended to stay for 6 months but after a few weeks Donald rang. He managed to say, "Bill's going to....." before the line went dead. It was a further three days of excitement and anxiety before we made contact again and Donald was able to complete his sentence with the words I'd hoped for.
I returned to England and rehearsls began in June 1999. By this time I had worked on the play on and off for five years. During the rehearsal period some further changes were made. These were mostly in the form of cuts - odd lines here and there, and the actors more or less found them for themselves, so they were mercifully easy to make. A little tweaking went on during the run, and I made a few further changes when the play was published. So I'm not sure how long it took to write Dead Certain. It certainly wasn't two weeks. Nor was it five years. Somewhere in between.
Marcus Lloyd, London 3rd June 2001"