I finished Team of Rivals by Doris Kearnes Goodwin this week. I started this account of Lincoln's presidency and how he ensured its success by bringing into his cabinet the best men even if they were opposed to him in the summer and and enjoyed it so much that I rationed myself because I didn't want it to end. I could hardly bring myself to read the last 100 pages because I knew that bastard Booth was going to assassinate him. I have a new hero. What a man. If there are other books that will tell me that everything he's supposed to have done was down to blind luck, and that the Gettysburg address was written by someone else, I'm not interested. In common with most nations the UK history syllabus is heavily nationalistic so I grew up knowing little or nothing about Lincoln. This book, so well written, was a revelation. I marvelled at each page, each new act of wisdom or magnanimity. And so astute. So human. I felt bereft as I read of his final visit to the theatre. Come on, America, you had Lincoln, FDR, Luther King, you can't settle for Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Can you? Mind you, who are we to criticize? Thatcher, Blair, Cameron... God knows, we need someone.
So come back Woody Guthrie
Come back to us now
Tear your eyes from paradise
And rise again somehow
If you run into Jesus
Maybe he can help you out
Come back Woody Guthrie to us now
We had the meeting about where to go with the musical. Fortunately the response to the two performances during the development week were very positive. As Matt says we can now start to take things out that don't work in the knowledge that we know exactly what kind of hole we've left to fill. I think I've mis-quoted him but anyway, it made sense when he said it. Structure ready by December, a script ready for the creative team, designer, MD, choreographer, marketing by Easter and hopefully into rehearsals in the last week of August. No problem. One apartment, two coats, one afternoon.
We went to see Stephen Fearing on Friday night - together with nine other people. He played a great set and his affability and generosity helped turn what could have been an embarrassing evening into a good night out. A great guitarist with some cracking songs. His remarks about opening for Richard Thompson at the Royal Festival Hall and how his next cd would feature Emmy Lou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Cassandra Wilson et al emphasised that he is slightly better known outside Nottingham and probably served to remind him that he doesn't play to a handful of punters every night of the week. Tomorrow I go with Matt to Sheffield to discuss with Karen our director where we should go next with Giants in the Earth , the Buckland musical. Now that the panic of getting it up and ready to perform in Oxford is past it's easier to start to see what should be kept and what should go. All we've got to do is make sure we end the meeting all agreed in which direction we should be heading. I've got some thinking to do and some notes to make.
Back home after a week in Oxford working on the Buckland musical with seven brilliant singers and an amazing MD who doesn't seem to have the same need for sleep as the rest of the world. I watched them do it but I still don't really know how they managed to learn the music, make sense of the script, and all the rewrites and produce a coherent exciting performance in three and a half days. As I expected the main lesson of the week was cut, cut, cut. Matt and I felt that by the end we have a structure that we can build on. Now we have week away from it and then we meet again with Karen Simpson, the director, to discuss where we go from here. It was a pressure having to produce a performance for an audience in such a short time but we did discover that a musical about searching for dinosaurs and fossils in the 19th century might sound a bit odd but it works, it's exciting and those who were there want to see more. Onward and upward... with a year to go! I don't usually move from my usual position of positive pessimism, but, I think, we may, just about, if we're lucky, get it right.
Development week for the Buckland musical starts on Sunday. Next Thursday there will be two read/sing throughs at the Natural History Museum in Oxford and so the pressure is on as we're hoping not only to attract potential sponsors ahead of the cuts that every one is waiting for later this month, but also to interest other companies in a possible co-production. So the week won't only be there to try out ideas and possibilities but it also has to have an end product which is a little bit scary. On the one hand Matt and I are telling ourselves we've identified a number of problems, we are looking forward to discovering more during the week, and then taking the piece into the next rewrite with a year to go before it goes into the production, and that gives us confidence and makes us feel as if we're progressing nicely. And on the other hand, we have to make sure that a show that's not got all the music, has only just arrived at its first meaningful draft, will, in three and a half days, plus several gallons of midnight oil, be ready to go in front of an audience that needs to be convinced that they want to become involved with its future development and eventual production. So you could say there was a certain amount of tension in the air - from all concerned. What's to say but - onward and upward.
