29 April 2006

Oy, Lady! Get Off My Set!

Went along to a meeting on the Belfast to plot our summer extravaganza, the culminating event in the Home Front Recall drama project. The Southwark Playhouse team (me, Ellen, Amy and Tom) had a decision to make - whereabouts on the ship would we stage our play? In the end, the decision was made for us by a combination of limiting circumstances. We're very happy with the upshot, though - the children will perform with the extraordinary backdrop you see in the picture (minus the toothy lady). So that will be the audience's pov (again, sans the grinsome one). Result. We're all particularly determined to make the show a memorable occasion, as one of our two classes has suffered a terrible setback - their school building was badly ravaged by fire during the Easter break. They're currently convening in Portakabins in the school grounds, while the authorities try to salvage the building and what's left of the contents.

Heard yesterday that the piece I wrote for the 'Angry' evening at the Royal Court wasn't one of those chosen for a staged reading. Ah well. I'm disappointed - how often do I get the chance to see something of mine on the main stage of a place like the Court? - but there we are. Mustn't grumble. 12 of the 50 will see their pieces on the evening of the 12th of May, and I shall be roaring them on from the stalls. If I'm tempted to mope I just need remember that this kind of knockback comes with the territory. Also that I've actually been having a fair wind of late. There's the Night-Light show opening next week, and I've had the very good fortune to be asked to write a short monologue for the Liverpool Everyman, one of six programmed for Saturday May 27th, as part of the Everyword Festival. The evening has a sporting theme, and I'm going to write about the only sport I play myself to any sort of standard. I'll give you a clue: it happens also to be the only sport whose world championships are held in a British regional theatre.

Did the Southwark bar this week and watched the first half of Summer Begins for the second time. Marvellous stuff. Renewed my admiration in particular for the decorating scene, in which Shaun Dooley's Dave deftly makes a stencil with card and Stanley knife, then uses it artfully to paint a pattern on some window shutters. Dad would've enjoyed that - but perhaps not the accompanying dialogue with Lee (Toby Alexander), which is as lewd and rude as they come.
Anyway it reminded me of last year's Kingfisher Blue at the Bush, where in Paul Miller's lovely production there was some equally impressive real-time onstage plumbing - from Toby Alexander's character this time. Paul Moriarty was in that, and he's also in David Eldridge's upcoming Market Boy, and I served him a drink on Wednesday night at Southwark. Which is all pleasingly joined-up, I think.

22 April 2006

I've been much distracted this week by work, children and televised sport (not necessarily in that order) but I must just pop my head round the door to encourage you, if you like a decent play and I know many of you do, to get down to Southwark to see David Eldridge's early (1996) work Summer Begins. I broadly agree with Lyn Gardner's review of the piece, and her praise of the direction and performances - I thought the actors were superb and the production served the play extremely well, much credit must go to director Amelia Nicholson. But I particularly wanted to flag up the seriously good writing. It may have been called soapy here and there but if the soaps were as careful to draw such rounded characters and were half as compassionate towards them I might still watch them. No, I think DE's play is better than quality soap (if there is such anymore - Corrie sometimes hits the mark, I believe). It's not the sort of piece that grabs the headlines, but in its way it's what we're all striving for, us playwrights - it brings people to breathing life, and makes us feel for them.

Two more theatre notes - I can't wait to see Simon Stephens' Motortown at the Court - from what I've been reading it seems pretty much essential viewing.

And Night-Light, the show I've written (ie just finished writing) for performers Sinead Rushe and Camille Litalien, will open in the Ustinov Studio at the Theatre Royal, Bath, on May 6th, before its three-week run at the Oval House studio in London, commencing May 16th. After that there are dates in Reading, Birmingham and Belfast. More on this anon, inevitably.

17 April 2006

One Of The Thieves Was Saved

Last Good Friday I was at Westminster Cathedral being slightly overwhelmed by the narrative of sacrifice and humility in the Passion story; this year I went to Waiting For Godot at the Barbican. There's not much I can usefully add to the mountain of words written about Samuel Beckett's masterwork, so I won't try, beyond observing that the back-and-forth, sing-song talk between Didi and Gogo in this pedigree production was beautiful, music to the ears, and spun a web of intimacy in that cavernous theatre. Contrasted with that, the disorientation of the action of the play, a thick air of helplessness, as in a bad dream.
Incidentally I watched the whole thing with an eye-wateringly painful headache.

