31 January 2006

I'm thinking I might, and yes I probably will, write an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe. Going back to the original Defoe story, and doing it relatively (ie unusually) straight. Anyone seen such a version?
So I suppose this past year's blogging is just a very cunning piece of guerilla marketing.

29 January 2006

Cardboard Notice

There now follows...
Penny left this in the comment box but I'm copying it here for better visibility.

penny Cliff said...

Thanks so much for your enthusiasm, Stephen, about FRACTURED, it does my heart good. If anyone wants to see more shows, there will be some, held in hostels. In each venue, only two shows are performed, so if anyone especially wants to see my plays ('Stella' and 'Order') they need to ask the Cardboard Citizens office. The number to call is 0207 247 7747.
Please call, because the more people do, the greater the chance of the tour being extending, which is fantastic for those fantastic actors.
Finally, the facilitator, or Joker, as called in the convention of forum theatre, was Terry O'Leary, who also wrote STAMPED, the middle play. It was her first full piece, I dramaturged the whole project, and it's a great achievement for her. Cardboard Citizens also have a reasonably interesting website www.cardboardcitizens.org.
Penny Cliff

26 January 2006

Monsieur Ibrahim and The Flowers of the Qur'an is on at the Bush, and as it tells the story of an elderly Muslim grocer adopting a Jewish boy who's been stealing from him, what better group outing in London for the Alif-Aleph group? AAUK is an organisation co-founded by British Jews and Muslims to promote dialogue and amity between them. And as my Dad-in-law is a co-founder, I went along with him and the gang.

The play is a little too sweet for my taste, and Mr.B in the Guardian calls it 'an idyll for the soft-brained', but there was plenty to admire, I thought. The writing flows nicely, he can tell a story, can Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt. But the piece is never too bothered with plausibility or emotional tangles, it presents an unashamedly emotional fantasy, where a fatherless boy finds a place in the world, and a lonely but sparky old man finds himself an heir. And the performance are simply wonderful. Ryan Sampson (he was in Over Gardens Out at Southwark last year) and Nadim Sawalha (Julia's dad) make the thing dance and hum.

No such whimsy on show at the Cardboard Citizens show on Monday at the Brady Centre in the East End, but plenty of cracking acting, provocative debate and an audience to die for. I'd never been to a forum play before, it was a real pleasure to discover the form. If you don't know, a forum play tells a story, asks you to have a think about key choices made and problems faced within it, then invites any audience member who thinks they can offer a fresh take in a particular scene to come take the place of the actor and act it through. We were shown three plays (two of them scripted by Penny Cliff, who invited me) showing three individuals sliding into homelessness, charting the mistakes and mischances that led them to lose control of their lives. The theatre was packed, and there was a vocal gaggle of black teenage girls, commenting in a leery patois the whole time. The woman facilitating the event (quite brilliantly), who was I think called Naomi Selwyn, kept an eye on them but didn't intervene. Perhaps she knew what was coming, because in Penny's play "Stella", about a girl thrown out by her parents when she falls pregnant, wouldn't you know it but when after several audience members had tried and failed to reason with Stella's hard-nosed parents, it was one of the gaggle who turned the situation round. With charm and grace, she asked the father to step out so she could talk to her mother, then she went to work on mother's heartstrings, asking her to remember how excited and scared she was when she was first pregnant, and asking for help. You could hear a pin drop as the mother's defences melted... then there was a roar like a goal going in at the football, when she turned to Stella to say, Alright, I'll help you through this.

24 January 2006

Of Minis and Monsters

My own new play, Missing Persons: Four Tragedies and Roy Keane, has a character list of 16, including a bull, two horses and a dog - and yet, it's a one-man show. Does this make me the first monsterist splitter? Shall I be joining the miniaturists? (I kid you not - a group of such has apparently emerged.) No, it is not a case of 21 characters good, one character bad. Let the story and subject find the right form.

So Colin Teevan, Monsterist playwright, in the paper today. In his piece he twice uses the phrase 'broad church', first when talking of the fruitful compromises between writer and director in post-war British theatre, then later he says, "Monsterism is a broad church. We happily collaborate with directors on pieces where they are the driving force. We do not propose...that playwrights write nothing but big plays".

All good and reasonable. If a writer has a feeling they want to take on a large canvas, a multiversal epic that simply does require a production on a larger scale, the resources should be available. If the piece warrants it, and the writer's talent is evident. I will defend the Monsterists to the hilt on that one. And though I run a thing called the Miniaturists, whose name is, yes, a bit of a nod their way, with tongue in cheek, I've just finished the second draft of a play that needs a dozen actors and is ambitious in scale and subject matter, and I'm in the habit of calling it a monster (with a small m!).

