27 November 2008

Posting this from The Flying Scotsman, approaching Darlington from the south. Dress rehearsal one this afternoon, dress two in the morning, and first preview tomorrow at two. I am dying to see how it looks - Ian Scott is lighting it, Ian lit The May Queen for us so I know we´re in good hands. Also I have not yet seen a single costume in the flesh as it were, on the flesh maybe, as all the fittings etc were done elsewhere, not at the rehearsal space, so you know as much as I do, if you saw the pics in last Friday´s Guardian G2 that is (they´re not on the website, but one of them is on the Northern Stage one). Neil Murray´s designed the set and costumes, he´s having a busy old week is Neil as he won Best Design at the Evening Standard Awards for his work on Brief Encounter. Which is nice. Well done that man.
Looking forward to arriving in Newcastle, now. For one thing, I need some lunch... Nearly there.

19 November 2008

´What have you been thinking about?´ Tom Hodgkinson, idler extraordinaire, suggested we ask this of strangers we meet at parties etc, rather than the time-honoured ´And what do you do?´. Well today, in addition to the seemingly compulsory constant merry-go-round of familiar preoccupations and anxieties with which I will not detain you, I have been thinking about electronic patient databases, my mini play Porno Girl, my big play Hansel and Gretel, Shakespeare and Kemp, and the Baby P case. Porno Girl is due for an outing Friday week in Liverpool, The Miniaturists are taking part in the Cornerstone Festival at Liverpool Hope University. The show coincides with first preview of H&G so I will be in Newcastle, sorry to miss it, but a crack team of Miniaturists are on the case, they will also present Death Of The Small Independent Retailer by Mr Glyn Cannon and The Circulatory System by Mr Laurence Wilson.

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

In lieu of any more considered kind of writing, I'm just going to set down that I am very excited about Hansel and Gretel at Northern Stage, they're into week five of a five week rehearsal process, into the theatre next week. I have been visiting of course, working on bits and bobs, ironing, patching, and I will be up again the end of this week to see the last couple of runs in the rehearsal room. But so much happens without me, and when I see the cast again I feel like the uncle who visits every six months and is unfailingly shocked at how they've grown. Also exciting is the research I am doing into a possible Brecht project next year. These two parts of my current existence have only their Germanic provenance in common, and as I have practically no facility with the German language this sometimes seems peculiar. I do have a dictionary, however, and some skills transferable from earlier tussles with Greek, Latin and French. Also I was in love with Mahler's settings of those poems, eg Das Lied von der Erde, and thereby know the odd word.

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

I am coming back to this, yes I am. I have been having difficulty keeping on top of things of late, being the sort of person who carries neither diary nor wristwatch. And the blog was, I lately realised, acting as a sort of mental carrier bag, holding all those scraps of ideas and contacts that more together people keep about them in other media.
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

Of The Georges Steiner and Steinbrenner

I have started reading Mr Steiner's The Death Of Tragedy (1961). It is dazzling, of course, and its light might have changed the way I saw The May Queen* had I been exposed to it when I was writing that play. But it never occurred to me till just lately that I might read Steiner, knowing my intellectual limitations as I do. I read Eagleton's Sweet Violence, and kept my nostrils above the waterline, just. But GS's reputation had me in thrall. Now, it's his writing, speed of thought, wit. He is mesmerising, not intimidating, in analysing the tension between the neo-classical drama and the "open" form of tragic plot forged in the hurlyburly of Elizabethan London. And he is very cutting already, in the first forty pages, about writers who attempt later reinvention of the works of those who mastered the genre. In a passage evaluating John Dryden's relationship with Shakespeare he says: "After the seventeenth century the art of pastiche will play an increasing role in the history of drama. Barren of invention, poets start pouring new sauces over old meats. In dealing with Dryden, we are still worlds away from such miseries as Mourning Becomes Electra or Cocteau's Machine infernale, but we are on the road."

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.

04 September 2008

This is slightly mindbending.

Africa in Perspective

19 August 2008

space is there

The below is a contribution to a project called space is there, and we're going to climb it. It's run by Andy Field up at Forest Fringe , Edinburgh. If you can't get to the page, the idea is to pay tribute to the history of human spaceflight by recreating or interpreting individual missions in whichever medium comes to hand or mind. (Just noticed the link on the FF website.)
So I drew Apollo 9 out of the hat, and here is my bit.