On my ownsome all this weekend as B and the boys are in Bristol with her parents, so Saturday I did my first shift as duty manager at Southwark, and I'm back to do the bar tonight. As barman I'll be able to nip in to see the show, which is David Eldridge's early play Summer Begins.

Very good to have the flat to myself for a short while, but looking forward to having them all back tomorrow, not least so B and I can carry on with our second viewing of Bleak House, on dvd this time, as when it was on telly in the autumn we lost the plot when we went to Trieste.

13 April 2006

First Night

That was a funny evening. I'd booked for The Royal Hunt of the Sun months ago, and was pleased to have a seat for press night, not having been to one at the NT before. What I didn't realise at the time was that the first night of Trevor Nunn's revival of Peter Shaffer's epic clashed with that other first night - of Passover, which is always marked in B's family by a big get-together and meal. Royal Hunt started at 7, and the meal I knew from past experience wouldn't start till at least 8.30, as the prayers and songs came first, and as I'm not even slightly Jewish I reckoned it permissible to skip them just this once. So I split my evening in two - I saw the first half of the play then dashed across town to eat with the in-laws and extended family. Well it seemed like a good idea on paper. I have no scruples about leaving plays at the interval if something's really not agreeing with you, but actually planning to leave a show halfway through is just perverse, I know that now. It's daft and I shouldn't have gone in the first place.
For the record, I saw several of the critical persuasion - Billington and Shuttleworth, Spencer and Morley. Not that I'd recognise all of them.
My review will have to wait till I've seen the second half.
But Simon and Debbie's chicken with apricots was a triumph, I can tell you that much.
Then when I got home, a little review all of my own.

11 April 2006

Today I did some more work on the short play I've written for Net Curtains Theatre Company, A SPHINX ON CLACTON SANDS. It's been odd because there've been readings of two drafts of it so far, but I couldn't make it to either. So I've been getting feedback by email, and rewriting bits in response. If I'm honest, I'm glad to have had excuses not to go to receive the feedback in person - it seems quite a scary proposition, especially since I've never worked with any of the Net Curtains people before. But the comments have been broadly positive, and the suggested changes reasonable and constructive.

I had posted the piece here, but reading it again I think there's a bit more to do. All being well Net Curtains will mount a one-off performance of it sometime in June I think.

10 April 2006

The Archivist

It happens very occasionally, as it did this Friday past, that I check my statcounter and discover that a person has read through my entire archive in practically one sitting. This raises a number of questions for the blogger. The first of course is - who is it? But curiosity killed the cat, it might be best not to know. Second - who has the time on a Friday afternoon to read a year's worth of blogwriting? Is it a procrastinating freelancer - I can relate to that, natch. Or is it someone in an office whiling away the hours till going home time? It's been a very long while since I had an office job, and even then I never had a desk of my own. Is this the sort of thing office people do, sitting at the computer of a Friday - read the random jottings of a minor minor playwright?
And third - wot, no comment? (But then again, I might be asking for trouble)

06 April 2006

Got my first smile off of Buzz this morning. Not a full-on beaming chuckle you understand, more of a friendly hello sort of affair. But good enough.

Rest of the day uninspired, self-doubting, making no sense to myself.

One other good thing to report, though - Steve Johnson, brother of playwright Judith, has put together the ultimate anorak site for Everton supporters. It's truly a thing of wonder. By looking in the Opponents section I was able to find the date of the first game I went to without my Dad. It's always stayed with me that it was against Bristol City, and that Everton won by the handsome margin of 4 goals to 1. I was in my first year at St.Francis Xavier's College, a grammar school in those days, known to Liverpudlians as SFX. I went to the match with my classmate Brian Roche, and I remember they played Oliver's Army by Elvis Costello and the Attractions over the tannoy at half-time.

Now, thanks to Steve, I know the exact date of that auspicious occasion - February 10th, 1979.

