Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize judge Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who is returning to our panel for the second year, explains what we can learn from the Beatles when it comes to constructing a play.
All the current handbooks say a piece of drama has to have three acts – even if those “acts” are not marked formally.
That’s really useful – after all it only means you need a beginning, a middle and an end.
But there’s another – less architectural, more dynamic – way to think about structure.
I’m talking about suspense.
Suspense is the gap between the question and the answer,
between the glance and the kiss,
between the threat and the bullet,
the promise and the homecoming.
A current of energy passes between those two points.
Think of that current as the spine that holds your piece together – and try to make the spine tingle.
Think of it as a string that you can pluck from time to time, to sound a note of warning or promise.
The tighter the wire is the more the intervening scenes will feel important and necessary.
The three great commands are – make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry and make ‘em wait.
Make ‘em wait is the hardest.
But it’s also the one that really delivers the most in the end.
Here’s an example.
When the Beatles played She Loves You (Yeah Yeah Yeah) to George Martin he thought it was an OK song with a killer chorus.
His genius was to suggest that instead of going verse-chorus-verse-chorus the way pop songs do, that the song should open with that blistering chorus and THEN have no chorus after the first verse. So that just when people think they’re going to hear it again, you snatch it away.
You make them wait.
By thinking about structure in this way he turned what was an ordinary song with a ploddy verse into a joyful racket that stormed the world.
Have a look …