Spider, Flies










A spider in the corner of the living room.

My son Buzz

may08 011

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

Liverpool (part one)

Coming to the end of one of the most interesting weeks. I arrived in Liverpool last Sunday and have barely had a moment to stop and think. But here we are on Saturday lunchtime, and I am ensconced in a corner of the FACT cafe with its delicious coffee and free wifi. Here´s a rundown of the week, in instalments. Sunday I was kindly hosted by Suzanne Bell, Everyman´s literary manager and Everyword Festival supremo. First thing Monday I met Flavia at the theatre, Miniaturists producer, and we embarked on an all day technical rehearsal in the space, with hour-long slots for the five plays (see my last entry, below). This went so unusually smoothly that by 6pm Flavia and I were nicely perplexed. But the credit goes to Suzanne and her assistant Lindsay, who worked with us last year and had briefed everyone exceptionally well. I did some props buying in the afternoon and found myself at the Tesco´s checkout with the following in my basket, Take A Break magazine, a packet of ginger nuts and 20 Richmond Superkings. Hey ho. So at 6.40 I was outside the Everyman on my phone, chatting to B about how it was going, wondering aloud about where I might grab a bite before going down to the Playhouse to see Once Upon A Time At The Adelphi. And B says, ´So what time´s your radio interview, have you done it already?´ Ah. I get her to log into my email, check the message from Radio Merseyside, eleven days previous, long enough ago for me to have clean forgot. ´Um, says you´re to arrive at 6.40 to go on air at 6.45...´
6.41 Cab.
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.
6.45 Reception.
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

The Miniaturists are gearing up for a couple of away games. One is at the Latitude Festival in Suffolk, this very weekend. We were kindly invited by Arcola to represent them there, and we are delighted to do so. We´re taking three of our best:

Time Spent On Trains
by Elizabeth Kuti

Death Of The Small Independent Retailer
by Glyn Cannon

Match Play
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:

Liar, Liar
by Judith Johnson, dir. Gemma Kerr

by Kellie Smith, dir. Elli Johnson

The Circulatory System
by Laurence Wilson, dir. Matt Wilde

The Ducks
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

Yes, ***** from me, as in many other slightly more widely read verdicts. B would take off half a star for the music, which is a bit harsh. I think it was the Barbican sound system that was at fault on that score.

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

Happy Friday. As a Gooner-by-proxy I was of course delighted to see Cesc Fabregas take the game by the scruff of the neck last night. Except far more elegantly than the phrase might imply. I can now forgive him for reminding me of the truly wicked Sylar every time I see his mug.

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

So I'm watching a lot of football. Euro 2008 - or the European Championships to old timers like me - is proving very entertaining. Group A comes to a head tonight with a decider between Turkey and the Czech Republic (or 'Czechoslovakia', as David Pleat would have it) for the second qualifying spot. Now my usual modus operandi is to record the games and watch them last thing, remote in hand so I can zip through the injury stoppages and the more annoying punditry, naming no names Mr Allardyce. Tonight, alas, this strategy will avail me naught as there will be no avoiding the result come 9.30 - either Green Lanes and environs (including our little offshoot) will be resounding to several hundred car horns, trumpeting a Turkish triumph, or... they will not.

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

These past few weeks I have been gorging on some fine writing. Three plays by Henrik Ibsen, for a start: two in vivid versions by Frank McGuiness (A Doll's House, The Lady From The Sea) and one very strong one by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (An Enemy Of The People). Then there was Fram of course, with Tony Harrison at his eccentric best, and round the corner, Simon Stephens's soulful Harper Regan. Martin Crimp's play The City had the quality of a nightmare and resembled, for me, the darker work of the great Paul Auster. At the Bush, I enjoyed Lucy Kirkwood's sweetly insane Tinderbox, and next evening over at Soho I loved Static, by Dan Rebellato. Today I saw the wonderful (and unexpectedly touching) big splash debut by Polly Stenham. I've already written about Jonah and Otto here. What I didn't tell you is that I attended a recent rehearsed reading of Robert Holman's Rafts And Dreams, that knocked me over. Then at last Sunday's Miniaturists there was fine work from Christina Balit, Rachel Barnett, Declan Feenan, Hilary Bell, and a debut from Paul Chadwick (our first professor). I make no apology for citing the writers alone here. Needless to say, great work was done on all the above by directors, actors, producers, designers, etc. But I'm wanting to big up the people who dreamed up and wrote down the words, the scenarios, the blueprints, the rubrics - hell why don't we call them the scripts and be done with it, for these life-enhancing, spellbinding entities and say, hey, thanks. And respect.

