31 December 2006

In No Particular Reverse Order, Some Favourites of 2006


As evidenced by Spike's calendar, never failingly adjusted before he goes to bed, it's nearly Time. So here's a quick look over the shoulder before we sally forth.

Franz Xavier Kroetz, Southwark Playhouse, directed by Maria Aberg


Steely poetics from a modern German master


Waiting For Godot
Samuel Beckett, Barbican, Walter D.Asmus


The meaning of life - and it's funny

Simon Stephens, Royal Court, Ramin Gray


"The war was all right. It's just you come back to this"


Dying City
Christopher Shinn, Royal Court, James Macdonald


Iraq homecoming, this time US style

Les Enfants du Paradis
Dudley Hinton & Sebastian Armesto (after Prevert), Arcola, S.Armesto


A film about theatre adapted flawlessly, with joie

Howard Brenton, NT Cottesloe, Howard Davies


Unforgettable scene with Emperor Nero visiting the future saint in prison

Therese Raquin
Nicholas Wright (after Zola), NT Lyttleton, Marianne Elliott


Crime, passion and punishment in a bleakly brilliant version

Summer Begins
David Eldridge, Southwark Playhouse, Amelia Nicholson

Summer Begins

DE's play in a vivacious, touching production


from Apuleius/Euripides, Barbican, Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practices

Absolutely bonkers - like a lecture on classical drama delivered by the Manson family

Too Drunk To Say I Love You?
Caryl Churchill, Royal Court, James Macdonald

Frightening and fascinating, Churchill decries the 'special relationship' - and years of British complicity in US crimes


There were loads more of course - kicked the year off in fine style by going back to see Richard Bean's very funny Moliere, The Hypochondriac, Market Boy in the Olivier was a right larf, I admired Robin Hooper's Not The Love I Cry For and I was very moved by an early preview of Colin Teevan's Seven Pomegranate Seeds. Dennis Kelly's Love and Money was very fine, as was Martin Crimp and Katie Mitchell's take on The Seagull. And my mate Serdar's done wonders with A Family Affair, Ostrovsky's comedy of (bad) manners and social climbing, still playing at the Arcola. I've actually had a rubbish year with the classics, seeing little Greek (I should really have blogged about Swallow Song) and less Shakespeare. Generally this year's been good but I've not seen as much as I'd've liked. New baby Bernard arrived in March and I had to work harder than for ages on various things, especially The May Queen of course. Resolution? Work much harder still, and see more stuff.

29 December 2006

Pip pip!

Just clocked in at the Library and the gent behind the information desk is wearing a cricket jumper and a monocle.

28 December 2006

I love this. Not sure it can be bettered as an adaptation and I may need to revise my 2007 plans accordingly.

Hope you're all having a restful orgy week.

24 December 2006

Just girding myself for the maelstrom that will be the Wallace and Gromit-themed Christmas morning in just a few hours time.
But before I don the Santa kit, let me point you down the road to Chris Goode's excellent link to a long-forgotten (by me) genius.

Meanwhile the genius responsible for the below is Albrecht Durer (or maybe his assistants!). Go to the page at the National Gallery and you can zoom in on the stunning detail. But is it just me or has the Virgin got the builders in?

So anyway happy Festivus and winterval and nativity of the Christ. As for me, the belief has long gone but the power of the story has me in thrall, as it ever did. The baby in the barn. The kings bow down. The heavens acclaim him. All this stirred up with the cautionary tale of Ebenezer, the terrors and wonders visited on him by the three ghosts. And the fresh hell that is last-minute shopping at four o'clock today, the real Nightmare Before Christmas. The tyranny of our appetites.

Bless us, every one.

22 December 2006

Usual nonsense in the run-up to Chrimbo - all good though. Lamb or duck? Chicken or goose? Handily it's just us so we've gone for our favourite cut from Godfrey's - a nice bit of lamb.
Six years married yesterday and guess what - we both forgot! Don't know what that says. Likely that we were a bit too wrapped up in winding things up for the hols to notice. B was preoccupied by prep for her friend Abi's wedding which took place today at St.Paul's in Covent Garden, aka The Actors' Church - Abs is a writer and comedian and she was getting hitched to R who's in the same line. B's just gone back in to town for the knees-up. For my part I signed off and sent a rehearsal draft of The May Queen in the early afternoon before hot-footing it over to Soho Square to see a man about a book. We had a very convivial time as it turned out, repairing to The Pillars of Hercules round the corner for a drink and a chat. We were talking about the Monsterists, and big plays in general, when he asked me if I saw James Phillips's The Rubenstein Kiss, when it was on at Hampstead. Talking with him about it I was stung into remembering that I'd been none too kind about James's (subsequently award-winning) play on the blog at the time, and though I sought there to mitigate my criticism by pointing up the difficulties of working on a big canvas, and that perhaps we do just learn better by doing, and so good luck to him - even so I've had, and still have, a growing sense of guilt for having been quite so sniffy about a fellow writer's piece in such a public forum. I was further prompted to address this by comments on Fin Kennedy's all-new blogspot blog, in which one anonymous soul is moved by FK's criticisms of two recent new works to say that she does feel it's important that writers support each other. Well I'm down with that, actually, for any number of reasons, not least of which is the principle upheld by David Eldridge in his contretemps with a pseudonymous critic and fellow writer during the run of Market Boy this summer, that a lack of generosity is tantamount to self-harming for the writer. Or at least self-defeating. Related is the quote I think attributable to Nicholas Wright, when enumerating the "enemies of writing". Number one is envy. Number two is success. Both these pitfalls are dangerous precisely because they gnaw at one of the writer's essential qualities, the ability to empathise. I've come to the belief that the antidote to both these enemies is an active kind of openness, and generosity (and I'll fight any b@%*?!& who disagrees with me!). You can see where this is going, perhaps. I would here like to offer James Phillips my sincerest apology for not thinking these things through much sooner.

18 December 2006

To The Victor, The Spoils

Credit where credit's due. Jose Mourinho's got us Evertonians a bit wound up though...

17 December 2006

Birthday Books

In no particular order, I was given:
Under Arrest: A History of the Twentieth Century In Mugshots, Giacomo Papi
Dancing In The Dark, Caryl Phillips
Black Snow, Mikhail Bulgakov
Take Ten: New 10-Minute Plays, edited by Eric Lane and Nina Shengold
The Gift, Lewis Hyde
Cold Calls (War Music continued), Christopher Logue
A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being A Ghost Story of Christmas, Charles Dickens (in a 1946 ed).

Love and thanks to the givers, the Dickens will be a re-read and as a bonus it came with these bus tickets tucked inside

bus tickets

Two, so I presume the Dickens was stowed in a pocket while the reader chatted to his or her companion on the way into town.

The conjunction of Clapham Common and (the end of) wartime makes me think of another great book.

B also got me the dvd of Simon Schama's The Power Of Art - we could never get it together to tape it on a Friday night, let alone watch it, but she observed that when I caught the second half-hour of his film on Mark Rothko and the Seagram Murals I was on the edge of my seat and completely choked up at the end, when Schama paid handsome tribute to the transformative power of Rothko's miraculous pictures:

Everything Rothko did to these paintings - the column-like forms suggested rather than drawn and the loose stainings - were all meant to make the surface ambiguous, porous, perhaps softly penetrable. A space that might be where we came from or where we will end up.

They're not meant to keep us out, but to embrace us; from an artist whose highest compliment was to call you a human being.

Rothko also gave good quote about his own work, in a distinctly different style:

I am not an abstract painter. I am not interested in the relationship between form and colour. The only thing I care about is the expression of man's basic emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, destiny.


15 December 2006

Lay awake last night worrying whether I've got the tone wrong in a key scene. Playing it over in my numb head, trying to see it in the space as it might happen, but sometimes it's pretty useless until and unless you can hear the actors' pitch and rhythm, see their faces and the way they move in relation to one another. I mean I know, it's a no s*** Sherlock scenario isn't it, it's a play scene and needs to be seen. But the writer's got to see it before it's see-able, innhe.
I turned the radio on - it's next to my pillow for super-quiet Ashes listening - but play hadn't started yet, the frequency was still in the hands of World Service, so I listened to a report on manufacturing in India that was simultaneously shocking and boring. Much like the cricket, some might say.

14 December 2006

We Have Explosive!