But let the story and subject find the right form. When a writer has a perfectly formed idea for a miniature, let him or her write it, and not be frustrated for years at the machinery of production, the dramaturgy, the commissioning rounds, the workshops, the readings, the Arts Council meetings, the coffees with artistic directors. A miniature is so called, not because of its count in minutes, but rather for its concision, its focus, the brevity of its candle that 'gives a lovely light'. It's about scale, not size, if you see what I mean. So back to our writer. If they are so minded, they can write their miniature in a few days, find some like-minded people, and put it on. Immediately.
Or send it to me for inclusion in a Miniaturists night, and we'll do it. So how about it Colin? And Richard, and Roy, and Sarah, and Shelley...

23 January 2006

I feel like Sisyphus, defeated by gravity and a rock. The rock is my attempt to burn (in the parlance) a birthday CD for my sister using iTunes. Gravity is my ignorance, the brain in its fortieth year.

You can never find a teenager when you really need one.

Still, mustn't grumble. Going to see a new Penny Cliff piece for Cardboard Citz tonight, that should be good.

19 January 2006

I was hoping to see Stallerhof again last night after my bar stint, but the Playhouse was packed to the gills. Which is as it should be, it's a brilliant show. In her production Maria Aberg conjures an atmosphere of dread and longing, delight and disgust, that pitches the play into Buchner territory. The set and sound design are perfectly tuned to FX Kroetz's piece. What more could you want?

You say 'break a leg' to an actor on first night, or press night, as any fule kno. But what do you say to the writer? Break a pen? Break a broadband internet connection? 'Have a good one', I suppose.

So have a good one, Elizabeth. She's a friend from way back and it's press night of her play The Sugar Wife later, at the Soho Theatre. Hope it goes well for her. I saw the first night and it's a terrific piece of work, some very strong writing, darkly poetic, at once muscular and delicate.

Reminded also how much I like the space - it's a wonderful place to play in. So am of course willing pm to success in his bid for the post of a.d. there.

16 January 2006

My statcounter tells me I've had a visit from Pakistan this morning, and one from India.
The Pakistani hit resulted from someone at the Islamabad Commission for Science and Technology going on MSN and searching for "a man is known by the company he keeps". Most results tell you that this is the moral of the Aesop fable about "The Ass and His Purchaser".
The Indian visitor resides in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, and has been to my site several times before.

Most of the random visits I get are, logically enough, from people searching for matters relating to Robinson Crusoe. The latest such visit was on Friday, when someone in Martigny, Switzerland searched MSN for RC.

12 January 2006

Rose, the Doctor and a Desert Island

We'd missed out on the actual live transmissions of the 1st series of the new Doctor Who. Simply because we'd cocked up the vcr-ing of the first episode. But our time has come, and thanks to Islington Library Services we're ploughing through the series on dvd. An unmixed joy, then, but not the only recent tv highlight - we've been besotted with Lost, which came to its 'season finale' last night.

It's the mix of Robinson Crusoe, the synchronicities, the well-crafted (however far-fetched) back stories, the beauty of the island, and the gung-ho character acting. Love it. Come to think of it, the far-fetchedness is what gets me. Like Doctor Who it's consistent in its absurdity, delights in it. And some of the twists have been genuinely frightening, as in actual nightmares one might have had, where something comforting or familiar or welcome suddenly, horribly morphs...

10 January 2006

Where's My Head At

Newyear, newterm, newtangledhead.

Putting The Miniaturists 2 together - got the fifth writer I think, but tbc. Got the five directors I think, also tbc. Also putting show 3 together, for late May or early June. I'm going to write a piece for that - and I know what it will be. For years I've wanted to write something about JFK, and now's my chance.

Reconstructive surgery on scenes two and three of THE MAY QUEEN. Going with PB's exhortation - tallying with others - that if your idea in scene one is to set in motion one of these relentless tragic engines you must then keep your foot to the floor. 2 & 3 need to be more muscular and charged, and need to advance things at much the same pace as 1. Easy-peasy.

Rereading the Michel Tournier novel THE GOLDEN DROPLET, prior to putting together ideas on how I might adapt it. This is a longstanding, newly-revived project with KS, and the application is going in shortly for commission moolah.

Writing an introductory scene for the summer show HOME FRONT RECALL, the schools' project I've been working on since September. Cast of about fifty! Some of it performed on the deck of the warship, HMS Belfast!

Last not least, beginning the work of reimagining and enlarging THE GLASS SLIPPER, with new characters, new songs, and new collaborators...

There. That feels better, to get it down. Olive oil on my sticky noodle.

08 January 2006

some notes

Me and Mum plumped for And Then There Were None at the Gielgud. An absolute screech, to borrow a phrase from one of the characters. It's Kevin Elyot's version of Agatha Christie's morality fable Ten Little Indians. Starred Tara Fitzgerald and a host of actors well known to Mum as she's an aficionado of Poirot, Midsomer Murders etc. Terrific fun, and surprisingly unsettling, as Billington explains (though for a different take altogether, have a butcher's at Maxie's review).

