27 November 2008
Looking forward to arriving in Newcastle, now. For one thing, I need some lunch... Nearly there.
19 November 2008
Also today I am troubled by the trivial fact that although I correctly predicted the skin on one or both of my heels would break, in these new shoes, and the idea bubbled up that I could do myself a favour by bringing a couple of plasters out with me to work, I didn´t take heed of the insight and so am hobbling around the place in my stiff Doc Martens brogues, a limping admonishment to myself.
17 November 2008
We did another of those Miniaturists shows last week, and it was a hoot. It was the sixteenth outing, but the first wherein I had not collected all the mini biographies for the programme and shovelled them along on the Friday afternoon to Prontaprint in the Borough for Alan and the team to wrestle with when they had bigger, more lucrative jobs to do. Ah, the joys and sorrows of delegating.
03 November 2008
Anyway I am moved to post this second to lament, O, poor Robinson Crusoe!, as my favourite copy of my favourite book is soaked in coffee that leaked from my thermos. Yes, I said thermos. Look I´m 42 in a few weeks, I´m absolutely allowed.
28 September 2008
Come on George, get off that fence.
*Not too coy to link to this now, don't ask me why.
Meanwhile Yankee Stadium has breathed its last. I have been an arms-length armchair baseball fan for a good while. Channel 5 have been providing middle-of-the-night coverage for years, and they give on-air shouts of Hardcore! to viewers who text in while watching live. I have always, apart from the odd bout of insomnia, been softcore, and my knowlege of the game's immense lore is shallow. In the park a couple of days ago, for instance, I asked our New Yorker journalist neighbour Michael (who works on this, among other things) if he was Mets or Yankees. Taking a pause to ride over the idiocy of the question he replied, "Giants." His team moved to California in 1957, and became the San Francisco Giants. Which makes the brouhaha about Everton's proposed move from Goodison Park to Kirkby look a little silly, really. The last time I was there, Kirkby was full of Scousers - and Evertonians - in spite of its being technically just outside the city boundary. But I digress. Here is Mr George Steinbrenner, legendary and controversial owner of the Yankees, as lampooned (affectionately, sort of) by Larry David in Seinfeld.
19 August 2008
So I drew Apollo 9 out of the hat, and here is my bit.
A spider in the corner of the living room.
My son Buzz
turns two and a half, two weeks today.
I do not think this is funny.
Buzz Aldrin is many things, but he is not an unevolved man.
The recipient of the blow is Bart Sibrel, a member of the fraternity of Apollo hoax accusers.
Two weeks before I turned two and a half, this happened.
Sometimes stuff really does happen, Bart.
Sometimes spiders fly.
26 July 2008
6.42 Cab driver taking the mick out of me for poor time management.
6.43 Cab driver calling me a lucky so and so, every light is green.
6.44 Cab driver chuckling at my disappearing hide.
6.46 Calming down, drinking water.
6.47 Remembering sitting in same chair pre-interview last year, May Queen production week.
6.48 Into studio, chat with presenter Lucinda while record plays.
6.49 A little more chat about what we are going to chat about. The slot is an ongoing series of interviews with fifty of Liverpool culture´s ´movers and shakers´. I am flattered and not a little disbelieving, but I am of course very happy to talk for ten minutes about my playwriting. Determinedly shutting out the vertiginous idea that there might be thousands of people listening.
6.50 Lucinda (sitting in for Claire Hamilton) asks me to tell the listeners what got me started as a writer, and off I go.
6.59 What seems like two minutes in, Lucinda uses the immortal ´Í´m afraid that´s all we´ve got time for´.
7.00 Off air, I thank Lucinda for making the whole thing easy.
7.01 I´m back on the street, and on the phone to B. What the hell just happened??
14 July 2008
Time Spent On Trains
by Elizabeth Kuti
Death Of The Small Independent Retailer
by Glyn Cannon
by Frederic Blanchette, translated by Christopher Campbell.