Now it's The Future Sound Of London, Dead Cities, goodness me I'm enjoying my music today. All seems to be tessellating quite nicely with what I'm working on. Got to love it when that happens.
Listening to Philip Glass, Koyaanisqatsi, borrowed from the library in Finsbury Park. I'd forgotten how good it is. Frig it's good.
Also borrowed - The Fall, Heads Roll; and Einsturzende Neubaten (as featured in the Night-Light show I wrote earlier this year).

Went to the Royal Court's bash last night at the CC Club in London's glamorous West End and had a really fine time, lots of loveliness (alright yes, luvviness, but what yer gonna do). I even danced!

Beforehand I was in Waterstones in Oxford St and realised I hadn't looked up exactly where the club was - I knew Coventry Street was near Leicester Square but I was suddenly glum about traipsing through the crowds looking for it - then it hit me, at that exact moment I was standing on a giant A-Z, which covers part of the bookshop floor. So I moved a couple of steps to my right and studied and found Coventry Street, linking Piccadilly and Leicester Square.

11 December 2006

dec 06 004

Well it was supposed to go up on the birthday, slight Sharkey tradition, but a day late's not too bad. Note elevated position due to concern that if based at floor level small person would inevitably see it as a challenge to his nine-monther's climbing skills. Also note if you please recently up-putted shelving - not by me you understand but by one of Stoke Newington's wondrous regiment of tradeswomen, in this case Claire the Carpenter.

So yes last week's trip to the 'Pool was quite something for me, a succession of pleasant shocks interspersed with inevitable reflections on my upbringing, education etc, finding myself as I did, cast in the role of prodigal writer in the week I turned forty.
Over lunchtime coffee I was introduced to Liverpool arts correspondents by Gemma Bodinetz and Deborah Aydon, respectively the Artistic and Executive Directors who run both the Everyman (new writing, largely) and the venerable Playhouse (classics, largely). After that I spent a wee while in the pub, but not just any old boozer, The Philharmonic, opposite the concert hall of the same name. Used to drink in there on a Monday night with my sixth form pals... Took some photos of which the least fuzzy is this...

more nov 06 020

Yes, it is a stained glass portrait of a Field Marshal. But have a look at the panorama here, and you can see the twin lounge rooms named for Brahms and Liszt.

Then as the light was fading I headed to the Everyman.

more nov 06 026

Did some work on the play in the bistro downstairs, then had a delicious plate of food to set me up for meeting the Ev's young writers' group at six, a couple of doors down. They made me feel incredibly welcome and I hope I get to spend more time with them at some point, their enthusiasm and commitment were properly inspiring, and I was only sorry when their session leader - and Ev's literary manager - Suzanne Bell kicked me out to go down to the Playhouse for the season launch. Gemma and Deborah were already speaking when I got there, to a packed audience of subscribers eager to hear what's in store in the coming months, as well as the plans for the capital redevelopment of the theatres. All the programme details are up on the website of course, with the five 'Made In Liverpool' shows complemented by a mind-bogglingly alluring mix of touring work from the likes of Shared Experience, Daniel Kitson, Out Of Joint, so on and so exciting. And in the midst of her presentation, Gemma talked about my play, and there behind her was projected the image you see below, which I'd not seen before.

So all told, a grand day out.

Head down now to finish the rehearsal draft...


09 December 2006

Forty today!

And enjoying the new decade, not least because it's kicking off with my first production in Liverpool, I can finally tell you without breaching confidence, dear friends and others out there in the wide world, and this play is the dearest thing to my heart of all the things I've written, I've bored regular readers about this before, The May Queen, a big old bastard of a play, an attempt to retell the story of Electra and Orestes for the burning city of Liverpool, May 1941.
It's gone up on the Everyman website and I think the copy they've written for it is fantastic, not least the words 'professional homecoming', How nice is that?

So must dash off to do some cleaning, got people coming round for tea and dinner (southern usage) and look forward to telling you more about the funny week I've had, if time allows, and burbling on about MQ no doubt...

04 December 2006

I Haven't Got A Stitch To Wear

I've switched to the new, even easier to use Blogger, and I like it pretty fine. The only downer being the loss of all the links I've painstakingly added the old skool way, over the past getting on for two years...
Anyhoo I'm slowly adding them back - but if there are glaring omissions, if I've missed you (or a link you like) please just prod me and I'll get to work.

Meanwhile I'm off on a trip to Liverpool tomorrow wherein I'm going to have to look presentable, and my wardrobe is calamitously dishevelled, so I'm off to town a bit later to try and find some clobber wherewith I can be presented, I did try French Connection in the revamped Brunswick Centre at Russell Square on my way here (library) but lovely as some of their stuff is, I'm getting ever warier of looking like a midlife-crisis on (denim-clad) legs - I'm forty on Saturday.

And yes it is a work trip but I'm honour-bound not to say anything yet...

I will say this though, I went to Dennis Kelly's play Love and Money at the Young Vic and I thought it was extraordinary. His writing is so nimble and free, with a sharp sort of demotic wit darting through it, and deep skies of serious thought louring over it. David Eldridge has written a cracking post today about metaphysicalists versus literalists, in response to the heartfelt piece on the subject in Encore. For my (love and) money, DK treads an interesting line between 'isms'... I agree with DE that there's quite a detached quality to Love and Money, and I'd add that there's a Zola-like (Zolaesque??) vein of cruelty there too. But it's grist to his mill, I think, as he grinds out a cumulatively moral tale of materialism and its discontents. And that last scene is moving as well as brilliant.

01 December 2006

Now Look

Sir David's new play has just opened in New York, and it's interesting to hear what the fella's been getting up to over there. Billington's given the play a thesis-length review, with none of those demeaning stars - hope that particular manoeuvre catches on. But why are those reviews of all his old plays still up? It's giving me the Fear, man. I need to go and see Naboo, get him to sort me out.

29 November 2006

Sir David Rules!

I just clicked on to the First Night Reviews page of The Times and under the heading A Week Of Reviews, as if in some Ghost of Reviews Past kind of way, there were write-ups of The Permanent Way, Stuff Happens, Via Dolorosa, My Zinc Bed and The Blue Room. Que pasa??
I went to the matinee of Therese Raquin yesterday at the NT's Lyttleton and suffered the claustrophobia and anxiety and paranoia of that story all over again - I read it just a few months ago. What Nicholas Wright brings to this horrible, forensic depiction of human appetites and miseries is a grim sense of humour. It's there in the Zola I think, perhaps partly lost in translation?, you Francophones out there might know.
Julian Barnes has written an absorbing piece about Therese, and he says that in his own adaptation of the book Zola introduced "a lightening humour". He also makes the very good point that while surgical dissections of character are Zola the novelist's stock in trade, his instincts as a dramatist were good enough to know that when you put a truthful character out on stage, in the flesh, it's practically impossible to stop an audience from feeling sympathy for them. Their suffering is contagious, even if deserved. In this new version for sure, the story gains a great deal from the careful attention to and mockery of the secondary characters. Nicholas Wright scripts them as monsters of monotony and mundanity, completely insensible to the horror surrounding them, with the effect of making the murderers seem heroic, and their self-destruction tragic. Zola the novelist piles disdain on Laurent's appetites for food, sex and sleep, and tears them from him one by one. The play looks on him more kindly . In Ben Daniel's fantastic performance he is a Lawrentian bull, crashing around in search of he knows not what. Charlotte Emmerson's Therese is enough to drive any man mad - smouldering petulance, magnetic in her misery. Susannah Clapp in the Observer writes very well about Marianne Elliott's direction (cracking) and Hildegard Bechtler's design (ditto).

Then it was home to my happy family, thank goodness! Before bouncing out again to the Arcola to see my pal Annie in Keith Dewhurst's play King Arthur. She was cool, as ever. Playing a peasant in ancient Britain whom Arthur recognises from forty years ago - in another life she was 'my Lady Julia', a highborn Roman in Britain, later captured by a tribe, enslaved but unbowed. The play is engagingly batty - Annie had a couple of other tiny roles, including a galloping signpost.

Then on the 106 on the way home, a woman gets on - bottle blonde, puffa jacket, white jeans - carrying a life-size cut-out of Wonder Woman. Does she get on free?, she laughs.

Then getting off the bus at the junction my eyes meet those of a prostitute hovering opposite the pub in that unmistakeable way. There's a copy of Unprotected in my pocket, I'd been reading it on the journey.

26 November 2006

Drunk Enough To Say I Love You?

Here's another question for you. What's the female equivalent of masterclass?

