29 December 2005

In No Particular Reverse Order, Some Favourites of 2005

If Destroyed True
Douglas Maxwell, Paines Plough at the Chocolate Factory, directed by John Tiffany



______________


Henry IV
William Shakespeare, NT, Nicholas Hytner





___________


The Lemon Princess
Rachael McGill, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Ruth Carney



___________


Tristan and Yseult
Kneehigh, NT




___________


Uncle Vanya
Anton Chekhov, Barbican, Lev Dodin and Maly Theatre of St.Petersburg



__________


Harvest
Richard Bean, Royal Court, Wilson Milam



_________


Two Thousand Years
Mike Leigh, NT



______



Over Gardens Out
Peter Gill, Southwark Playhouse, Andrew Steggall




____________


Mercury Fur
Philip Ridley, Paines Plough/Chocolate Factory, John Tiffany



____________

Mary Stuart
Friedrich Schiller (new version by Peter Oswald), Donmar Warehouse, Phyllida Lloyd




____________


Here's to an equally engrossing and enlivening lot of shows next year (fingers crossed)

26 December 2005

How Was It For You?

Laughed myself stupid at an episode of Curb ("The 5 Wood").
Ate roasted duck till it was coming out of my ears.
With plum jam and home-made gravy.
Declined invite to lunch with family whose boy bit me at Xmas lunch last year.
Saw no family - my lot all up North, her lot in Tallinn, Oxford and Nottingham (for Limmud, Jewish conference).
Bought myself 3 tracks on iTunes even though I haven't got an iPod:
Wake Up - Arcade Fire
Killing Moon - Echo and the Bunnymen
Ugly - Bubba Sparxx.
Had lunch today with Spike in Starburger, Chapel Market, Islington. I really know how to spoil my boy at Christmas. But then I took him to Hamleys and bought him his heart's desire - yet more Thomas the Tank Engine friends. Harvey, Bulgy and Fergus.
Sat in rubbish local pub watching my rubbish team lose 0-4 to even rubbisher team (no, I can't explain it, you have to trust me, they actually are worse).
Late Xmas present from B - Untold Stories, Alan Bennett. Which means she's broken our unwritten 'no prezzies' rule and I'll have to wrack my brains to come up with something for her.

Christmassy theatre note - me and pal Lucy went to Moliere's The Hypochondriac on Christmas Eve Eve at the Almeida, and had an absolute ball. It's hilarious, thanks to Richard Bean's very funny version and some tip-top comic acting from the likes of Henry Goodman, Kris Marshall, Ronnie Ancona, Stephen Boxer etc etc. They were all on their game, the direction's very witty and the whole thing makes a fab Christmas show without a hint of a dame. Lots of kids in the audience too - good for them.

24 December 2005

The Boys of the NYPD Choir...

...were singing Galway Bay

Happy Birthday, Jesus of Nazareth. A fine mythology you've got yourself there.

Have a restful day, friends.


virgin-child

23 December 2005

Writers

I dreamed I was in Arthur Miller's flat. He was being terribly amiable and I was frightened of saying the wrong thing as he was clearly non compos mentis and having trouble orienting himself. He spilled some orange juice on the floor, and tried to sweep it up into a dustpan. When most of it was in the pan he threw it over his shoulder, with a laugh.

I saw that Nick Hornby in the playground at Highbury Fields. He was with two women and assorted children. The adults were making an awful racket at the swings, making WOOO noises at the offspring. Spike was nonplussed but I had to give up reading my paper.

At pm's blog, I left a commiseratory comment about his not getting a particular job. I said 'welcome back to the ranks of the freelancing/idling/despairing'. Meaning well, of course, in a throwaway stylee. Meaning, you'll shrug it off, rejection's a bitch, etcetera. Now, after a comment from esteemed playwright Gary Owen I look like one of those schadenfreudian types, or something. Someone who's glad to have company in his failures. He says to pm, I think you're 'anything but idling or desperate'. But I didn't mean to say he or I or anyone else was desperate. Despairing at the shortsightedness of others, yes. Despairing at the fickleness of some, the lassitude of others, and the general not-fairness of the way things sometimes fall out.
Now I'm sounding shrill. I'll stop. Except to say, I loved Gary Owen's play Shadow Of A Boy, and was very glad to have the lead actor from that, Rob Storr, in my recent reading.

Mike Leigh's play Two Thousand Years was our anniversary treat on Wednesday. I'd booked the tickets in the summer, before ML had told anyone publicly what the play was about. Well, since I'm married in to the North London Jewish Mob the play was very apposite (an invitation to a cousin's boy's barmitzvah was among the Christmas cards that morning). And I'm well enough acquainted with that Guardian-reading, secularised, conflicted-about-Israel slice of Jewish London to recognise ML's achievement in bringing it to such vivid life on stage. But more than that, I thought the play was incredibly moving, its sensitivity and melancholy humour very pleasing. The dialogue was so beautifully judged, so musically true, it was a jolt when the very occasional lapse made you remember you were watching a play, not eavesdropping.

21 December 2005

Little did B and I know when we tied the knot in 2000 that we'd come to share our wedding anniversary with Elton John and David Furnish. Bless them. Love and more love to all the lovers.


18 December 2005

Lesson learned - don't give your 3 year old oodles of orange juice with his late supper, then put him to bed with the wrong kind of nappy. For this will surely lead to your having to get up in the middle of the night to extract son from wringing wet pyjamas, nappy having burst its banks. Luckily, son is unusually hardy, and murmured not much in the way of discontent as I sorted him out. Except when in my befuddlement I asked him to lie down while I fetched something - in the wet patch. "No, I need to stand up!" he said, exasperated.

Some items of note. Went to the Diorama near Great Portland Street on Friday, for a staged reading of m'colleague Glyn Cannon's Coffee. Saw a shorter version of this at the Latchmere years ago - when it was the Latchmere still. It's bigger, bolder and better now. Reminded me of The Designated Mourner, while making me - and the other eighty or so people - laugh a lot. It's a three-hander, with advertising people brainstorming before meeting their new coffee industry clients. That's the jumping off point anyway, for a comedy about crassness, integrity, coffee and pastries. There seemed to be a good turn-out of interested parties, so with a fair wind we'll be seeing it at a theatre near us in the not too distant.

Did the bar for the Christmas show at Southwark Playhouse yesterday, The Canterville Ghost. It's a jolly, shiny, knowing sort of show, with a star turn as the Ghost by the writer, John Kane. We're all in on the joke as the Otises, a cartoonish take on a well-to-do American family, fetch up at Canterville Chase for a spot of good old English ghostbusting. The kids in the theatre loved it - one girl in particular, who was twelve if she was a day, was breathless with excitement and had to hang on to her Dad in the suspenseful bits.
After the show I hooked up with B and S, who'd been to the Frost Fair outside Tate Modern - there were lots of seasonal stalls selling mulled wine and whatnot, a stage with live music, and an ice slide for the adventurous. The other two peeled off to go home out the cold, while I went to the Rousseau exhibition at the Tate.

Unbelievably, I was again irritated to the point of complaint by museum attendants having an inane conversation about, you could have guessed, sore throats and how they wouldn't go away. Again, like last time, another theme was how bored they were and how much they were looking forward to the end of their shift. Believe me, I tried to give them the benefit, twice walking away to another room before returning to find they were still in their stride. I then had this exchange with the louder of the two.

Me: Could you take your conversation to another room.

Him: Well... You could say please.

pause.

Me: It's not like you're doing me a favour, is it.

Him: Right, okay, I see what you're saying.

He sidled off, leaving me aghast at his cheek. I sought out a supervisor and told her in detail what happened - she was aghast with embarrassment. She wanted me to point out the individual but I declined. I just wanted her to know the attendants need to be aware of the public as thinking, seeing, hearing visitors, not an everchanging backdrop to their ennui.

The exhibition is beautiful, dramatic, strange. I'm going to go back, as I only got half way through. Aside from the stunning sculpture in the first room ("A Gorilla Abducting A Woman") there are extraordinary and uncanny pieces like this




and this



the foliage constructed like Gothic architecture, the faces of the animals all japonaises (or maybe chinoises).

Then there are these Parisian landscapes and portraits, with modern inventions draped across them like badges declaring Rousseau's membership of Artists For Progress.



He worked as a customs officer, and Picasso was his biggest fan. Here's the old goat himself in 1965, with Rousseau's portraits of himself and his wife (both pictures are in the Tate show, side by side).

16 December 2005

A Thing Of The Past

Maxie at her webloge is pondering theatrical highs and lows of the year. A brief ponder of my own and I came up with, as a high, Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur at the Chocolate Factory all the way back in Feb, and for a low, Complicite's self-regarding Vanishing Points, in April.
I also well remember loving Over Gardens Out, Peter Gill's enigmatic piece, at Southwark in the same month. Fun looking through me archive to check what I said about these things.

More nostalgia in the next couple of weeks, no doubt.

14 December 2005

blips

The reading on Sunday afternoon was perfect for the purpose. I got ten class actors to read The May Queen superbly well, after just one day's rehearsal (or none, in Cordelia Raynor's case, bless her cotton socks). There were to have been some sound effects - explosions mostly - but Peter the sound guy couldn't make it because of that explosion, in Hertfordshire. Anyhoo, the thirteen scenes came across clear as a bell, so that I could easily see the flaws in each. Only one needs proper rethinking, I thought, and there was a consensus to that effect among the writer and director pals who heard it.

