31 December 2007

New Year's Eve. Aside from watching 24 through my fingers during the gory bits, the only excitements I'm signed up for are checking in on RandomActs as he reports in from the frontline, Trafalgar Square and environs. I've been reading this exceptional blog on and off for a while but have been too effing lazy to link to it myself, until now.


I've just sent Buzz off to La La Land. Spike and Becca are out a-visiting.

It's been a good year for yours truly, lots of interest and excitement, we're a sickeningly happy little family and I've had a great deal of luck with getting work on, two shows for two great theatres, and things lined up for next year - the tour of CloudCuckooLand of course (inc stints at Riverside and Greenwich) but also something I've not mentioned here, I've been asked back by Northern Stage so will be writing a Hansel and Gretel for them next Christmas. Yay for that.

Here then, as has become customary for me to note, are some of the shows I loved in 2007.




Waves
devised by Katie Mitchell and the Company (2006)
from the text of Virginia Woolf's novel, The Waves (1931)
Cottesloe, National Theatre
Breathtaking work, formally daring and exquisitely beautiful. An experiment achieved with consummate style.

waves3


Satyagraha
by Philip Glass (1980)
words by Constance de Jong
directed and designed by Phelim McDermott, Julian Crouch and Improbable
ENO
Improbable bring their poetry to bear on Glass's meditative epic.

Satyagraha


The Caretaker
Harold Pinter (1960)
dir. Jamie Lloyd, des. Soutra Gilmour
Tricycle Theatre
Pinter's purgatorial masterpiece, David Bradley magnificently Beckettian.

caretaker_01


Antony and Cleopatra
William Wotsit (?1607)
dir. Gregory Doran
Novello Theatre
Sex, and the classical world conjured before your eyes - what more do you want?

antony


Dying For It
Moira Buffini (2007)
after The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman (1928)
dir. Anna Mackmin, des. Lez Brotherston
Almeida
Buffini's riotous reimagining of the funniest play about the Stalinist nightmare.

DFIprodpic3


The Emperor Jones
Eugene O'Neill (1920)
dir. Thea Sharrock
Olivier, NT
The Little Play That Could. O'Neill and Sharrock get expansive.

jones


All About My Mother
Samuel Adamson (2007)
after the screenplay by Pedro Almodovar (1999)
dir. Tom Cairns
Old Vic
Touching, intimate, rude and sweet - in the Old Vic? Yup.

Lesley+Manville


Meetings
Mustapha Matura (1982)
dir. Dan Barnard
Arcola Studio 2
Caribbean history, tradition and food explored in wry kitchen comedy.

meetings_243x177


Mojo Mickybo
Owen McCafferty (1998)
dir. Jonathan Humphreys
Arcola 2
The Irish Troubles as child's play.

mojo_mickybo_big


Molora
Yael Farber (?2004)
after Sophocles, Euripides, Aeschylus
dir. the writer
Oxford Playhouse
Heart-stopping and extreme. The war between Electra and Clytemnestra played out before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

molora


Lipsynch
Robert Lepage/ Ex Machina/ Culture Industry/ Northern Stage/ Theatre Sans Frontieres (2007)
Northern Stage
Lepage marshals extraordinary forces in work-in-process exploration of the human voice.
lipsynch

_________

11 December 2007

NSccarol

The last two or three weeks have been fun, fazing and full-on, with a radio play going out on the 3rd, a Miniaturists show on the 2nd, a press and guest night for A Christmas Carol (pictured) in Newcastle on the last day of November, turning 41 on the 9th (a prime number again thank goodness), marking 15 years of my attachment to B on the 10th, and Spike's first school play last Tuesday (Whoops-a-Daisy Angel). Also: workshop days on Cloudcuckooland at St Gabriel's Boys' Club in Pimlico, in the shadow of the block where B and I bought our first flat; Lucy's production of Moira Buffini's play Gabriel at RADA (absolutely spellbinding), and an early evening drink with two senior playwrights beforehand; preview of Much Ado About Nothing at the Olivier (highly enjoyable, with possibly the funniest coup de theatre I've ever seen).

So now here I am at the library on a Sunday afternoon, for the last time in the long year. I'm mucking about with some lyrics for the Cloudcuckooland songs. It's going to be a bit of a riot, this show, if all goes to plan. Slapstick, scatological sing-a-longs, and satirical cameos by the likes of a football WAG and our dear Prime Minister. But let's not get ahead of ourselves! - back to work. Meanwhile I'll note my random iTunes playlist as I go. And if I get the chance later on I'll try and give a bit more detail about all the above. It's been quite a whirl and I've felt the lack of regular blogging, not that I'm under any illusion that there's a public out there hanging on my every word, emphatically not, it's just that I'd like to diarise for myself and also for those friends and family and other bloggers and colleagues who I know do look in from time to time.


Any Colour You Like, Pink Floyd

Rock Star, N.E.R.D.

Titanium, Kraftwerk

Protest (from Satyagraha), Philip Glass

Cups, Underworld

Room 208, The Future Sound Of London

Psycho Killer, Talking Heads

Anarchy In The UK, Sex Pistols

(Jung Neys) Antidotes, The Fall

Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Kylie (Soulwax Rock Remix)

Dig Your Own Hole, Chemical Brothers

No More Tears, KLF

Standing In The Way Of Control, Beth Ditto / Soulwax

10 November 2007

The Secretary-General of Amnesty International gave my wife some flowers last night. And no, it wasn't in a dream. Staff at Amnesty gave a one-off perf of The Cherry Orchard, and B was playing cello in the band. She was roped in by her mate Tom, double-bassist extraordinaire. The band were excellent, and used far too sparingly, he said uxoriously.
B's out at Cloud Nine as I write. She was at school with the director so likes to keep an eye on her progress, old girls' network and all that. I caught up with her monster production of The Emperor Jones just before it closed and was blown away. What a great show.

Later... Mrs S has asked me gently to point out that she's not stalking Thea. In fact Cloud Nine which she enjoyed hugely is the first Sharrock she's actually seen, implausibly. But she has been pleased to note TS's rise in the papers.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, I was supposed to be at J's birthday drinks but owing to a clerical error we are lacking a sitter, so I'm on watch, whiling the time by doing this and also reading the most harrowing book, The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

05 November 2007

I never called 999 before. Even with the baby boy imploring me with fierce, frightened eyes to DO SOMETHING, there was still that reluctance, is it really necessary? Are we supposed to call the CamiDoc, the out-of-hours GP service? But actually no, he can't breathe.
Which service? Ambulance.
Genial Irishman showed up, couldn't've been more than three minutes, seemed a fair bit longer naturally. Oh yes, that'll be the croup. He glanced at the beer I'd just opened.
"I've just opened that."
"Looks nice."

Croup's a bastard. Or rather, it's a harmless nuisance of a virus, relative to the terror generated by its onset. The bastard. Buzz? he's absolutely fine now, if a bit snotty.

Radio play got recorded, in other news. The cast laughed and corpsed even, so that was a relief, it seems to work.

A Christmas Carol lost a cast member to a torn ankle. Dashed bad luck for the fella. Erica's drafting in an actor from the Our Friends In The North company, finished the first leg of its run on Saturday night, in Sheffield I think. It's back for a tour in the spring, coming to Guildford so I'll be taking B over there to see it.

Everton have won their last four games - first time that's happened in 17 years, apparently. We seem to be getting quite good at beating the teams we're supposed to beat - Larissa, Derby County, Luton Town, Birmingham City. Though the Brum were unlucky.

30 October 2007

Just had lunch with L at RADA. Actually L ate lunch and I drank coffee. She's directing a Moira Buffini with final year people there. Cycled to town, through Highbury (past the Emirates) and the dusty busy streets round the back between Camden and Euston, with their half-decent cycle lanes.
Pleasantly befuddled about what exactly I'm working on. I mean, it's clearly CLOUDCUCKOOLAND, in the middle of writing that. But many miles to the north my Dickens script is in rehearsal. Wish I could be there more often, going back a fortnight tomorrow to see them running it before they get into the tech rehearsals the following week. (Can't wait to see it in the theatre, Neil Murray's design is to die for.) And this morning, got the studio script through the post, KEPLER'S MUM'S A WITCH gets recorded this weekend. I'll go in for the readthrough Saturday morning. It goes out on Radio 4 early December.
And what then? A bit of thumb-twiddling. A bit of a reading list. I've got a posh attachment to a theatre in the spring, more about that anon, and the Aristophanes will no doubt need polishing up before it goes on in February. But beyond that there's a whiff of unemployment in the air... Have had a great run recently, no grumbling, it's probably only right by the laws of the freelance universe that I have a lean period coming to me. And it'll actually be good to have some thinking time, free of deadlines. But not too much of it. Eyes and ears will be open and when not typing the fingers crossed for what in the poker universe they call an ace from space.

