28 February 2006

The Miniaturists

Emily tries but misunderstands,
She's often inclined to borrow somebody's dreams till tomorrow

It'll be a long time before the image fades - Carl the ageing hippy dancing to the Floyd in a '68 stylee, having just kicked out his old friend who's hiding from criminal accomplices. A highlight from Sebastian Baczkiewicz's miniature The Troubadour, seen on Sunday night at Southwark.
The whole day is a bit of a blur for me. I opened up the Playhouse at 9ish and locked it fourteen hours later, and I hardly had a moment to stop and reflect and chew things over. But five companies showed up on time, did their tech with Suzanne and Richard (my heroes), did line runs all over the building and in nearby hostelries, and put in two performances (5.30pm and 8) of their miniatures that sent the sell-out crowd away well pleased (at least I think so) with their evening's diversion.
SB's play just about nails the short form - it has a fine arc to it, some very funny lines and something very dark at its heart. Carl the hippy was played by Rod Smith, incidentally, and it was a pleasure working with him, as it was with Dominic Colenso and Tim Morand, and they were the three of them creatively directed by Ellen Hughes.
In Screams From Job by Tassos Stevens there's a Tarkovskyesque (if you'll excuse me) moment when the attention of both audience and protagonists is brought to bear on one of the biggest questions - why does God hate us? I well remember the special pleading from theists, believers, religious types, whatever you want to call them, when confronted with the titanic misery caused by the Asian tsunami, an event mentioned by Tassos in his miniature as he explored the problem of suffering. It was his first scripted play and it was moving and elegant and at times opaque, but that was a quality suited to the subject - the impenetrable problem of God.
Rebecca Nesvet's play Piecemakers was a lovely little shocker set in Newgate Prison circa 1800, featuring Sweeney Todd's mistress and a pair of counterfeiting good for nothings. My keenest memory of it is Sharon Kirk's winking - her character has no lines but dominates the piece, and there was terrific eyebrow and winking work from her. Tabatha Williams and Victoria Denard were ace also, and Lucy Skilbeck's directing showed off the piece's oddity and intensity to best effect. There was a moment when Tabs reared up, threateningly and elegantly at the same time, and it reminded me of being hissed at by a swan on the river one time.
Rachael McGill - like Tassos, a friend of longstanding - pulled out of the hat at the relatively last minute a typically wry, inventive and funny thing called Gale Force Clothes Pegs. It was beautifully directed by Joe Austin, and featured Nicola Gossip as The Computer who shadows Jo Myddleton's Beth, whispering in her bluetooth about climate change and offers of casual sex. Beth is in a tortuous relationship with Tom (Andrew Mayer), in the future, and in the final scene we realise with a wrench that the Tom with whom she's going over the same old tired ground is a virtual one, put together from her memories.
The first person in the short history of miniaturism to be in two plays on the one night was Ronan Paterson, seen as the guard in Newgate Prison but also taking the lead in Steve Hawes's play A Thrashing, as a public school teacher called Mr.Toynbee.
Mr.T is tutoring the son of a supergrass gone into witness protection (Jack Ashton), and the son of a deposed African dictator (Andy Egwuatu). The topic under discussion is Orwell's attitudes to empire. It's done very wittily and with verve, a la History Boys. The twist comes with the arrival of Matron (Rebecca Deren) - turns out that Son of Supergrass is owed a beating and if it's not administered he'll lose his scholarship. Mr.Toynbee chickens out - and the black boy steps in and beats the white, in a nicely ironic comment on Orwell. Gordon Murray's direction keeps the play fresh and lively, the classroom banter zips along, and the denouement is a real jolt.

So there they were and there we are. Thanks again to all the artists, and I'm already looking forward to the next 'un. If you didn't come and you weren't at the Oliviers, well, you'd better have a note from the doctors or something. Though if you live on the other side of the world I might let you off.

24 February 2006

Got the programme done and printed, with only one major error in it (sorry, Rachael...), and had a short but sweet meet at the Playhouse with Richard the lighting chap. He was recently assistant designer on Stallerhof, so no worries.

Then while treating me and B to lunch at the Jerwood Space cafe round the corner, at the counter I get into one of those friendly 'after you, no, you first, oh, okay!' encounters with a young gentlewoman with considerable good looks and manners, and I'm thinking, how do I know this woman? It's not unusual, after all, to bump into people you've worked with at the Jerwood, as it's used by all sorts of companies for rehearsals. Then it hits me - she's Abi Titmuss. If you don't know the name, google her - but not if you're at work or you could get into trouble. Apparently Ms T is in an Arthur Miller play opening next week. She was buying an apple, by the way. You couldn't make it up.