All this was made possible by the generous - perhaps overly so - loan of the space to me and Ellen by Southwark, under the umbrella of their Sunday Sessions programme. The same slot was filled by the Miniaturists a month ago, you may recall, except we moved that one to the evening to allow rehearsal time in the theatre during the day. So it's with a sigh I must report the suspension of the SS's, effective in the New Year. The Playhouse is entering uncertain territory, as its lease nears expiry. The theatre is still open for business until the summer at least, but the post of artistic director will remain vacant after Gareth Machin leaves at the end of the year. And with a reduced staff, the Sundays are suddenly too much. It's a bind for me - I really wanted to have the Miniaturists on regularly at the SP. But it's so much more of a bugger for Tom and Juliet and everyone, to have the place under this cloud. With luck, it'll all be sorted out soon, and the ship can sail on unencumbered.

Meantime, the Minis were such a success, so enjoyable, and so valuable an exercise, I can't let them lapse. So I'm beginning the search for a new venue for them, at least until the SP can have us back. Suggestions and ideas (and offers!) very welcome.

Other blips. I'm becoming suspicious that my email account is well dodgy. I'm with graffiti.net, after years of hotmailing. But I've heard from friends that the odd message they've sent has bounced back, or that they've sent things I haven't received, and vice versa. Who's the most reliable of the free mail people, people?

This isn't a blip - apart from the disc getting stuck once too often - we watched Sideways last night. Such a hoot. And beautifully played, and shot. We had to google Virginia Madsen because we knew we knew her really well from somewhere. Turns out she'd played Frasier's girlfriend Cassandra.

Belated big up to Nell, by the way - while I was in Trieste she won that Evening Standard Award she was up for. Hurrah! Couldn't have happened to a nicer lady.

12 December 2005

I never used to be that sure about actors. They were always too smart-arsed, too loud, too preening. They were usually good-looking too, which irritated me in the male of the species. Of course I went out with a couple of the other denomination, because you just couldn't help, if you were a young male apprentice playwright, falling for the smart-arse preening actresses. They were just so damn good-looking.

Now I'm a somewhat older apprentice, I've had to revise my opinion.

Actors are great.

They do a very strange job, and many of the ones I've worked with are so good at it, so dedicated and amiable and thoughtful, it makes me stand in amazement. Because most of the time, to borrow an American construction, they're working two or three jobs to support themselves between plays or bits of telly or film. And then when you ring them up (via their agent if you've not worked with them before), or accost them at a show, and say,
"I thought you were really good in that thing and I was wondering if you'd take a part in a reading I've got coming up", and they say tell me more, and you do, and then you say, feeling bad about it, "We can only pay expenses", they'll answer, more often than not, "Thanks for asking - I'll be there."

And you know and they know it's not the pinnacle, but they have this optimism in them, a willingness to come to the aid of the party. They like to work, and they like to see what you're up to.

So thanks to the actors Andrew Fallaize, Fiona Victory, Samantha Robinson, Rob Storr, Tim Morand, Tony Turner, Melissa Collier, Michael Brophy, Hayley Jane Standing, and to Cordelia, who was such a late recruit I didn't get to know her surname. Thanks to them, The May Queen came roaring to life on Sunday afternoon at Southwark. The play is up and running, I can see clearly what work needs doing, and that it's most of it in good shape.

There was a good turn-out too, which I know helped the cast, so thank you if you came.

09 December 2005

As it is my birthday, I would be absolutely delighted if you would de-lurk, dear readers, to place a greeting in my comment box. It needn't be of a congratulatory nature - some of you hardly know me from Adam, after all - a simple hello would be marvellous.
You're too kind.

More birthday thoughts later...

ps might amuse you to know that my first birthday greeting came just after midnight by way of an email from the Gillian Anderson Fans Forum - I'd signed up a few weeks ago in my search for pics of GA as Lady Dedlock...

06 December 2005

Joyceans

Trieste was where James Joyce wrote A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man, Giacomo Joyce, and significant portions of Ulysses. A little museum - Museo Joyceano - holding an archive and offering info on Joyce's Triestine years, can be found in the city. But only if you look very hard. It's located within the Museo Sveviano - dedicated to Trieste's finest indigenous author and JJ's friend and mentor, Italo Svevo.
We watched the little dvd film about the Joyces' peregrinations within the city, their constant poverty and struggle, and the flowering of JJ's career. We bought a couple of postcards. Then as we were leaving we literally bumped into Erik Schneider, the museum's director, and a Joycean scholar. Except he was at pains to point out, he's not one of those Joyceans. And no, he's not an academic either, he wanted us to be clear about that. I think he wanted, not unreasonably, to distinguish himself from those Joyceans who dress up in Edwardian stuff and descend on Dublin every June 16th. Or even more worryingly, the Joyceans who recreate Paddy Dignam's funeral and wake.
His not being an academic is harder for him to get away with, since he told us he travelled to Oklahoma City just to read the Trieste journal of Stanislaus Joyce, JJ's long-suffering brother. And he's published several articles on JJ. But no matter. We forgive him. Especially as he gave me not one but two v large posters as souvenirs, that were printed for the opening of the museum, Bloomsday last year, the Ulysses centenary. Erik is one of life's true gentlemen. Which made his trenchant views on the restrictive policies of the Joyce Estate all the more startling. Longstanding readers may recall I was all set to adapt A Portrait for BBC Radio earlier this year, until a firm 'No' came back from Stephen Joyce et al to the Beeb's request for rights.

Here's me in the Museo Joyceano.



And with the man himself



And here's B and Spike with Svevo outside.

italy 060

We passed by Svevo every day, and Spike liked to address him, in a silly voice, thus:

How Do You Do, Sir?

Those people in the background were from the Italian coastguard, which keeps a serious presence in the port. I think they were having a parade nearby.

05 December 2005

"There is travel and there are babies. Everything else is drudgery and death."

So goes an aphorism from a character in You Shall Know Our Velocity, the book I read while I was away, by Dave Eggers. Well, there are all kinds of problems with that generalisation, Raymond, but sitting in bed in an apartment in the Italian port of Trieste, with an impressively pregnant B sleeping next to me, and the little boy S between us, it read like a truism.

There's an awful lot to do this week, all of it good. School tomorrow with the ten year olds acting out playlets based on the experiences of the HMS Belfast veterans. Going through the script of The May Queen in prep for the day's work on it with the cast on Saturday, followed by the reading at Southwark on Sunday. And it's my birthday (39) on Friday. Do you think it's too late for me to send out party invites? Haven't had a party in years.

Lots more on Trieste later, but for now here's a picture of B in Venice - we went on a day trip on Thursday.


27 November 2005

It Would Be, It Would Be So Nice

The Sharkey family are off on their biennial foreign jolly tomorrow. We've chosen Trieste, because (a) the Joyces lived there, (b) the coffee's supposed to be good and (c) Ryanair were doing flights for tuppence return. Literally.

The last time we went abroad was to Barcelona, February 2004. I thought then that I was out of the depressive illness that had had me in its jaws for more than a year. But I was a year away from relief, and there were dangerous times ahead. Looking back, I can begin to understand it all - the reach of events, their power to shake a weakling tree until it hangs and twists in any old wind. In my case there was my son's birth, then my father's death months later, August 2003. To a person long disposed to depression and self-abasement, these twin markers down the road of his life were baleful and shocking.

Where I am now, just a bit further down the track, looking around, I can honestly say, for the first time in many a while, I like it here.


In the morning, I'm leaving on a jet-plane. But I know when I'll be back again - Saturday. See you then (unless I find a place to post in Trieste...)

25 November 2005

I went to the Hampstead Theatre and saw a befuddling monster, The Rubenstein Kiss. The writer/director James Phillips bit off more than he could chew, seemed to me. What do I know. And of course all those 'right to fail' arguments rear up. How else is one going to work out how to write a big play on a big theme, than by just bloody well doing it? And if JP goes on to write a purringly satisfying big piece further down the line, he can point to The R Kiss and say, that's where I learned what and what not to do.
The cast were excellent. Samantha Bond, Alan Cox, Gary Kemp. And Will Keen superb as Jacob Rubenstein. *
Jeffrey Archer was in the night I went. That was bloody strange. Also Nell, which was, as the man says, nice. She's up for this Evening Standard award (Best Newcomer, I think) on Monday. Hope she wins! And Richard Bean too, in a different category (Best Play). Good luck both.

* Please see my post here for a necessary corrective.

23 November 2005

La Madonna del Hacienda

Terrific piece in the Guardian today about Madonna's first appearance on British tv. I'd not long turned 17 when I saw it - she was on The Tube, required Friday night viewing for a sixth-former into Melody Maker, flexidiscs and The Smiths. La Ciccione's performance made a big impression on me. There's a link in the piece to a site where you can watch it. I didn't care much for the music, but my god. The attitude, the moves, the look. A cute, confident, punk ballerina. A further pleasure to be reminded of 24 Hour Party People, the Michael Winterbottom film about Tony Wilson and The Hacienda, one of my highlights of the year, in any genre (I caught up with it on DVD).

20 November 2005

The Magnificent Anderson

Forgive the indulgence, but I need cheering up, as I'm still under the sticky thumb of this head cold and facing another day inside.