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

Today's the last day of my NT attachment. It's been a sincere sensation. There's that old quote, which for the present purpose I shall gender-transpose: "What my husband doesn't understand is, when I'm looking out of the window, I'm working." Eight weeks of looking out the window. Marvellous. There's a particular atmosphere here, very conducive, and that's down to the staff, artists and others, who are without exception as hospitable and supportive as an incomer could wish.

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

Taking the link down, I thought I'd record it: I miss David E's "One Writer and His Dog", the passion and erudition, the cooking, the Rascal news and all the rest of it.

20 April 2008

While rummaging for Tony Harrison's Oresteia I dusted down another (academic, annotated) translation of the middle play of the trilogy:

dame oresteia

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.

oresteia rigg

18 April 2008

It's Friday night, I've put the boys to bed, cooked and eaten my mushroom omelette and now I'm listening to Jessye Norman's voice, married to The Four Last Songs, Richard Strauss. I used to listen to a lot more classical music and opera and so on than I do these days. The Fall and Pink Floyd are the two names currently most heavily represented on my iTunes '25 most played'. Funny how things mutate.

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

(Half) A Night At The Opera

What with all the scribbling, childcaring, penury and other constraints too nebulous to mention, it's not easy for yours truly and his crew to be proper spontaneous, like this guy. Hell, I didn't even notice when the passport expired two years ago. Little things like last night help, though. Seated here at the desk in The Cut at 7.05pm, I decided to see something. But what... Bliss at the Royal Court? Sold Out. Ibsen at the Arcola? Yes, but not tonight... At 7.25 I was climbing the stairs at the Royal Opera House, to take my perch in the Lower Slips, misnomered for sure, as I had to fight creeping vertigo to concentrate on the half a stage I could actually see from my standing berth, priced at a reasonably reasonable £7. It was Eugene Onegin (in a production by the late Steven Pimlott), a work I only knew (past tense operative, as I couldn't remember anything about it) from reading the Pushkin, decades ago. But I warmed to the score, the performers were endearingly committed to the barmy enterprise of recreating romance among the pre-revolutionary Russian bourgeoisie, and there was even a comedy accident in a scene change that would have had the Whingers jumping for joy. The first act of three was enough, I'd had eighty minutes of lush orchestral loveliness poured into my ears, I'd assured myself this whole world of the operatic repertoire still existed, I'd witnessed the rich at their extraordinarily innocent play, and so ambled off into the Covent Garden night well satisfied with the improbability of it all.

01 April 2008

I have a new place to work. Temporarily anyways. I'm on an 'artist's attachment' at the National Theatre Studio, which simply means I have a room in the building for a few weeks, and the use of a decent coffee machine, and a little roof garden (it's brand new so not yet very lush), and interesting neighbours. Also - and this is the really good bit - I get to use the NT canteen. I love institutional food. It's cheap too - today I had salmon and two veg for less than a fiver.

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

Tate Rage

The annual budget of Tate, the self-styled 'family' of British cultural leviathans in the field of the fine arts, is £Squillions per annum. Why oh why then, can they not seem to swing it so that their gallery staff pay mind to the fact that those funny people looking at the paintings are every bit as deserving of consideration as those thronging the bookshop/giftshop/caff/members room? Say you're in that lovely restaurant at the top of Tate Modern, sampling the fare, chatting to your companion, enjoying the fine view of Wren's masterpiece. And then, a pair of waiters come and stand next to your table and start discussing their work/life balance, or something equally important to them but of no remote interest to yourself. Would you put up with it? No. But then it would never happen.