I went to Peterborough Museum last week to look round as we're hoping to remount an extended version of A Workhouse Christmas there, we being myself and Kate Hall the director. It used to be an infirmary and still has the old operating theatre in there, now someones office. It's on the first floor and reached by a very impressive staircase, unless of course you were about to be operated on in which case you were winched up the centre of the stair well on your bed. Bit of a design fault there I can't help thinking. Apparently only a handful of people died from falling off their beds. Last year's version of the show went on at the Old Still, an empty pub off the shopping centre with rambling rooms, oak panelling and a centre courtyard that made it an ideal location. Our promenade performance at the museum will be spread over three floors and the audience will have to go round in three groups of twenty. Today's task is to come up with a structure that will allow this to happen in a way that makes sense both in terms of the narrative and the logistics of moving actors and public. Then we wait to see if the project survives next moth's anticipated cuts, and if it does, I get down to writing the dialogue. Matt has finished the script/score and sent it off to Oxford, so all I can do now about that is fret. No problems there, I'm very good at it.
Next Sunday Matt and I go to Oxford for the week to work with the director, MD and the actors on the current draft of Buckland. In order for this to happen we had to assemble the script, words and music. Matt has a programme that should enable him to move staves and words about at will but it is so complicated that he hasn't mastered it yet so we sat round the table with a guillotine, scissors, and a pritt stick. Just like being back at school getting your project ready to hand in, Cat said. We now have a script with the music integrated into the text and already I think I can start to hear bits of it. Matt kept playing and replaying the recordings of the songs so that we could get the dialogue pasted in above the correct bars every now and then I got a sense of what it might sound like with real singers. Lets hope the reality stands up to the expectation. All we have to do is remember we have a year left and we're not working on the finished piece we're exploring ideas. Got two contracts from the BBC this week for the adaptation of My Name is Stephen Luckwell. One for me to give my permission for the adaptation, the other to accept the commission to adapt it. Earlier this week when I was in Peterborough to see her production of Our Nobby I asked Kate Hall, who directed Stephen what she thought of my new radio ending. She is so much a part of it that I needed her approval and I got it. So if it doesn't have the requisite amount of 'jeopardy' for a Radio 4 afternoon play I shall feel able to fight for it. One week to think about Plymouth and work out a structure for transferring Workhouse Christmas to the Peterborough museum and then it's heads down for a week on Buckland... with all fingers crossed.
I went to see Sam Baker on Sunday at the Maze. I'd heard of him through friends. Heard about him being blown up in a train in Peru, heard about his terrible injuries, losing his fingers, his hearing, the years of rehab, learning to talk, to write, to play the guitar left handed. He talked more than he sang. Said he had to ramp himself up. The songs were spare, austere, words pared down, the guitar pared down. Not a word or a note wasted. Not good because he'd had to overcome hurdles, not good like what an achievement, just good. Very good. Today I spent the afternoon in the garden dozing in the sun and writing nonsense in my notebook for the Plymouth play. I keep circling round what it's about, who the characters are, and for once, I'm not forcing it and something's on the way. In just under two weeks Matt and I are off to Oxford for a week on Buckland - aka Giants in the Earth on the OTT website. It's going to have a read/sing through, two read/sing throughs on October 7th at the Natural History Museum in Oxford. Already I think we know where to go next, how to make it bigger, more all encompassing without losing the particular. I haven't done anything on it for a couple of weeks as Matt is busy composing and creating a score for the actors and the MD. It's going to be hard to concentrate on making what we've got so far work when we know that a lot of it will be left behind in the next draft. Thank God we've got a year to go.
I've just sent the first draft of the adaptation of My Name is Stephen Luckwell to Radio Four. Now I have a week to try out some ideas for Plymouth and then it's off to Oxford for a week's development on the Buckland musical. The first draft is always a relief. In this case the problem was how to make a very visual production work for a listener. In particular the ending was difficult to solve as in the original it all depends on seeing what Stephen is doing on his laptop, a bit tricky that, on radio. I don't know if it works the way I've got it now, but at least there's something on paper, something we can talk about, and for now the main thing is - it is finished.
It's obviously the year of reading brilliant books I've missed. First Mockingbird and now Zeitoun by Dave Eggers. I picked it up in the excellent Bromley House Library, £60 a year and worth every penny, and read it straight through. A true account of what happened to one man and his family in New Orleans during Katrina. Brilliant. Below is an excellent article from the Guardian that puts it into context.