Hannah Eidinow is directing all three.
The other is in Liverpool the following Tuesday. For that I am resurrecting Hell and High Water, the one I wrote for the first show way back when. Serdar Bilis directing. The other four:
by Judith Johnson, dir. Gemma Kerr
by Kellie Smith, dir. Elli Johnson
The Circulatory System
by Laurence Wilson, dir. Matt Wilde
by Michael McLean, dir. Adam Cross.
So that´s all very engaging. I have a further two pieces on at the Everyman that week, all part of the extraordinarily jam-packed two week festival of theatre and writing that is Everyword. Kicking off tomorrow, in fact. On the second Friday is the BBC Docks Project event, and my play Trucking Sugar will be one of nine given an airing. Three Ev writers (me and Kellie Smith and Jonathan Larkin) plus three each under the banner of Live Theatre, Newcastle, and Paines Plough representing the capital. On Saturday I´m on a bill of plays loosely interested in / inspired by the question, What Does Europe Mean To Me? My thing´s called You Can Be With Me.
And did I mention I´m writing a Hansel and Gretel? First draft deadline fast approaching... Bye for now.
29 June 2008
Of course, does it go without saying?, finding the play absorbing and admiring its thrilling execution is not quite the same as endorsing the entire history of the Black Watch. They are at root a killing machine in the service of a country with a long history of using such machinery for its own interests, dark as well as enlightened, whatever the cost to other nation states or tribes. The play treads a very interesting line, lauding the courage and camaraderie, while pointing up the essentially atavistic nature of their business. Men as warriors, fighters, bullies.
Very interesting appreciation of Gregory Burke's play today, from one of the Iraq war 'embeds'.
ps Mrs S now says she's taking a full star off for the 'faux Nyman at ear-splitting volume'. I've said it before, she's a tough crowd.
27 June 2008
I have discovered the wonderful world of the pub quiz, after an invitation from a playwright of my acquaintance. I´ve been the last three Tuesdays and am now hooked. I earned my spurs by identifying the letter of the alphabet that occurs only once in the names of all football teams playing in the English and Scottish leagues, and naming the club. It´s amazing what pleasure can be derived from getting a point for your team by pulling such arcane knowledge out the bottom of the bag. What´s the only English anagram of persistent?* Name all eight actors who have won Best Actor Oscars twice.
Meanwhile the boys´ grandpa hosted an event at the House of Lords this week and here they are participating in parliamentary democracy.
Off to that Barbican tonight to see that Black Watch. There's been a lot to read about the show, on the web, in the papers, I almost feel I've seen it already. But I'm guessing the 'live-ness' will kick in and away I'll be swept.
*for those of you arriving here from Googling for the answer to this: prettiness.
15 June 2008
Meanwhile I am working on the Christmas play for Northern Stage, Hansel and Gretel. It's a very pleasurable job, already. The Brothers Grimm (as distinct from the Brothers Grim) are fascinating source material, all seven pages or whatever it is according to which edition you pick up. As with last year's Christmas Carol, Erica (Whyman) is directing and Neil (Murray) designing, so that's a head start, getting the old band back together. We're starting earlier than we might have done because Neil is working on his own production of a new piece for September, a Bryony Lavery version of Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber. So that'll be bloody exciting.
So it's Christmas in my head, albeit of a starkly different sort from the Dickensian goings on last time round. From a mechanical point of view, the source material is brief to the point of insubstantial, compared to the prolix and effervescent Charlie D. There's an almost biblical ghostliness to the characters and action in the Grimms treatment. But they are of course, precisely for that reason, a gift to people like me who come along after and set about fleshing them out. I'm adding some shall we call them variations to the story, some inspired by my reading, majorly of this literally wonderful book
and a significant one from a chance remark by a director friend during a quick catch up.