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 took a trip to Liverpool yesterday to try and find some research material for a short piece I'm writing. The day started auspiciously, with me bumping into Serdar on the train, he was on his way to work at the Liverpool Theatres, where he is an associate director (regular readers will remember he directed my play The May Queen up there last year). When we landed I walked with him to the Playhouse to say hello to my friends there, then I headed off to the Maritime Museum at the Albert Dock, more in hope than expectation. But I got lucky. The extremely helpful archivist-librarian Lorna dug out a document that was absolutely perfect for my purposes - a transcript of a docker's work diary for the first few months of 1923. Written in a prose that is at once mundane and vivid, the diary details the crappy working life of the dock labourer in the days before unionisation had properly begun to improve pay and conditions, and when "health and safety" was not for the likes.

15/2/23 Thursday
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...

22/2/23 Thursday
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.

23/2/23 Friday
Same experience as yesterday. No work.

24/2/23 Saturday
No work.

26/2/23 Monday
No work.

27/2/23 Tuesday
No work.

28/2/23 Wednesday
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.

No work.

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

Fame At Last

Like most playwrights who've not got there yet I dream of seeing my name in orange neon on the facade of the Royal Court, or in massive dots on the NT billboard. Until that dream flowers or dies, however, I have the West End Whingers review of Cloudcuckooland to keep the fires of ambition stoked. I was sitting just three down from Andrew in the front row, reminiscent of the night I sat in close proximity to Michael Billington scribbling away during the Euripides I'd done for the Gate. On this occasion though, any latent anxiety had no time to rise, as we were all too busy blowing up balloons, calling out the names of dinosaurs and pledging allegiance to the city state of Cloudcuckooland (complete with actions). But I was sorry Andrew didn't have time (or enough hands) to whip out a notebook, as I'd primed Spike to march up to him and demand to know "What are you writing?".

21 February 2008

E is for Eventually

It's with some degree of shamefacedness that I acknowledge and accept the award of an E For Excellence plaque from Ova Girl. Since I started blogging almost three years ago I've been through some ups and downs, some lean patches and some purple. But I have been less than prolific for some time now, and marvel at the consistent brilliance of the likes of The Whingers, Helen Smith, etc, and of course Ova G herself. I still like posting, though, still get a buzz from getting the odd comment and I shall endeavour to make myself a tiny bit worthier of Vanessa's accolade. Onward!

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

After a day fussing about behind the scenes yesterday, and the usual relief post-Miniaturists show, and a morning with Bernard, it was back to the keyboard this afternoon for some rejigging of Cloudcuckooland.
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

A despatch from the front line, haha. As if putting on a night of short plays in Dalston were ever at all by any stretch comparable to an actual front line.

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

All Better Now, and Miniaturists 11

I got seven solid hours and a cheque in the post (I'm so cheap), couple of nice comments, and the sun is out, and the boys were delightful this morning, and the laptop is in the pink again thanks to the good offices of the fellas at Get Digital, and the Miniaturists show on Sunday (5pm and 8pm at Arcola, book early!) is looking shapely:

directed by Will Mortimer

At Sea
directed by Lucy Skilbeck

A Change in Partners
directed by Gordon Murray

Running Backwards
directed by Tom Wright


The Twenty Three Greatest Moments of Dave
directed by Rob Crouch.


29 January 2008

Somewhat stymied by a confluence of poor sleep, tyrannical small people, a temporarily trashed laptop and all the usual impediments to productivity, viz. fear of failure, lack of self-belief etc. Throw into the mix the numbing realisation - upon doing the annual tax self-diagnosis - that I really did earn that little, and that's a leaden cloud louring over proceedings. What can I do to chivvy myself out of this mood? A reflex response is to check in at the Guardian theatre blog and see what the tribe is up to, but honest to god... I mean even if the blogger is sweetly reasonable, you can bet your life some bile has been smeared in a comment box. God knows, to whinge is human, we all do it. But today I would just wish for a moratorium on moaning (funding threats excluded - there the shouting is honest and justified) and some persuasions toward solidarity and mutual support. Even if a person is working in the field in a way that differs from your own, it does not follow that that person must therefore be inimical to *your* way.