I thought I'd read Mockingbird at school. I was convinced I'd seen the film. Anyway after hearing a programme about the book on Radio 4 I thought I'd read it again and I discovered I hadn't read it before at all. Or seen the film. And isn't it good? I love the structure. I love the way at the end it sends you back to the beginning again like A La Recherche... and yes, I have read it. So much understanding, so much humanity, so many surprises. Hardly a single character is as you expect them to be, they are full of contradictions, the liberal are prejudiced, the rejected show compassion, just like real people, oh, it's so good. I appreciate that gushing doesn't constitute a reasoned response but I don't care. If it hadn't been the 50th anniversary I might have gone through the rest of my life thinking I'd read it and there it would have been floating around in my head as a worthy novel about a white lawyer who opposes racism. Thank you Radio 4. I've just finished another book that impressed me - Before the Earthquake by Maria Allen. I know Maria, we are both members of the Nottingham Writers' Studio and she suggested that I send my attempt at a novel off to an agent friend of hers who was very kind but by the time I got his response I'd decided that I'd be better off sticking to the day job. I put off reading her book because of the cover. It's yellow, with a peasant woman wandering through some fields in front of a hillside village and that was enough to put me off. I immediately pigeon holed with all the other novels about Italy and peasants that have yellow covers, and I didn't want to read it because I thought I wouldn't like it. Because I might have to say something to Maria if she knew I'd read it. Like having to go back after a dodgy show and trying to find something encouraging to say to a friend in the cast. I'm hopeless at it. My lack of enthusiasm can be seen through in a minute. But, I picked it up, flicked through it, saw I was wrong, bought it, read it, loved it. A really good book. Again about memories, and again wonderfully structured, with characters that surprise you, and themselves sometimes, and at the end sending you back to the beginning. I used to find reading stuff that makes my teeth ache it's so good very discouraging, but now I give a cheer and think right, you buggers, time to try and raise the game.
You get stuck. You sit and stare at the screen. You play spider solitaire until your wrist threatens repetitive strain injury. You make coffee. You make toast. You do housework. I cleaned the kitchen, the toilet, the stairs, the landing, the front room and then I got out the hoover and I got it. Suddenly, from nowhere, I got it, everything I needed came in a big rush as I watched the dog hairs from under the chest whirl round and round in the cleaner. Everytime I get stuck the idea always comes when I'm doing something so boring that I can't even be bothered to think. Got the go ahead on an idea at the end of last week. Some juggling needed as I have three commissions on the go. This one needs a first draft by next march so plenty of time to think. And research. I was listening to Front Row in the Harrogate Crime Writing festival and one writer said that you only use about 10% of any research. I'm not sure as much as that surfaces in the final piece. You absorb all this stuff, try to forget it, and start writing. And what you hope is that little details will pop up when you need them to give the world you're creating its authenticity. That happened too this week shortly after my breakthrough moment with the hoover. I had requested a document when I went to the Natural History Museum for the Buckland research only to find it wasn't what I expected and forget all about it. And then, there it is, nudging it's way up to the surface wanting to be used. It's a bloody mysterious business, writing. Nothing to do with waiting for inspiration and all to do with hard graft, but two things I do know. When I don't feel like writing and have to force myself to sit down and start I often do my best work, and when I can't think of what I have to do next, the solution comes as soon as I stop thinking.
I went down to London to talk about the commission with the Drum on Tuesday. I don't find any kind of pitching easy and this wasn't easy at all. Not because of any lack of sympathy from David who sat patiently through my disjointed ramblings, but because I'd convinced myself that I wanted to go with one idea and as I started to explain it began to unravel in front of me and I realised that what I really wanted to do was something else entirely. That's why they're giving me time to think. But I have felt under pressure - self induced - to try and come up with a killer idea, and that is a really stupid thing to do. Now having gone through that process with David I feel much freer and the other idea which interested him immediately - when I tried to elaborate after my first sentence he shut me up, which was very clever, and told me to not say any more but go away and think about it which stopped me destroying its potential on the spot - is gently establishing itself in my head. My task now is to write up the ideas I presented, there were three in all, and send them to him. So I've started with the one I now like least that I did like the most just to make sure I haven't missed a trick. Then I'll work on the one I do like which is tugging at my sleeve waiting for me to start writing a first draft. Then it's down to the Post Office with a handful of copies of the We Didn't Mean to go to Sea playscript - published by aurorametro and available from amazon and all good booksellers - for those who might be interested. You never know your luck
A bit of good news on Friday - My Name is Stephen Luckwell has squairmed its way through options and will be on Radio 4 next year. Apparently I have to sign two contracts. One, as the writer of the original play, giving myself permission to adapt the piece, and the second, as the adapter accepting the commission. So much reading of the script I think before I start to turn it into a three hander. On Sunday Looking for the Rainbow came to an end at Lakeside - a theatre on the Nottingham University campus, not the shopping centre in Essex - and that was fun. I hadn't seen it for six weeks and it had played itself in well. My three year old next door neighbour seemed to like it. This week I have to finish part one rewrites on Buckland, and get my ideas down for the piece for Plymouth as I have the first meeting with them in London next Tuesday and I think they might be expecting something a little more concrete that I have to offer at this exact moment. Buckland I want to finish today, which is why I've put off starting by doing this instead. I did a draft before I went away. Read it last week and rejigged it - cut, moved bits about, found a through line for all the characters that I was pleased with and came up with the thrust of the last scene/song that hadn't been working. Then on Friday I started going through it page bu page, cleaning it up, and making all the links and connections that are needed to hold it together as in 'don't use a gun in act three unless the audience have seen it in act one', said by I don't remember who. I hope to send that off today, ready for the meeting on Monday. Then it's heads down for reworking part two, which is sort of uncharted territory. Memo to self : try and forget that the Tour has started and each day's stage is live on Eurosport.