What else will I tell you? Cloudcuckooland got a mention in The Seoul Times, Edinburgh fringe preview (about halfway down). I've seen one of the best new plays for yonks, The Pitmen Painters (featuring Mr Michael Hodges who was our Scrooge last year), and one of the best versions of a very old play you could wish for, Roger McGough's Tartuffe. Mostly though I have been sitting and thinking about stories. When the footie's not been on.
14 May 2008
07 May 2008
What do Damien Hirst, legendary cricket umpire Dicky Bird, and poker superstar Dave "The Devilfish" Ulliott have in common?
Answer: they "love their snooker". During the final session of this year's World Championships, the camera picked out the above luminaries, and in those beyond-parody (though Mitchell and Webb have made a very good fist, witness the fact that a spectator was wearing a t-shirt bearing the legend 'Ooh and that's a bad miss') cliche-ridden hushed tones, the commentators informed us, proud as Punch, that the famous umpire/artist/poker player "loves his snooker". Moments later a streaker, er, streaked on to the stage, divesting himself of black tie and dinner dress before dancing around the table bollock naked; I can't begin to do justice to Dennis Taylor's panicked demeanour, resolving to stoicism, as the director cut to him in the commentary box to spare us the delicate pink in the middle.
I shall so miss the whole Crucible thing when the Championships decamp, as they surely will in time, to China. It'll be on the box still, obviously, but will it be so unselfconsciously, gloriously eccentric?
02 May 2008
In memoriam, here are some notes I took, towards some scenes for something I'm not now going to write, having since taken rather a different tack (all that looking out the window you see). But I like the list as a thing in itself (and some of the ideas persist).
James Joyce introduces
Crusoe and Moll
A Garden in Newington
The Queen Goes To The Toilet And Washes Her Hands
The Pillory (Dead Kittens)
Anyone in from Colchester?
A Tempest Off Great Yarmouth
Mary Goes To Nottingham
Bricks and Fire
Sophia and the Lip Reader
The Invention of the Guillotine
Robinson and the Moor
Also in memoriam, eighteen years ago today I took the bus up to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, to be told that the results of my scan were very encouraging and that by the end of my course of chemotherapy I should certainly expect to be free of the disease. Hodgkin's, that is. I remember the feeling very well, as I left the building and looked up at the blue spring sky.
24 April 2008
20 April 2008
featuring Dame Diana in what I'm sure you'll agree is the mother of all Clytemnestra costumes. The photo isn't credited in the volume, for shame, but I asked Dr.Google about it and she directed me to this page, recording the existence of a Frederic Raphael/Ken MacLeish adaptation for the telly. She even made the cover of Radio Times, look.
18 April 2008
It's been an interesting week workwise. I wrote virtually nothing but had one of those real lightbulb moments on Monday, which has illuminated the rest of the week's reading and thinking. In and around Daniel Defoe and his work, but you could have guessed that.
Also on Monday I saw Fram, Tony Harrison's new work for the National Theatre, directed by himself and its designer Bob Crowley. I found it enthralling, bewildering, beautiful, touching, funny, strange, baffling, frustrating, majestic, prolix, self-mocking, and quite unashamedly challenging in its piling up of a tottering tower of weighty themes. And there were fart jokes, and vomit. Video, dance and what at one stage I thought was a Mighty Boosh tribute sequence. Quite wonderful. Of course it goes without saying, the man's a legend in his own dinnertime. And yes I have seen him in the canteen. But no even if I had the courage, I wouldn't still. Never meet your heroes, don't they say (though I did hear he came to Northern Stage to see A Christmas Carol, and if I'd been there at the time, who knows..). As an actually not very spotty teenager in Liverpool, I watched the video of the NT's production of TH's Oresteia with the rest of the A Level Greek class, and was awestruck. No translation had ever before come close to generating the heat and power of classical Greek, but as soon as the watchman opened his mouth, we knew Aeschylus had finally found a mouthpiece for the age of English. Sorry, Gilbert Murray! At least you have lovely Jeff Rawle bringing you to life on stage.