What else? Our Buzz got expelled by his childminder this morning. Hope it's not a sign of things to come, delinquency and all that. Only kidding, it's just a touch of the old separation anxiety. Happens to the best of us.

Congrats and well dones to our colleague Ben Ellis, by the way. I caught his very fine, sensitive, moving (but with a lightness) piece, The Final Shot at 503 on Friday night. Worth the saddlesoreness - 3 and a half hours round trip by bike!

26 October 2007

List 5 things that certain people (who are not deserving of being your friend anyway) may consider to be "totally lame" but you are, despite the possible stigma, totally proud of.

Such is the urging of the meme Lance has sent this way.

1. My high break at snooker is 73 (ten reds, nine blacks).
2. I can (still) read Greek and Latin in the original (albeit with a dictionary at my elbow).
3. In 1990 I went to the Edinburgh Festival as a stage manager - slept on a floor for a month, caroused a lot, changed girlfriend, etc - okay that last bit was a bit eeky - a few weeks after finishing a course of chemotherapy.
4. The evening of the day we got married, B and me and our families went to my soppy Georgian rom-com version of Cinderella at Southwark Playhouse and it was very memorable.
5. I listen to Five Live a lot.

I'm tagging Ova Girl, David, The Whingers, Harriet, and JMC.

18 October 2007

What Is Up? Whatever Could Possibly Be Up?

I'm cycling again, after two and a half years' accident-related hiatus.
Listening to David Bowie right now (Let's Dance).
Working on silly songs for Cloudcuckooland, my version of Aristophanes's's Birds.
Going to Newcastle at the weekend to catch the last night of Our Friends In The North, rehearsals for A Christmas Carol kicking off on the Monday morning, and Newcastle United versus Tottenham Hotspur kicking off at 8 o'clock.
Went to Mustapha Matura's play Meetings at Arcola last night. Absolute gem. Lovely production directed by Dan Barnard.
Okay back to the play. What sort of thing is it? well... The last song I wrote included the lines

We can confirm there are white streaks on the White House
And Air Force One is grounded by our plops

18 September 2007

It's a beautiful late summer's afternoon scene here in London's famous West End. There's a stillness and the light is fine but fading, no more sunny eves for us for a while. I'm perched on a stool in Foyle's cafe, aka Ray's Jazz Cafe, where somewhere behind me a geezer is tuning up prior to giving us the benefit of his musical wisdom. I'm off home though as I've promised Spike we'll rig up the little telescope he got given for his birthday on Saturday - he really is 5 now, and a schoolboy to boot, started last Tuesday.
Walked here from Bush House, where I had a meet with Liz about the radio play, tidying up some odds and sods. Still thrilling to pass through those security screens and into the territory of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
There's Blood Brothers over the way. Wonder if I'll ever get round to seeing it.

28 August 2007

In The Club

intheclub

Went to Richard Bean's Brussels farce for the Saturday matinee at Hampstead, and again found myself having a thoroughly marvellous time in the company of RB's writing, with its characteristic swings between acerbity, sagacity and tenderness. This time of course it was accompanied by a barrage of door-slams, switched suitcases, growling Turks and Yorkshiremen, and various plastic appendages. The whole shebang was incredibly likeable, funny and daft. Baffling and irritating therefore to recall the wilfully po-faced reviews. The one piece I read that came anywhere near describing the play I saw was Andrew Haydon's on the Culture Wars site. (Oh and I just looked up the one in the FT , that was pretty good too.)

Meanwhile I'm headed back to 17th century Germany today after a restful holiday weekend, starting on the next draft of the radio play. After that it's draft two of A Christmas Carol, in which I get to write a Christmas carol.

20 August 2007

Morning everyone. I'm currently wading my way toward a draft of a radio play, it's technically overdue as of today but my lovely producer Liz has given me a few days' grace, so yet again I'm writing this when I should be writing that (hello Dave). But I thought I owed you people a post, I know there are a (countable on fingers) number of you who look in regularly, and it's only right and fair that I give you something to read.
B went to Edinburgh for four days last week, so I was full-time Dad for the duration, and lovely that was too, if a trifle exhausting, as I was a bit nervy about my deadline and got insomniac. But all in all it went gratifyingly well. Spike missed his Mum a fair bit and there were a few tears but we had a Grand Day Out at the Science Museum on the Wednesday, the anticipation of which helped keep his pecker up, and baby Bernard, while initially a little perplexed at his mother's sudden not-being-there-ness, soldiered on manfully and was a delightful bean, albeit one that emitted masses of noxious slurry from his rear end, must have been something he ate.
At the Science Museum, we saw this

Rocket

which bowled me over. Not literally, it doesn't work anymore. But I remembered it did bowl over poor old Huskisson, the first ever railway fatality.

Other things: reading Harriet Devine's interviews with many brilliant writers in Looking Back: Playwrights at the Royal Court, 1956-2006. Essential and riveting. And I caught the last night of Philistines at the NT. Even from the back of the circle I managed to become besotted with Ruth Wilson's Tanya, and also Rory Kinnear as her brother Pyotr (but in a different way). And yes I suppose they really could the pair of them (the characters, I mean) do with a kick up the backside, as their father intimates in no uncertain fashion - but then couldn't we all?

phil

05 August 2007

Friday I finished a draft of Xmas Carol, with a feeling of something like exhilaration as I did my best not to make a mess of the already-quite-dramatic-on-the-page resurrection of Ebenezer. It's marvellous stuff, and I'd gently urge anyone who hasn't read the story to give it a look. It's more Gothic and fantastic than you might suppose from the Muppet version - which has many fine qualities - or even the Alistair Sim. When he wrote the thing Dickens was still only 31 and more in thrall to Smollett, Defoe and Arabian Nights than anything we might call 'Victorian'. And while yes he is forever tainted by association with the paternalistic moralising of the exploitative, rapacious Empire, an embodiment of that Age almost, there is a helpless drive in his work toward redemption, fraternity, empathy between people. So in his life he was a tireless advocate of provision for the poor, for sanitation, housing, and education, for the consolidation and enlightenment of the growing middle class, the advancement of the working class, and the relief of an underclass who suffered privations and rates of mortality we can scarcely imagine among a western European population. He was a man of his time, but among the greatest and most generous of that time, a prodigy from his youth, world-famous by his thirties and a driven, singular, prodigious artist till the end. I know he has been in the limelight recently for his secret - not any more - relationship with Ellen Ternan, and the abrupt and callous way in which he ended his marriage to Catherine Hogarth. All that is interesting - Peter Ackroyd in his mammoth biography (finished it yesterday, incredibly moved at the end when he died) is convinced, by the way, that Dickens's intense, obsessive relationship with Ellen Ternan was never physical, and I'm looking forward to reading Claire Tomalin's book and Simon Gray's play - but a writer's personal life is seldom blameless.

The final something daft, then. Here's Mark E Smith reading the football scores live on the BBC. You've got to wonder about people turning on the telly when Smith was in full flow - how many Fall fans must have thought they were losing their sanity.

01 August 2007

Stave Four done, to my relief. Only the resurrection scene to go, the iconic ending with the turkey and the 'intelligent boy'. Looking forward to finishing with a flourish tomorrow, but not till later in the day as I'm parenting. B is going to a funeral, sadly. A friend's father.
The something daft comes from one of those Jeeves and Wooster episodes set in Manhattan. But which central London building plays the part of Bertie's midtown apartment block?

30 July 2007

Shut Up And Dance

I don't recall ever before buying a piece of music based on a reviewer's rave recommendation. But so I did, and lo, it was transplendent.

suad

29 July 2007

You Wan A Piece A Me?