This shot particularly appealing because she appears to be on the point of corpsing...


19 November 2005

Good to be able to invite people to some of my work twice in a month. Sometimes feel a bit of a charlatan rabbiting on about other people's shows. I'm not a critic, after all.

mayq scan

18 November 2005

It's not H5N1, hope not anyway, but the virus I've picked up is debilitating enough. Feels like it's peaked though. Spent the day so far mostly dozing, and reading Dava Sobel's new book, The Planets. It's very good, mixing mythology with the facts brought back from robot spacecraft. DS writes like a particularly pleasant dream, important consideration when reading through aching eyes...

I went to Covent Garden on Wednesday, pre-bug, to see Tippett's opera The Midsummer Marriage. I got a cheap - for the Opera House - seat in the Amphitheatre (£9), the larger and higher of the balconies. This can't be the regular price, I said to my neighbour, This is really a very decent view for under a tenner.
She thought it was always that cheap up there. Turns out she's wrong, and the same seat for Figaro or La Traviata will set you back £23.




Tippett's first and best-regarded opera is an extraordinary thing, clearly touched by genius, but in the end rather muddled and over-ambitious. In a high style, with a massive (I counted roughly fifty) chorus, it takes a simple story - of a couple's pre-nup angst, and the anxieties of the father of the bride - and turns it into a sub-Wagnerian psycho-drama, complete with portentous priestess from the Underworld. As the chap in the Observer says, it's all tosh, but I found it very touching tosh, all the same. Beyond Tippett's perhaps wilful misunderstanding of hetero love, and his pretensions to grandeur, there's a strong feeling of optimism and renewal, and a childish awe at the possibilities of the future, that must have resonated with its first audience, in 1955.

17 November 2005

More on this David Farr piece.

I suppose the thing about the Monsterists is a certain attitude that DF, with his laudably catholic tastes, might miss, an assertion of the value of the writer writing original stories for the stage. He surely wouldn't like the species to die out, while devised, multi-screen, multi-mediated theatre thrives. He seems to be arguing for diversity. Well and good, but in setting theatre up as a rival to television and film, in stressing the virtues of the physical, and the visual, rather than the language employed to tickle the audience's brain, there's a risk of slippage, in my view, to a point where the art of scripting a story is debased. The playscript as (an individually wrought) art form is ancient, yes - does this mean it's to be put to sleep?
I remember this all coming up in David Greig's writers' group at Traverse ten years ago. He argued then that as technology mushroomed, as stories gravitated toward screens and away from stages, the art of the original play would become more important, more valuable to audiences, as the proverbial "shared experience", the audience breathing the same air as the actors (as Richard Eyre said somewhere). I wasn't too sure I agreed, back then. I do now, I think he had it spot on. Theatre is thriving, but the playwright, ever so slightly mocked in DF's piece as cleaving to "the Romantic notion of the solitary genius", will have to watch her back.

For more on this, see pm's post, and contributions by David Eldridge (a Monsterist) and others.
The 'monsterists' are fighting to stage big plays with big casts. Is this really the way forward for theatre, or are these playwrights stuck in the past?

So begins today's thinkpiece by David Farr in The Guardian. My insto-response, is no - the problem is that the Monsterists are stuck in the present, where directors, artistic and otherwise, are in the position of shaping theatrical taste. They commission stuff they like. So the plays that get done are of a certain stamp, and size.

DF's programme for the Lyric, as he advertises it, is an admirable plethora. But not all ADs have his robust, inclusive approach. They're not all of them so brave. So it's okay for him to generalise - but only about the Lyric. He's doing a show with Kneehigh - that's fantastic news. But one Emma Rice does not a summer make.

Odd for me to see DF oppose 'monster' with 'miniature', in for instance, 'It can be argued that the solo-written play is at its best when it is miniaturist'. I know he doesn't have my little rejection of writers in mind, but for the record, as I've said elsewhere, there's no opposition, to my mind, between Monsterists and us Miniaturists. They're in the vanguard, we're in the rear, but we're fighting for the same thing - the creative playwright's right to be heard and seen.

16 November 2005

Relatively blue today. Post-show dip, I suppose. Plus my mobile was pickpocketed yesterday. As I deliberately buy the cheapest phone on the market, there's some satisfaction in that the cretin who lifted it will be very disappointed. It ain't worth shit.

Hard isn't it, sometimes, not to dwell on the people who didn't show to your party/birthday drinks/short play evening? Instead of those who did and so deserve to be dwelt upon.

One more thing, re Gillian Anderson in Bleak House. Yes, she's unconscionably beautiful. Yes, I've thought so since the first series of The X-Files. But did I know she was a genius actress? Not till last week, when her character, Lady Dedlock, listened to Guppy's 'evidence' linking her to Esther Summerson, and it hit her like a train that the daughter she'd given up all those years ago was still alive. It hit her, but she held her facade together, till Guppy left. Then she crumbled. And then, reader, I burst into tears.

15 November 2005

Miniaturists

Lawks a mercy, it worked.
Five plays, two showings. Full house for each, and the good people drank the bar dry, served by me and B and Jason and Ellen on a sort of ad hoc rota.
I opened the building at 10, closed it thirteen hours later, and the only mishap was a broken wine-glass at about ten minutes before closing.

Pompeian Mark Dymock worked five one-hour tech rehearsals during the day, with unflagging good will, to shed light on the plays (and he threw in the sound cues for free).
Maria Spitaliotis and her assistant Laura stage managed (count 'em) ten set-ups and ten strikes. Maria also helped me manoeuvre the heaviest kitchen table in London from the stage to the green room and back again.

In the audience: Alison Pettitt, Fiona Victory, Janet Whitaker, Svetlana and sons, Tassos Stevens, Charlotte Gwinner, Sebastian Backiewicz, Julian and Lara and friends, Rebecca Nesvet, Ben Yeoh, Suzy Kemp, John Burgess, UrbanChick, my In-laws, Christopher Oxford, Nina Steiger, Siv Janssen, Kath Serkis, Steve Hollingshead, Rachael McGill, Austin S-J, Kate R-S, and lots of other people, you know who you are.
Nice to remember the faces.

The performers were outstanding, of course. Actually, there's no 'of course' about it, it's not a given. But they were. Clever people like: Ray Lonnen, Helen Jeckells, Rory Kinnear, Miranda Cook, Dominic Burdess, Suzanna Hamilton, Rob Crouch, Genevieve Swallow, Paul Prescott, Tabatha Williams and Lucinda Cowden.

The directors Matt Peover, Lucy Skilbeck, Sally Wainwright, Rob Crouch and Corinne Micallef created distinct atmospheres for their pieces, each with their own take on how to play with the space. And when I had to make a request or an injunction, they listened to me.

The only person involved who couldn't be there, playwright Vanessa Bates, sent a rousing good luck message by email from the other side of the world.

I liked her play best, I think, though comparisons are daft. Possibly because I knew it already, almost as well as my own, so it was just a huge thrill to see it played on the Playhouse stage. PETUNIA TAKES TEA is a nightmarish piece of suburban horror - we meet budding ballerina Petunia (Lucinda Cowden) shortly after she's cut off her own legs below the knee, just to spite her long-suffering, and viciously dominating, Mother (played by Paul Prescott). Pet's friend Lyndel (Tabatha Williams) drops by to see her friend Pet, and casually mentions that Mother's sister Janet has just been the victim of a fatal car accident. Mother then sends Lyndel back to her satanist parents, to eat 'left-over sacrifice' for tea... Vanessa's play manages to be hilariously funny, but each time a laugh rises in your throat it's accompanied by something else - a bilious unease. The combination is unsettling, to say the least. Lucy Skilbeck and the cast did the piece proud, and Petunia's bloody stumps didn't smear the stage, you'll be no doubt glad to hear.

Sally Wainwright committed the cardinal directing sin of changing the ending of my play without asking me. And thank God she did. She did ask me, I'm only kidding. HELL AND HIGH WATER was all the better for it. She gave it the punch at the end that it needed, and the outcome she tweaked is actually the more natural resolution to the story - it's just that bit braver. Dominic Burdess as Judas was extraordinary, Suzanna Hamilton as Helen McCaffrey, yachtswoman, hilarious and touching.
And all brought together beautifully by SW. She's a v gifted storyteller, if you didn't already know (her TAMING OF THE SHREW is on BBC1 next Monday in the 'ShakespeaReTold' season).

In Beverly Andrews' play DARROW, about the famous 1920s US defence lawyer, Ray Lonnen in the title role was mesmerising. V charismatic. It's a piece that could do with some expansion, I felt. It was straining at the miniature leash. But this is one of the benefits of the night - to see your piece in front of an audience, feel how it plays. In its present form we're tempted to feel we'd like to see a dramatisation of Darrow grappling with opponents in court - the play is almost a monologue. My hope is that BA will take her material further, it has great potential, D's a fascinating character.

Glyn Cannon's short was nasty and brutish. THE FLOOD is a two-hander with one speaker, set in New Orleans. Actor (and director) Rob Crouch mouthed the words attributed to him by his spousal murderer, played with shiny determination by Gen Swallow. Glyn's formal device works brilliantly, the dead husband hovering, listening to the story of his own demise with a look of disgust and contempt.