Caryl Churchill's play (can't we make her a Dame without going through the cretinous royals?) is a stunning, steely, biting piece. The tension between who she is and who they are, Jack and Sam, her creations. The fearless imagination. I don't know what else to say for now because it's still sinking in. Need to read it now.

But as a work of theatre, a thing to listen to and look at, it's sublime. Mesmeric. Very good work by James Macdonald in realising the text, letting it speak for itself, framing it, elucidating.

Some great rehearsal photos here, featuring Herself.

Bumped into one of my Friends In The North at the play, visiting family down South - fancy that! (Actually it's not much of a staggerer, she's a 'theatre worker'.)

24 November 2006


I bought a digital radio for this?
Tonk a Pom indeed. Who do they think they are, the best team in the world? Oh yes that's right I forgot they are.

Caaalm. And actually it was terrifically thrilling cranking up the machine for the first time at midnight, just in time for Aggers' description of possibly the worst ever first ball in the long history of the sport, and the ensuing volcanic roar of laughter from the Aussie hordes at the Gabba. Gotta love this too, courtesy of Test Match Special.

Englishmen arriving at the Brisbane Cricket Ground to support the endeavours of their valiant compatriots.

22 November 2006


Not really.
Things are always intensely interesting if they're happening to oneself, naturellement, but's folly to assume our fellow travellers will give a hoot.

Let the follies begin.

Actually this one's a request! From my friends in the north who wanted gruesome detail. It's hardly Marathon Man but here goes. I had another tooth out yesterday. All through the rotten business of having the next door one cleaned out in prep for a filling, I dreaded the worse to come. But when my very gentle and bushy-tailed dentist Ms Patel set to work on the extraction, me half-dead with anticipation of torture (last time was feckin' awful), she sort of knocked it, and it fell out. She even actually said - "Oops! Oh. I think that's it." In a (very) curious way I felt I'd let her down. She'd lost la chasse.

So yesterday was my lucky day. Sort of. I escaped with very little pain and when I reached the library I found a pound coin in my locker. I'd sort of given up on this ever happening again. I found three on one fine day years ago, since when nix. But of course yesterday I went and ruined it all by putting £3 on there being 4 goals in the Celtic-Manchester United match in the evening. There was only the one, in the end - but such a goal.

Today, disaster. I'm packing for the library. Got everything, can't be arsed to make a sandwich, picking up my winter coat from the dry cleaners so no need to put one on... Yes, got my Dickens (work-related speed-reading). Now where's my Robinson Crusoe...
Can't find it. It's only the Penguin, but it's got the superior cover (the one before the present one, painting of a shorescape) - and it's got loads of my notes in.
I'm an idiot if I've lost it.

And then, having just put the washing out, I get to the bus stop and it starts bloody raining.

Never mind. I've cheered myself by sending out invites to a Miniaturists Works Outing - we're kicking off again at the Arcola in January and we thought it'd be nice to have a get-together.

Still with me?
Hope you're having an excellent day...

20 November 2006

It's my great pleasure to welcome to my blogroll Dr Christopher Bunch, the consultant who treated me for Hodgkin's Disease (see Great Portland St, below). Actually I'm not sure of his exact title these days, or indeed field - haematology or oncology? But I do remember a junior doctor was prodding me during diagnosis and he asked, Who's your consultant? I told him it was Dr. B and a look of respect came over his features. He nodded slowly. "You're in good hands. He is Mr Lymphoma."

Mr Lymphoma admits his entries to Jambalaya are sporadic, but as he spends his days curing or alleviating terrible diseases, I think he can be forgiven a certain slackness in his blogging.

19 November 2006

I've read two amazingly good plays this past week. The first was Gerhardt Hauptmann's Hannele, a poetic drama written in 1893 about a young girl suffering from abuse and neglect, which sees her welcome Death himself in the midst of angelic visions.
David Harrower's 2001 play Presence is a spare, riveting piece about young men playing in a band in Hamburg. Contains the outstanding line, "We're not British. We're from Liverpool." There's a pre-production interview with DH here.

Strange to think that Hauptmann, by then a very old man, survived the 1942 firestorms inflicted on Germany by the RAF, events which vibrate throughout Harrower's play. Have a look at these pictures of the aftermath, first published in 2003. To see the more graphic ones, click on the OPEN button. If you're not of too nervous a disposition.

17 November 2006

Great Portland Street

Today I was in town for a meeting with my agent Micheline. Walking down Great Portland Street to her office I was suddenly struck by long faded or perhaps suppressed memories of wandering around these imposing, busy streets with their towering mansion flats at around the same time of year in 1989. I was in my last year at Oxford at the time, studying hard after a year out with depression, enjoying life again, living in a lovely college flat normally occupied by a graduate, but as I was in fact in my fifth year I sort of qualified. Then I was hit with a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s Disease. I was hoping the weight loss and the lump in my neck were down to glandular fever or something, but no such luck. The consultant oncologist at the John Radcliffe Hospital, Dr.Bunch, told me it 'wasn’t the end of the world', but when he was out the room I snuck a look at a letter on his desk and saw the sentence – appropriate word, perhaps – 'Stephen’s in a bit of trouble'. Or something very like. The disease was getting on with its job, so radiation therapy was out, Dr.B told me I was in for six months’ chemotherapy. We’re going to hit this hard, he said, it’ll be rough but we’ll get rid of it, we’ll get you through. The treatment’s likely to make you infertile, he said. You’d best organise some sperm banking, so you might at least have a chance of children down the line. Can’t remember his exact formulation but that was the gist. I was 22 at the time, a very young 22 at that. My girlfriend was in Moscow for six months studying Russian and was virtually uncontactable – there was still an iron curtain back then, albeit a rusty one. My parents in Liverpool were working all hours and not able to jump on a train, though they wanted to of course. So I was all at sea really. The hospital put me in touch with a clinic in Harley Street that would open an account for me, as it were. The NHS wasn’t paying. We’re only talking two or three hundred pounds, I forget exactly how much, but we had to ask my Nan, who gave it us out of her savings. So then I made a weekly trip to make a deposit. Oxford to Paddington, tube to Great Portland Street. We’ll draw a veil over the next bit. Then I’d hand the notional offspring, the chance, my potential side of the bargain, over to the ‘technician’. I remember there were dozens, hundreds of baby photos stuck up on the wall behind the receptionist.
The following summer, after the advertised rough time - dozens of toxic injections, hair loss, much vomiting and a strange loop away from my already tenuous sense of a normal ‘me’ – I was pronounced well. A few weeks on, I was tested and I had apparently dodged the bullet – or I wasn’t firing blanks – any other gun metaphors? I wasn’t infertile. When I got the call from Dr MacDonald I fell weeping into the arms of my good friend. Who subsequently nicked my (new) girlfriend off me the year after. But we don’t mind that so much, looking back – not because it didn’t hurt like hell but because it was LIFE.

Not long after the call from Dr Mac, I got a letter from Harley Street. We’ve had an accident, electrical problem, awfully sorry, lost most of your deposit.

Zip forward to today, Micheline kindly bought me a yummy Japanese lunch just round the corner from Harley Street, we had a good old natter, and later I bought my boy Spike a Wallace and Gromit book (Welcome To West Wallaby Street). Great Portland Street looked exactly the same as it ever did, as it did in '89. And yes, all’s well innit.

14 November 2006

Bring Her In, It's Cold Out There

There's a campaign to bring Ruth Evershed back to the Grid. Where do I sign up? No really, where - the link in the article to the fansite that's bombarding the Spooks producers with clever Ruth-related items, well it ain't working, annoyingly. Hope they succeed so Series 7 can end with her and Harry walking up the aisle of some impossibly beautiful Norman church tucked away behind Thames House. But given the writers' penchant for squishing their favourite characters they'll probably be strapped to a nuclear device together whispering I love you's as the time ticks down to the world's end. So maybe she's best off teaching English in Venezuela or wherever the hell she is.

13 November 2006

Stumbled across Beryl Bainbridge's collection of theatre reviews for that incorrigible old bugger of a magazine The Oldie. It's called Front Row and is a great read if you've got any kind of interest in the theatrical. The actor Roger Lloyd Pack writes about Dame Beryl's 'unorthodox' approach to criticism here. Among the many wonderful things about it is her heroic enthusiasm for the art, mixed in with trenchant observations about the actual experience of going to a show and her quite unguarded feelings about it. Check this out, for instance...