Then later I'm checking my mail in Tinderbox cafe in the Angel and I realise Henry Goodman's sitting nearby. Henry was the lead in my radio play based on Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year last year. We chatted about this and that, auditions and miniatures and Jewish Book Week. Very nice man.

Then it was off to Lucy and Gordon's for a drink - they're each of them directing a mini - and then after that, home to read silly books with Spike.

Decent day, all round.

By the way, to clarify the goodness of yesterday's news - being nominated for that BBC/Royal Court thing isn't like being nominated for eviction on Big Brother, in that there isn't to be a vote of any kind. As Southwark's nominated writer, I'm now one of 'the 50'. Quite what's involved remains to be seen, but I do get the bursary, which is lovely. Huzzah!

Happy Bloggerversary To Me

Well blow me down, it's been a year.
A year since I started blogging.
A year and a bit since I finally, properly came out of my quite deep and dangerous depressive illness. I mark that from February 3rd last year when I went to a huge BBC party as the least prestigious of hundreds of BBC employees who'd won awards the previous year. I talked to Vanessa Feltz about the decor. I honestly did. I stood in a cloakroom queue with Gina McKee, Andrew Marr and that bloke off of Shoestring, whatsisname, Trevor Eve. I saw Stephen Poliakoff talking to the execs - presumably persuading them to move the Ten O'Clock News to accommodate his Friends and Crocodiles (just me and B or was it excruciating?). I saw David Walliams surrounded by women in a dark corner.

Where was I. Oh yes, the bloggerversary. Just like my first day blogging, I took Spike to his nursery, through sleet. Different nursery, same weather.

Plus ca change - Ova Girl's got a bun in the oven now - but c'est la meme chose - Paul Miller's off to Tokyo in the next few days, whence he was returning when I first read My London Life (I remember I was looking idly on the net for news of my old mucker Erica W) and thought, ooh, that looks interesting, that blogging lark.

They and others have been reading this from the beginning. I'm really very grateful for that, and for all the comments. Thanks.

Today I heard I'd been picked as Southwark Playhouse's nominee for 'The 50', a new writing bursary and mentoring project jointly initiated by the BBC and the Royal Court, as part of the Court's 50th birthday jamboree. Can't tell you how pleased I am about this. Am quite over the moon. Tom and Juliet at the Playhouse are responsible. What a nice bloggerversary present. I'm very lucky.

22 February 2006

I love Southwark Playhouse just the way it is, but just today I wish it were twice as big. Trying to fit in all the people who want to come to the show is proving a proper headache. Just as well it's the Oliviers on Sunday, that takes out some of the grander invitees (one rsvp apologised for the 'fearful swank', which still makes me giggle).
Good luck (again), by the way, to Richard Bean and Nell Leyshon, respectively up for Best Play and 'Outstanding Achievement In An Affiliate Theatre' (qu'est-ce que c'est que ca?).
But as George once said in Seinfeld, can we bring this back to me? As each of the five plays is either a three- or four-hander, there's a lot of personnel and their guests even before you open it out to others. Ach well, it's a nice problem to have, I hear you say, and you're spot on.

Puts me in mind of a bit in Robinson Crusoe:

How strange a chequer work of providence is the life of man! and by what secret differing springs are the affections hurry'd about as differing circumstances present! To day we love what to morrow we hate; to day we seek what to morrow we shun; to day we desire what to morrow we fear, nay, even tremble at the apprehensions of...

