30 May 2006

Well I had a splendid evening on Saturday. The show was rather ace, in a Miniaturistic style. There were six ten-minute plays about the sporting life (I've decided not to use the word monologue anymore, it's too ugly) by Liverpool writers - the definition seems to include those like me who are exiled, prodigal, whatever. Variety, concision, punch (two of the six were about boxing, in fact). The writers were Abi Bown, Stephen Butchard, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Nick Leather, Joanne Sherryden and me. Andrew Schofield played former snooker world champion Craig O'Donnell in my piece Dress Rehearsal, giving him a bloke-ish sort of sincerity with flashes of wryness and self-doubt. And the Romans In Britain joke got a big laugh (though not from my mum and aunties).
Gemma Bodinetz's assistant at Liverpool Theatres, Serdar Bilis, directed his first show in the space with wit and aplomb and it was only a pity that GB couldn't be there - she had to be at the LT tech manager's wedding...

Going to the first preview of Market Boy tonight, looking forward to it very much. Did you see the pic of David Eldridge and Rufus Norris in the paper? Just marvellous.

26 May 2006

Off to Liverpool in the morning. It'll take me aeons to get there because the trains are of course bongled. I leave from Marylebone, a station I've never used before, and alight at Birmingham Moor Street, ditto. From there I am advised to cross the city 'on foot' to get to Birmingham New Street, and the Liverpool train. Traditional Bank Holiday fun. Still, I should get to my cheap hotel by mid-afternoon, and meet up with family shortly thereafter. They're coming to the show. It should be a good evening, though I'm not particularly looking forward to explaining my joke about the Crucible and Romans In Britain.

23 May 2006

This week's Time Out has a good review of Night-Light. There's a slightly ponderous one in The Stage. The person from the Metro disliked it very much. Hoopla!

Had a very good time in Oxford on Sunday evening. Colin Teevan's piece at the Playhouse was terrific. Tough and tender, lyrical and funny, searching and at times heartbreakingly sad. It also had a unity and a flow that marked it as an advance on Missing Persons, his other set of classically inspired modern fables. MP also soared at times, for sure, and parts of it are priceless. But with Clare Higgins emoting and enunciating every syllable, Seven Pomegranate Seeds had me twisting on its hook.
Memorable also was the fact that the first person I bumped into at the 'do' beforehand was my old tutor Richard Jenkyns, now Professor of the Classical Tradition at Oxford, and a gentle, genial man. Slightly put my foot in it by repeating my criticisms of last autumn's production of Orestes at the Playhouse, only for Richard to tell me politely one of his current pupils directed it and he thought she did rather a good job.
Back in the mid-80s when I got into Oxford, the university couldn't care less about your A-levels, they set you an exam and interviewed you. Richard more or less told the quaking teenage me in my interview (I spent my 18th at the college, as it happened to fall the day before) that what I wrote in the exams was all over the place academically but he liked the way I wrote. Admitting me was an act of faith, or charity, or both.

So Porno Girl's nearly finished, and with it a run of short-ish projects - Night-Light, the Belfast play The Happy Ship, Dress Rehearsal (the short piece for the Liverpool Everyman), A Sphinx On Clacton Sands (meeting the company tonight), and PG. What next? Back to the monster, The May Queen, for some revisions, then mapping out an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe, and then ever so possibly starting work on a Greek translation. All that and the World Cup on the horizon. Enough to do your noodle in.

ps Heard that Andrew Schofield is going to perform Dress Rehearsal at the Everyman this Saturday. I'm chuffed about this - AS is a proper legend in Liverpool.

21 May 2006

Night-Light page icon

Saw NIGHT-LIGHT twice last week, first preview and press night. Camille (left) was under the weather for the first show, and the pacing was a bit off as a consequence, but it was still absorbing stuff, and fascinating for me to hear which bits of my text were to the fore and which had been cut - it was always the deal that they would use as much or as little as they needed. Imagine my rising anxiety as ten minutes passed without me recognising anything..! But thereafter there was plenty. And I have to wonder whether I will ever again hear my writing spoken by a performer suspended in mid-air, turning gracefully, smiling Sphinx-like.
Thursday's show was more, I don't know, in the moment. And Camille, cold shaken off, was a wow. She plays a sort of shadow creature, the id to Sinead's sleepless woman's ego. The whole thing's an exploration of the by-ways we wander in our minds when we can't get to sleep. It's very intimate, sensual. Perhaps too much so for us dry text guys. Ben Yeoh sweetly came to the first show and afterwards he and I were all of a flutter, like a pair of old maids who'd wandered into the Moulin Rouge by mistake. When B saw the publicity shot she put on her best Beavis & Butthead voice: "You've written a lesbo dance spectacular."