Alright, Stave Three of Christmas Carol drafted. The famous Cratchit Christmas dinner included. I've switched a few things around and written some new things for them too. But of course as we change the bathwater we need to be careful the baby's safe and well.

Anyhow, here's something daft, an outtake from Seinfeld.

25 July 2007

Reviews

Oh, the tedious business of waiting for reviews after press night. The early morning texts telling you not to buy this or that paper. The staggering about after reading your work described as "genius" (it happened once, thank you Jonathan Myerson, dramatist and critic). The nice ones fluttering through the hazy air of recollection, the stinkers still staining the nostrils of regret years down the line.
Yesterday I read a just glorious passage in Peter Ackroyd's monument to the amazing life and work of Charles Dickens, concerning reviews. Then a little while later I clicked into JMC's place to find he'd reviewed The May Queen. I know a couple of teachers who've used bits of my work in writing classes - exempla of how not to, possibly - but James's short piece is the first public critical appraisal, to my knowledge, of a play text by me. He's very kind about it, for which I thank him.
Here's that passage from Ackroyd. Dickens is 45, globally famous, something of a juggernaut, monstrously healthy ego, and has just published Little Dorrit...
'Blackwood's Magazine called it simply "Twaddle" (a reference which Dickens saw by accident and which upset him for at least a moment). And one of his first biographers, writing a sixpenny pamphlet which was published in the following year, said of Little Dorrit and Bleak House that they "have not been greatly relished by the public any more than they have been praised by the critics". It was in this period that a handsome Library Edition of Dickens's novels first started to be published, and one of the reviewers of that edition suggested that "it does not appear certain to us that his books will live..." But what did Dickens make of such criticism? A few weeks later he was walking with Hans Christian Andersen, who had been hurt by the reviews of his latest book (in fact he had been found lying face down, in tears, on the lawn of [the Dickens family home] Gad's Hill Place) . "Never allow yourself to be upset by the papers, " he told Andersen, "They are forgotten in a week, and your book stands and lives." They were walking in the road, and Dickens wrote with his foot in the dirt. "That is criticism," he said. Then he wiped out his marks with his foot. "Thus it is gone."'

23 July 2007

The caretaker put the papers in his pocket. The barrow had ceased to trundle. The mourners split and moved to each side of the hole, stepping with care round the graves. The gravediggers bore the coffin and set its nose on the brink, looping the bands round it.

Burying him. We come to bury Caesar. His ides of March or June. He doesn't know who is here nor care.

Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh? Now who is he I'd like to know? Now, I'd give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of. A fellow could live on his lonesome all his life. Yes, he could. Still he'd have to get someone to sod him after he died though he could dig his own grave. We all do. Only man buries. No ants too. First thing strikes anybody. Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.

O, poor Robinson Crusoe,
How could you possibly do so?


Poor Dignam! His last lie on the earth in his box. When you think of them all it does seem a waste of wood. All gnawed through. They could invent a handsome bier with a kind of panel sliding let it down that way. Ay but they might object to be buried out of another fellow's. They're so particular. Lay me in my native earth. Bit of clay from the holy land. Only a mother and deadborn child ever buried in the one coffin. I see what it means. I see. To protect him as long as possible even in the earth. The Irishman's house is his coffin. Enbalming in catacombs, mummies, the same idea.

James Joyce

Ulysses, ch.6
While we were away a friend left a message saying there was a photograph in the Saturday Guardian Weekend mag of Colin St John Wilson in the British Library, showing off the place that he built, and wasn't that me in the background?
So this morning I fished a copy of the mag out the recycling at our building and yes, there I am! Having lunch. It must have been taken pre-May Queen because there's a script in the clear plastic bag at my feet. Would post it here but alas can't find it on tinternet (yet).
Here's a very interesting, and touching, tribute to Professor Wilson, who died in May.

22 July 2007

Uncanny resemblance, today has, to a day last year. Back from the Isle of Wight, SeaView, lovely time, boys tremendous fun, much niceness, mountain of work waiting when I got back. Unlike last year though I'm not feeling sudden crisis-y and my general wellbeing is, well, well.

I confess.
I'd never read or seen a play by the extremely well-regarded writer Robert Holman, until yesterday. RH's work has elicited sighs and purrs of admiration from many a theatre person I look up to, and my secret ignorance of the talent that inspires them had been weighing me down. So I've made a very belated start, on the protracted journey back from IOW last eve. (The protraction, and the fact I was travelling sans famille, is a whole other quite uninteresting story.)
Other Worlds is set among the fishing and farming communities in North Yorkshire at the end of the 18th century (as you probably already know, but bear with me). Stylistically, the writing is light on its feet, the dialogue true and full of intention, they are really speaking to each other. In this play at least - I don't know if it's typical of his work - Holman has no truck with the shadow-boxy kind of playwriting, or the drama of isolation, and while yes people do have secrets and tell lies, the principle at work is that people want to be true, they want to love and be loved, they want to speak to each other, they're just finding it tough, and the reasons why, the obstacles, are the engine of the play.
I found it all very moving, in the sense that I felt for the characters and responded to the action, sure, but also that it sparks the imagination, it reaches the critical mass of imaginative force that only the truly talented writer is capable of, tipping the spectator, auditor, reader into another state, such that he is alive to that other world, feels its potentialities and its sorrows. What can I say. I loved it, and as with so many other things I'm discovering in my early middle age, I'm only sorry it's taken me this long.

12 July 2007

The Gallery

Finished a draft of Stave Two, and since today is the occasion of Richard Herring's 40th, what better daft thing to post than a sliver of Fist Of Fun? Magic and hilari-oust. (And Stewart's quite funny too.)
Mud in your eye, Mr Herring.

08 July 2007

Right, finished a draft of Stave One. Poor Marley!

So here's the something daft. Well not daft, exactly. It's pop music of the purest, dance music of the most contagious, and there's a kind of irresistible mania to the performance, they way they ride the euphoric waves of noise, seriously focused, under the spell of repetition... lovely. Ladies and gentlemen I give you, Hot Chip, giving a recital of Over And Over at this year's Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Arts.

Update... The Glasto link kaput so here's HC in NYC. And if you Just Can't Get Enough you can revel in the studio-fied track and video over here.


07 July 2007

Stephen is...

...in the library, listening to African music on Resonance, working on the first stave of A Christmas Carol, struggling with a head-cold. Yeah I was supposed to head off to Bristol on Thursday, just as soon as I checked out Spike's primary school - he starts at Grazebrook, across the park, in September. A couple of politicians and the fashion editor of a national newspaper are among our fellow parents, it seems. What comes of living just east of Islington, I guess. Anyway in Bristol I was to settle myself in at B's parents' holiday flat and unplug all communication devices and just write. Adapting Dickens. What a lovely job. But instead, as I say, I've been kept on a low energy setting by this stoopid common-as-muck cold. Don't want to stray too far from home. It means I get to see the boys and hang out with B in the eve, of course. Productivity is currently, however, not as stratospheric as I'd been planning for my Brizol sojourn.

So instead of nosing around Facebook I shall go back to the play.

Oh and after I finish drafting each one of the five staves I'm going to post something daft here as a present to myself (which you can share with me, if you like)...

05 July 2007

Acknowledgments

The Miniaturists show this Sunday gone was tip top. Thanks very much indeed if you were among the very discerning, appreciative and distractingly gorgeous audience. The plays took us on an even more varified tour of Storyland than usual, from the playfully disturbing nowheresville of EMBODIED (Glyn Cannon), to an adolescent's eye on the world in FROM BOMBAY TO SANTA FE (my contribution), detouring into a land of grief and sibling intensity with KIND OF DARK (Lance Woodman), before popping in to the twistedly funny REASONS TO SETTLE FOR LESS (Nancy Harris), then finally grabbing a hotdog and a grandstand seat for the almost illegally hilarious MATCH PLAY (Frederic Blanchette).