Diana Rigg has a magical theatrical presence and tremendous vocal ability. I think her voice, in its range and power, is superior to any other classical actress. Some critics found her performance as Medea brilliant, yet unmoving. I suspect this is because they wanted her to reduce them to tears at the contemplation of her wickedness.
The point is, Medea would have had to feel she was bad in order to make the rest of us more comfortable in our minds. And she didn't. Right to the end she never let up. Jason was the guilty one, Jason was at fault.
I'm basically on her side, though I think I may have pretended to have killed the children rather than have actually done it. But then, I'm a post-Freudian woman and the dubious product of a Christian upbringing.

Elsewhere she writes very wittily about the Liverpool Playhouse version of An Awfully Big Adventure, the novel by - Beryl Bainbridge, in an adaptation by - you've guessed it, Beryl Bainbridge. Her modesty about the whole thing is all the more affecting since the Playhouse is where she worked as a very young woman, first as a stage manager before being drafted in to tread the boards.

And finally...dragged by a friend to see Ray Cooney's farce It Runs In The Family she says she has at the beginning 'a fixed smile on my face and a sliver of ice in my heart'. She signs off the review thus: ' I felt weak afterwards and could have done with an injection of glucose. As for my friend, she laughed so much she announced she'd had a little accident.'

06 November 2006

The Sharkeys have decamped to Bristol for a few days' change of scene, staying at the in-laws' pad here, right behind the Old Vic theatre school. Cue much traipsing about enjoying not being in London, sleeping in funny beds and marvelling at the plethora of places to drink coffee and loll about. I say we're enjoying the not-Londonness, but we're actually all confirmed Londoners - me by adoption, the others by birth - and will miss the Smoke before too long no doubt. As B likes to joke, this is her parents' idea of a rural retreat, Dr and Mrs S were also both born in the capital.
We're very much in student-land here, the university's all around, and the foggy autumnal weather adds to the general air of unreality and lassitude. We spent the afternoon in the city museum, where we gawped at dinosaur bones and fossils of sea creatures called ammonites, who lived in these parts many millions of years ago.

Here till Thursday when I take a train to Liverpool, there to take in Chloe Moss's play at the Everyman and have a meeting about The May Queen Friday morning. Then it's back to this place to hook up with the team for some more Bristolian r'n'r.

04 November 2006

Serves Me Right

Half asleep all day, end-of-term-itis struck after delivering the play on Monday - of which more anon, inevitably - and running around most of the week. Anyway I surfaced from a profound nap about half six and was excused putting-boys-to-bed duties to go and clear my head. Pitched up at Angel and despite repeated tellings-off from B for feeding the corporate monster I browsed in Borders, as is my habit. Picked out what appears to be the definitive biography of PG Wodehouse, engrossing from what I've seen so far, very good writer that Robert McCrum.
Anyhoo at the till the bookseller asks me - Would you like some free chocolate with that.


After a momentary jar my brain processed this and said - Yes please.
But I wouldn't let it lie, would I.
What's this in aid of? I ask, pleasantly as you like.
I don't know, actually, is her no doubt fair enough but solidly disinterested response. It's only her day job, after all, and the corporate monster may well have been on her case that day, who knows.
But I'm finding this all a bit disconcerting - the deadpan gifting of sweets with yr literary biographical. So I say -
What a decadent society, ey.
And I get the glassy-eye switch-off, got another nutter here, say nothing, just Would You Like A Bag?, think about supper and what's on telly later, only two hours to go...

03 November 2006

The Boosh Is Loose

I'm afraid I've fallen for these chaps in a big way.

A lightbulb moment as Vince's dream is explained and he helps to defeat the Killeroo. Triumphant, Howard celebrates in traditional style - by taking his vest off in front of Mrs Gideon. Big mistake...


Okay, this pic doesn't perhaps flatter the boys, Julian Barratt and Noel Fielding, aka The Mighty Boosh. But when you've just gone 12 rounds with a killer kangaroo, personal grooming's the last thing on your mind.

Me and the missus have great tv compatibility, but this is one thing I'm having to watch on my own. I mean, she quite likes them. But she finds the silliness a tad too much.
Especially when they break off into their song and dance routines.
From the episode 'Tundra':

I’m little Johnny Frostbite moving around
Freezin’ you up freezing you down
Like an icicle
Comin’ in your tent like a cold night scissor bite
Arctic death
Infinite night

They call me tundra boy because
I move like an arctic lizzard
When the Blizzard strikes
I disappear like a pipedream
All that’s left is the gleam
Of a tent peg

So what's so silly about that?

28 October 2006

But Thee


In case you missed it on Diamond Geezer, the quite wonderful anagrammatical map of the London Underground (when you get there click to enlarge). So this morning I travelled from Maroon Hues to Ransacks Script Songs. Where've you been lately? And if you're not a London sort, what's your favourite anagram? So many to choose from but my current pick is Swearword & Ethanol (Harrow & Wealdstone).

26 October 2006

Whatever Could It Mean?


I dreamed I was in a cafe in a gallery and I was making the acquaintance of David Hockney. He was asking me what I did so I launched into a spiel about The May Queen. But I couldn't tell from his mildly amused expression whether he thought it was intriguing or merely pants.

25 October 2006

Because I'm Quite Proud Of Them

birthday4etc 006

birthday4etc 002

And because I have a deadline looming it seemed like a good time to learn how to use the snazzy Flickr Uploadr tool. And actually there's nothing to it. Quick, find another displacement activity. Like reading transcripts of space missions (see below).

The rewriting is going okay I think but it'll be a squeeze finishing before Tuesday, my end-of-the-month target. It's still very absorbing work, even after - how long have I been working on this story? - eighteen months, on and off. Incredibly, not to say recklessly, I've written two new characters recently. So I'm well into double figures.
Can't wait to write the next miniature...

24 October 2006

Not long ago I went along to Soho to see a one character play called Radio, by Al Smith. I enjoyed it very much, the writing was very fine and the performance by Tom Ferguson full of heart, very engaging. The story charts the boyhood of Charlie Fairbanks, born in the exact dead centre of the USA on the day they dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. He grows up in an America rapt by those twin obsessions - spaceflight and nuclear annihilation. When Vietnam kicks off, his father makes a mint selling American flags to patriots and anti-war protesters alike - the kids on campus burn the things and come back for more.
Al Smith blogs in brief about the show here, where he also writes about going to the Roundhouse to see the living legend, Al Bean. My friend Mackay had alerted me to his appearance but I was poorly at the time and couldn't go. Bean was the fourth man to walk on the Moon, as he was second out of the hatch of Apollo 12, after Pete Conrad. (I posted this about 12 last year.)
Browsing through the transcripts of Apollo 12, I found this quietly extraordinary conversation between a man on Earth and some men halfway to the Moon.
(By the way, I just remembered the spacecraft was hit by lightning as they were leaving the launch pad. But that's a whole other story. Maybe I'll write about it on the anniversary next month.)

055:39:13 Bean: Houston, Apollo 12.

055:39:16 Lind: Houston. Go.

055:39:20 Bean: Roger. Just looking through the monocular again at the Earth, and looks like it's dark everywhere except the lower left-hand corner of California. Right in there - L.A. and San Diego, and I can't see Baja California. It may be just twilight there. It's kind of hazy - not hazy, but insofar as the dark light relationship, it's kind of difficult to tell. The lower left corner of California is the only part we can see in the sunshine right now.

055:40:01 Lind: Roger. What does the weather look like out there?

055:40:10 Bean: Looks beautiful. See it real well. It doesn't appear to be any clouds - any large cloud formations near it. There's a nice crescent-shaped large weather system that appears to be several hundred miles out to sea, but I don't know if that will affect it or not. But the whole area around that southern tip of California there is nice and clear.

055:40:41 Lind: Very good.

[Very long comm break.]

Public Affairs Office - "This is Apollo control, Houston, at 55 hours, 43 minutes now into the flight of Apollo 12. We currently show an altitude for the spacecraft of 165,802 nautical miles. Velocity now reads 2,725 feet per second..."

Public Affairs Office - "At 55 hours, 46 minutes now into the flight, this is Apollo Control, Houston."

056:04:43 Bean: Houston, Apollo 12.

056:04:47 Lind: Go ahead.

