01 September 2009

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of books I have read more than once. Not of course counting set texts, or stories I've adapted. Actually Lord Of The Flies is a special case, yes it was the set text, 1983 Ordinary Level Eng Lit, but I became a fan of Golding's in the process of failing my exam (the shame), and read all his stuff later on, including a revisit to the island of LOTF. Incidentally I think my fascination with Golding's prose style - it had me quite mesmerised - was a contributing factor in my Eng Lit calamity. While I was absorbed in trying to understand the profundities of WG's dark poetics, I omitted to memorise the sequence of events of the narrative, and when asked to comment on specific plot points was simply at a loss. (Something similar went on with me and the drama set text, The Crucible , if I remember rightly). I thought about retaking, as I had wanted to study English at university, but for whatever reason, a cocktail of embarrassment and inertia most likely, signed up for Greek, Latin and French A levels, with a General Studies chaser. Sixteen months after the LOTF debacle, on my eighteenth birthday if you please, I arrived in Oxford for two days of interviews to see if they'd let me in to read Classics. They did, and I became one of a type - the boy from the labouring classes up at Oxford, trying to keep his head, trying to keep up, among the sons and daughters of the moneyed and entitled.

All of which serves as a prelude to my simply recording - I am rereading, not just one of my favourite books, but one of my favourite things ever, Generation X. And looky. Just saw this. Mr Coupland has an announcement to make.

21 May 2009

I am reading more fluently at the moment thank you, my relations with books have always been a little rocky but I have raced through a few things lately and am limbered enough to attempt something that's been on the list for a long time, going at Proust again. It was maybe a decade ago I got halfway through the second volume of what was then a new revision of the Scott Moncrieff-Kilmartin translation, by DJ Enright. At the time, I fail to account for how, I had the six volumes in two different designs, in the Modern Library edition, even numbers had Impressionist reproductions on the cover, and sat easily in my small hands, and they alternated with pink and orange, less compactly formatted odd numbers, and that all seemed just fine back then. Coming back to the shelves after going round the Sun another ten times it seems the height of idiocy and waywardness. So I have set about acquiring the Impressionistic set, and I am much obliged to Abebooks in my search for just the right copies of the 1998 Modern Library Marcel. Except when I took delivery of Volume One yesterday (price £1.00) I saw straight away I had ordered a 1992 where I meant to have a 1998 - the muted silver and gold trim, and the photograph, fine though it is, of a rumpled pillow, could by no means take their place alongside my Volume Two, boasting this as it does


which is almost a discouragement to signing away all those hours and weeks to Proust's prose, when painting can do this for us in a matter of minutes, quarter of an hour tops. But but. There are miracles in great prose aren't there, the mystery and hilarity of communing with a great mind, that has so much to tell us. All six volumes of it.

When I ordered the Volume One, I was assured by the vendor that in spite of its cheapness, its only blemishes were as follows

Cover worn, marked and creased. Inscribed.

If I'd known it had been 'inscribed' with a hand drawn map of Europe, I might have paid a little bit more for it.


17 May 2009

Brief Encounter a joy from first minute to last. It is glorious theatre, brilliantly funny and inventive, great work from the below-mentioned Mr Murray and of course the whole thing is such a juggernaut of a romance, the lump in the throat at the end was a frightful nuisance. Thinking about it after, it put me in mind of Emma Rice's exuberant, helpless, hilarious Tristan show. The eternal triangle, I suppose, leavened by the choric/comic secondary characters. I'm sorry I missed the original cast (especially Tamzin Griffin) but was thrilled to see my pal Christopher Price enjoying himself so much in the role of Stanley, and two-time Miniaturist Milo Twomey in the plum(my) role of Dr Alec.

Two nights later, another treat, Erica W's Northern Stage production of Look Back In Anger, at the Richmond Theatre. I shan't go on about it or I shall have to retitle the blog The Old Pals Act, or something. But I did think it was pretty brilliant. And Bill Ward - whom I've never met! - was, for me, pretty damn close to a definitive Jimmy.

12 May 2009

Newcastle, bright fine day. The city sparkling. I enjoyed my meeting with my colleagues and look forward to this evening, Kneehigh´s Brief Encounter (designed by one of said colleagues, Northern Stage associate Mr Neil Murray) has pulled in at the Theatre Royal. So much of the life of your correspondent is in flux and shift but the blog remains, and Newcastle. What else? What doesn´t? Meeting me again for the first time since the winter another colleague, quizzically, ´Have you lost weight?´. Is the correct question.