So many people to thank, as ever. Sarah Jane Shiels and George Dives were last minute recruits to the tech crew and were faultlessly on it. Marilyn and Roger from Arcola beavered away behind the scenes. Tash and Ruth, legendary SMs. Suzanne Bell did terrific work with Lance's play, which was satisfyingly dark and had echoes of Electra (my favourite nasty story). Team Woodman were a joy to work with. Director Elgiva Field took to Miniaturism like the proverbial thing that goes quack, as did her writer Nancy, whose piece, like all the best shorts, was a complete tale in itself but reverberated long after the blackout.
Glyn put together an unusual little number, a ten minute audio piece at the top of the show that begins with the ringing of mobile phones, in the way of those little warnings you hear in theatres to turn off your own. Then an announcer speaks. And away we go. I happened to be sitting next to an Arcola person for the first show, and their momentary disorientation when they heard the ringtones was priceless: 'Is this ours?' As for my play, what can I say but cheers to Lucy and the actors (especially the newly cast Stephen). It was supernice to have another go at it after Liverpool, I made a few tweaks here and there that seemed to work, and I'll be damned if playing in the round at Arcola didn't help our little story get told. Frederic Blanchette's Match Play brought up the rear and was quite simply, to borrow a favourite Stephen Fryism, bowel-shatteringly funny. Lucy (yes her again) did a wonderful job, it was beautifully performed (take a bow Gareth, Ben and Robin), it brought the house down. Job done. It was also a great relief to me personally, finally to see the thing staged. Chris Campbell sent it to me aeons ago, whereupon I showed it to Lucy, who snapped it up and then became too busy to direct but refused, quite understandably, to let anyone else have it. So Chris has had to be the soul of forbearance, for which I thank him, over and beyond the thanks owed for a smooth and witty translation.

And not least. Thank You F.

(Besides running the whole thing with me Flavia took some fine pics, some are over here - click a pic for a gallery view - and there's this one of the writers below... O yes that's right. This is what some playwrights look like. And before you start with any pc musings, we've only had a 4m/1f combo once before, and the last time I wrote one - Miniaturists 3 - I was the odd man out...)

writers8
l-r, Lance, Nancy, Glyn, me, Chris

28 June 2007

For goodness sake, it's Miniaturists 8

These are the days, my friend, these are the days.

goodnesssake

Nibbles with attitude. A new ruler. A day in A&E with a scratched cornea (I'm bearing up, thanks, but it does smart). And my boy Spike taught me a new song which seemed entirely apt:

Little Nat sat on the wall
Feeling very jolly
Till he had a little fall
Now he's melancholy.


There's nothing like an intimation of mortality to set cats among the flying rats. Scrooge said to Marley, You may be an undigested bit of beef, but in my case the night terrors and acute headaches were the work of a never-seen bit of grit in my right eye. By lunchtime today I was wracked and wrecked with it. Thank Christ for the NHS. Moorfields Eye Hospital, an oasis of professionalism practised with good humour, calmness and civility. Sure I had to wait a bit but hey.

So yours truly, though sporting a half-closed right peeper, is picking up and getting all tingly about the imminent show. I've not had a piece on at Arcola before, yet another reason to be cheerful. And I'm very glad to be working with some of the May Queen company - Mark, Suzanne, Leanne (pictured in rehearsal below). All in all it should be a good'un. So roll up to the Arcola on Sunday for the following:


EMBODIED
by Glyn Cannon
with Charlotte Aspery

KIND OF DARK
by Lance Woodman
directed by Suzanne Bell
with Mark Arends, Raquel Cassidy

FROM BOMBAY TO SANTA FE
by Myself
dir. Lucy Skilbeck
with Leanne Best, Dominic Carter, Stephen Rahman Hughes

REASONS TO SETTLE FOR LESS
by Nancy Harris
dir. Elgiva Field
with Laura-Kate Frances, Charlotte Gittins, Sarah Ogley

MATCH PLAY
by Frederic Blanchette
translated by Christopher Campbell
dir. Lucy Skilbeck
with Gareth John Bale, Benedict Sandiford, Robin Weaver.


leanne

ARCOLA Studio 1, 5pm and 8pm July 1st.

Book tickets (£9 / £7 concessions) at arcolatheatre.com or on 0207 503 1646.

24 June 2007

Hot Chip

I am completely head over heels with this lot, after catching their set on the John Peel stage at Glastonbury.

800px-Hotchip4

No I wasn't there, more's the pity. Watching at home on the idiot's lantern. Anyway I just loved it, their brand of soulfully poetic electro-pop was just the ticket after wrestling all day with words, words, words. And their anthemic track Over And Over is quite simply one of the best things I've ever heard.

You can watch their set, for the next few days at least, by going here and clicking on the name of the band.

18 June 2007

454px-Manor_House_Tube

Depressed and depressing, violent and blighted. Last week's Newsnight film in its series Broken Society, recorded almost entirely in the vicinity of the bus stop I use to get home from Manor House tube station, dealt with the so-called 'postcode wars' in NE London, the alarming rise of the gang mentality whereby youths in Tottenham will challenge and attack Hackney counterparts who dare to stray into "their" territory. And of course vice versa. The familiar, gallingly so, cycle of poor education leading to drift leading to crime leading to prison leading to more crime.

Emerging from the tube at Manor House tonight, however, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all a bad dream, or a joke in poor taste played on the Newsnight viewer, or a ruse to crash the property prices in the area. Sure, there were one or two crazy people about, there always are, it's a metropolis. But there was no moral panic in the air, no one skulking or stalking. None of the shops have installed the cage-like fittings you see in other inner cities (Liverpool, for instance). At the bus stop, a young woman was reading a book. Another asked directions from a guy who responded with a cheerful smile and a half-decent attempt at a chat-up, but she took off with a laugh and a wave when she knew the way to go. Meanwhile I looked up at the summer sky to see Venus and the Moon in twilit conjunction, a pinky quilt of cloud sailing north on the southerly breeze, and a swallow, jinking its way over the kebab shop.

moon and venus

17 June 2007

I'm A Jealous Husband

motorhead

B was at the NT last night with her friend Vesna and afterward they were checking out the Festival Hall refurb, and dammit if Motorhead weren't blazing away, part of Jarvis's Meltdown Fest, aren't they. So it was near the end of their set and B and V were able to wander in and witness the full glory of ACE OF SPADES...

Pushing up the ante
I know you've got to see me
Read 'em and weep
The Dead Man's Hand again

16 June 2007

Chicken Himmler

Oh dear, I used to think of myself as an okay cook, able to improvise in the kitchen, half-decent at putting together simple tasty fare. But I served up for myself and my loved one a dish that put us both, after we laboured to ingest the stuff in increasingly alarmed silence, no not in hospital thank god, but in mind of Woody Allen's priceless:
"Well I was sure it was heartburn, y'know? I was married at the time, and my wife's cooking, with her Nazi recipes..."

13 June 2007

MOLORA

molora02

Tish Francis, artistic director of Oxford Playhouse, and The Onassis Programme, under the directorship of Helen Eastman and Professor Oliver Taplin, have joined forces with acclaimed writer-director Yael Farber to bring over from South Africa Farber's production called Molora, which is a retelling of the Oresteia, with elements from other versions of the legend of Orestes including the Sophocles Electra and Jean-Paul Sartre's The Flies (which I don't know, to my shame, but there you go, nothing new). But I'm telling you. It's astonishing. Molora (it means 'ash') will come to the Barbican next year and tour the UK, all being well. I saw it last night, I'd had a rotten journey to the Oxford Playhouse, arrived at the theatre in a foul mood. Two minutes in my jaw dropped, my eyes widened, and I shifted to the edge of my seat, where I stayed for the hundred minutes' duration.

Some notes and production details from the recent run in Johannesburg here.

In imagining the agon, or formal argument, between Clytemnestra and her daughter Electra as given before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, seated behind plain wooden tables, leaning in so the mike can pick up their words, Yael Farber's version acquires at once a significant resonance for the culture it sprang from, while at the same time underscoring the mutability of the myth, the staggering ability of these mythical characters to transcend their origins and translate themselves across centuries, cultures, languages.
I'll never forget Dorothy Ann Gould's performance as Clytemnestra. It was terrifying, as she used the crudest tortures to force Electra to tell her what happened to the infant Orestes. It was heartbreaking, as she pleaded for her life before the raised axe. Farber gives her speeches that ring with poetry, a muscular eloquence born of her terrible suffering. I don't have a text before me but I can hear in my memory Clytemnestra's evocation of the corpse of her husband after she struck him down: "a masterpiece of justice".
I was honoured to meet Gould after the play, and told her as best I could how very impressed and affected I was. Of course she must hear it all the time - at least I should hope so. In any case she accepted these compliments from geekily enthusiastic me with warmth and grace.
Nor could I help bending the ear of the actor Jabulile Tshabalala, whose performance as Electra was also moving and thrilling, taking in the explosive and the pathetic.
I told Jabulile about the line used to mock Theresa in The May Queen - "That's right, you're immortal aren't yer." And that actually I would sometimes say to myself Yes she is, because Leanne Best's stunning portrayal of the avenging Daddy's girl in Liverpool, and Jabulile's in Oxford and Johannesburg - these are just yet more manifestations of Electra, the girl-woman who will live forever, or at least as long as there are people to tell stories.