056:04:53 Bean: Been looking at the Earth some more through the monocular, and I think maybe the part of the U.S. that I thought was the lower left-hand corner, the Los Angeles area, it was just about to have sunset, was really not. I don't think I could see that because of the - it's color-related to the blue of the rest of the Earth. I think maybe it was the desert area around Phoenix and around in there, just thinking about the time it is now. And I'm not able to discern at all the lower left-hand corner of the U.S., I think, because of the colors.

056:05:38 Lind: Roger. A little smog out there in L.A.? Can't see through it?

056:05:47 Bean: No. I don't think its smog. I can't see any of that area. I think it's probably just that the Earth out there has more trees, shrubs, and the like, and that makes it sort of a gray-green which is sort of like the ocean whenever you look at it from this view. And they just blend in together, and you're not able to tell exactly where one starts and one ends. We noticed that a little bit as we were closer to earth and then now as we get out this far, about all we can see is something contrasting very greatly with those blue-grays or blue-greens. In this case, it was sort of a reddish-brown [garbled]...

056:07:52 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston. [Long pause.]

056:08:24 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston. [Long pause.]

056:09:04 Bean: Hey, Houston; Apollo 12.

056:09:06 Lind: Roger. Go. We lost the very end of that transmission because we were switching antennas, but it sounds like you got a great view up there. [Pause.]

056:09:24 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston.[Long pause.]

056:09:50 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston.

056:09:54 Bean: Houston, 12.

056:09:56 Lind: Roger. We were switching antennas there. Lost the last part of that transmission, but it sounds like you got a good view out there tonight.

056:10:06 Conrad: Yes, not too bad. Hey, Don, how'd the Saints and the Oilers make out today?

056:10:13 Lind: The Oilers tied on the last play of the game. 20-20 was the final score.

056:10:19 Conrad: What was the score?

056:10:20 Lind: 20-20.

056:10:22 Conrad: 20-20, huh? How'd the Saints do? They were playing the Giants.

056:10:35 Lind: 25 to 24 for New Orleans.

056:10:40 Conrad: Roger. Thank you.

056:10:41 Lind: Very good. Hey...

056:10:42 Conrad: Got some good news?

056:10:44 Lind: Yes. Say, listen, can you see any of Antarctica from your position in the daylight?

056:10:59 Conrad: That's affirmative, Don. We can see a large portion of it, as a matter of fact. It's continually in sunlight.

056:11:08 Lind: Roger.

056:11:21 Lind: Listen, I've got some other scores for you, if you are interested.

056:11:28 Conrad: Go ahead.

056:11:29 Lind: Okay. AFL: Houston and Denver 20-20; Kansas City over New York 34-16; Boston over Cincinnati 25-14; Buffalo over Miami 28 to 3; Oakland took San Diego 21-16; in the National, as I said, New Orleans over New York 25-24; Chicago 31, Atlanta 48; Philadelphia 17, L.A. 23; Detroit took St. Louis 20 to nothing; Dallas hl, Washington 28; and L.A. over Philadelphia, 23 to 17.

056:12:20 Conrad: Roger. Thank you very much.

056:12:26 Bean: And could you give us the exact longitude the terminator is on the Moon at this time?

056:12:37 Lind: Wait 1. We'll get it for you.

[Very long comm break.]

19 October 2006

This Just In

Congratulations to Ben Yeoh, who's just been declared winner of the Gate Translation Award. Yay!

18 October 2006

After seeing the play at last, I'm not sure the assertion on the cover is altogether true.

It was really very disappointing. A lot of self-regarding navel-gazing. Like Woody Allen without the jokes.

A Cottesloe punter delivered his own verdict about half an hour in, by emitting a 6.7 on the Richter scale series of snores. A ripple of excitement went round the auditorium, before we all settled back down to the serious business of trying to work out how on earth the most inventive prose artist in the history of the language could write such dead-as-a-dodo drama. The production is fine, but in taking the play as seriously as the wretched characters take themselves, it offers us little respite from the dullness of the dialogue.

Last word to Philip Hensher: "Exiles, like most plays written by novelists, is a notoriously plonking effort. In this homage to Ibsen, little of the master's command of the stage is evident. If Joyce hadn't gone on to write Ulysses, it is most unlikely that Exiles would ever be performed at all."

17 October 2006

Go, Rascal, go!

Lovely to report that David Eldridge has joined the ranks of blogging playwrights. There ain't many of us (in Britain, anyways) so to have his amiable, estimable presence is properly good.
DE has hit the ground running, too. Though there's a slight worry that he's distracting himself from his Ibsen deadline. I'm not one to talk, however - I'm in the middle of writing a new scene six, a full draft (thirteen scenes) is expected a fortnight today at the latest, and I'm off to see Exiles this afternoon. Actually if I think about past behaviour in the face of onrushing deadlines, this is typical. Perhaps as time shortens, there's the need to fragment the concentration, dissipate any creeping tension.

12 October 2006

Luckily for me, the first show I saw after my lay-off was Robin Hooper's beautiful play, Not The Love I Cry For. Appetite whetted by director Paul Miller's blogging about the play and production, I went along on Tuesday, a few hours after having a tooth pulled. But I was able to forget my aching jaw and immerse myself in a quietly wonderful tale of East London life. The acting was uniformly handsome, as much in their silences as their speeches, revealing themselves in gestures, looks, turns of the head. Nick Tennant's performance was a fine example of this, at one and the same time understated and brilliant. Paul is a champion of 'tenderness and benevolence' in contemporary playwriting - here he puts his money where his blog is, and gives Hooper's play the rendering its tenderness deserves.

A digression on reviews. I know this is quasi-reviewing, not the real thing. But it's fine work and I thought I'd say so. I used to write up most of my playgoing, particularly the good ones. But no one's paying me!, sometimes I just don't feel like writing about something I've seen. My blog, my rules.

05 October 2006

May I just say how very grateful I am to the good souls among the readers at the British Library who are kind and good enough to share their iTunes music on the wifi network? They're largely anonymous. The person who today labels their file My Brit Library Ear Candy has just enabled me to walk around the public areas on the first floor while listening to the incredible Requiem by Ligeti, best known as the soundtrack music for the part of Kubrick's 2001 that begins with the words JUPITER AND BEYOND THE INFINITE projected on screen. A freaky experience, thoroughly enjoyable.
Thanks to these beneficent folk I've also been listening to things I never knew I liked, like Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Meanwhile the rewrite goes on.

01 October 2006

It's probably not technically admissible as a googlewhack. But if you type "WW2 insults" into the engine you get one (admittedly rather useless) hit. Eat that, Dave Gorman.

30 September 2006

I've not been to the theatre - not counting my Southwark things - since Under The Black Flag on August 15th. Time was when I'd go six months between shows but since shaking off my black dog I've been a regular playhouse creature, so a six week hiatus feels weird. I'm supposed to be going up to Leeds next week for a two-day thing with 'The 50', masterclasses and whatnot, including a visit to the West Yorkshire Playhouse to see Colin Teevan's new play. But my Dad-in-law the retired GP says it's a trip too far for someone post-viral, and I should probably listen to him. But I've booked for the Maly Theatre's King Lear (click on play titles for some glorious production images), and will of course be heading to my local, the Arcola, to see pm's production of Robin Hooper's Not The Love I Cry For. And in spite of Richard Herring's hilarious preview, I'm interested in the version of Metamorphosis starting up at the Lyric.

Meanwhile though, I'm showing up to the page. Have almost finished reworking the last scene of The May Queen (all twenty-seven pages of it) and will be rethinking earlier scenes in the light, or should I say gloom, of the now pretty damn pitiless ending. Saying nothing of its quality - I've worryingly little clue as to whether or not it's plain rubbish - in terms of classification the piece has shifted from an experimental, mixed-genre type thing, influenced by late Euripides (Ion, Orestes) and medieval fables, to the harsher landscapes of Sophocles and the Elizabethan tragedians. God that sounds grand. All I mean is it's got a lot darker.

25 September 2006

They've announced the five winners in the inaugural Bruntwood playwriting competition, and it's nice to note that two of them had work on view in the latest Miniaturists show. Duncan Macmillan picked up second prize for his play Monster, and Ian Kershaw wins the 'North West Writer prize' for Candy Land . Couldn't have happened to nicer fellas.
Details of all the writers and synopses of their winning works are on the Royal Exchange site.