03 April 2006

Another piece got done - the 50 of us were asked to submit five minute pieces in response to the question What Makes You Angry? Some of them will be performed at the Court in May as part of the week celebrating the Look Back play. After brooding on all matters Liverpool for the last few days (in between writing bits for Night Light), this afternoon I wrote a piece about my Dad, the war, Boris Johnson etc. If you want to read it, scroll down. I wasn't sure about posting it, but I think that's because writing it stirred a lot of feelings in me, it's an emotional thing. But the piece is written to be performed, it's meant to 'go public'. I suppose it's just very soon. It's in the voice of a character who is clearly closely based on me, his thoughts are mine. And though I've changed some details, I'm essentially writing about my experiences, my family. It's odd - it's me, of course it is, and yet I'd never be able to stand up and say those things. I can write them but I'd never say them.

By the way, Bernard is 32 days old today.
I am 14,361.
How old are you? You can check here.

On The Wing

I'm fucked off about the city, I'm fucked off about the fact me Dad died practically a pauper after fifty years hard labour

I'm fucked off about the city, I was born on the wing

It kicked me out for good behaviour, no second thought, no backward glance, but that's okay, I was born on the wing

I'm fucked off about me sister surviving on ten pound a week after bills, half-killed with the anxiety, her head’s wrecked, where's the lecky money coming from, the next rent cheque never mind credit on her phone so’s she can at least text her mates

I'm fucked off she got caught aged sixteen and that was it, not even a graduate of the school of hard knocks, not even fucking enrolled yet and here she is, babe in arms 'cos it's a sin to get rid

And I'm still fucked off god help me about Tory boy Boris, let's not infantilise him now, blonde baby boy but a hate-filled spectator, the member for Henley, suggesting in his courtly jester way there's no smoke without fire, Liverpool people gather in mobs to sob crocodile tears for the dearly beheaded while they piss on the corpses of the crushed

It's the fucking fifties all over again, except for No Irish read No Scousers. It's no longer socially acceptable to vent your deeply-held, ingrained in your DNA disgust at the dirty Catholic paddy with his drink and his sixteen lice-ridden offspring and his propensity for petty crime. So instead of dirty fucking thieving thickhead Irish, read...

Me Dad dies after fifty years hard labour and all he's got to show is the kids, of whom the one, yours truly, is right royally fucked off about the city his father barely ever left, the city that offered him sixty-six years of crumbs from the table, kept him at arm's length in his worst days, kissed him in his Sunday best

I was born in Broad Green Hospital, on the wing that faces the sea, the same month Dad and his crew painted it right through, crooning away the hours, the double-time, never singing the same song twice

I was born on the wing and fucked right off just as soon as I could, it was 1985 and the writing on the wall said, This place is under siege and it will fall, and in spite of the siren song of the Mighty Wah, calling to me to Come Back, I was up and away, I was always a wing-ed thing, a boy for the breezes, and late for my appointment with the sun, waxing lyrical as I gained height, singing of the miracle of flight

The Sun. Dad brandishes the front page at me, he was a war baby you see, always liked a good war. He's for and I'm against. Saddam is falling over on the front, Our Boys advancing on pages 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on inside.

What d'you think of the war now, Stephen?

He has four months more, he's spared Abu Ghraib. And Ken Bigley.

August, first day of the football season, he dies in a heatwave.
Everything melting, drowning, all forces spent.

This is his retirement, his golden handshake. After fifty fucking years hard labour.

02 April 2006

Being Talked About

The Fifty of us got an abusive email today from someone signing themselves - well actually I won't put their (presumably) made-up name on here. The fact they chose to send it on All Fools Day is curious also. If it was meant as a joke, which I doubt, it was far from side-splitting. It's disconcerting. We're all of us adults but some are younger than others, and it would be understandable if the abuse, dismissible as it is as crudely puerile, had some effect on their confidence, however temporary. I sincerely hope not and if any of you lot are reading this, keep the faith and don't let it get to you. As the man says, there's only one thing worse than being talked about...

A fun moment from today - cradling Buzz I opened the sitting room window to let in some of the nice spring air, and was immediately hit by an enormous ROAR, the sound of the Arsenal crowd acclaiming Thierry Henry's 46th minute goal. It was a peach, too - saw it on Match of the Day this evening.