08 April 2008
01 April 2008
At lunchtime today I beetled over to the canteen early as I wanted to be in place to see this:
the Red Arrows streaking over the city as a not too modest tribute to the RAF on its 90th anniversary. Still, they did largely on their own save Britain from Nazi rule, so fair play. The RAF that is, not the Red Arrows. I was quite emotional at the sight, in fact. I have a distant memory of seeing them when I was little and being somewhat overwhelmed. But then thinking about it later I wondered if my memory was haywire (again) and my young self had in reality thrilled to the exploits of these chaps instead.
It's getting on for two weeks since I saw it but Robert Holman's play Jonah and Otto is lingering long in the mind. I saw it on a freezing day in Manchester, horizontal rain, the city itself felt like it was in despair. But entering the Royal Exchange your mood lifts, your eyes can look to the heights, you can breathe in the space. RH's play is a piece of magic, a yarn spun, a sleight of hand, and like the best such things it makes you laugh and not care to know how it's done, you just enjoy. You believe. But read what David Eldridge has written about the play and the man here, and also Simon Stephens here.
Meanwhile I'm off back to the early eighteenth century, reading the definitive biography of Daniel Defoe.
07 March 2008
While in Liverpool last week I had the third of three brain-splittingly frustrating experiences while trying to appreciate work in a Tate gallery. Each time I have been propelled to complain to the higher-ups about the plain stoopud, thoughtless, unfit-for-purpose conduct of staff they have hired to watch over the rooms in their galleries. And believe, I never complain about irritations - on the rationale that once you start, where do you stop? Modern life is not actually all that bad, but it is jam-stuffed with petty annoyances, some of which are pointoutable to the culprits, or often more pertinently the people who are responsible for their training and levels of job satisfaction. The situation in Tate Liverpool was rather like my fanciful Tate Modern example above, with the crucial difference that I was stood motionless in front of work in this room. I like abstract painting. I get a lot out of it, I find it challenging to what intellect I possess, it sometimes makes me laugh, sometimes puzzles me to the point of bewilderment, and it sometimes even moves me to tears. I can, however, have none of these reactions if I am one person of three in a room, and the other two - the staff responsible for looking after the gallery's interests, and those of the visitor - are having a work-related moan-fest a few feet away.
And don't get me started on the total inadequacy of the response when I tried to make a complaint on site. Tellingly, though, the immediate reflex was to agree that the staff's lack of good sense or whatever you'd call it was unacceptable, and to ask me to point the finger at the attendants involved. As last time, I refused, as my point was that the levels of staff awareness and sensitivity are surely the managers' responsibility. Grrr!
And no, of course, it hadn't escaped me that all of the above is in interesting relation to the below, the work diary of a man who might have been my grandfather. Education and culture. For what? All we need is love and shelter, I know.
29 February 2008
I had a bit of luck this morning and got on at a boat discharging a general cargo. We were getting rice & I was at the door landing & helping to put 5 bags on each truck in their separate marks for which I get 6d a day extra. The job is hard enough when there are a lot of different marks to be turned over. However it is a bit better than walking the streets so I suppose I must be thankful for it.
Thankful, because he knows the following can happen...
Went out again this morning, but after being on 3 stands & failing to get on I went to the Clearing House & signed on for unemployment pay and went home, wet through. Same again in the afternoon.
Same experience as yesterday. No work.
No work. this being 6 continuous days of unemployment I am entitled by the generosity of the government to 20/- to keep my wife and I from going into the workhouse, where it would cost them 30/- each for us.
Got on this morning at a boat discharging cotton trucking over a floor thick with dirt and slime. A heavy job all day, but better than walking round the streets.
Hard times. To think, my Dad's Dad lived and worked in that world.
I found this entry particularly touching...
Got on again this morning at the same job as yesterday. The ship being nearly out, a lot got broke at dinnertime, myself among the number. I tried another stand at 1 o'clock but failed to get on, so being a cold wet day I went home & settled myself down to read.
I wonder what he was reading?