20 September 2006

Couple of things

Me old china Erica W's got her reign at Newcastle off to a flyer with a production of Dennis Potter's provocation about Jesus, Son of Man. Only sorry I couldn't get up there to see it - it closes Saturday. We did a Potter double bill at Edinburgh once upon a time (1997). She directed Blue Remembered Hills, and a piece I wrote about Potter's genesis as a writer, called Tomorrow Is A Lovely Day.

Meanwhile Maxie has mused about theatre blogging on the Culture Vulture site. Nicely turned, interesting links, and gotta love that picture.

19 September 2006

Got a diagnosis, at last. It's good to know what the hell's knocked me over for a month.
Getting over the bugger, but slowly.
Now that's the last you'll be hearing about it, promise.

18 September 2006

Farewell then, old tea and coffee warehouse in Dickens's 'hood, I loved you even though there was no running water in the bar and I could never remember where was the switch for the emergency exit lights no matter how many times people reminded me. Because theatre is a good, and you served up the goods on a staggeringly regular basis. From Erica Whyman's Winter's Tale, to Maria Aberg's production of FX Kroetz's Stallerhof, through Peter Gill's The Sleepers' Den as given by Thea Sharrock, and The Woman Who Swallowed A Pin (still the only really successful promenade thing I've been to). Summer Begins was a highlight in the past year, as was Ed Dick's scorching production of 'Tis Pity She's A Whore. (This last piece the only one of those I mention directed by a man, by the by...) I also take away and place in a shoebox my memories of four lots of miniatures - Rod Smith dancing to the Floyd in the play by Sebastian Baczkiewicz, Glyn Cannon's eerie piece about a murder during the Katrina disaster, so on.

You see me pictured as I arrived for the last night. Kernackered but excited. There was a lovely buzz about the place, just the right mix of celebratory and wistful. Fulsome tributes to Juliet, who set up the place way back when, with husband Tom and Mehmet (yes, that Mehmet). She's retiring as chief exec, to be replaced by the extremely able general manager Chris, who's been steering the ship towards new waters. Cracking show, incorporating some great singing, some hilarious corpsing and some random crisp-eating (what was that all about, Mairead??). I won't write more about the play - if you'd like to read it drop me a line. But I was pleased with it, it gave me pleasure as always to see my very own thoughts enfleshed, mixed with the abiding terror, the habitual, that someone would stand up and say Hang on, this is rubbish, can't you all see? Stop it immediately, it's embarrassing.

So after, drinks and nibbles (water for me, for a bloody change). Chatting with pm (oh yes. but don't scurry over there for a review, he's far too discreet), Ellen, Charlotte, Erica, Steve, Rupert, Michael, Laura, Lucy, and sundry other lovelies. Including my good lady, released into the community for one night only thanks to a crack team of grandparents holding the line at our place. Operation Milk Out Of A Cup.

I'll wait till it's all properly public to talk about what's next for Southwark Playhouse. Should be good, though! Here's to the next thirteen years.

14 September 2006

Everything Must Go...

Ventured down to the Angel this evening to get one or three presents for Spike - the beautiful little man is 4 tomorrow. Anyhoo I'm coming through the door when my phone goes off. I leave it to go to answerphone and when I check it it's a message from a stranger asking me to call my father-in-law. But nothing sinister - I knew Richard was at the show with B's Mum, and soon realised I knew the voice as that of Simon Hughes MP, Southwark patron (and an acquaintance of Richard's through London politics). I called back and had my ears tickled with praise, the show had obviously gone very well tonight.
As indeed it did last night, when I was there with my Mum. I'll give a fuller account soon, but for now I must say all thanks are due to Charlotte. She's given the play a zing and a swing that keeps it funny and fresh and smooths over the blemishes in my plotting. And the kids! I was bowled over by the kids. Three teenage girls and one younger boy, Hectoria, Kadiatu, Josephine and Charlie were simply brilliant. Flawless and funny and so very engaging - and so a credit to Ellen Hughes, youth director on the show. Looking forward to seeing it again tomorrow, on this bitter-sweet night, when we must say Goodbye, Southwark Bridge Road...

11 September 2006

Reasons To Be Cheerful

The highlight of the weekend was of course this:

Mr Andrew Johnson, Saturday lunchtime, signalling the fact that Everton were now three goals to the good against deadly rivals Liverpool. Hurray. I thought of how Dad would've enjoyed it. Embittered by many an unjust defeat down the years, he'd've been staggered by the fact that, for once, we had all the luck.

Friday, had lunch in Stokey with my good friend L. We sat outside Fresh and Wild eating overpriced food and having a good old moan about everything. Marvellous.

Yesterday, went en famille to the park, sat on the grass in the rose garden drinking tea and watching Buzz roll about. Oh yes. He's six months now and is acquiring new superpowers. Others include pursing his lips so's to look mildly scandalised/titillated, and sitting up unaided (for half a minute).

And there's the show of course. Never has a play seemed quite so far from me in rehearsal, but I'm ever so slowly getting over this thing (whatever it is), so I'll be able to get down to the Playhouse for opening night (tomorrow) if not before. Not been out in the evening since the Miniaturists, three weeks past. But then if I'm tempted to feel sorry for myself I remember B hasn't been out for an evening without Buzz for his entire life.

05 September 2006

Well this is not how it was supposed to go. With three and a bit weeks to go till my May Queen rewrite deadline, I'm still unwell. Nice Dr Sayer gave me my test results today from the chest x-ray and blood taken on Friday. No conclusive diagnosis, but signs of liver inflammation. So she took more blood, this time to be tested for the hepatitis virus, and other things. Needless to say I'm fed up with all this. But it could be worse, in that many nasties have been ruled out.
Confinement is really getting on my nerves now. But actually, after today's news I realise I can't afford to wait till I'm 100% before I get writing again. The deadline is fixed. So if you need me I'll be in bed, working.

02 September 2006

Miniaturists 4

Too long after the event perhaps to give a thorough account of Miniaturists 4. But I must record my thanks to everyone involved. The five writers - Daniel Gritten, Charlotte Allan, Duncan Macmillan, Ian Kershaw and Sam Holcroft - are on this '50' bursary with me and were among a number who took up my offer to write a miniature (I drew five names from a notional hat). The plays were realised by Gemma Kerr, Ellen Hughes, Jason Lawson and Rachel Parish, four directors associated with Southwark Playhouse, and Gordon Murray, veteran miniaturist.
In Dan's play Shark, Paul Croft was monstrous vaudevillian The Great McGinty, and Chris Klein his devious agent, Nebbie.
Suzy Harvey played 'director' Cathy in Charlotte's Heathcliff Number Three, auditioning Michael Lovatt, Milo Twomey and Grant Gillespie for the lead in her interpretation of Bronte.
Ian's play Mr Blue Sky featured Suzanna Hamilton as Jude, and Paul Murray as the telly repair man who comes and wipes all the programmes she's lovingly recorded.
Sam Holcroft's piece Old O'Malley saw Keith Cormican, Daisy Ashford and Erin Hunter get physically involved in an old people's home and covered in stage blood in the process.
And not least, Rosie Thomson made a list of a million good things, in Duncan's play Sleeve Notes .

I can't get my head round the fact that this was the last Miniaturists in that building, but fact it is.

31 August 2006

Still Ill

Does the body rule the mind
Or does the mind rule the body?
I don't know

26 August 2006

Another day inside, sleeping, dicking around on the internet (as Richard Herring calls it) and listening to footie commentaries. Everton won up the road at Spurs for the first time since a certain Gary Lineker scored the winner, 21 years ago today.

Interweb dicking-around unearthed a couple of amusing things: a comedy of errors at Television Centre (follow-up story here), and a little treat for Larry David fans.

25 August 2006

I've only just noticed, sluggard that I am, that Nicholas Wright has done a new version of Therese Raquin for the NT, from Zola's dramatisation of his own heartstoppingly cruel novel. Can I wait?

Reminds me, haven't been to Exiles yet. I've been busy but also some of the cringe-making reviews ('deadly' - Kate Bassett) have rung truer than the kind ones ('neglected landmark of modern theatre' - Billington). But best go, and hope the kindly ones are right after all. Don't yet want to let go the idea that the young Joyce could have mastered the Ibsenian stage play before moving on to the small matter of Ulysses. But might have to.

Worth recording a link here to Philip Hensher's piece on novelists and playwrights, rightly lauded by Encore.

Still feeling lousy, but Spike has his noisy friend Isobel over for the duration today so I'm at the library, thinking about The May Queen. And blogging, obviously.