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

Rehearsals kick off tomorrow for Cloudcuckooland. Looking forward to meeting everyone, and hearing the latest on how director Helen Eastman plans to tackle the massive strategic bird-poo aerial bum-bardment sequence.

18 January 2008

Bit of a bitty week, truth be told. Had a tooth out on Tuesday, so that was a day down the Swannee. Then on Weds a blissful day hiding away in the theatre watching Nicholas Nickleby. While agreeing with some of LG's quibbles I had a cracking time (Sam Marlowe's praise for the actors is not overdone) and shed a tear for poor old Smike, yet another ghost of the lost boy the author had been for a brief but incandescently formative time. Perhaps I'll just watch Dickens adaptations and nothing else for 2008. Christmas Carol finished its run last Saturday and that has left me in even more of a January mood. I was meant to make a weekend of it in Newcastle for the last perfs but an extraordinary thing - as I was leaving the door on the Friday morning to head for King's Cross, Spike erupted - he hadn't realised the show was going to end. He'd seen it the week before (twice), and fancied he could pop up and see it anytime - or at least any Christmastime - he liked. Now of course no one would be more pleased than me if the play was seen again, in Newcastle or elsewhere - Alfred Hickling's neat objections to festive repeats duly noted - but I couldn't guarantee it to the boy, there, on the spot. So on with his coat, family railcard pocketed, and away he came. And I'm so glad he did. It meant I couldn't stay for the last night carousing, though in truth I was not sorry to dodge the more melancholy moods that such occasions always bring in their wake. So here he is, in the boys' dressing room post-show, in the hat and wig that Michael wore to play Dickens at the top of the show before becoming Ebenezer Scrooge.

spike dickens

10 January 2008

Of course I couldn’t omit to mention some of the fantastic work by mates, colleagues, fellow bloggers, and people I’m generally friendly with, in the year just gone. The Gate produced Ben Yeoh’s award-winning translation of the Noh play Nakamitsu, and it was eerie and exhilarating. Ben Ellis’s play at 503, The Final Shot, was a heart-on-sleeve piece of writing that I’m guessing was in part inspired by this documentary but was also very much its own thing. David Eldridge teamed up again with Michael Grandage and a stellar cast to make a version of Ibsen’s John Gabriel Borkman that will be hard to trump - icy clarity in the storytelling, heat and storm in the hearts of the protagonists. Aside from his contributions to the Miniaturists, I loved Glyn Cannon’s play The Kiss at Nottingham Lakeside, and also the piece he devised with his students, Nineteen Ninety Eight Nissan Micra. Ellen Hughes co-wrote and directed a fascinating double bill of medically-themed plays at the Old Operating Theatre, where once an audience would gather to watch dissections. Erica Whyman’s directed six things by me - and none of them miniatures, by the way! - but her work on other people’s plays at Northern Stage this year (both designed by her associate, the estimable Soutra Gilmour) has been different class - Ruby Moon in the summer and later the Newcastle epic Our Friends In The North, which comes back for a tour in the spring. At Liverpool Everyman, a space very dear to my heart after The May Queen and a very exciting Miniaturists adventure, Lizzie Nunnery made a sensational debut with Intemperance - Alfred Hickling doesn’t exaggerate here. Lizzie was on this Royal Court thing with me, The 50 - and to my shame I missed work by fellow 50ers including Duncan Macmillan, James Graham, Tena Stivicic, Tom Morton-Smith, Ian Kershaw, Oladipo Agboluaje... Mea culpa. I did however catch a reading of Samreen Masood’s I Will Find You (at the Minis we produced her wonderful Blaggin’ Bread), and a tantalising excerpt from Rachel Barnett’s Perfect Sandcastle at Hampstead. Leyla Nazli was in that group too, and when not exec producing at the Arcola she wrote the blinding Silver Birch House. Richard Bean’s play In The Club was a comedy highlight for me, as he put his stamp on that trickily formulaic thing, the sex farce. Lucy Skilbeck directed Gabriel by Moira Buffini at RADA - great work by the Orstraylian, detailed and dynamic - and MB is one of my favourite writers, can’t wait to see Marianne Dreams.
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.

rose tattoo