Samantha Ellis's play CAT IN A SIEVE took us off to a dank cell in 16th century Scotland, with the unfortunate Geillie being interrogated by a witch-obsessed James 1st. In a nice irony, James was played by Rory Kinnear, on his night off from playing Mortimer in Mary Stuart (James's mum). Miranda Cook brought lovely qualities to the part of Geillie, and the piece was darkly poetic and strange. A quintessential miniature.



I've got a date pencilled in for the next show. So in three months time I hope to do it all again, with five more plays from five new people. Wonder who they'll be?

10 November 2005

Preparations continue apace for the Miniaturists show on Sunday. Saw a run of my Hell and High Water on Tuesday, and also one of Petunia Takes Tea, the play from Australia. I've written a blurb for the programme:

The Miniaturists are playwrights interested in the possibilities of the short play. As jobbing writers we're used to time-restricted slots, be they on Radio 4 or the Edinburgh Fringe. It sometimes seems the art of writing broad-canvas plays for large casts is getting away from us. The Monsterists argue for the liberation of playwrights from the shackles of the black box, the iddy-biddy cast, and the 'Shaz Baz and Gaz' kind of social realism. We Miniaturists salute them - we are most of us writing monsters ourselves.
But there's sometimes virtue in necessity. The word 'miniature' derives from the old Latin, for the red paint used by the artists who created those stunning illuminated manuscripts. It's not about brevity, necessarily, but about taking care over detail. Poets agonise over the briefest line. In music, the likes of Dylan, Jarvis and Morrissey are writers who can thrill with a syllable. So in our miniature plays, we'll try new ways to please you. To quote Armando Iannucci, there are two golden rules for performance. The first, is always to leave the audience wanting more.

08 November 2005

I found the Slipper script. It was in an incredibly obvious place, hiding behind the music stand on the clavinova. D'oh!

All I need to do now is expand the play, work with a composer on some new songs, write some new characters, engage a director, get a producer interested...

Or I could just put it back behind the music stand

03 November 2005

This week I have been mostly...

Seeing Ibsen at the NT. Pillars of the Community was thrilling. They don't write 'em like that anymore. Like watching an MGM black and white. High tension scenes, echt furniture, classy acting. But the real thrill was in having my expectations overturned in the last act. Lovely. Sat in the front row of the Lyttleton with J, and had particularly good close-ups of some of the key exchanges. The version is by Samuel Adamson and it's as fresh as a daisy.

Sorting out the Miniaturists. This is the name of the short play evening I'm sort of producing in a stagger-through kind of way. The phrase 'well I'll know better next time' keeps coming up... The plays are a fascinating mix (though I've yet to read two of them). The people helping are a marvel of patience, clarity and good humour. It's on Sunday week at Southwark. There are so many people involved, all wanting to get people in, it was becoming a squeeze, so we'll be doing two shows on the night. Drop us a line if you're interested in coming: miniaturists@graffiti.net.

Worrying about my sister. She had an operation to close up a hole in her heart yesterday morning. She's apparently doing well. Going up to Liverpool to see for myself today. Her home is in Cumbria now but the docs sent her to a specialist unit in L'pool for the procedure.

Discovering Ebay. So far I've bought two Thomas the Tank Engine figures and a laptop. Capitalist pigdog that I am.

31 October 2005

pm's back

In case you hadn't spotted it, the brass plaque is back in place, and all is well in the blogosphere.

28 October 2005

On the way to nursery, S and I stopped under a massive tree (don't ask me what kind) in the park. We wanted to catch leaves, but the winds were light and the yellowy things twirling above were clinging to their perches. S watched for a while then joined in, as I implored the tree to loosen its grip and let us have a leaf to make a wish on. Just as my 3 year old son gave up and chose a specimen from the ground, a curly brown thing tumbled and fell, and I caught it. S was impressed, but only so much - his leaf was, after all, more broad and bright. But I wished for him upon my little brown leaf, all the same. He wanted a wish too, but wasn't too sure how to go about it. I suggested he wish for lots of nice things at Christmas.

More leaves and trees at the Hampstead Theatre last night, at Nell Leyshon's Comfort Me With Apples. I'd not been to the theatre before and didn't take to the building much. The thing of being able to see the bowl of the theatre from behind is quite good, and the gang-plank entrances. But my overall feeling is that the place as a whole is designed to say, Come on in if you think you're posh enough. Which made the extraordinary design of the play all the more appealing, as a relief. It's a beautiful, elegant thing that suits the mood of the piece, and serves its purpose perfectly - in the first act the kitchen of a failing farm, in the second, the orchard of the same.
NL's play has been wonderfully well received, and I thought the two pairs of siblings in the family very well drawn, with Peter Hamilton Dyer particularly affecting as the farmer with arrested development, stifled by mother love. The simple-minded aged brother played by Alan Williams is also a thing of wonder, and the writing between him and his sister (Anna Calder-Marshall) is at times so sublime as to reach Beckettian heights of poetic comedy.
Nell will wince, but there are fascinating contrasts with the other recent play set on an ailing farm, Richard Bean's Harvest. In Comfort, we feel the winds of change blow through the farm rendering it barren, bringing dilapidation of the spirit as much as of the outhouses. In Harvest, the march of time seems like an enemy that is taken on, squared up to and ultimately defeated. Different takes, different outcomes. But it was startling to see a moment where the plays collide - in both, a kitchen table is moved from its habitual place, and the characters in both are invigorated by the change.

Before the play, I met Pippa Ellis, who as part of the literary team at Hampstead has been nurturing Comfort - NL has been resident writer there. Then after, a lovely drink with L and S, and a brief hello with Sally P. And I got a lift home! Sometimes you can't beat a lift home.

25 October 2005

Is it just me, or...

Does Ecover toilet cleaner smell worse than what it's supposed to be neutralising? Perhaps it's sympathetic pregnancy syndrome, but the stuff don't half pen and ink.

In other more salubrious news, I had a smashing time at Danny's Wake Saturday last. It's a two-hander by esteemed comedy writer Jim Sweeney that won a Fringe First at Edinburgh in 1999. Jason Lawson, a colleague in the Belfast project, was directing. I really liked the writing, the gags are good and the characters drawn with care and attention, amplified by JL's good work.
Seeing it at the New End, an upscale black box, and with the running time of just an hour, you could imagine Danny's Wake as an 11pm show at somewhere like the Pleasance Attic, and after you'd spill out into the madness of the Courtyard there, all carousing cast-members, spellbound backpackers and seen-it-all louche London types.
Instead of which you spill out into a leaf-strewn Hampstead lane, and walk up to Whitestone Pond to catch the 210 to Finsbury Park.

23 October 2005

Five Years Ago

I was a miserable blighter, muttering obscenities to myself as I toiled over some bloody ill-conceived nonsense. Whose stupid idea was this, to write a bloody Cinderella? Set in Georgian London, with live harp music, in the Playhouse? I wrote jokes about Turkish coffee and a postal service by balloon. I wrote a scene between Cinders and a mouse. I didn't enjoy myself.
Then I handed it over to Erica Whyman, Soutra Gilmour, Michael Oliva. Director, designer, composer. Erica cast some folk. They rehearsed in the Bear Garden, over the road from the Globe. I suppose, I conceded, this is quite interesting. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, even if I'd not. A choreographer came and taught the actors an elaborate dance for the Ball scene. Kind of like a square dance, in bodices and breeches. And then there was Cinderella herself - Alison Pettitt, who was making wonderful hay with my lines. Where I thought I'd written fey, she read feisty. Where I thought I'd written cheerful, she read exuberant. And so on and so much better than I'd reckoned.
Here they all are on the last night, reaping reward for their heartful, hilarious, touching performances.

slipper

From left: Rupert Bates (King George III), Brigitta Roy (Jane Humbleton, Cinders's mother), John Macaulay (Prince Hubert), Melissa Collier (Charlotte Snifflewick - stepsister #1) Alison Pettitt (Ella Humbleton - Cinderella), Eluned Jones (Lady Augusta Snifflewick), Hannah Stokeley (stepsister #2, Euphronia Snifflewick).

The show was called The Glass Slipper, and I'll be damned if I can find a copy of the script anywhere. My agent should have a copy but she can't find hers either. So anyone out there reading this who happens to have the bloody thing, do let me know...

22 October 2005

Tempus fugit. Time flies like the wind. Fruit flies like bananas.

It's a quite interesting fact - heard it on QI last night - that fruit flies were the first living things to go into space, in the nosecone of a specially adapted V-2 rocket in 1946.

Did the bar at Southwark last night. Busy busy, as 'Tis Pity is properly sold out, with people queueing for returns and everything. Not only was Keira Knightley in (yes, she is uncommonly pretty) but also my new friend G. The interval was a scrum, in which KK did not participate (I think I sold her friend some soft drinks), G tried to bring some of his King's Head bar managing skills to bear but was beaten to it by L.
It's just ace to see the Playhouse buzzing.

But I wasn't the only one sneezing from all the stardust yesterday. B saw Fiona Shaw out shopping, and also the fabulous Morgan Spurlock.

17 October 2005

Twenty weeks' scan...

It's a boy.
When the sonographer applied the scanner, practically the only thing that could be seen was this oval protuberance between the legs, with little tube attached...
She sent B away with the admonition to have a coffee and a walk.
And lo, when we returned, there he was, jumpin' full of java.
Our BOY.

