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.