More welcome freebies from the Royal Court last night ('the 50' writers are being offered regular comps). Upstairs I saw Christopher Shinn's play Dying City, which seemed a perfect complement to Motortown, playing its last night in the Downstairs. Both paint a portrait of a soldier brought to crisis by the Iraq conflict, and both posit the idea that the terror we're warring against is internal, domestic, endemic. The rage of Caliban seeing his face in a glass. I was blown away by Shinn's work. It's a two-hander with three characters - the brilliant Andrew Scott plays twin brothers, opposite the equally impressive Sian Brooke. I was very affected by the play and their performances, so couldn't contemplate staying for the other show, starting just ten minutes later - Mark Ravenhill's solo performance in his Product. Bought a copy instead.

Off to Oxford later to see Clare Higgins in a one-off preview of Colin Teevan's latest, Seven Pomegranate Seeds. It's the first production funded by The Onassis Programme for the Performance of Greek Drama, and they're having a launch at Oxford Playhouse. They're going to be funding six productions over the next two years, of Greek plays, or works inspired by the Greeks. Needless to say, I'm all in favour.

17 May 2006

o how very Stokey

Pottering about this morning while the decorators were setting up in the sitting room. One of their mobiles goes off.

That's FANTASTIC! Oh brilliant, brilliant. That's made my day. Fantastic. Speak to you later.

What's that? the other one asks.

CHELSEA TICKETS! My Chelsea tickets are sorted, she cries.

Yes, she. This is Stoke Newington after all, the decorators are ladies, and the tickets? They're for the Chelsea Flower Show, not the Bridge.

What would my dear old Dad have said. (Actually I think he would've been impressed by their workpersonship.)

15 May 2006

Angry Now at the Royal Court last Friday was great fun. This was the evening of twelve short (five mins) plays from members of The 50, this Court/BBC bursary I'm on. I've managed to mislay the programme so can't alas match writer with play in a full run-down, but there was an astonishing energy to the pieces, a cumulative power. Themes ranged from sexual impotence to dodgy drivers, taking in child poverty and disaffection with New Labour along the way. If I had to choose a favourite it would be between Tim Price's Sell Out Generation and Samreen Masood's play, I think it was called I'd Do Her. The sexual impotence one was a knockout too - ten scenes in five minutes. Someone remind me whose play that is!

Just finishing the HMS Belfast play for schools, before turning to the thing I'm writing for next month's Miniaturists. Yes, it's that time again. I'm cheating a little bit by adapting a short story. It's by my friend Merin Wexler, and it's the title story in her collection The Porno Girl. It's a comic tale about a Manhattan woman with post-natal depression who finds solace in going to peep shows. The other writers on the bill are all terrifically accomplished - Penny Black, Moira Buffini, Judith Johnson and Elizabeth Kuti.

Also, tomorrow is the first preview of NIGHT-LIGHT, the show I've scripted for Out Of Inc. I haven't seen a run yet so I'm excited, intrigued, curious, all that. But not apprehensive. They're good at what they do, Camille and Sinead.

Played snooker today against the King's Cross club champion, Matthew. Each frame, after some initial sparring, I could put my cue to one side and act as referee, re-spotting the balls and counting Matthew's points. I didn't mind, he's a joy to watch.

09 May 2006

Hear Hare Here

Head-spinning few days. In a good way. On Friday I went to a 'Soapbox Debate' at the Menier Chocolate Factory, chaired by the critic Rachel Halliburton. The motion proposed by Phil Wilmott and David Rosenberg, innovative directors both, was that 'West End theatre should be sunk in the Atlantic'. Defending the commercial theatre were two producers, Matthew Gale and a fellow whose name I forget, unfortunately. The sparring quickly became bogged down, after Rosenberg made one or two ad hominem snipes about his opponents' business operations, impuning their motives. Choc Factory boss David Babani was soon forced to ask someone to hold his coat, as Rosenberg lunged at him with the accusation that Sunday In The Park with George was produced with the explicit intention of attracting the eye of the Westenders (the show has indeed transferred). And so it went on. Things threatened to get interesting again when the subject of 'risk-taking' came up. And there was good banter about the state of the fabric of West End theatre, the bricks and mortar - the sites they occupy would apparently all of them be worth ten times more if the theatres were knocked down, but they're all protected buildings, national heritage and all that.