24 August 2006


Lordy, it's been a ripe old past week or so. Revisions to the new play, prep for Miniaturists 4 on Sunday, the day itself, and then Tuesday and yesterday reading through Everything Must Go with the cast of thousands (well, twelve at the last count). Most of this with a weird and debilitating bug. Temperature erratic, really low energy. Today the first day since it started that I can actually stay in the flat without badly letting the side down. That said I've had to cancel a first coffee with a Quite Renowned Writer I really like.
Through all of this, by the way, I've been treated with infinite patience and humour by CG, who's handling this multitudinous last show at Southwark Playhouse with good sense and flair.

15 August 2006

Managed to catch Simon Bent's Under The Black Flag just before it closed, and had a terrific time. It's a magnificently rumbustious beast and filled the dank Bankside air with gales of laughter to go with the squally weather. My first show at the Globe and in spite of a cold nose, numb bum and hilariously Restricted View I enjoyed myself very much. From my seat - fifteen quid - the stage was intersected by a squat pillar, reducing visibility by around fifty per cent. I came down and stood with the groundlings for a while in the second half, until the rain made my seat an attractive option, pillar or no pillar.

So Everything Must Go has gone. I've enjoyed the writing, but had to work very hard to get it done, as the time pressure bit. Now it's in the hands of Charlotte Gwinner, who will see to the direction. The play is essentially a family comedy, about a couple in their sixties splitting up and getting back together.

08 August 2006

An elegant bespectacled Japanese lady is sitting opposite me in the British Library restaurant. I'm guessing she's in her fifties. I'm eating my salad, reading the G2, when out the corner of my eye I glean she's pointing her cameraphone at her lunch. She notices me notice and with a shy laugh of embarrassment tells me in halting English that she's sending a photo to her family, to show them what she's eating over here. I thought I clocked cabbage, potato salad, tomato and baked beans on her plate. It felt impolite to study it too closely.

I wrote a half-decent scene for Everything Must Go yesterday, but coming to work today I can find absolutely no trace of it on my computer. Though I'm not wildly well organised this has never happened to me before. It's disorienting and mildly upsetting. After what seemed like hours scouring the hard drive for the scene, I must now try and recover it from the soft drive of my brain.

02 August 2006

I Wish I Were Cleverer

Because if I were I could dash off this little play I'm writing for Southwark - Everything Must Go - while keeping abreast of the international situation, forging ahead with Zadie Smith's On Beauty (started it in the IOW and I think it's delightful), plotting and planning my next May Queen rewrite, starting research for the two plays after that (Robinson Crusoe, and a comedy about astronomy and witchcraft), while at the same time keeping on top of the Miniaturists planning (next show August 20th, our last at Southwark), spending qualidee time with the family, catching up with friends, putting up pictures in the sitting room, and even, even going to see one or two things at the theatre. Hope to get to Under The Black Flag on Friday. What else is unmissable?

31 July 2006

Back again!, this time from the Isle of Wight, where I spent the last week with B, boys and in-laws. In Ventnor, near the southern tip of the diamond, stayed in a wee house just above the beach to the left of the picture, called, kidding you not, SeaView.

Did very little, pootered about on beaches, dandled the baby, did puzzles with Spike, got addicted to the tuppenny falls in the amusement arcade, that sort of thing. Now I've got a mountain of work to climb...

22 July 2006

Back from Liverpool last night, after the week's workshop on The May Queen. It was an extraordinary six days, and the end result is I've got a better play. The heatwave made the work more arduous of course, and all credit to the team for staying focused and creative. So thanks and cheers to Craig Cheetham, Meriel Scholfield, Stephen Fletcher, Gillian Kearney, Mark Arends, Neil Caple, Annabelle Dowler and of course Serdar. The piece has really got tighter and at the same time broader, as new dynamics emerged between characters and new scenes suggested themselves, taking shape in improvisations. Some of you will be well familiar with the development workshop, and no doubt have stories good and bad about the process, but this was my first such week and it was a very creative experience, a tremendous workout. I felt very spoiled (seven actors, for a whole week!) and at the same time really challenged.
For reasons that need not detain us, my digs didn't work out so I ended up staying with my sister, who valiantly gave up her bed so I could get proper rest. This meant that my journey to the Playhouse began at Roby station, next door to the hospice where my father died in the last major heatwave, 2003. Spookily apposite, as I began the week by explaining to the actors how I'd come to realise that the impetus behind the play was my anger at Dad's death. Regular readers will know that what I've been trying to do is re-imagine the story of Orestes and Electra for Liverpool during the May blitz, in 1941. I'm way nearer that objective right now, thanks to the beneficence of Liverpool Theatres and the industry of the people named above.

In other news...IT'S A BOY!!

11 July 2006

This minute, Radio 3 is playing the full-length version of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Pink Floyd's 1975 tribute to their former member Syd Barrett, who died on Friday. Legend has it that "a heavyset man with a completely shaved head and eyebrows wandered into the studio while the band was recording Shine On. They did not recognise him for some time, when suddenly one of them realised it was Syd Barrett. He was greeted enthusiastically by the band but subsequently slipped away during the impromptu party for David Gilmour's wedding, which took place later that day. It was the last time any of the other band members saw him." (Wikipedia)

In other more cheerful news... Encore Theatre Mag is back! Absolutely marvellous. The new entries are very provoking. It's great to see their flashing blades cutting a swathe once again. Though being a cowardy custard, I slightly blanch at some of their more personal thrusts. Anonymity's a funny thing. Like old man Plato says, if you found a magic ring that made you invisible, you could go round doing good stuff, or you could just be really, really naughty, safe in the knowledge you do so with impunity. Encore though, for me, do plenty enough good to keep them on the virtuous and lovely side of the line.
Also joining my blogroll today, incidentally, the virtuous and lovely (and disgracefully talented, from what I've seen) Tom Morton-Smith.

More on provocations and anonymity. The Whatsonstage messageboard has hosted a fascinating exchange between David Eldridge and a pseudonymous detractor, 'Carl Linden'. Eschewing anonymity, DE sparred with CL about Market Boy, mounting a patient defence against the hysterical accusation that the play is "crap, and totally inauthentic". DE is to be applauded for stepping up to the plate, and if you'll forgive me further extending the baseball analogy, he threw his opponent a curveball (he pitches as well as bats, stay with me on this) by asserting that 'a spirit of generosity' is essential for a dramatist (as CL appears to claim he is).

06 July 2006

Well I told you Rooney would get sent off. No s***, Sherlock, you might reasonably reply.
Reasons to be cheerful: just as Arsenal are my adopted 2nd club team, so I decided to support France after their magnifique win against Spain, led by Zinedine 'The Sorcerer' Zidane. Had England not imploded, and gone on to meet Les Bleus in the semi, I'd've been in footie heaven. As it is, I'm just glad Zizou and his merry men are in the final on Sunday. Had it been Portugal v Italy, World Cup fatigue may have struck, with the finishing line in sight.
*July 12 postscript - too depressed about the final for words. Une catastrophe. Bitter indeed to recall that Materazzi was once an Everton player. The shame.

Been to see three plays at the National lately. Market Boy is considerably shorter than it was in preview!, but it's better for it, smart and fast and funny. The bawdiness, the bluster, the extra-larger-than-lifeness of the market creatures, the sarkiness of the politics - all that reminded me, at last, of Aristophanes.

I'm no student of Chekhov, I take the productions as I find them, so The Seagull was to me not the desecration seen by some critics, but a strange and seductive experience. Soporific, in a good way. There was an ominous soundtrack underscoring a lot of the action, I found that fascinating, unsettling. Sadly for me, the people in front of me broke out in giggles as Ben Whishaw made his preparations at the end of the play. So the climax was kind of ruined. I will say, actually, the tinkering with the last line was all wrong, not on principle, but because it just didn't work.

When I saw The Life of Galileo in the Olivier I was perhaps a bit overtired, distracted. I think it's a great play but it was an effort to join in and believe and be tense and worried and partial, while listening to David Hare's version for over three hours, while perched near the roof of that hangar. There are two intervals, the third act is overlong. Yes, Sir David, it is one of the great plays about intellectual betrayal and all that. But actually, the intellectual in the drama is quite simple, and though the timespan of the action is thirty years, Brecht's play zips along when you read it, sketching its way through Galileo's ups and downs. So why did the third act feel so interminable?