16 October 2005

Orestes at the Oxford Playhouse. There must be all kinds of allowances for the young performers, some of whom were indeed talented and game. Have to say, though, the directorial ideas were very limited, the staging was a mess, some of the casting decisions were dubious: Electra was twice the size of her brother; Pylades' first entrance was not exactly menacing, as required, but rather camp. And so on. But still the play came through, as a work of such shining genius can never be entirely obscured by its interpreters. There were some decent things, too - I liked the chorus, for instance, better than the one for Prometheus Bound. And there were moments when the speech took off into the operatic, as the characters sang to eerie accompaniment. Went along with Sally W, who lives near Oxford. She knew little of Euripides before, and I'm afraid her first experience of the father of modern drama made him seem as present and enticing as a 25 centuries' old piece of cheese.
We had a nice drink in the Eagle and Child, after - Tolkien's pub. Still haven't read a word or seen a minute of those films.

Earlier, I'd walked up to Lady Margaret Hall, my old college. It was dusk and the porter was about to lock the gates to the gardens, so I wandered the corridors instead, taking in some of the atmosphere of the first week of the academic year. Despite some innovations - the banks of flatscreen monitors in the library, the hi-tech security doors - the place is the same. I looked up, as I usually do, at the window of the room where I lived in my first year, next door to James Allen (now a Formula One commentator for the telly), and down the way from Michael Gove (MP). The choir were singing in the chapel, a notice in chalk informed me the rugby 1st XI had won. It may well have been the women's 1st XI, it being LMH, a women's college until 1978 and with still I believe more or less a 50-50 gender ratio.

Before I forget, I heard Professor Judith Mossman lecture at the Playhouse, before the show. Prof JM is a brilliant Euripides scholar, and she talked about the ways Eur manipulated the expectations of his original audience with his startling reversals and reworkings of myth. It was great to hear her, she's a very engaging speaker. She was teaching at Oxford when I was a student, and probably gave lectures, but as the things were never compulsory of course I hardly ever got my sorry skinny ass out of bed for them.

And finally today... this. When blogs collide. And very pleasant it was too.

14 October 2005

Oxford

I'm off to Oxford shortly.
Twenty years ago this week I said the same thing to myself as I packed my copy of Dante's Vita Nuova into my case (come on, I was only 18), inscribed with the quote, considerate sempre la vostra semenza (trans, don't forget your roots - forgive me if the spelling's wonky). Having car-less parents I said goodbye in the kitchen and set off for the bus-stop, thence to Lime Street for the train, change at Birmingham.
Change.

Going 'up' to see Euripides' play Orestes, performed at the Playhouse in Greek, with surtitles. Will also renew my ticket for the Bodleian. The play is wild, fantastical, brutal, savagely funny, and downright weird. It was a big influence on The May Queen, the play I've just finished. I tried very hard to catch some of that Euripidean spark.

Here's the opening scene.
The play is set in Liverpool during the May blitz of 1941. It opens with a dream sequence, meant to start setting up parallels between my character ANGELA and the mythical husband-killer, CLYTEMNESTRA.


THE MAY QUEEN

scene one

Confession


A confessional grill is suspended in the space.
ANGELA enters, approaches the grill as if it were a furnace, it’s physically difficult for her.
She kneels before it.


ANGELA Forgive me father for I have sinned.

The voice of the PRIEST is heard

PRIEST Yes my child, yes. How long has it been since your last confession?

ANGELA It’s been quite a few months now father.

PRIEST And haven’t we all been tested sorely in the meantime, child. Plagued by evil vermin we are.

ANGELA We are, father.

PRIEST The Devil does his worst as always, now he has these Nazis to carry out his black designs.

ANGELA Yes, father.

PRIEST We mustn’t give him the satisfaction, must we.

ANGELA No, father.

PRIEST And we must try every day to be pure in heart and deed. May the Almighty and His blessed son watch over you every day of your life.

Tell me your sins, child. Be sure of His mercy.

ANGELA I’m too ashamed -

PRIEST Come now.

ANGELA I can’t, father.

PRIEST Come on. It’s only words now. Say the words.


the sound of a distant explosion


ANGELA If He can forgive me for this, what’s the point of Him?

PRIEST But you have to ask.

ANGELA Why do I have to?

PRIEST Because you will burn otherwise.
The pain of your first labour. Call it to mind.

ANGELA O Michael -

PRIEST You were only a girl.

ANGELA His head soaked in my blood -

PRIEST He fought to get out.

ANGELA I near died of him, father -

PRIEST Times that pain by a thousand. And it goes on forever.

ANGELA Forever doesn’t mean a thing to me.

PRIEST Just a moment. Are you ready now, child.

ANGELA I’m ready, father.


the whistle of a bomb falling, then a huge explosion. the sound of breaking glass, debris falling



PRIEST So you’re living in sin with the man that murdered your husband. You’re wanting to confess your part.

ANGELA Yes, father.

PRIEST Go on. They came to blows.

ANGELA They did.

PRIEST You wanted Vinnie to kill Frank. You egged him on.

ANGELA God forgive me.

PRIEST We’ll see about that.

ANGELA His head smashed on the fireplace -

PRIEST Poor Frank.

ANGELA He was looking up at me-

PRIEST Your arms round yer fancy man.

ANGELA Blood comin out of his eye. I’ll never forget it.

PRIEST You never will.

ANGELA He called me Jezebel.

PRIEST It gave you a good feeling, to see him done, the way he used to do you.

ANGELA No -

PRIEST “Hit him, Vinn! Hit him again!”

ANGELA God forgive us -

PRIEST So Vinnie, ey. The profiteer.

ANGELA Him.

PRIEST He has you, now.

ANGELA He has.

PRIEST Now he wants your daughter -

ANGELA No -

PRIEST Oh yes - he wants her alright -

ANGELA She’s only a baby -


a burst of heavy machine-gun fire, and a teenage girl laughing


ANGELA The avenging angel is coming, eyes on fire -
in his hands the great golden spear -
he pushes the point home, here -

she indicates her breast

Here, where my children sucked me dry -
The love of God will push into my flesh -
Deep as it will fuckin well go -

PRIEST Christ Our Lord knows all, he sees all, and he knows your burden is very great. You need to put it down, my child. You could do with the rest now, could you not.

ANGELA I could, father.

PRIEST Ecce ancilla Dei.


THE VIRGIN appears, carrying a jar of ashes.
She approaches ANGELA, stands by her.
ANGELA is terrified, and when she speaks her voice is shaking.


PRIEST When your heart is cleansed, then will She intercede for you with her son, Jesus Christ.

ANGELA Ave - Maria -

THE VIRGIN The fruit of my womb is the Redeemer


THE VIRGIN approaches ANGELA, dips her fingers into the jar and raises her fingers in readiness, as if to give the Ash Wednesday blessing


THE VIRGIN I will be with you / at the hour

PRIEST At the hour/ of your death, shame and disgrace

THE VIRGIN Angela Marian Donohue
You once were dust
You will be dust again

PRIEST These are the ashes of him you killed.
(More Ash Wednesday text)


THE VIRGIN smears ANGELA’S forehead with ashes


ANGELA Mother of God,
Have mercy on me -

PRIEST Ask about Michael.
Ask her!

ANGELA He’s away at the war -

PRIEST Here it comes.


sound of a divebomber coming in to attack, machine gun fire. battle noises continue till the end of the scene

THE VIRGIN Your son has seen the fires of Hell -

PRIEST He will meet the demons of the down down down -
He will live among them

ANGELA Oh God...


ANGELA prostrates herself before the Virgin.
THE VIRGIN slowly blesses her, slowly turns and walks away.


ANGELA O please, I never meant for it to happen -

We never planned anythin -

He was the father of my children -

O God - Holy Mother -

My children -


THE VIRGIN turns to ANGELA and opens her mouth and arms wide as if to deliver an aria - only white noise comes out, a dreadful mix of battle sounds, feverish laughter, Nazi rallies and music hall nonsense. It builds to a crescendo, then stops abruptly, with blackout.

13 October 2005

Harry Pinter and the Prize of Nobel

So they finally gave it up to the Cantankerous One. About time too.
Found a delicious story about the old bastard on this blog.
Remember hearing him speak at the Hyde Park rally against British and US belligerence in Iraq, the big pre-invasion one. It was stirring stuff, if a little infra dig. It seemed wrong somehow that such a colossus of language - its nuances, powers, terrors - should be obliged to read his work into a mike and out across the freezing breezes. There should have been a delegation to Downing Street, a citizens' summons served, and Blair et al obliged to listen to the quiet fury of Pinter's blunt instruments, his unsubtly brilliant broadsides.