Saturday B and I ventured to town with the boys to see this,

which constitutes, among many other things, yet more mud in the eye for people who claim that living in London is rubbish.

Sunday I wandered over to Highbury, as the last ever game there was being played, and the streets around the stadium were buzzing and crowded with ticketless Gooners come to pay their last respects. As the final whistle went, I had this view of the old place

That date on the board is a bit confusing, I know, but it was May 7th, I promise you.

And if you click on this picture

you should hopefully be able to glean a couple of geezers celebrating in the stands at the end of the game. A 4-2 win, overtaking Spurs at the wire in the race for the lucrative fourth place, and a Thierry Henry hat-trick in (probably) his last game for Arsenal. As all the commentators said, Who writes these scripts?

Then last night, early evening I should say, I went to the Royal Court Theatre, for a lecture about John Osborne, given by David Hare on the stage where 50 years ago to the day Look Back In Anger had its first performance. As DH spoke, the famous ironing board, the mere sight of which is said to have caused the play's first audiences to palpitate, loomed at the back of the stage. One abiding impression is that while DH - or Sir David - expresses himself very well in a style that is at times a little self-consciously baroque, his cadence in delivery puts you in mind of the country vicar with an English degree from Cambridge, and actually the whole thing felt at times like a sermon given in a secular church. The lecture is sprinkled with quotes from Seneca, Flaubert and Noel Coward (though he is one of DH's bugbears). But for all that, it was moving to hear one significant writer give an impassioned panegyric of another. And in doing so, Hare flagged up the other great curmudgeons of that generation, people like Dennis Potter (something of a hero to me) and David Storey.
I sadly couldn't stay for the extracts from Look Back, with David "Who" Tennant heading up a very good cast. I had to head across town to see a radio play...
Writer Samantha Ellis has written a play for Radio 4 called Sugar and Snow, and in advance of the recording this week it was given a staged reading at Hampstead, complete with live sound effects from an Adam Hart-Davis lookalike. Samantha researched the play by going to the coffee bars of Green Lanes and Wood Green and talking to people in the Kurdish community in London. It's an excellent piece, dramatising the ongoing pain of the exile, and she caught very well the predicament of the younger generation, who must choose between a comfortable statelessness and armed struggle in the mountains of Iraq, Turkey, Iran...

04 May 2006

Everybody else is at it, so why not me? Blogging at work, that is, not registering a protest vote in the local elections. Though I would've voted Green, had I not forgotten to take my card out with me this morning on my way to the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone to talk to college students about the business of playwriting. Which is no use to the Greens. But hopefully the talk was useful, at least in managing to paint a realistic portrait of what it's like to make a living as a dramatist. Ie, practically impossible, save for a rarified genus of the species. But I hope I also got across to them that though it's hard to justify this occupation in terms of material benefits, it has huge compensations, satisfactions, pleasures. Social, intellectual, personal.
Where was I? Ah, work. Yes, duty managing at Southwark, for the press night of The Mushroom Pickers by Jacqueline McCarrick. It's directed by Svetlana Dimcovic whom I know of old. The show's up now so I have downtime. Just like an office worker on his lunchbreak. Except they probably work through that, don't they.

So two theatre notes: Simon Stephens' play Motortown at the Royal Court is extraordinary, for one thing. Bold, passionate, brilliantly wrought, a better reworking of Woyzeck I could not imagine. Urgently topical, hugely humane, with the best, in the sense that it stretches the actor's talents to the limit, leading role I've seen in a new play for as long as I can remember. I'm no expert though, and have no encyclopedic knowledge. If you know of a more, or even equally demanding, challenging part for a leading actor in recent times, do say. Daniel Mays is up to it, for sure. He's stunning in fact.

Stunning in a different way was the second half of The Royal Hunt Of The Sun. Bombastic, overblown, a cacophony of male voices shouting at each other. And the intimate scenes between Pizzarro and Atahualpa I found predictable and trite. At the end of the first half I was cursing Trevor Nunn's showiness. At the end of the second I understood this to have been his attempt to draw a veil over the play's shortcomings. It wasn't helped by the fact that Alun Armstrong was indisposed the (second) night I went. But the workmanlike performance of Andrew MacDonald as Pizzarro served to draw focus to the dodgy writing. Sorry, Mr Shaffer. Good job he doesn't read blogs and/or couldn't give a flying one what I think. What if he did read this? Ah yes, he'd put in the comment box, You can moan and carp all you like - but have you ever written anything as good as Equus, Mr Sharkey? Mm? What's that? No. Exactly. No you haven't.