21 February 2006

It's.... showtime

So it's time for me to write something about the Miniaturists project again. For Sunday's programme, but also here, in a rather more discursive way. This time the five plays are none of them by me, which means I'm... what? I'm not sure how to describe what I've been up to. I suppose I'm the producer but my heart sinks a little when I'm introduced as such. No offence intended to the producing community out there. I suppose I just like being known as a writer, first. Who happens to be producing work by other writers this time. B suggests I call myself 'miniaturist-in-chief'. Bit unwieldy, though.
What news, then?
Rod has written very elegantly (as usual) of his pleasure in doing Sebastian Baczkiewicz's play, and I'm very glad about that. The Troubadour is a real grower. Can't wait to see it.
Tassos Stevens has written a serious, restless, enquiring piece inspired by the story of Job. This is his first actual authored play but he's well known in London theatre for his innovative work as a theatre maker and director, not least his ongoing pubQuiz. I must here boast that me and B and friend Mackay 'won' the quiz in one of its early outings. Funnily enough T and I first met in 1995 when he was helping produce my Dostoyevsky adaptation The Gambler for its run in Edinburgh that year.
Rebecca Nesvet's Piecemakers is a dark and feisty miniature about Margery Lovett, Sweeney Todd's partner in crime. I've been distressed to hear of an industrial accident in rehearsal, when an actor's toe was broken. The actor in question is soldiering on, womanfully, which is very good of her.
Steve Hawes has written and produced lots of telly in his time, and much of it in French, as he's done oodles of Maigret for continental tv. For us he's written a piece set in a public school, touching on questions of the uses and abuses of power. The director was chasing one of those old-fashioned gymnastic vaulting horses on eBay for a time, but it got away.
And finally there's Rachael McGill's play, which is apparently finished and in rehearsal, and has songs, and it's set in the future, and it's called Gale Force Clothes Pegs (I love it already).

So there you go.

17 February 2006



I know, it looks like something from the cover of an Iain M.Banks space opera novel, but it seems the future is now - these are actual human people (Roger Federer and Andre Agassi) playing tennis on the helipad of the Burj-al-Arab hotel in Dubai. Gives me the willies just looking at it. The Guardian featured the picture in its G2 story about the place they call 'Mushroom City'. I found the pic on the hotel's website, along with the reasonable rates - a mere US$1300 per night for your basic suite. There's more gobsmackery here.

I also love it that there appears to be a person hovering in mid-air, right of picture. Anti-grav technology has already arrived in the United Arab Emirates, it seems. Or perhaps this is a still from a Doctor Who, where Federer and Agassi are whisked away by David Tennant to challenge for the All Galaxy Lawn Tennis Championships. And no doubt Rose goes all weak-kneed over one of them.

14 February 2006

Good and interesting meetings today, and a peek at the set of the new show at Southwark, springlike sunshine all over the place, and Spike has learned a verse by his namesake, Milligan:

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
And the Monkeys all say Boo!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots Jibber Jabber Joo.

And because he's in the throes of potty training, S adds a topical verse of his own:

And I need to do a Poo!

13 February 2006

Had several Miniaturists round yesterday afternoon for tea and cake, which was very pleasant and also a vivid reminder to me that the show is less than two weeks away. With my gift for organisation I have of course laid myself open to a daunting double-booking, seeing as B is now liable to go into labour any day. She passed the 37-week mark yesterday, so Buzz really is coming in for landing, and soon.

On successive nights last week I went to Sam Shepard's play at the Almeida (The Late Henry Moss) and the show by the Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practices at the Barbican. I discovered this may have been a mistake on my part, and that my brain needs more than a day to ruminate on a play before the next one comes along to supplant it.

The Shepard was an admirable stab by director Michael Attenborough at creating one of these down-home, ingrained-with-sweat, dirty productions where everyone's compromised and guilt-laden. As we took our seats I teased a friend I was with, who's a Shepard fan, that as it was one of his there'd be a dead father and lots of drink. And lo there was (I knew so of course because I'd read a couple of reviews). But despite everyone's best efforts, I just didn't believe a word of it. I like Andrew Lincoln as an actor very much, but I didn't buy that he was capable of beating up his bigger brother in a fit of mourning rage. There were so many longeurs in the piece that it was hard to be 'up' for the moments when Shepard's writing took off. And I thought the two Mexican characters were stereotypical, albeit nicely played by Simon Gregor (who was also great in Almeida's previous show, The Hypochondriac) and the gloriously callipygous Flaminia Cinque (she takes a bath on stage and we see her bottom).

The Gardzienice group's show, direct from Poland, was an exploration of classical performance aesthetics, in two distinct halves. First half they had a bash at an impressionistic version of the Apuleius story, The Golden Ass (they called it 'Metamorphosis') though the story part of it was low on their agenda. The second half was a powerful take on the Elektra myth, prefaced by a fascinating lecture (complete with slides) on cheironomia, the language of gesture in Greek drama.
But as Michael Billington wrote brilliantly on the show and expresses in his review everything I'd like to, I'll pass you over to him. Though he doesn't say quite how attractive those Polish actresses were...


10 February 2006

Still thinking about the Robert Lepage show. It stays with you, perhaps because each scene has a distinct design, and that distinctive design recurs, allowing it to bed itself in the imagination. The melancholy ambience really got to me, too.
Also I must record the possibly heretical thought I had during The Andersen Project, that it reminded me of Vic Reeves Big Night Out... I mean this as a compliment, I adored that show. But I'm not sure M.Lepage would take it as such.