12 October 2005

Jonathan Swift's version of B's Favourite Song (see previous, and comments)

A Beautiful Young Nymph Going To Bed

Corinna, Pride of Drury-Lane,
For whom no Shepherd sighs in vain;
Never did Covent Garden boast
So bright a batter'd, strolling Toast;
No drunken Rake to pick her up,
No Cellar where on Tick to sup;
Returning at the Midnight Hour;
Four Stories climbing to her Bow'r;
Then, seated on a three-legg'd Chair,
Takes off her artificial Hair:
Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Her Eye-Brows from a Mouse's Hide,
Stuck on with Art on either Side,
Pulls off with Care, and first displays 'em,
Then in a Play-Book smoothly lays 'em.
Now dextrously her Plumpers draws,
That serve to fill her hollow Jaws.
Untwists a Wire; and from her Gums
A Set of Teeth completely comes.
Pulls out the Rags contriv'd to prop
Her flabby Dugs and down they drop.
Proceeding on, the lovely Goddess
Unlaces next her Steel-Rib'd Bodice;
Which by the Operator's Skill,
Press down the Lumps, the Hollows fill,
Up hoes her Hand, and off she slips
The Bolsters that supply her Hips.
With gentlest Touch, she next explores
Her Shankers, Issues, running Sores,
Effects of many a sad Disaster;
And then to each applies a Plaster.
But must, before she goes to Bed,
Rub off the Daubs of White and Red;
And smooth the Furrows in her Front,
With greasy Paper stuck upon't.
She takes a Bolus e'er she sleeps;
And then between two Blankets creeps.
With pains of love tormented lies;
Or if she chance to close her Eyes,
Of Bridewell and the Compter dreams,
And feels the Lash, and faintly screams;
Or, by a faithless Bully drawn,
At some Hedge-Tavern lies in Pawn;
Or to Jamaica seems transported,
Alone, and by no Planter courted;
Or, near Fleet-Ditch's oozy Brinks,
Surrounded with a Hundred Stinks,
Belated, seems on watch to lie,
And snap some Cull passing by;
Or, struck with Fear, her Fancy runs
On Watchmen, Constables and Duns,
From whom she meets with frequent Rubs;
But, never from Religious Clubs;
Whose Favour she is sure to find,
Because she pays them all in Kind.
CORINNA wakes. A dreadful Sight!
Behold the Ruins of the Night!
A wicked Rat her Plaster stole,
Half eat, and dragged it to his Hole.
The Crystal Eye, alas, was miss'd;
And Puss had on her Plumpers piss'd.
A Pigeon pick'd her Issue-Peas;
And Shock her Tresses fill'd with Fleas.
The Nymph, tho' in this mangled Plight,
Must ev'ry Morn her Limbs unite.
But how shall I describe her Arts
To recollect the scatter'd Parts?
Or show the Anguish, Toil, and Pain,
Of gath'ring up herself again?
The bashful Muse will never bear
In such a Scene to interfere.
Corinna in the Morning dizen'd,
Who sees, will spew; who smells, be poison'd.

B's Favourite Song When She Was Little

I've just been treated to a rendition of After The Ball, which features in one of B's old piano music books she had as a child, along with more wholesome favourites like The Wheels On The Bus, and My Hat It Has Three Corners. It goes a little something like this...


After the ball was over,
She took out her glass eye,
Put her false teeth in water,
Shook from her hair the dye.
Kicked her cork leg in the corner,
Stripped off her false nails and all,
Then what was left went to bye-byes,
After the ball.







Fantastic.

tickety boo

I got a call from the National yesterday.
"Hi, Stephen, it's Nick Hytner here. Listen, I just read your play The May Queen - "
No, wait. That was the dream I had during my nap.
The actual call was from the box office people. Paul Rhys is ill and has had to pull out of the show, so Saturday night's performance of Howard Brenton's Paul is cancelled, along with all the others until they've re-rehearsed. The b.o. was offering me a rescheduled perf later in the year, or tickets for an extra show of the Mike Leigh, Two Thousand Years...
Even though I've got tickets to take B to the ML on our anniversary (Dec 21st), I jumped at an extra pair, remembering just how jealous my parents-in-law were that we were going to it. If you haven't heard, Two Thousand Years is a piece about a North London Jewish family, and R&R were cross that it had sold out.
A quick phone call later, and my son-in-law brownie points stock goes through the roof. Not that they were particularly low, we hosted the Rosh Hashanah (New Year) dinner last week. But then the stock did slightly plunge after I asked for there to be no translation of the Hebrew, as I didn't want God talked about in glowing terms in our house.
Family life. Oy. And don't get me started about the trip to Cumbria last weekend to see my family. We love each other, make no mistake. It's just not that easy spending time together, sometimes. We're going through a transitional period, all of us, as we adjust to Life After Dad. And there are the tumults of child-rearing for all of us - inc Mum, who's doing a lot of baby-minding. Anyway. As Dad (the decorator) used to say, "It'll all dry white."

06 October 2005

moonsongs

I wrote these poems seven or eight years ago*. Most of the time since they've been archived on my friend Danny's old website (you can get to his new one from there). Thanks Dan. I've dusted them off now as penance to Artemis for failing to observe the eclipse on Monday morning, I just done forgot.

*I've remembered I put them together in July 1999 for the thirtieth anniversary of Apollo 11. A month later B and I went to Hungary to see this total eclipse...














the surface



whisper it, but the place
is dead. time was
you could see greenery, shrubbery.
but on the surface, when the dust
settled, the green and the white
and the diamond blue were only
that roving sphere,
nine o'clock, turning world,
trying its best to remember you.

so say your prayers.
kiss the stone while
no one's looking.
where's the harm?
make a sign in the dirt
and ask for clemency,
the resurrection of the body,
a little Sinatra to see you through.






















Moon, looking back


trepid explorers trundling
silver sacks of air across
my lovely ocean.

calls and signs, beep
and counterbeep.
Tranquility Base.

ball games. American
president takes a leak
before cocksure glory -

Heaven Now Part of Man's World.

Now Wash Your Hands.

I liked Neil. laughing,
the bottom of the ladder
was as high as he could go.

watched him shake
when Earth came up
smelling of roses.



















Moon in winter



keeps his distance, what with
the traffic of nights, the rivers
of cold coursing through brittle cities,
and the lakes
like so many mirrors





































you are GO




Frank Borman, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, Tom Stafford,
John Young, Gene Cernan, Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins,
Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Dick Gordon, Al Bean,
Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, Al Shephard, Stu Roosa,
Ed Mitchell, Dave Scott, Al Worden, Jim Irwin,
Ken Mattingly, Charlie Duke, Ron Evans and Harrison Schmitt

fell under the influence.

one was first,
two saw God,
four went twice,
six flew solo
twelve came to the surface
all were GO































god speed Apollo 8


"at T minus 3 seconds there came a distant rumbling,
like thunder on the horizon, that swelled into a roar... "
ANDREW CHAIKIN


three men in a tin can, can-do fellas
in harness, partial to adrenalin,
breaknecks and jet jockeys,
gods on the government payroll,
Borman, Lovell and Anders
save '68 by swinging
around the old moon.

piss, puke, breath, bone, blood.
hearts travelling faster, faster.
roll program, trajectory good,
guidance is good. quickening,
they take in oceans, ranges,
impossible continents.

then the incredible direction ---
translunar injection ---

"Apollo 8 Houston you are Go for TLI ."

TLI .

Commander Borman blanched, caught
the bile rise, grinned, pinched himself ---

Lovell mentally leant over to Jules Verne,
"I can't believe you talked me into this" ---

Anders, amazing himself, wanted
to go round again, see San Diego.





the computer said, "99. 99. 99,
do you really want to do this?"

Lovell punched the button
like there was no tomorrow ---

"PROCEED."











































time of arrival





Tranquillity gaped at the Eagle
as it fell, as it fell, as it fell ---

Tranquillity was alive to the footfall,
to the one small step of a man.

Tranquillity couldn't be certain
just how long he'd been holding his breath ---

for Tranquillity, time was a flower,
forever unfolding itself.

but when Tranquillity saw the explorers
come bounding like children in winter,

come combing the beach for their treasure,
for crabs' legs and pebbles and pearls,

Tranquillity leapt in the blackness,
and slowly, and slowly fell back ---

enjoying their palpable pleasure,
their serious joy at his world.

05 October 2005

The History Boys, Creditors, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore

Well I liked all three of these. Alan Bennett, August Strindberg and John Ford, formidable storytellers.
Creditors, the Strindberg at Southwark, was laudably intense and emotional, the pitch and pace never waned in the unravelling of what is actually rather a simple tale of jealousy and menage a troiserie. All credit to the young actors Cassie Rain, Tom McClane and Nicholas Figgis.

I had more problems with the Bennett, which isn't to say I didn't enjoy it muchly. Went with B and we had a fine old time, the jokes come thick and fast, the ensemble writing is matchlessly fluid and sparky, the emotional punches hit home. No it's just that I thought it wasn't a play, really. Or more exactly, it wasn't primarily a play, but a script written first to be filmed but with just enough structural solidity to hold together in the Lyttleton. Almost every scene was followed by a hiatus in which an 80s pop song kicked in (Madness, Duran Duran etc), a short film sequence of the characters was shown on a large back projection, and the cast and stagehands busied themselves rearranging the set in the semi-dark. Preposterous, really. For the National Theatre. Again, I have to say the writing is sublimely humane and funny. The sexual politics is very interesting and the depiction of that bygone age of single-sex grammar school boys striving to get to Oxbridge is brilliant (I know, because I was there). I just wonder if it's really a play. Or whether, more precisely, if its status as a hit play, while clearly deserved because of the skill, wit and verve of the thing, doesn't owe something to its televisual nature. Susannah Clapp wrote in the Observer: 'As the play weaves between past and present, there are a few rickety moments - a sputtering start, some storylines which fizzle out - but no one who responds to it will care.' Well, actually... I for one did respond to it - I laughed my head off - but I did care about its flaws.