09 June 2007

Magic and Appetite

So if you take, then put back good
If you steal, be Robin Hood
If your eyes are wanting all you see
Then I think I'll name you after me
I think I'll call you Appetite


Ah, Prefab Sprout. I heard the song the other day on 6Music in my little flat in Liverpool, and it stuck. And so by the magic of wifi, I pull it from the ether while sitting in my (booked ahead therefore cheap) 1st class seat, Newcastle to London. I was up to watch and hear Ruby Moon, Matt Cameron's work in a production by Erica Whyman at Northern Stage. Erica directed his play Tear From A Glass Eye at the Gate a few years back, and I have to say it was one of my seminal nights in the theatre. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing - a contemporary play that had the force of fable, the poetry of Beckett, a proper experience that put you through the mangle. I'd been feeling a bit jealous of Cameron as Erica had seemingly only ever worked with two writers, Shakespeare and me. Of course it wasn't true but it felt like it. And I didn't mind so much her going off sitting in a tree with Billy Bard. But after seeing Tear I was quite awestruck and smitten, and did that thing of going up to MC - he was over from Australia - and mumbling thanks and praise. Ruby Moon felt by comparison quite hard , in the sense of restrained in its treatment of big emotions, that was my first impression of it. But of course the paradox is that those emotions are generated by Cameron's story, so... Like Tear the play deals with loss and recovery, but it feels like the writer knows his own powers better now and is somewhat shrewder in their use, there's a control and an authorial distance there. But still the kind of stage poetry and intensity I loved in Tear, allied to perhaps a greater confidence, on reflection, in himself as a storyteller.
Erica and her associate Soutra Gilmour have wrought, as ever, a production to die for. Soutra has radically rethought Stage Two of the theatre so that once you pass the usher you're passing a kitchen window in suburban Australia, as you do so falling under the mournful gaze of Ruby's mother, whose agonies we are about to witness. Then you find yourself walking into her living room and taking a seat, never able for the next two hours to forget that she and the missing Ruby's father are living a hell.

Lyn Gardner's review pays proper tribute to the play, production, and the performances of Tilly Gaunt and Nick Haverson.

And for the record here is Mr de Jongh's review of Tear From A Glass Eye, which resulted in the play's nomination for an Evening Standard award, though he can't resist a barb or two, natch.

+++

A couple more things.
The Miniaturists played the Everyman on Wednesday last, did'n dee. About twice as many people showed up as I was expecting, bloody good house, including the artistic and executive directors of Liverpool Theatres, assorted commissioned writers, Mike Bradwell and David Eldridge. No pressure, then.
But we pulled it off, I reckon. There was our trademark variety, largely speaking, for Liverpool to see. And if actually the first half was by turns tragic, heartbroken and enraged, Glyn brought the house down after the interval with his comic bookshop story. I brought up the rear, Dominic and Leanne playing dad and daughter under Lucy's (fine and felt, as usual) direction. Unusually for the Minis, there was just the one performance, so no second bite at the cherry for the bits that went pear-shaped (one of our actors, naming no names, inverted a line and so appeared to be claiming the Sun goes round the Earth, an old-fashioned view to be sure...). But safe to say each of the plays will pop up again on another bill in the not too distant.

Some rehearsal pics of Miniaturists on tour on the website (go to 'previous shows, click on Minis 7).

03 June 2007

Somewhat improbably I am back in Liverpool, in mourning for The May Queen but gearing up for The Miniaturists show here on Wednesday night, which the Everyman is hosting as part of its magnificent Everyword Festival.

It's quite a special thing to be bringing The Miniaturists to Liverpool, our seventh show but our first outside London and the first to benefit from material assistance from a theatre like the Ev.

Here's the bill:

Wicked Women
by Lizzie Nunnery
directed by Serdar Bilis
with Annabelle Dowler, Julia Rounthwaite

Unfinished
by Samantha Ellis
dir. Joe Austin
with Steven Cartait, Laura-Kate Frances

Sunburn
by Rachael McGill
dir. Serdar B
with Steven Pinder, Michael Ryan

Death Of The Small Independent Retailer
by Glyn Cannon
dir. Joe A
with Steven Cartait, Laura-Kate Frances, Alan Stocks

From Bombay To Santa Fe
by Me
dir. Lucy Skilbeck
with Leanne Best, Dominic Carter.


+++


It's not there now. The powerfully evocative design Colin Richmond did us for The May Queen. I went into the auditorium today and there's not a trace. Which is as it should be. But here below, a shot of the set just after the play came down one night in the last week. And below that, a detail.


2007_0602MQetc0008


2007_0602MQetc0005

02 June 2007

Silver Birch House

silver birch

Leyla Nazli's first play is running at the Arcola till next Saturday and it's an absolute beauty. I'm not going to ape the ladies and gentlemen of the critical persuasion and write about plot and character and all that, I'm not going to use the perennial 'promising' word. And if anyone's tempted to think, oh he's only saying it cos he's mates with the theatre, well stuff 'em. I absolutely loved Silver Birch House, it's got more heart and passion and wisdom than a hundred other first plays put together*.
LN's play is about family, and roots, and the ties that bind unravelling, and the forces that can rip a man's life apart in a day and how he can spend the rest of his life trying to repair the join, and how sometimes he might even nearly succeed. It's about so much. And it has a poetic energy that's rare and vital and to be celebrated. And almost by the by, the playwright wrote it in her second language.

*(Including mine, 1992, it was called Mahler's Unfinished, a sort of sad comedy about the composer in a weird sort of afterlife, did very well in Oxford then had two nights at the Cockpit Theatre in Marylebone for its London showcase, and was described by no less a personage than Christopher Reid, then head of Faber poetry - his wife was in the play - as 'slight'. My own wife was in the Cockpit audience, though I wasn't to meet her for another five months. When I discovered, as we courted, that she'd seen the piece I was naturally eager to hear what she made of it. 'Was alright, I suppose', or somesuch, was her review.)

29 May 2007

Checking In

In a minute I'm headed to a meeting in town about a radio play Kepler's Mum's A Witch but I thought I'd stop by to say hello, still alive, still physically and emotionally wrung out and hung over after the closing performances of The May Queen and all that entailed. I was doing alright on the Saturday until I read what some blogger wrote about the play, pushed me over the edge (the sod) and I had a little unmanly moment, release of tension I suppose and I felt all the better for it and was able to watch the last performance sitting next to Mr Serdar Bilis the director and mostly not fret about how it was the last one but enjoy it, in the moment, listening to it and drinking in the sights and sounds of the production. For it's been said a million times but these are butterflies, fleeting things, the insubstantial pageant.

23 May 2007

Come On You Mighty Reds, An Honourable Defeat This Time?

Well I'm not in Liverpool for the Big Match, which is probably just as well really. Delayed travelling up till tomorrow, mostly because baby Buzz is under the weather, teething we think, the back ones coming, but he's rather going through it poor love, high temperature and all sorts of digestive issues, best not go into them. But the upshot is I'll be watching the game at home, possibly on tape cos I'm hoping to get to see Leyla Nazli's play at Arcola tonight, been itching to see it, had some very good notices and she's a great woman and a Miniaturist, as well as being Arcola's co-founder and exec producer.

21 May 2007

Blood

I cut myself shaving, careless, nicked the earlobe. I haven’t scratched an ear with a razor for – well, many years. Only ever done it once before I think. So I’m standing looking in the mirror at the crimson blob gathering itself, like a drop earring. Then it falls and hits the bowl of the sink. It looks impressively dark as it snakes its way toward the shaving water. Then there’s another, thick and cold on my skin. I lean over so the plashes hit the water, and watch as the blood twists and writhes, smoke-like. I watch this over and over, till the water is full crimson, and soon enough the coagulants have done their job and the bleeding’s stopped.