The new show at Southwark is a corker. Stallerhof is by Franz Xaver Kroetz, whose Through The Leaves was such a hit for the Playhouse a couple of years ago (West End transfer and all that). Very recommended. I'll see it again and write more after.

The second outing for The Miniaturists will be on Sunday February 26th, a week later than originally planned. This brings it interestingly close to that other second, our ever more imminent baby boy. He's due on March 6th. If you're interested in this sort of thing, he's going to be named Bernard (after my Dad) but will be known as Buzz. As in Aldrin, and Lightyear. All being well he'll be born here, in the flat.

And while we're on the subject of sprogging... Ova Girl's up the duff! Hurrah! I've been a bit shy of shouting about her and C's doubly happy news - it's twins - but pm's just done so and I'm jolly well joining in. Bloody well done O.G., and there'll be much more jigging outside Sydney theatres to come, of that I've no doubt.

The Miniaturists line-up for next month:
Sebastian Baczkiewicz
Rachael McGill
Rebecca Nesvet
Tassos Stevens
plus one other tbc.

Took B to see The Hypochondriac on Friday, and she loved it. As did England's last Lord Chancellor, Derry Irvine, we noted.

04 January 2006

Very happy bunny this morning, as I learned last night when I went to do the bar at Southwark (first preview of the new show) that we'll be able to do our second Miniaturists show there after all. Very likely to be on the 19th of next month, with a new set of five writers. I'll keep you posted about all that, of course. But I'm made up, as the Liverpudlians say.

Talking of whom, my Mum's coming to stay at the weekend and she wants to go to a show. Yikes. It'll have to be a hit musical, or a star vehicle of some kind. But which one?

And further re Scousers - started work on the next draft of The May Queen, after last month's reading. I've had some very supportive and insightful comments from my peers, and there's interesting work ahead.

01 January 2006

"Twisted Rubbish!"

The x number of million people who (like me) watch the telly drama Spooks are well acquainted with Howard Brenton's subjects, even if they never read his name on the credits. His most recent episode was one which posited the existence of a 'black ops' unit within MI5 that planned the murder of Princess Diana. Sensational, yes, but HB drew his scenario so carefully well, it was grippingly plausible, and set off dramatic explorations of loyalty, double identity, culture wars, and the limits of state power. These were also themes in HB's extraordinarily prescient Spooks episode that dealt with the nightmare of "homegrown" Islamist suicide bombers in the UK. The extremities of faith, the hunger for a higher truth, the bitter taste of exile and cultural alienation - these are classic HB themes and they are again dissected in Paul, at the National Theatre.

Played out on a thrillingly evocative set, all shell-blasted sun-bleached stone walls, the play tells the story of Saul, leader of a Roman death-squad on its way to wreak havoc among the Christian sects of Syria, who after an encounter with the resurrected Christ changes his name, his life, and the course of human history. The "Road To Damascus" conversion is dramatised early in the play, though not altogether as well as it might have been, I'd say if asked. The depiction of Christ, or Yeshuah to his followers, lacked a certain something - it felt wrong that he was characterised as a gentle, bearded, philosophical type. I wished we'd been given a revolutionary, a charismatic firebrand. Anyhoo. The play delves into those fascinating questions beloved of HB - the rightness of some lies but not of others, the elusive nature of belief, the tricks and traps of our self-delusions. We learn, in the superior second half, that Paul was the victim of a deliberate fiction, a pretence. The founding father of Christianity was hoaxed. We meet Yeshuah (Jesus in Latin, the Christ in Greek) - alive, not risen, but not very well - and we meet his family. World-weary Mary, wife of Yeshuah, with not a good word to say about his mother (!), was given the most provocative line of the play, something about Y's mother's being "fucked in the ear" by the Word of God, and it elicited an almost plaintive heckle - "Twisted rubbish!" - from an elderly punter who then made his way out of the Cottesloe. I felt sorry for the man, and winced at how I might have reacted to the play aged 17. It would, at the very least, have blown my mind. But HB's a provocateur, and that's that. You don't go to his stuff for solace.

Oh My Giddy Aunt What's Going To Happen?

In the bit of my brain that hasn't changed since childhood (arguably the larger part) the New Year's first day always feels like you're sitting at the top of a ski jump and someone's about to give you a firm push in the small of the back...

NYE I spent on my own, as B and the boy are away in Bristol (though I'd been a-visiting earlier, and been to the theatre in the afternoon, of which more later). Very memorably, the searing lightshow and pyro explosions on my telly, coming from the South Bank, were echoed by the sight out of my open window of the ditchwater sky brightening in a frenzy, and the sound, as I imagine the Blitz must have reached the outer parts of London, of a hellish tide of thunder, the deepest bass shaking the air of an entire city.