Saw 'Tis Pity She's A Whore last night and while I don't quite share the inordinate passion for the acting expressed by Fiona Mountford in the Standard, I did find it riveting and extremely well done, and Charlie Cox and Mariah Gale were stunning as the doomed siblings. I've seen countless things at Southwark but have seldom seen the space used better. It's never smelled better, either - the company fill it with Catholic incense (yum). I'd not seen the play before and found the denouement really quite shocking...

03 October 2005

Infra Dig

She: (scrubbing a fortnight's worth of gunge off the hob) D'you know, I think I'm the only member of my family, near and extended, that doesn't have a cleaner? I've married beneath me.

Me: Sorry 'bout that.

28 September 2005

Been a busy bunny. Finished my monster on Sunday night, The May Queen. The Thursday before, finished my miniature, Hell and High Water.

It always sucks, finishing a play. A combination of instant nostalgia, post-partum depression, an emptiness, feeling of having expelled the contents of heart, brain and spleen (if you've done the job properly), wonderment at the act, the mess all over the table, and then the question, why? What's that all about?

Friends have been very nice about what they've read up till now. I hope they like the ending.

The missus thinks it's half decent, which is a triumph.

Now there's the business of casting ten actors for an unpaid reading on what is bound to be a chilly Sunday in December.

Oh, and someone to play Judas in the miniature.




On Monday, had the most brilliant afternoon on HMS Belfast. I met two extraordinarily engaging groups of people, and watched them interact - a class of (25 or so) ten year olds from St.J's, and 5 members of the Belfast Veterans' Association. The kids formed groups of five or so, and armed with notebooks and cameras and tape recorders they were led off and given a tour of an area of the ship known well to their veteran guide. So for instance one lot descended by the v steep steel ladders to the engine room, another was taken to inspect the gun batteries and whatnot.

Most of the vets had seen battle in Korea in the early 50s, when the Cold War was block solid frozen. They'd either been called up, or joined up, at a ridiculously young age, and told of mates who'd come on board aged 15, having successfully lied their heads off. They're a sanguine lot, proud of their service, with keen memories of the privations they endured during WW2 as children, and the way they talked of war betrayed no trace of that ugly nationalism, that reflexive racism sometimes shown by people of that generation who didn't see active service. These men hate war, make no mistake; they hated the fighting they were engaged in. But as one man put it, If someone comes after you, you bloody well defend yourself, and then some.

My favourite moment had to be when I was with a group in the bowels of the ship, and the vet was showing the kids the punishment cells reserved for seamen who committed infractions against ship's rules. They loved it! They piled in, trying the metal bunk for size, begging to have their picture taken holding the little blackboard where the prisoner's name would have been chalked up.

24 September 2005

Intercontinental Telecommunications

Brazil
France
Canada
Slovenia
Sweden
Pakistan
Saudi Arabia
Belgium
Peru
Denmark
Finland
Germany
Australia
Ireland
Qatar
Japan
Switzerland
Ukraine
Costa Rica
Iran, Islamic Republic of
Iceland
Mexico
Thailand
Afghanistan
India
Greece
Hungary
Vatican City
Lithuania
Papua New Guinea
Netherlands
Portugal
Singapore
Belarus
Italy
Egypt
Malaysia
Tanzania
Bulgaria
Taiwan
Spain
Philippines
Poland
Argentina.

As a teenager in Liverpool in the early 80s, there was no prospect of me ever sating my incipient wanderlust, and I struggled to keep it in check. Through no fault of their own, my parents had neither the means nor the inclination to travel abroad. My Dad was a very inquisitive type, nose always in a book or eyes glued to a documentary. But holidays were taken in the Isle of Man, mostly, or sundry destinations in North Wales. The extent of my solo travels were the occasional trip to Chester, and a tumultuously exciting trip to London with the art class, led by the phenomenally busty Miss __. (It seemed somehow fitting that the only female teacher we ever had was a blonde version of Betty Page.)

In the days before the internet or the Travel Channel, I had recourse to the telephone directory to provide stimuli for my globetrotting fantasies. I would scan the page in the Useful Information section, entitled INTERNATIONAL DIALLING CODES, and run down the list of extraordinary places, the colossally important UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (all the city codes, too: New York, Boston, Los Angeles), the impossibly
exotic colonial outposts like HONG KONG, the FALKLAND ISLANDS, and the downright alien, such as UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, or NEPAL. And each entry helpfully told you the time difference from the UK, the deviation from GMT, and this would provide further day-dreaming fuel. Imagine. it's 8 o'clock in the morning in AUSTRALIA! They'll be just getting ready for school!

I would lie awake sometimes, overdosed on these solipsistic games, finally gloomy at the sheer enormity of the world and the impossibility of my exploring it. I had an image to focus the frustration, a mental picture of a cornfield in Argentina that stood for all the places I would never see.

The idea of calling random numbers in very remote places (CHILE, SOLOMON ISLANDS) was at times almost irresistible, until I was sobered by the thought of my Dad's face reading the phone bill. What if I just dialled, let the bell ring once, then hung up? I would have made something happen, I would have had an auditory impact, thousands of miles away. But no. They might pick up, Dad would be billed, and that would be that.

Then this week, and I find myself quietly ecstatic at the idea - the world has come to me. In all the countries named above, people have looked in at Bob Crusoe, thanks to the link in the BBC Magazine.

For a couple of days, visitors poured in from all over the planet.

I was beside myself.

And in my imagination, someone sitting in a cornfield in Argentina (do they even have cornfields?) cranked up their laptop, logged onto the BBC, and read my stupid little piece about the silly season. Yaaahoo!

20 September 2005

Saturday I met up with RLN at the NT to see Brian Friel's 1979 play Aristocrats. Michael B gives a full and fair assessment of it here.
The highlight for me was the character of Casimir, and the performance in the role by Andrew Scott. AS was one of the three leads in a telly comedy that was a huge hit in our house, BBC3's My Life In Film.
The lowlight was when R's mobile started bleeping. We were in the tenner seats, very close to the stage, and the lady next to R was hissing at her, so the poor woman had to bail out and watch the rest of the act from the back of the circle, having finally found the off switch...

Eat My Stats

Discovered last evening, on returning from HMS Belfast, that the BBC Magazine had linked to me in this post about George W's UN toilet troubles. Since when, my stats have gone haywire. Instead of needing just my fingers to count my visitors, with the occasional toe drafted in, I'm reeling from the 3-figure numbers of yesterday, and today looks like it'll be busier still.



Delighted and amazed am I.

19 September 2005

Cheers, pm

It's with a heavy heart that I'm about to take out the screwdriver and remove the brass panel engraved "My London Life". Paul Miller's diary was the first blog I connected with, and it spurred me to start my own. It's a dubious legacy, but there we are. Now that he's decided to hang up his keyboard, I shall simply say, Thanks pm. And see you around.

16 September 2005

The Adventures of Dirk Warrington, Christmas 1978



I have a scanner now, so look out. First up is me in the school panto, but which is me? The school was St.Francis Xavier's College in Liverpool. It was a grammar school back then, devoted to giving boys - only boys - a sound academic grounding, bracing afternoons on the football pitch, Jesuitical instruction in the mysteries of faith, and a whack on the hand with a ferula (trans, leather strap) if you stepped out of line.
I've been invited to a reunion next month, but I shan't be going.

13 September 2005

Harvest

If I was ever rude about critic Kate Bassett on account of the occasional wilful acerbity, I take it all back now. Tabula rasa. Because she saw what I saw in Richard Bean's new play but has written it up much better than I could.

12 September 2005

The Belfast

I have a new jobette and the first planning meeting for it was on this ship



which is now moored here

lontbridge1
(picture from here).

More details in time, but essentially it's a schools project run out of Southwark Playhouse, with the participation of the HMS Belfast Veterans Association, Southwark Council, the Imperial War Museum and the Poetry Library. It'll be about homecomings.
I had a v short tour (there are, count 'em, nine decks), going back next Monday, and omygod the place is indescribably fascinating. I saw the bunks, the mess deck. I fingered some of the uniforms they have on display. I was a kid all over again, except me as a kid would have been too bedazzled to breathe and found the whole thing worryingly strange. I seem to have acquired an adventurous side somewhere along the line I never had in my teens or pre-teens.

Also had meeting with Ellen Hughes about The May Queen - she's going to direct a reading of it in December. Which is nice.

When not in meetings I had the radio glued to the ear. The cricket has been inspiring, dramatic. Had Australia managed to win today I'd not have been surprised, and would still have found it all thrilling. They almost did in fact, but Warne dropped Pietersen.

A couple of days ago on Radio 4, between overs, the oh-so-posh Christopher Martin Jenkins lamented that because of a new building he could no longer see a particular church from the commentary box, one built by Giles Gilbert Scott, the genius responsible for red telephone boxes, my college's chapel, and, as CMJ pointed out before Brett Lee finished polishing the ball, Liverpool Cathedral.

CMJ... Been in Liverpool Cathedral, Foxy? (Graham Fowler, former England opening batsman and laconic Lancastrian)

Foxy... Which one? Paddy's Wigwam or the other.

CMJ... I'm thinking of the larger of the two, the Anglican Cathedral.

Foxy... Oh aye, it's a beauty is that. Got a beautiful Elisabeth Frink statue in there.
I'm a big fan of Elisabeth Frink's.

CMJ... Start of a new over, Brett Lee comes steaming in from the Pavilion End...

