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


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.