The Spirit of Edward’s Boys: ‘Just Do It!’

For cast, crew and musicians – indeed anyone – connected with Edward’s Boys nothing ever seems a problem. This is not to say that there are no difficulties, nor that we put anything less than total commitment and effort into the productions. It is simply that neither of two fairly common theatrical situations ever seems to arise.

1. There is never any sense of the “School Play”, of ‘the safe bet’, of the ‘dumbed-down’ version. (Consequently, there is no sense of pupils being told how to do it properly by the teacher).

2. There are no fraught concept meetings and general feelings of crisis that accompany productions which strive to achieve ‘professional’ quality.

Edward’s Boys performances manage to emerge as exciting, accessible, thought-provoking and notably free from bespectacled men in black turtle-necks on bare stages. The simple reason for this is the company’s approach (“Production Philosophy”).

From Day One Mills focuses on the text, and, as soon as this has been explored and mastered by the cast (usually in two or three weeks) the production is allowed up on its feet. The idea of rehearsal and production as a “Job o’ Work” is one freely touted by both director and cast, and results in a company ethos not only ‘professional’ beyond its years but also lacking pretension. The cast, the stage management and the musicians dispatch any necessary task with aplomb. “Just do it!” is not a company maxim by chance. It is Mills’ response to any question or problem that arises (“Sir, we haven’t got this piece of set yet,” “Sir, we haven’t rehearsed scene three enough,” “Sir, the lights aren’t in the right place,” etc). Any problem is dealt with so swiftly that it ceases to be one. This attitude is exemplified by the director and displayed by the company: boys source their own costumes, practise lines and accents together, and calmly re-block scenes on tour, as a matter of course.

As a result, an attitude of ownership develops within the cast, and has been passed on through cohorts of boys. Mills’ customary “disappearance” during performances merely encourages and confirms this sense of ownership. I had always expected a director would watchthe play we had worked on together so I was both surprised and disappointed when I first experienced his apparent indifference. Then I realised that, in effect, this was trust in action. We knew what we had to do. “Just do it!” Trust is at the core of our work. As well as creating a cohesive company in the twentieth-first century, I suspect a similar approach was shared by the original boys’ companies. All cast bulletins and emails are signed off with: “Onwards and upwards! Downwards and through!” It is precisely this balance that makes Edward’s Boys the phenomenon it is. Whilst actively engaging with ground-breaking primary research and exploring some very dark recesses of the theatrical past, we also have enormous fun. Furthermore, this is also a hard-working and humble group of people happy to get their hands very, very dirty.

Tom Sharp