I’ll surely never write a bloodier play. And no, I haven’t developed a taste for it. The opposite, if anything. I find the violence thrilling but shocking. It’s necessary to the story, a wartime tragedy after all. It’s so well staged, it’s truly repellent. I’m only glad there is tenderness and mercy in the play, to counterweight it.

Watched with Serdar Friday night, we’d not been in together for a while so that was great. And funny as it may seem, I think it’s true nevertheless that I really felt the play, the whole of it, for the first time since I stopped work on it. There’ve always been bits that have got to me, even in rehearsals, but it’s been hard to disengage the technical, writing bit of the brain and just watch the thing. My ambition for The May Queen was always that I should dare to write a piece that would pay homage to the Greek masters while telling a story rooted in the place and culture I was born into. Such a buzz it's been to have the Everyman share that ambition and put their energies behind realising it.

I’m heading back up on Wednesday, for the final few days of the run and the madness that will be Liverpool in the grip of European Cup Final hysteria. I did wonder whether I’d be better off travelling on Thursday instead, until it was pointed out that if Liverpool FC win the Cup for the 6th time there’ll be even more mayhem around on the Thurs, due to the inevitable hundreds of thousands flocking into the city for the victory parade.

12 May 2007

may-queen-385_165823a

Shattered. B and the boys were with me all week in the flat I've rented for the duration, which meant much family warmth around me at the right time but also little sleep. They went back yesterday and I was slightly overcome hearing how delighted and beside himself was Buzz (14 mths) to be back among his own stuff again, he padded around the place apparently incredulous and thrilled that everything was just how he left it. I may no doubt feel something like that myself when I pop back to London tomorrow for a couple of days. But I'm loving being here in Liverpool, and the play is very well thanks for asking, and press night was an absolute blast, I was proud of the work, and very proud of Serdar and the company. Above all pleasures was that of sitting watching it with B, her first look at it and though of course she knows the play rather well having been its first dramaturg she was seeing the production for the first time and her satisfaction in experiencing it as a dirty great big piece of theatre was, well, great for me to see.
Writer friends came too, Miniaturists all, and it was lovely to share a table and a dance with them at the party after, which was held in a super-cute cult-tv-themed bar in Hope Street called F.A.B.

You'll forgive me if I don't talk about reviews here. Not because of their content!, I do care about that of course, but here's not the place, hope you don't think that weird of me. Though I can't of course resist mentioning that the picture above (Mark Arends as Michael, Alisa Arnah as Liliane) was in the Times Online, above Jeremy Kingston's piece.

Family came last night, from Dad's side. Tonight there's a veritable invasion of people with whom I share genetic material, most notably my Mum. But don't worry she's been thoroughly briefed about the 'strong language, loud gun shots and scenes of a violent nature'. And me an altar boy, n'all...

10 May 2007

Press night last night. The production roared, and the people were there to hear it, that heady pressnight mix, the quarter there for professional reasons, the quarter there for love and loyalty, the theatregoers who bought tickets and were perhaps weirded out by the brew in the air, if not by the incense (Serdar's idea, nice one). Technically the show hit the sweet spot, as for the rest it's hardly for us to say, but I put the thing out there with the blessed help of Serdar, and Gemma, Suzanne, Deborah, Dan, Ian, Scott, Colin, Marie, Roxanne, Sarah, Helen, Alisa, Niall, Paul, Leanne, Mark, Michael, Cathy, Denis, Emma, Dave, Marc, Howard, and with the backup of quite a few others mind, so that it's underlineably true to say, I brought them a script five weeks ago and together we've made a play.

04 May 2007

Here comes the first preview then. This week, yes, much gnashing of pencils, scratching of heads, squinting of eyes trying to read the script by the light of an everchanging design, and splitting of ears as bombs land everywhere, when you least expect them. Characters floating about looking glorious or menacing or pitiful.
The play is doing its warm up, stretching and breathing, concentrating, remembering its cues, going through its rituals and routines. Second dress this afternoon, then people are coming in. The May Queen meets an audience - I knew it was going to happen but I never knew it would.

30 April 2007

I'll get back to you later on this, but if you're at all interested you can hear me ramble about The May Queen here, in a tone I hoped was approaching sage but came out inevitably lugubrious. With a hint of renascent Scouse? It always comes back a bit after I've been hanging out with hometowners.

Click the link, go to Listen Again on the right hand side, then 'Claire Hamilton on Sunday'. I'm about 46/47 minutes in, you click the fast forward button if you want a shortcut.

More Aristophanes today, then back to Liverpool tomorrow, into the theatre with MQ, and she's ready. First preview on Friday, far away so close. Much grinding of pencils and gnashing of LX tape before then, I shouldn't wonder.

24 April 2007

Hats off to the West End Whingers for hosting such a cracking do. I'd come straight from the Court, pondering the devastation mental illness wreaks on its sufferers, and the shame and stigma still heaped upon them. The second half of Anthony Neilson's play dramatised this with masterful dignity and discipline, an extraordinary contrast with the excess and abandon of the first, a Lewis Carrollesque trip to The Wonderful World of Dissocia. Gotta love that singing polar bear...
Anyhoo after digesting all that the party in "London's fabulous, fashionable West End" was just the tonic, and such a pleasure to see some of my fellow bloggers: JMC, Fin, Natasha, Ben Y, Lance, Ben E, and of course Andrew and Phil!

Back to the May Queen rehearsals tomorrow, but not before a workshop in the a.m. and a telephone interview during the train journey. Then in the evening one for the radio, and a new place to stay. I'll also try and catch the Liverpool v Chelsea semi-final. I expect there'll be one or two pubs in Liverpool showing the game...

17 April 2007

To paraphrase the mighty Windass, I'm writing this when I should be writing that, when in fact I should be at this. Sorry Richard, it's not good form I know, and I expect it means my application to join the Monsterists will mysteriously disappear down the back of the sofa. But I've got songs to write you know, and a miniature play for our show at the Everyman in June, and though I want no sympathy for this I'm behind, having spent most of the past 24 hours trying and failing to set up a wireless interweb connection between my pc and the laptop whereon I write, research and sometimes even blog, effortlessly wirelessly, at the Library. But in spite of the fact that I can breezily connect with the flat upstairs's wireless and so surf in bed when they're online, my own kit's unfathomably duff. Of course all that really probably means is I'm incredibly dim. All that remains is for me to toss a coin - heads I take the wireless router thingy back to the shop, tails I try and get a net-head in to sort me out.

In other news, I rounded off a very exciting week of shows by catching the last night of Owen McCafferty's Mojo Mickybo, a play so full of heart and bite, makes you glad and sad to be alive.

Also I should report that Scott Graham, he of the awesome Frantic Assembly, is movement director on May Queen and has been up at the Playhouse working with the company on one particular scene... can't wait to see the results.

11 April 2007

Trying to get some work done. The work in question is fifteen or twenty pages of BIRDS, my bash at a musical version of the Aristophanes. So the pages will include some songs. Such a world away from The May Queen, which is no doubt a good thing. Occasionally my phone will buzz and I get a question from the rehearsal room. I'm trying (that word again) to set aside the tragic mode and write silly. Not so easy though. Unbidden these words came to me at the desk -

Beloved son
Share your wounds with me
I have always carried you in my heart
And looked after you.
Speak to your mother, make her happy
Though you are already leaving me, my cherished hope.

The death of Christ, the suffering of the Virgin - in 15th century lyrics set by Gorecki in his Symphony No.3 and then used to devastating effect by Robert Lepage in Lipsynch. It comes back to me now, part because the Virgin is central to my play, part because I visited the cathedral to see the statues draped in mourning purple on Easter Saturday, and part, no doubt and rather bathetically, because I just waved off my sons and their mother at Euston, they've gone up to Cumbria, to visit my mother.

Saw Attempts on Monday, off to The Caretaker at the Tricycle tonight, and Satyagraha (omg) on Friday.