I haven't had a month's holiday since I was a student. First night back I woke up in a panic. Why had I been away so long? How was I going to meet the deadlines? Then I remembered it was the end of June not the end of August. Highlights? South Pacific at the Lincoln Centre which I didn't expect to like and loved. The Picasso at the Met. Cartier Bresson at MOMA. Ahmad Jamal at the Bluenote. Not bad for the first three days. And now back to work. I got back to a copy of We Didn't Mean to go to Sea - published by aurorametro and available from all good booksellers - a rewrite for the Buckland musical and two weeks to firm up my ideas for the Plymouth commission. On this one I'm clearer on what I don't want to write than on what I do which is a step in the right direction. And I have been working since Monday without a single displacement activity. Until now.
It's not bad is it when a member of the audience of the audience describes your play as being the best story she's ever seen. Granted she was only four years old, but praise is praise. Penny and the team have done a great job with the show and it worked very well last Friday when it had it's first outing in front of real live kids. I was really pleased. Everything worked, and even when they had to play to 40 small people instead of the 20 it's designed for it still went down a storm - they sat riveted and offered up suggestions at all the right places. If you have small people who need entertaining over the next month there is a list of public performances on the company's website. It's going to Derby, Lincoln, York, Nottingham and Lichfield to name but a few.
The first day of rehearsal. Wet, cold, and windy. Why wouldn't it be? It's the tenth of May. Kelly's set is there. Lucy and Kelly put it up and it's dressed with a few bits and pieces. We have a read through. Change a couple of things here and there. Dan starts working with Beth and Janet on the music.
Penny,Lucy, Beth and Janet put up Kelly's set.
And then it's lunchtime and I go home. I'll return on Friday for a stagger through and then we'll see if there's any more work to be done. Now I'm at home working on a second draft and ideas for another commission. When I get back on Friday the set will be painted, the cast off the book, the music worked into the whole and we'll see how it feels, do what needs to be done and ten days after that the tour will start. I read an interview with Ridley Scott this morning when he said that he never forgets how lucky he is that he has a job that he really wants to do. I know what he means.
Designers are great. At least the ones I have been lucky enough to work work with are. You can do the most outrageous stuff and they don't object. You can put in a stage direction like 'The whale surfaces and the boat is sunk.' and while the director might go hairless the designer reaches for their sketch pad or the back ot a fag packet, depending on their working method, and gets on with it. Kelly Jago is the designer on Looking for the Rainbow - a play for tinies that goes into rehearsal with Big Window next month and when I wrote it - and I am still amazed that anyone lets me lose to write for this age group - I filled the text with stage directions like 'and then they find something and something happens' then went and talked to Kelly who would immediately come up with the solution. I did it like this at first because we have a small budget and the design and what can happen within the set will be an integral part of the experience so the obvious thing was to discuss the possibilities with the designer. After our first meeting I did it because she had such bloody good ideas. The picture below doesn't give any idea of all the things the set can do as Kirsty and her Mum go on their search for the end of the rainbow. Creatures will appear, it'll become a cave and then a river, and finally of course a rainbow, and all done so simply and for next to nothing. Can't wait.
Model box for Looking for the Rainbow - designer Kelly Jago.