10 September 2005

And The Winner Is...

Thursday night I relinquished my title as holder of the Richard Imison Award for best first radio play, passing the notional torch to Steve Coombes, whose play MrSex, about Alfred Kinsey, seemed like a worthy winner. I only say 'seemed' because I'm hopeless at listening to drama on the radio, whatwith my inability to read listings ahead of time, my attention deficit and the volume on my computer speakers being too low. The gong was given at the Royal Commonwealth Club, and I went along with Janet W who produced my play that won last year, All Of You On The Good Earth, and she was also one of the judges for the other prize, the Peter Tinniswood Award, won by a monologue play, Norman, written by Mike Stott and performed by Johnny Vegas.

I enjoyed the beano much more than last year's. Then, the Imison was tagged on at the end of the Society of Authors prizegiving at the Barbican, so there were oceans of writers (inc Mr and Mrs Zadie Smith but I FAILED to spot her, he was visible 'cos he got a gong) but it seemed I was the only dramatist there, and I drank too much from nerves, so going up to collect my envelope from Anthony Beevor and Lynne Truss was a bit of an ordeal, even tho' not many people there were that interested in the Imison, save the judges who were all terrifically nice to me, especially the novelist Philippa Gregory whom I cut off in mid sentence to stagger up on stage when my name was called. The shame. Also regret railing against BBC Radio's conservatism in regards to adult content in drama, not for my acceptance speech you understand, which would have been bad, but to the head of drama on Radio 3, Abigail Appleton, which was worse. So the best part of the evening was the dinner after with Janet, Fiona who was in the play, and her husband, actor Kenneth C.

But this year was utterly different, everyone there was connected to the plays on the shortlists, or was otherly engaged in the radio drama world. I met some very interesting and clever people, and some of them were even writers - Alan Plater, Nell Leyshon (novelist, previous Imison winner, and reader of this thing, she revealed - so hello Nell), Christopher William Hill, Steve Coombes.
The food was lovely, I stuck with the apple juice, and had a fine old time. Then Peter Kavanagh, who'd produced all three plays on the Imison shortlist and so was feeling decidedly chipper, rounded a gaggle of us up and marched us to the Groucho Club. I'd not met PK before, but by the end of the evening felt thoroughly fond, such is his easy affability and charm. Had one or two glasses of wine, kicked around one or two ideas, took one or three email addresses, then it was time to go.
Morning after, I reflected on how I seemed to be quite respected in the radio drama village, and how this feeling contrasted with my abiding frustration at not getting any commissions this year. Hey ho.

07 September 2005

Three Plays

The Importance of Being Earnest is one of those plays, like The Crucible, or Romeo and Juliet, the mere mention of which makes something inside of me curl up and enter its own private hell. Nausea. La nausee.
It's no fault of the plays - each of them (and the same goes for others in the category like Look Back In Anger, or Antigone, add your own) is a work of genius, and has accrued in its time more admirers than the combined output of all living playwrights (excepting Pinter and Stoppard, I suppose). No, it's the over-familiarity breeding contempt, and the dead weight of expectation that hovers over productions of these plays like particularly grizzled vultures. Happy to report, then, that Erica W's go at The Importance for Oxford Playhouse is fresh and, thank heavens, funny. I liked Maggie Steed's Lady B very much, as frightening and as shallow an aunt as any in Wodehouse, but I felt that the lovers were back where they belong, as the central pillars of the thing. And Algy's aphoristic frenzies in the first act were almost suffocating. This is a man, we feel, with more wit than is good for him.
Sally Phillips's turn as Gwendolyn made gales of laughter reel around the matinee crowd, as she brought out the gutsy, implacable side of G that marks her out as sharing Lady B's genes. Her stellar career in telly and film comedy (Smack The Pony, Green Wing, Bridget Jones) has made Sally's stage appearances few and far, but I'd love to see her play Rosalind one day soon. Or Lady Macbeth, come to think of it. Must also mention Julian Bleach, who plays the servants Lane and Merriman with vampiric grace.

A couple of days before that, I saw a play at the Sound Theatre in Soho that should be yawningly familiar to me but, I have to confess, I knew next to nothing about it. Never before seen or read Prometheus Bound, Aeschylus's eerie, cruel, beautiful play about the classical equivalent of Lucifer, the god who brings the light of knowledge to humans, and is punished by God for his presumption.
The production was memorable for the terrific writing - the translation is by turns muscular, viciously wry and awesomely statuesque - and the performance of David Oyelowo as Prometheus, who spent the duration chained, in cruciform stance, railing at the outlandish treatment meted out by Zeus for his transgression. DO was compelling. Stretching every sinew to test the bonds that held him, screaming injustice, whispering of his tenderness for humankind, he was both Satanic and Christlike.
I was unimpressed, though, with the chorus - there were too many of them that could do the writing no justice, their weak voices and slack-limbed movement perhaps excusable in that they were inexperienced - they seemed to be of student age - but what I couldn't excuse was their whispering to each other, out of character, in the pre-set, squatting in the aisle near me. What possessed them? I'd like to think James Kerr, translator and director, would not have approved. I could never thereafter believe them as the daughters of Tethys and Oceanus.

Better than both of these, however - funnier than the Wilde, better performed than the Aeschylus - was Harvest, Richard Bean's new play previewing at the Royal Court.
RB is well known in theatre for his passionate advocacy of big new plays in big spaces with big casts and big ideas, as a leading member of the Monsterists. Well, for Harvest, three out of four ain't bad, and the one it falls down on is space, though the Court does its best to accommodate a farm kitchen, stairs to a visible upstairs bedroom, as well as windows out to a visible yard, and farm buildings beyond. The story of an East Yorks farming family from 1914 to the present is told in seven episodes, each building on the last to form a convincing, involving saga of love, work, war and more work. I can't recommend it highly enough. I'm struggling to do it justice here, so will try to sum up. Harvest is a play that cares for its protagonists, a humane work, telling stories of strife and togetherness, death and longevity and family, and the absurd intrusions from outside that can bring unlooked-for joy or disaster.
RB was at the show I saw, and I did the embarrassing thing of going up and saying how much I liked the play. Embarrassing, but I don't think he minded too much. He came over and chatted with my companions Samantha (who'd once interviewed him), Glyn and R. Five playwrights together normally qualifies as a rejection, but maybe not when one of them's RB. Reviews out at the weekend - they'd better get it, the sods.

05 September 2005

Paddington

Friday, I took S and his preggie Mum to Paddington, waved them off for a weekend in Bristol. I would use the weekend to finish The May Queen and meet up with some of my Miniaturist colleagues for a drink and a chat Sunday evening.

Saturday, I took myself to Paddington, and thence to Oxford, to see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Playhouse. Erica W'd directed it and Suzanna's friend Maggie was playing Lady B, so me and Suzanna met up with them after in the bar, along with S, an eminent and wonderful writer friend of S's, who has taken it upon herself, goodness knows why, to direct my silly short, the one about Ellen MacArthur and Judas.

I got a call from Bristol - I checked my voicemail when I went for a pee - Spike was spending the night in hospital after an asthmatic episode. I arrived back at Paddington stressed, sweaty and, frankly, freaked. I knew he was fine. I also knew, again, vividly, screaming in my brain, that his fineness was pretty much essential for my wellbeing.

This morning I travelled to Paddington, and sat glumly soaking up the hurricane news while a party of rugby fans caroused themselves hysterical. Spike and Becca met me at Bristol station. The boy was a jumping bean of affection, careering around with relief at being out of the ward, his enthusiasm boosted by the ventolin they'd given him.

And so here I am, tapping at Dad-in-law's laptop, thinking about another trip to Paddington tomorrow, probably no time to go home and change before Richard Bean's play at the Court.

The May Queen will soon be finished, the Miniaturists will meet another day, but Spike will never see last night again except in his memory's eye. I wonder how he will remember it to us in years to come.

31 August 2005

The excellent BBC online Magazine has borrowed an idea from me for a story. Beats working, especially in this godforsaken weather (it's 24 degrees in Spike's room, at 11pm...).

*update, 20th Sept. The beautiful, fragrant people at the Magazine yesterday linked to this piece in a brilliant article about Dubya being caught short at the UN. So WELCOME indeed to the many of you dropping by from the Mag. A special hello to the person who came by from the Holy See, Vatican City. Also to the readers in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, Thailand, Belarus and other places I've not seen on my stats before....

A word or two about the play I saw at the Arcola last week, Silence by Moira Buffini. I'd seen a piece by MB before, though not her West End hit Dinner. The thing wot I saw (produced by the RSC at the Barbican, so we're going back a bit, to prelapsarian 2001) was Loveplay, a cheeky, rude and at the same time delicate and touching piece about love down the ages. Silence predates Loveplay, and you can see some of its common springs. Most obviously in MB's interest in the history of sex, but also in some seriously good comic instincts. She's a Monsterist, as is that Rebecca Lenkiewicz whose Shoreditch Madonna I saw recently. You can see the kinship - in both writers there's a poetic sensibility yoked with a sharp dramatic flair, a nose for a story. In RL's case, with that particular play, I confess I thought the poetic overreached itself to compensate, as the story wasn't the strongest. But I'm keen to see her next. Shelley Silas is another woman Monster, and coincidentally her play Mercy Fine is on at Southwark when we do our short plays.