07 April 2007

Well as you can see I didn't get around to blogging while in Liverpool for rehearsals, partly because my head was so full by the end of the day that even this kind of mild cogitation was beyond me and I craved a cold beer, a plate of something precision-engineered for the microwave, and the cricket highlights. The night before I sent the final, final text off to the printers I had to burn the midnight oil and it was very hard going, I must say. Sitting in my little flat with all sorts of distracting thoughts swirling around my head I nonetheless, amongst other tasks, had to search for a substitute name for a merchant ship mentioned in the play. I had called it The Western Approaches but Alisa correctly called me on this, saying that people would be confused because wasn't that the name of the fleet headquarters? I eventually found a good replacement, but by bedtime I was proper beat. The rehearsal room, if it's run properly and it is, is the most creative of times for a playwright, up there with the eureka moments of the very early days of a play. In that room, minute by minute, ideas and memories are aired to the group, energies are crackling, the words begin to sing. What were 'lines' are now living things, accompanied by flashing eyes, or low authoritative brows, or a telling twist of the wrist, or a giveaway catch in the voice. During a break there are people swapping experiences in the corner, buzzing off each other, and in the throes of improvisations around the story, the author, if he's half-awake and I was, marvelling at the metamorphosis yet again, the conversations the characters had in his head, fleshed out and in that process by some strange alchemy, no longer his but everyone's, reflected back to him, changed for the better.

I stayed in a comfy place, very central. For the first week the May Queen company were in the annexe at the Everyman, essentially the attic space of 13 Hope Street which houses the theatre's engine room, so to speak, or at least some of it - finance people, press and marketing departments, and in the capacious basement, wardrobe. As of next week proceedings move down to the Playhouse in Williamson Square, pictured below.

playhouse

01 April 2007

The train is booked, the play is fully cast - now it's time to see if we can dance.

Yes up to Liverpool soon, rehearsals start tomorrow. Well there's a meet and greet in the morning and then your guess is as good as mine. A readthrough I suppose but one never knows, do one?

My sister's away this week so I'll be the only Sharkey in the village, which is odd.

I've got broadband in the place I'm staying, so look out.

I've also got one of those tender spots on my thumb (I'm a nail-biter, for my sins). Someone, you know who you are, blogged about this sort of thing recently and I was fascinated but now it's been edited out. Or did I dream it?

Much to catch up upon, not least Miniaturists 6, I'll try and scratch out something about that very soon, pm's thoughts about blogging and busyness strike a chord but I so enjoy reading everyone else's stuff and besides how could I show my face at the West End Whingers party if I grind to a halt?

Till North, then, pinch punch and more fools us.

24 March 2007

Now There's Posh

Chuffed and delighted am I to be able to tell you the casting news from The May Queen. Follow this link 'ere for the all the gen. Obviously I won't be blogging reports from the rehearsal room, it's all far too intimate a process, but I will tell you I'm jolly well bricking it in advance, a mix of the excitement of putting the play on its feet at long bloody last, trepidation of course about how it's going to go down, and a fair amount of giddiness from the sheer electricity of working in collaboration with such a theatre as the Everyman, and all the talented, dedicated and so on theatre nuts that comprise the team. One of whom is, quite unexpectedly, just asked him on the off chance but didn't think he'd have the time, a wonderful composer called Dan Jones, an old friend from university (or just after).

23 March 2007

We Made Our Excuses And Left

I must just tell you about this. I was with Spike at lunchtime, in the toy shop in Stoke Newington, and we caused the Eastern European lady behind the counter, and her one customer, also a young woman, some amusement by entering the shop in the midst of a lively debate about how many pounds we were going to spend. But that's not the funny thing. The funny thing was this. The young lady customer was, she said to the EE lady toyshopkeeper, after something for a three month old. And off they went perusing the staggering array of trinkets, baubles and objects furry and rattly, shiny and jiggly, beloved of the infant. Then just after me and Spike had settled on a pop-stick (a bit like a pop gun but we don't like guns so that's what we're calling it), and paid for the thing (£3, agreeable to all parties), we heard EE lady say to customer lady -
Ah! Now!
We have these vibrating rabbits!
Have you seen the vibrating rabbits?

And I catch customer's eye at the exact fraction of a second when we both think - did she just say what I think she said?

17 March 2007

Porridge Face

Who's That Girl? Anybody know? Actually we should draw a veil and spare her blushes. I hope she got the job, anyway.

This is just one small example of the wonderful work Harriet's been doing in the blottosphere for quite some time now. I met her once, quite by chance, and she's every bit as engaging as you'd expect. Love the misspelling of Almeida too, deliberate or otherwise...

16 March 2007

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me About This

They didn't, and now I've hardly got enough time to get excited and sick with anticipation before it'll all be over.
I've got to get me some new (opera-going) friends.

13 March 2007

On me Jack Jones this week, B and the bairns lingering in Bristol where we had a get-together of her side of the family last weekend, in honour of Richard's 70th. Nice innings, well played, and I reckon he's on for the ton.

Tomorrow I head up to Liverpool for the press night of Michael McLean's new play The Electric Hills, looking forward to that very much. Michael's come out of the Everyman's young writers' programme, and has been on attachment there, and with it being his first press night type scenario I'm glad I'll be able to buy him a drink and say best of British. Got to stick together, haven't we.

Daring myself to watch Fire Walk With Me on my own late tonight. That film's ending frightened me so much when I saw it at the pictures, my bones are stained with it. All the promos for Inland Empire are reminding me of Lynch's genius, not least for the unsettling ease with which he switches a story from sublime horror to silly comedy, and back again.
I'll probably chicken out and watch the cricket*, I expect.

Just to give you the heads up (I've always wanted to say that) here's the line-up, and possibly the running order, for Miniaturists 6 at the Arcola on the 25th:


06/07/05
by Steve Waters
dir. Hamish Pirie

Mike's Wishes
by Benjamin Yeoh
dir. Hannah Eidinow

Evenings
by Rachael McGill
dir. Merv Millar

Road Rage
by Dominic Leggett
dir. Hannah Eidinow

Catherine Medbh
by Declan Feenan
dir. Ciaran McQuillan.


Dec's play title rhymes with 'crave', he tells me. All of which reminds me yet again how shocking is my ignorance of Ireland and its culture. I'm supposed to be descended from there, and I don't know jack (or patrick).

* postscript: Well played, the Windies

08 March 2007

Auditioning this afternoon: priests, and villains of the piece. Every so often I catch a glimpse of this play I've written and think, How did that happen?

I had a reply to a request I sent to my Auntie T in New Zealand, I wanted some details about the Sharkey family's movements during the war. Absolutely fascinating. My long-held suspicion is confirmed - my Nan's house in Parbrook Close, Huyton, where I spent my first eighteen months or so (Mum and Dad moved in with his mum when they got married), had indeed been part of an internment/POW camp in the early years of the war. Hundreds of foreign nationals, including many Germans of Jewish origin, were rounded up when war broke out, and this half-finished housing estate in Huyton served as a camp - they just threw a barbed wire fence round it.

huyton1

Later in the war ('43 or '44, my auntie isn't sure) the prisoners moved on, the estate was finished and my grandparents moved in with their children, including my 7 or 8 year old Dad. Their neighbours were hundreds of other people made homeless, like them, by the bombing.

05 March 2007

England Expectorates

So beleaguered was I by the flu Friday last that I missed baby boy's first birthday party, absolutely all of it, unless you count bumping into one of the guests outside the loo. Oh and Dad-in-law the ex-GP came to check that I didn't have meningitis. He did this by running the blinds up, saying "does it hurt when you look at the light?" and on my reply of No he was satisfied I didn't need rushing to hospital.
But of course half the country is stricken with one thing or another just now. Impossible to get any sympathy!

Glad to say I spent some him-and-me time with Bernard this morning. He took me for a coffee at the Arcola and as usual he made a bee-line for the big glass doors, he loves to stand there looking out watching passersby and leaving mucky little handprints on the glass. Being at the Arcola of course I couldn't but be reminded that the next Miniaturists show is less than three weeks away now, Sunday the 25th. Have a look at our website for the lowdown on that. The plays are coming in thick and fast and they'll be a terrific watch, I dare promise.

Gatecrashed Serdar's meeting this afternoon with Adam Cross, Liverpudlian studying at RADA who will be assisting him on The May Queen. Very exciting talking about the whole business of production, design, research, all that. I pinch myself, as usual.

Your very good health.