09 February 2006


Amazing what you turn up when you're rummaging through your old boxes looking for your birth certificate to send to the benefits people to claim extra maternity allowance (yes, it is like that, and I'm only able to go to all these shows because Dr.Footlights is on such good terms with Dr.Plastic, and I'm a wiz at booking in for the cheapies, and all freebies and concs welcome at this address...).

It's February? 1989, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the Lindsay Rooms, Balliol College Oxford. And that's Nick Caldecott on the right, as Lord Henry. Exhibiting classy prop skills on the left is Rupert Wickham, as Dorian.
My first script, dontcher know. Co-written with Michael Oliva, who directed the show, and borrowed most of his parents' best lamps for the set. Isn't it terrific?

07 February 2006

It's hard to know what to say about Robert Lepage's show The Andersen Project.

I'd not seen his work before and found it dazzling, moving also.

There's a frisson seeing someone widely acknowledged as A Great Artist doing his thing.

Except those in the know tell me ruefully that his thing was better when it was simpler, more about his performance than the filmic and the hydraulic elements.

The Andersen Project is the tale of a writer's defeat at the hands of the execs and marketing people. Frederic Lapointe has been commissioned to write an opera about HC Andersen for an international co-production. The Project never gets beyond the planning, but Lepage stages the story anyway, within the telling of the failure. Very touching and wry storytelling, and thrilling invention in the staging.

Saddened though by the feeling that this man, though he be a genius, was somewhat isolated in his performance bubble. The production, with its sliding stages, in-swooping lights, extraordinary through-score and enthusiastic following in the huge Barbican Theatre, felt at times, in those moments when I wasn't mesmerised by Lepage's gifts, like a 'stadium rock' sort of gig, one for the fans.

At the same time, the show could be said to be about loneliness and isolation and my sadness could have been the desired effect...

Fascinated by the fact that Ova Girl saw this very show four weeks ago in Sydney.

And of course in the piece Lepage ruminates on what it means to be a global artist, seems to want to communicate that it's not altogether a desirable thing to be.

Coincidentally Mark Ravenhill today writes about artists going global.

Bumped into lots of theatre people at the show, natch.

06 February 2006

Snuck into Tate Modern last night just in time to see the Rousseau pictures again before they go back to the Met, the Getty, MOMA, the Musee d'Orsay and all those very lucky private owners. The building stayed open till ten and I was expecting a crush when I got there at eight, but it was shockingly, blissfully quiet.
I walked - that's right, walked - there from the flat, a distance of between four and five miles I think, so by the time I arrived by way of St.Paul's and the wobbly bridge my brain was humming and fizzing with those happy chemicals you get as a present for exercising.
Then I got a big cup of water and a coffee and sat down to take notes on Crusoe before going in to see the paintings.
I'm tempted to put them down here to illustrate quite what the effect is of those nice exercise by-products on a writer puzzling out how to adapt an iconic novel.
Suffice to say, any thought of doing it 'relatively straight' went out onto the museum's 4th floor balcony and swan-dived into the Thames.

04 February 2006

Fringe Benefits

Maxie has given a shout out to the Miniaturists on her Guardian site, Fringe Benefits. Which is very good of her. So for the benefit of anyone coming here from there, here's the Miniaturists line-up for Sunday 26th:

Screams From Job
written and directed by Tassos Stevens

by Rebecca Nesvet
dir. Lucy Skilbeck

Gale Force Clothes Pegs
by Rachael McGill
dir. Joe Austin

A Thrashing
by Steve Hawes
dir. Gordon Murray

The Troubadour
by Sebastian Baczkiewicz
dir. Ellen Hughes.

There are two performances of all five, at 5.30pm and 8. Southwark Playhouse.
You'll need to drop me a line


if you'd like to come. Space is really limited, so please ask nice and early.
There's a suggested donation of £3 on the door.

All very exciting. One more thing - *playful finger-wag at Ms Szalwinska* - Monsterists are very welcome (though the only one I know is busy that night). Solidarity with fellow writers is one of the points of the project, he said solemnly.

01 February 2006

For Your Inner Geek

This lovely page at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has been quietly exploring the physically reachable universe from Caltech for the past few decades, boldly going where flashier programmes (like my beloved Apollo) fear to tread.
The movie has some choice commentary from some terrifically excited JPL geeks, for whom the return of the Stardust capsule is clearly a career high.
Thanks to Mackay for sending me the link.