Sparkleshark is a modern day stage comedy about Jake, a shy 14 year old boy who secretly writes imaginative magical stories from the roof of an inner-city tower block. As the play progresses, more and more characters arrive on the roof before Jake has to think up his best story yet to prevent taking another beating from Russell the ‘love-muscle’ bully. We have spent a number of lessons in drama working on this play, experimenting with a variety of strategies that would help us gain a greater insight into the different characters and the themes that are explored by writer Philip Ridley.
We wanted to get a better understanding of Jake’s character in particular and why it is that he spends most of his time at school hiding behind the bins; we decided that Cross-cutting by creating flashbacks to his home and school life before the events of the play would be the best way of doing this, as this would help show possible reasons for his shyness and for his fear of Russell.
The first flashback scene we created was of Jake coming home to his family after school. My group’s scene involved Jake (played by me) running upstairs to his room as soon as he gets in the door before being forced by his parents to come down and eat his dinner. We wanted our scene to show that his parents really do care for him, but that the only thing Jake really cares for is his passion for writing stories. To show the parents’ concerns for Jake, we had them constantly asking him questions as to why he was so late home from school and whether the reason he wasn’t eating was because he was being bullied. Jake finally can’t take it any more and storms upstairs to his room slamming the door behind him. Through improvising this scene showing just how frustrated Jake is by using aggravated body language and movement to help me, it made me understand that if Jake struggles just to talk to his own family, then it is no surprise that at the beginning of Sparkleshark he is irritated that a girl who he barely knows (Polly) has been reading his stories without him knowing.
We then created another flashback scene which would show Jake’s day at school before he came home to his family, and this would involve other characters from the play which would help us see Jake’s possible feelings towards them before Sparkleshark. In my group we used the character of Russell so that we could see what it was about him that makes Jake so scared of him as well as at the same time allow us to look into the feelings of Russell himself. When I come into the classroom as Jake there are only two seats left in the class; one is right at the front, and the other is next to Russell.
Knowing that he will be made fun of if he sits at the front, Jake courageously goes to sit next to Russell who is about to let him sit there before he sees 3 girls looking over from the other side of the class. He then tells Jake to ‘get lost’ and pushes him away. Not only did doing this help us establish a possible reason that Jake would have to be scared of Russell, but it would also tell us how Russell might only be horrible to Jake just to look ‘cool’ in front of the girls. Using this cross-cutting strategy also made me think that perhaps the grief Jake is getting whilst at school is the reason for why he isn’t very good at communicating with other people, and so the only way he feels he can express himself is through writing stories using his big imagination.
Another strategy we explored during lessons was the stylised technique of Slow-motion. After trying the rooftop chase scene in Sparkleshark between Buzz, Speed and Jake in real-time-motion, we struggled with managing to capture the sense of Jake’s panic whilst being chased, or the control that Russell has over Buzz and Speed. We felt that the best way of emphasizing the importance of this scene and showing how it is essentially the turning point for Jake in the play would be through slowing it down, as this would allow the audience to have more time to take in what is going on.
Within my group I played the character of Russell and at the start of the scene he arrogantly mocks Jake for hiding behind the girls. Through the use of levels we then showed the audience the power Russell has over Buzz and Speed by Russell standing up onto the block and commanding them to “get the geek”. It is at this moment that the scene breaks into slow-motion and that the main action begins. Buzz and Speed instantly respond to Russell’s direction and go after Jake, as the girls try and protect him.
When the scene reaches the stage where Buzz and Speed are dangling Jake over the edge of the rooftop, we decided that this would be an ideal opportunity to incorporate a Still image into our scene which would then give the audience a chance to reflect on how each of the characters are feeling at that moment in the play. Liam and Jack used facial expression by grinning to show the smugness of Buzz and Speed as they have Jake dangled over the edge of the stage (the rooftop) whilst I held a strong, upright posture to make Russell look big and powerful whilst pointed at Jake in hysterics in order to show Russell’s amusement at Jake’s cries for help.
After experimenting with slow-motion and still image in this scene, I really feel as if I now know each of the characters and the relationships between them a lot better. I can now see that Buzz and Speed feel they have to do whatever Russell says in order to look cool and win his respect, and that although Russell just wants to show off to the girls by intimidating Jake, the girls are anything but impressed since they have taken a liking to Jake and see him as almost “one of them”. If I was to create this scene again, I would have perhaps added another still image at the point just before the scene breaks into slow-motion so that the audience are left in suspense as to what is going to happen next.
Thought-tracking was a final strategy we looked at. We wanted to get inside the heads of the characters in order to imagine the different thoughts running through their minds. Having this idea of their thoughts would then really help us to accurately portray the various characters when later acting scenes from Sparkleshark.
The group I worked with took a still image of Jake, Polly, Natasha and Carol in the playground at school and each of the characters would then in turn step out of position and express to the audience what they were feeling whilst everyone else remained frozen. To show what Natasha thinks of Carol she would be complaining to herself about Carol and how she wishes she’d stop following her around like a sheep, whilst Carol would be looking in amazement at Natasha’s new haircut thinking that she must get one exactly the same. So that we could show the sympathy that Polly feels for Jake, but at the same time how, as the new-girl, how she wants to be ‘in with the crowd’, we had her standing in the middle of the playground looking back and forth between the girls and Jake, trying to decide who to go and talk to.
Jake would of course be sat hiding behind the bins, praying that Polly doesn’t come over, as he wants to be left alone to write his stories. We used levels by having Jake sat down whilst the others are stood up to illustrate Jake’s status as being a ‘Billy-no-mates’ and how his status contrasts to that of Natasha and Carol who are the ‘popular girls’. I thought that having the thought-tracking take place in the playground really worked as it helped us to experience the emotions that each of the characters would feel on a day to day basis. Having this understanding of the characters background then really helped us when working on different extracts from the play.
Having used lots of different strategies to explore the play Sparkleshark and its characters has certainly helped us to appreciate it more as well as learn a great deal about each of the characters. I am now also much more aware of the significance of different language and dramatic devices used by Philip Ridley in the play and the effect he would have wanted them to have on the viewer.