01 March 2007

I've been shy about blogging what I'm working on. I do want to tell you, not that you're waiting with bated breath or anything, but I get excited and want to tell as many people as possible. Of course if I start writing here about other people's plans, the people I'm working with, that'd be unfair on them and I'd get a bollocking from my agent quicker than you could say Robinson Crusoe. But I'll venture to say I'm writing a version of Birds by Aristophanes, and planning an adaptation of A Christmas Carol for a production at Yuletide. I've also got a commission in the pipeline for a play to be written before the end of the year, about one of my heroes, the astronomer Johannes Kepler (and his mum). So the plate is nice and full and it's time to start tucking in...

Also meanwhile this sort of thing is going on, which is frankly hard to believe.

Talking of Robinson Crusoe, the rehabilitation of Virginia Woolf continues... I read her short essay on Defoe's novel and it praises with perfect clarity his genius for descriptive prose, for fixing the ordinary in language so as to make us see it, to the effect that his larger drama - a man, alone, for twenty-odd years, away from the world of people and things - is for all its extraordinariness utterly real to us:

...by reiterating that nothing but a plain earthenware pot stands in the foreground, [Defoe] persuades us to see remote islands and the solitudes of the human soul. By believing fixedly in the solidity of the pot and its earthiness, he has subdued every other element to his design; he has roped the whole universe into harmony. And is there any reason, we ask as we shut the book, why the perspective that a plain earthenware pot exacts should not satisfy us as completely, once we grasp it, as man himself in all his sublimity against a background of broken mountains and tumbling oceans with stars flaming in the sky?


There's a nice thrum of activity in the ****osphere just now. Besides the incredibly interesting post by David E on the state of the political left (inspired by Nick Cohen's new book), I've been delighted, amused and inspired by old friends like Ova Girl, Richard Herring, pm and Harriet (In The Aquarium), and people I've caught up with relatively recently, like James Martin Charlton, Ben Ellis, Lance Woodman, Emma Rosoman (Now, how did that happen), Phil Porter, Natasha Tripney (Interval Drinks), Morgan Rachel Sproxton (Are Words Enough?), and City Slicker.
To everyone on my blogroll, happy March, pinch punch!

25 February 2007

Day Trip

LIPSYNCHimageonly

I went to Northern Stage in Newcastle yesterday to see the work-in-progress show that will become Robert Lepage's new work, Lipsynch. It will come back to this country in 2009 I think, as a 9-hour piece. Yesterday things kicked off at 2pm and my friend Paul and I had to duck out before the last of the seven parts, at about 6.30, so we could catch the last train back to London.

It was quite a trip.

I won't attempt any kind of precis or review here. My hold on the thing is quite tenuous, I didn't take notes and I became very emotionally involved in the first half hour, so much so that I was like a wrung-out sponge by the first interval. Luckily for me the second session was more comedic and playful. By the time we left the theatre my head was spinning like a top.

The company, comprising the north-east based Theatre Sans Frontieres working together with Lepage's Ex Machina people, displayed that distinctive mix of bravura technical skill and artful emotional range. Wagner used to talk of his endeavours as attempting an evolution toward the Gesamtkunstwerk, a synthesis of the arts, or a 'total' work of art. So many decades on, the form Wagner worked in, though highly loveable to many (myself included), looks pretty limited next to the epic theatre engendered by this unassuming (by all accounts) French-Canadian theatre worker.

Lyn Gardner wrote a preview for the Guardian.

20 February 2007

Really enjoyed The Conspiracy Files the other night on the Beeb, first in a series and it was a beautifully judged, fascinated look along some of the wilder shores of the so-called "9/11 Truth Movement". Particularly gripping was the moment when Dylan Avery, the 23 years young director of Loose Change
and the enfant terrible of the conspiracy world, realised that the crew from England's BBC had not, after all, come to pay homage and play along, but had come armed to the teeth with balloon-bursting logic.

On a lighter note, did you know that the KLF invented Pete Doherty?

Had the most horrendous head-cold over the weekend, and insomnia to boot, so it's all been a bit dazed and confused. Sunday I just about managed to get myself down to the Old Operating Theatre in London Bridge to a pilot reading of Ellen Hughes's two new plays, one an adaptation of RL Stevenson's The Body Snatcher, the other a contemporary piece called The Gift. There's good strong writing in both and very impressive for what E herself calls her 'first plays for grown-ups'.

Then last night B and I beetled down to the Donmar for a preview of John Gabriel Borkman, Ibsen's late play in David Eldridge's new version. What can I say but that it was a great evening in the theatre, marred only by some f***ing idiot who decided to wait till the transcendently peaceful, graveyard stillness of Borkman's farewell right at the end before coughing his guts up. Yes it was me, and I was sitting right in front of David, who afterward took it all in good part, but had it been press night he would've had every right to kick my ass.
I actually fled the auditorium and watched the dying moments of the play on a telly in the bar, through rheumy eyes. This reminded me of the evening last year when a full bladder forced me out of Motortown, and I had to watch the terrible murder scene on a screen in the foyer. That was a very unsettling thing. I was allowed back into the theatre as the company cleared the blood from the stage ritualistically, to the sound of an aria from I think it was Dido and Aeneas. Anyway uncannily enough - or not, perhaps it was to do with the properties of that great play - David told me he had a similar experience, only his was written up in the papers - Charles Spencer mistook his loo-dash for the action of a revolted punter.

Thinking about David's work on the play and Michael Grandage's direction, and the work of Ian McDiarmid, Deborah Findlay, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, Lolita Chakrabarti, David Burke... This is embarrassing but I could only be reminded of aphorisms, tenets, cliches, from the world of football, specifically, the chestnuts about doing the simple things, creating time and space, showing great awareness , and creativity in the final third.

14 February 2007

I hardly know where to start. The choking incident in the early hours of this morning, turning normally sanguine parents into gibbering wrecks? The unbelievable three hours I spent last night running round an abandoned warehouse in Wapping? Cheering my fellow 50ers as they took to the Royal Court main stage with their gorgeous devised pieces on Monday? Commissioning a miniature musical from one of the said 50? No, let's start with the news that the beautiful people at Encore have revamped their site and through some administrative oversight no doubt there's a link to this place on the front page! A feed, indeed, no less. I am thrilled. I'd like to thank my agent, my wife, my personal trainer...
This is a very nice thing though, I'd gotten used to not being linked to by 'specialist' theatre sites, I guess because I wander off topic a fair bit of the time. And though I expect to be rotated off the front page soon I'm chuffed to've been on there at the unveiling of the new design. So thanks, Theatre Worker. Here's mud in your eye.

11 February 2007

I have conceived a mad, strengthening desire to stage a particular Philip Glass song as a sort of miniature opera/dance/piece of performance/live art/whatever you're supposed to call it. I suppose it's a measure of the paucity of my experience in such matters that I don't rightly know what it would be billed as. Chris Goode's recent barely-controlled impatience with us fusty old crusty old playwrights on his brilliant blog (end of the post, and comments) - we're so not with it, it seems, and it's all our own fault for being so li'erally li'erary - has acted as a catalyst. The song is called Changing Opinion and I've become a bit obsessed by it. The lyrics are by Paul Simon. The other song - if it's worth the name - I'm currently deeply in love with is the KLF's What Time Is Love? - don't get me started.

The_KLF-_What_Time_Is_Love _(pure_trance_original)

09 February 2007

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Apart from casting, and making a start on my lovely new jobs (which I still can't tell you about yet but hoping that'll change very soon), I've been watching Tony Marchant's amazingly gripping series Holding On with B. We were agreeing last night that it seems much older than its ten years. The hairstyles seem very 19eighty7, and the voracious on-screen smoking is distractingly dated... A more serious point is that the drama is given time to unfold, the relationship between the ill-fated office worker and her sister, for inst, is built up layer by layer till it reaches a tipping point of believability, and begins to touch you in the soft spot. I may be mistaken but it feels like, ten years on, a telly dramatist is encouraged to cut to the chase before way fewer screen minutes have elapsed.

Can I recommend an article? It's in the London Review of Books (8 Feb edition), and is called Otherwise Dealt With... Chalmers Johnson discusses Stephen Grey's book Ghost Plane: The Inside Story of the CIA's Secret Rendition Programme.