We did a Miniaturists on Sunday just gone, number nineteen. I had hoped to air my ridiculous play about Will Shakespeare and Will Kemp, ridiculous in the sense that what was I thinking? To write a play about theatre´s god. I have though, and even though I read Edward Bond´s Bingo first, by way of preparation. Again, what was I thinking. The play, Bond´s, insanely good. There must be a revival soon. My shortassed piece couldn´t quite make it to the stage this time but hopefully next. That´s on July 12. Declan Feenan stepped in with his as ever beautifully judged miniature, Building Site. Thanks for coming, by the way - I know at least one of you did! Several of you did. There were good houses for both shows, which is not ever taken for granted, especially on a Sunday like Sunday, bursting at the seams with the promise of summer. The writers - besides Declan, there was Susan Mulholland, Diane Samuels, Rhiannon Tise and Mark Homer - all seemed to have as good a time as the audience, which is to say there was a pleasing equilibrium achieved, just the kind we like.


I now find myself upstairs at the Tyneside Cinema, in the Tyneside Coffee Rooms - ´a local legend is reborn´ - no, not Shearer, or rather, yes him too - forties music in the air, to complement the decor. There are little union jacks and period teapots on the mirror-backed shelves behind the bar. And an anachronistic poster of Boulevard Of Broken Dreams. Devilled kidneys on toast is 3.95.

24 March 2009

Much about Germany, and the War, of late. There´s been an interesting confluence of things. As a jobette I have been working on translations of teenagers´ diaries from the Second World War, truly amazing documents of experience written by young people living through the conflict in Japan, Britain, France, Germany, the US, the USSR. My job has been to polish up the literals, hopefully to make them read nicely, give them more in the way of flow. The material is really eye-opening, jaw-dropping, stomach-churning and all-round affecting and moving, and when the book comes out (it´s being co-edited by a good friend) it´ll be a valuable addition to the mountain of WW2 literature. For a prospective job, a thing in the offing, I have been delving into Brecht´s anti-Nazi writings, and for bedtime reading (!) there is Anthony Beevor´s gripping, frightening Berlin, The Downfall 1945. Then there was Dr Atomic, last Friday. I was admittedly dazed after a long day - I had woken in my mum´s house in Cumbria, and gone with her to a hospital appointment in the morning, before taking the train. But by the time I staggered home on the tube at 10.30 or so I was dismayed at what I could only see as a terribly wasted opportunity. John Adams´s opera, with Peter Sellars and Alice Goodman, the one that goes by the name of Nixon In China - well to me that is as close to dramatic perfection as I´ve seen, an opera that qualifies as great theatre, with a stunningly original libretto (hate the term, it´s a script isn´t it) by Goodman that has such breadth, height and complexity that I don´t know where to begin. The scenario for Dr Atomic, and the libretto, to my mind, suffer greatly by any comparison. The production is excellent, can´t be faulted, and the music is - though with Tom Green I feel unqualified to pass any detailed comment - consistently incredible. All the more reason to ask then, what is going on with that script / scenario? As most people have said, the close of Act One, where Oppenheimer sings the John Donne poem Batter My Heart, is sublime and powerful. But it is an isolated incident, in more ways than one - nothing in the characterisation theretofore even hints at the explosion of anguish and longing expressed in Donne´s lyric. I´ll stop now.

Anyway here is Oppenheimer himself. I saw this clip a long time ago, it´s the sort of thing that stays with you. (The quote is not used in the opera, by the way. But enough!)

Meanwhile I had a short play on in this. I was extremely pleased with how they did it. They being Ross Armstrong, Jo Herbert and director Gordon Murray. It was a real pleasure to do a little something in the new Southwark Playhouse, too.

And I have written ´additional material´ for this. Which opens tonight. Blimey, how tempus fugit.

08 February 2009

I was going through some books and I came across this


I was in my second year at Oxford and had imbibed enough institutional cockiness to go up to the dynamic duo of British art at a book signing. I'd been an admirer since I'd seen footage of their living sculpture works on telly when I was still at school. I just thought they were unbelievably funny and interesting and strange. No great insight, I just instinctively liked them. I correctly surmised they would have no problem with a student coming up to them in Blackwells and asking if they would sign something other than their book, as he couldn't afford it. I was doing Plato's Symposium that term, I just opened it at a random page. Don't ask me what the text is saying here, the old Greek is pretty rusty. I might be reading lots later in the year if one of my plans comes off, though.

28 January 2009

There´s a student production of The May Queen tonight and tomorrow, at Bridgwater College in Somerset. Delighted they´re doing it and looking forward to the promised photos. Meanwhile nothing continues apace... I am beguiling the time with rereading Robinson Crusoe, and watching season 3 of Lost. Surely deliverance must be at hand.
Last night at pub quiz we won a disposable camera, so there may be some overexposed mugshots of the team on here, in time, permissions permitting...
Now I´m off to see Dominic Leggett´s play at the Tristan Bates Theatre, thence home for Match of the Day.