Meanwhile I'm redrafting The May Queen, which is hard work, but I'm sure it's supposed to be. The news is that where I used to say I was writing a version of the story of Orestes set in WW2 Liverpool, it's now probably truer to say it's an Electra. I'll soon be up in Liverpool working on it for a week with Serdar Bilis and a gang of actors. Yikes.

23 June 2006

The Miniaturists, No.3

It's all pretty much a blur, but it went off like a bunger (Australian for a firecracker of some sort, I believe - hello OG). We sold all the seats, the performances went without a hitch, no small thanks to unflappable stage management from Tash and Jenny, and the silky skills of my estimable producer Flavia Fraser-Cannon. Besides which organisational miracle there was actually rather a lot of art on display, judiciously lit by Mr Richard Howell. So congratulations and thanks to the writers (and directors): Moira Buffini and Daniel Brennan; Elizabeth Kuti and, er, herself; Judith Johnson and John Burgess; Penny Black and Ellen Hughes.
My own piece Porno Girl was beautifully realised by Lucy Skilbeck. The fact that I'd scripted in a rather complicated sound design, not to mention a heap of personal props, fazed her not at all - she trumped me instead by adding in an uncalled-for pushchair and a bead curtain. This last stood for the entrance to the back of a Manhattan sleaze parlour, and was just so. Thanks very much to the actors Zehra Naqvi (Charlotte), Oliver Senton (Richard) and Tunde Makinde (Rodman) for helping me bring Merin Wexler's story to the stage.
Moira Buffini's play The Games Room was on at Soho a few years ago, but she herself was indisposed for the duration of that short run, so Sunday night was the first time she'd seen the piece performed, under Daniel Brennan's smart direction. Wendy Albiston and Ben de Halpert were Barbara and Tom, locked in marital combat, to the death. They were terrific, exchanging barbs and taunts and verbal punches, finally falling in love again during a game of Russian roulette.
The last time I worked with Elizabeth Kuti, sixteen years ago if you please, she was in two plays at Edinburgh (Equus, and Brimstone and Treacle), and I was one of the stage managers. This time round, she was directing her own work, while I was overseeing things in a different and slightly less hapless way (not too difficult to outdo my younger self). Time Spent On Trains is a deeply affecting piece, about love and communication, about the terrors of childhood, the mystery of time. The performances from Lindsey Bourne and Robert Price gave full expression to the writing, which is freighted with pain and tenderness. It's a very fine play.
Judith Johnson's Believe Me is a brilliant tale of the unexpected, and it was given beautifully detailed direction by John Burgess. It couldn't be simpler in its set-up, two women sitting in armchairs getting sloshed and talking about family and friendship. But the twist, which I can't give here, is horribly good, and gave me goosebumps even when I saw it in the technical rehearsal. Paula Hamilton played the vicar's wife tormented by something she's seen, and Nicola Sanderson her friend, who loves her but doesn't believe her.
The kicker, quite literally, was Penny Black's See No Evil, a short sharp piece featuring Arabian Queen (Sibylla Meienberg), Beauty Queen (Bettrys Jones) and Football Queen (Anna Scutt). Startling to see FQ careering around the space in her wheelchair, chanting One Nil, In The Bernabeu!, to the tune of the Pet Shop Boys' Go West. One of our senior number was moved to say of See No Evil: 'I've not seen such exciting experimental theatre since the seventies.' Nuff said, I think, and job done, till next time.

17 June 2006

It's Miniaturists time again, believe it or not...
Technical rehearsals start at the crack of ten a.m. tomorrow, and the perfs are at five and eight. If you fancy coming there's a little bit of room left for each show - just go here and you'll find all the details.
Much fun at the rehearsals for Porno Girl today. Looking forward to seeing it.

Meanwhile, the World Cup marches on magnificently. Today, I loved watching the Ghanaians win their first ever match in the tournament. Great joy, it was infectious. I've seen a fair few Ghana flags fluttering from vehicles in this part of the world. Ditto Portuguese, Polish, Brazilian, Australian (of course) and sundry others.

12 June 2006


Yeah, Grandma. It's the pox. Chickenpox, yeah. Spotty all over, feeling wobbly, the works. Yeah. So you know, if you could see your way clear to bringing me round a present to make me feel better - Great. Thanks. Anything like that would be great. Okay. See you then, then. Here's Mum back. Bye.

09 June 2006

Tad better today, not because of any cooling off in the blinking weather but because of the footie. Wayne Rooney's fit (for now), ditto Stevie G and finally Eriksson seems to have stuck up the proverbial two fingers to Sir Alex and with him all the naysayers. What price a Rooney winner in the final a month from today? In case you've forgotten, he's an Evertonian - Once a blue, Always a blue - no matter that he plays his club football in Manchester.

He's Everton's gift to English football, let's be clear about that. Though of course if he gets sent off for fighting (probably with Jens Lehmann in the second round against Germany) or crocks himself in a reckless challenge with England already 5-0 up against Trinidad and Tobago, he's a dirty Manc and should never have taken the place of that nice Jermain Defoe.

Three hours to go to the big k.o. Today's World Cup bet: I've got £2.50 says Germany will beat Costa Rica by three goals (4-1). As insurance I've got the same amount says Costa Rica will win by one goal (16-1). As the big fella Ballack has been causing ructions in the German camp it could go either way...

08 June 2006

Socks, Pulling Up Of

Headcold and quite low. Black dog barking in the distance. But work continues to be fascinating, and the boys and B are in excellent fettle. So what's ado?

It may be the weather, and some sort of body memory thing. My Dad died in the August 2003 heatwave and it seems whenever the mercury climbs above 25 I'm vulnerable to these after-shocks. I was pretty prone to instability at the time in any case, dying parent notwithstanding. It was a terrible time for me and it had a knock-on for anyone about me.

Cheering about the Market Boy reviews though, innit. I'm going back to see it soon. Meantime I've been asked to write the last show in the Southwark space, something on quite a large scale, but for a short (week-long) run. It's a pleasure and an honour to be asked, and I'm going to get stuck in to that just as soon as I've got my bearings on The May Queen.

06 June 2006

Very happy to report that Liverpool Theatres are having me up for a week in July to work on The May Queen. Just heard yesterday, since when I've been looking at the play, trying to get reacquainted. Since I last looked at it, in prep for a meeting in Liverpool, I've worked on a succession of short things and so it's suddenly quite daunting having to deal with 180 pages. By contrast, Porno Girl is 11 pages (Times New Roman 12 pt double spaced).

Re the miniature, Lucy Skilbeck is directing, and she's cast Zehra Naqvi as the lead (Charlotte, aka Porno Girl). ZN was leading lady in the second cast of the Lloyd-Webber Bollywood thingo, Bombay Dreams. Oliver Senton is playing her husband Richard and Tunde Makinde is playing Rodman. The play is an adaptation of the brilliant, touching, barking story The Porno Girl by Merin Wexler. It's the title story in her collection and you can buy it from Amazon here, like what I did. Or at the online bookshop of your choice. I met Merin at college when she was a Harvard classics graduate over here on a scholarship. Among many kindnesses she drove me and a couple of friends in her rusted 2CV to Stratford to see Deborah Warner's production of Titus Andronicus. It was twenty years ago but I still remember the sound of the dismembered hand hitting the bottom of the steel bucket.

Reviews of Market Boy start coming out tomorrow. I'm nervous for it, have everything crossed for it. Best of British, DE.

05 June 2006

Comedian Richard Herring writes about going to see a play at the Gate (and stalking Michael Billington), in that compulsively readable style of his. Must try and get to see his latest show before it goes to Edinburgh. Which thought prompts another, that I'm not seeing enough stuff in media other than theatre and telly. I wonder in fact if I don't need a break from the former. Market Boy was a wonderful experience, but Phedre at the Donmar left me cold. Clare Higgins is brilliant in the lead, but the production as a whole put me in mind of Paul Miller's neat disparagement of the majority of classical or neo-classical plays when given the "searing" production the artistic team thinks they deserve, when in fact the wonder of plays like Phedre and Hippolytus, its Euripidean model, is their acute understanding of the fragility of everything. So why's everyone shouting?
As far as telly goes, recent absorbing stuff has been 24 (fourth season), Funland, Lost, and Big Brother (at least until we have to turn off so we can eat our dinner). And the sport of course. In the absence of any terrestrial cricket (if you know what I mean) I've been watching some of Channel 5's baseball. But I have been reading a novel - Zola's Therese Raquin. Also compulsive, but utterly depressing.