26 February 2008
21 February 2008
The kids musical comedy version of Aristophanes is up and running. It's at the Riverside Studios this week and got itself a nice little review from Daily Info when it opened in Oxford last week, at the North Wall Arts Centre. I was very taken with this new-ish theatre (after an initial feeling of being trapped in a world of brown, my eyes adjusted, and under the theatre lights - as opposed to the working lights - the brownness is transmogrified into a comforting, warm browny hue). I saw two dress rehearsals on the Tuesday in Oxford, and was back for the Thursday perf, which was attended by Professor Oliver Taplin (who helps run the Onassis Programme with director Helen Eastman) and his daughter Charis. Charis is just about the target age, so it was a huge relief that she seemed to have enjoyed herself a lot.
Daily Info by the way is an Oxford institution - when I was a student at the university you'd see it pinned up in every caff or bar or common room, the ubiquitous daily digest of Oxford student life, an A3 version of Time Out, and its theatre reviews were widely read and influential. Well like the rest of us it's gone digital - can anyone tell me if the A3 version still goes up? I have half a feeling I saw it in my old college when I wandered through, but that could just be the nostalgia playing tricks on my aged brain. Incidentally my first play Mahler's Unfinished was favourably reviewed in Daily Info and the bullet of pleasure I got when I read it posted up somewhere is lodged in my heart forever. It was actually my second play as I'd worked with my friend Michael on an adaptation of The Picture Of Dorian Gray in 1989 that played at Balliol College then went to the Edinburgh Fringe. I wrote about that elsewhere in the blog, I realise. Must try not to repeat myself. But here's something new - starring in both Dorian Gray and Mahler was Claire Hoult, and in true blast from the past fashion Claire reappeared in my life at the Riverside Studios on Monday, she is now Head of Classics at a school in Oxfordshire and was bringing a class of her pupils to see Cloudcuckooland. Wonderful to see her.
04 February 2008
Amazing how rehearsals make the play.
Now I'm packing up to head off to the NT, seeing War Horse at last.
03 February 2008
Third play is teching at the moment, two more after lunch, doors open at 4.30. Frantic rigging this morning by our valiant crew. Angie and Simon, Paul, Ruth and Emma working well and with admirable focus for a Sunday morning. No one on f.o.h. ergo none of the usual caffeine facilities available... till Gemma clocked on at noon and all was well. I was just told that Vanessa Bates's play At Sea, fifth in our line-up so going up at about 6.30 this eve, again at 9.30, is also, this very day (give or take a dateline), on at the Short and Sweet festival in Sydney. Well I'll be.
Okay time to go see how Gordon's tech is going, should be winding up soon...
30 January 2008
by AL SMITH
directed by Will Mortimer
by VANESSA BATES
directed by Lucy Skilbeck
A Change in Partners
by STEVE HAWES
directed by Gordon Murray
by CLARE BAYLEY
directed by Tom Wright
The Twenty Three Greatest Moments of Dave
by GLYN CANNON
directed by Rob Crouch.
29 January 2008
Great documentary on BBC4 last night, in which culture rock band Eels frontman Mark Everett decided, with a sigh and butterflies in his heart, to try and find out about his father. Hugh Everett was a quantum mechanic, "an unrecognised genius" who idolised Einstein, scrapped with Niels Bohr and developed the theory of parallel universes. He lived with his son for 19 years but the son could not remember touching him until the day he found his father dead of a heart attack. Anyway the film is a thing of beauty, Mark Everett a deeply lovable subject and I'm pleased to say the thing is downloadable for the next few days at the BBC iPlayer site.
20 January 2008
18 January 2008
10 January 2008
Then there was The Rose Tattoo at the Olivier - Lucy was associate on the show, working with her friend Steven Pimlott, when he suddenly relapsed into illness. After the terrible shock of his death, the NT and the company took Steven’s production forward, and when I saw it I swooned at its generosity, colour, romanticism, and inherent sense of fun, qualities I gather its director had in spades.