In a word, as my life was a life of sorrow one way, so it was a life of mercy, another; and I wanted nothing to make it a life of comfort, but to be able to make my sence of God´s goodness to me, and care over me in this condition, be my daily consolation; and after I did make a just improvement of these things, I went away and was no more sad.

22 January 2009

Gretel and Hansel

The old old story of the children lost in the woods in some pre-industrially forbidding forest, prey to dangers natural and not so, a tale about consuming appetite, survival drive, the perversion and denial of the maternal instinct... well it´s hard to know where to start in telling you about the play I wrote for Northern Stage, if you didn´t see it. I suppose you could read the reviews, but though they are pretty positive on the whole, they never really quite bottle it, do they? In the sense of capture, not the colloquialism for a failure of nerve. Of course it´s not ever exactly their job to do so. But more than usually with something I´ve been involved with, there was a particular and peculiar atmosphere about the piece, something uncanny, that evades description. Not all the time in every performance, this is theatre after all, but I mean to say that when all the elements came together, that happy collision of performances, writing, lighting, music and so on, the play was quite beguiling and fantastical, and I´m very pleased about that, looking back, but it´s hard to convey after the event, perhaps as should be. In a programme note I played with the idea that H and G is the Christmas story par excellence, in that it is so completely about the two things that dominate the festival, for most - food, and family. But there is also in the play a strong interest in dreaming and sleep, a nice confusion of realities, a dream logic. I so enjoyed writing it - I enjoyed even more the experience of watching Erica and the company show it. Because they ran with it, trusted the characterisations and the text in general, and took the bits in italics, my tentative, speculative ´stage directions´, and made a proper big show with the kaboodle. This is most easily demonstrable at the end of the first act, the bit where I depart from the usual telling of Hansel and Gretel´s encounter with the Witch and have her eat the boy. The script is pretty perfunctory:


I shall dress for dinner. Get everything ready.

The WITCH leaves and her minions ready the scene for supper. A ritualistic sequence. The sense of a nightmare, where a terrible travesty is taking place and everyone but the dreamer thinks it is perfectly normal, routine even.

GRETEL watches on as the WITCH eats HANSEL, whole, in one go.

BLACKIE can be seen covering her eyes with her paws.

As Erica would tell you, there was an astonishing amount of work required to dramatise those few suggestive lines. Eating Hansel became this enormous set piece, during which the poor boy was carried aloft in procession by chorus members acting as kind of pallbearers, the Witch took her seat in a high-backed chair, and to the inappropriately dainty strains of Tim Dalling´s music for strings, Hansel is consumed whole, tipped into the Witch´s waiting jaws by the impassive chorus (her attendants, sort of nasty wood fairies), she crunches and swallows his twitching body, until at last he is inside her bulging belly, and she gives the most disgusting belch, as the light fades, for the interval. Blackie, I should tell you, is the Witch´s cat, in fact a lost girl called Susan, shapeshifted against her will, and Susan Blackie helps save the day in Act Two... also covering her eyes at the sight of Hansel´s demise is The Moon, characterised as a slightly loopy girl of indeterminate age, who comments on the action throughout, and finally intervenes in the story to show the children the way home. The director had a lot of fun with The Moon, I think, who was entrancingly played by Vicky Elliott, and pointed out to me that I seem to have written an awful lot of gods and monsters in my time.

handg guardian pic

14 January 2009

How´s things? I am just popping my head round the door to say hello and assure you that this blog may seemingly be down but it is emphatically not out. And where I may have been seized by a kind of midwinter paralysis, compounded by B´s shockingly heavily involving encounter with a cloying virus (five weeks and counting), thereby keeping me busier than usual on the domestic engineering side, I have still managed to have a big show on, the aforementioned H and G, and I will share with you some thoughts on that, not to mention some pictures.

Workwise, the first few weeks of Twenty O Nine are all about plots and plans and proposals, and unhappily it´s in the way of these things that I can´t tell you much at all about them. But the main one this week, I will say, involves peer review of a proposal I´ve made to a university, and this week I have a window in which to respond to the review, and so it will go on, until the decision is reached and communicated to me, in late March. How long can one keep fingers crossed before they lock like that?

I´m off to the second sitting of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour in a short while. My second visit to the NT already this year. I saw Oedipus on the third, which I found very moving. I only wished we could have all reconvened the next day for Oedipus At Colonus.

Back soon, anyway. Honest.