Yesterday we finished the draft of Buckland/Giants in the Earth by getting it in a state ready to be sent off. This was more complicated than I realised - it being a musical with songs and music and lyrics and everythig. The text had to re-formatted to accomodate the lyrics, Matt and his partner Catherine Boot have recorded the songs and we also recorded some scenes as well to help make sense of what looks quite confusing on paper. I offered to sing but my offer was politely rejected, but I did get to do some dialogue. Matt puts everything through a program he's got on his Mac. We record something, then he mutters way to himself for a few minutes whilst whizzing the cursor around the screen and it comes out with all the words and the music in the right places. Mystifying. It isn't completeley finished. Some of the songs are only repesentations of what they will eventually be and some scenes are only suggestions or experiments. And in Part Two the music and lyrics only exist as a series of notes. But the arc is there and our intentions are clear. I'll pick up the disks this morning, print out the hard copy, add my own notes and send it off. Matt will disappear to China to work on a show until the beginning of June, and we'll meet up again when I get back from the States at the end of that month, and provided our director hasn't rejected the whole thing as a huge mistake, we'll get on to the next stage. Taking it all apart and starting again. But at least this time we'll have something tangible to work on.
I'm in the process of preparing My Name is Stephen Luckwell for options, the final stage in the lengthy and mysterious process by which plays are produced on Radio 4. The idea has made it's way through several stages, the last one being pre-options and now this week it will go into the final stage and the decision to produce or not will be handed down sometime in July. My producer will write up the idea and submit it along with the other ideas from other writers she hopes will be taken up, and I will submit sample scenes. This is the tricky bit. I get an idea for a play, and an image of how it starts, how it ends, and a feel for where it's likely to go and the first thing I have to do is write a draft to finds out what happens. As S Luckwell is an adaptation from an existing play I thought it would be quite easy to write a couple of sample scenes. Not so. As soon as I started thinking about it, and I've already written some pages for a previous stage in the process to see how it might work on radio, I found that it had become a new story. It now has three characters and moves in and out of the events of one day in a way it couldn't on the stage. And I need to write it to find out not what happens, but how it happens. So I've elected to have my sample pages be the start of the play. Then it starts to get interesting. How much information can I give the listener, how much should I give? What can I sow in the first few pages to use in the later stages? At what point do I launch into the story? How can we use sound to help convey an impression of Stephen's autism. All of which makes me want to write it even more. I was supposed to send my ideas in today and so I worked on it over the weekend and sent it in yesterday before I tweaked it out of existence. Fingers crossed.
I went to see 11 + 12 this week. Brook's style is something we've become familiar with but it's still a delight to see such focus and clarity. The performances had that effortless ease that only comes after the hardest work. The story is elusive. There is a mistake over the number of times a prayer should be said. The n mistake becomes a cause. Colonial masters misinterpret the signs. A war ensues. Deaths follow. A final death and the dispute ends. A meditation on our inability to avoid violence. Last night was Chuck Prophet at the Maze on his own. Excellent. Sometimes I have to pinch myself at how lucky we are top have such a small venue that attracts such great performers. All my buses have come at once again. As they do. We're on track to finish the first proper draft of the Buckland musical on time. The book is done for both parts, the music is place for part one, and more or less for part two, and Matt is cut and pasting the whole thing together. We send it off, we have discussions and notes, and we start on the rewrites. Over the weekend I'll be working on My Name is Stephen Luckwell for Radio 4. It got through pre-offers and now I have to get sample scenes together ready for the proposal that will go into offers next week. I shan't be crossing my fingers because we won't hear if it's accepted until sometime in July. And I've just found out that I have to rewrite and expand A Workhouse Christmas for production this year. So that's a Buckland re-write and two new commissions. And the Beeb might say yes. And this morning I shall be mainly checking proofs of We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea soon to be published by aurorametro press and available from all good booksellers. Oh, happy day.
Yesterday Matt and I went to Oxford to meet Jim Kennedy the Director of the Natural History Museum that WilliamBuckland founded 150 years ago. He showed us bones that Buckland had collected, further remains of the Red Lady of Paviland and most importantly talked about the man and let us outline our approach. Gradually, gradually, it all seems to become clearer how we make a play out of this material. Today I have been working on the second act. I want it finished by the start of next week so Matt and I can work on it together. Got a bit stuck this morning so I went for a swim. After about 10 minutes halfway down the bath my problems started to resolve themselves and I could see the way passed them. Back to the pc after lunch and rattled off the transition that gets us into the scene we've been building towards since the start of act one. Now I've stopped and I'll write it tomorrow when I've let it float around a bit, but, to quote Matt, I think it's landed. And now the small miracle that did happen. Monday afternoon I get a phone call from a director I know - long given up any thoughts of him asking me to write anything - will I write a play? Yes. In two acts? Yes. The money has to be spent before the end of the financial year so we have to move fast. That's fine by me. A few more details about the nature of the commission and the contract, and then it's good we'll meet at the end of April and talk about what you're going to write for us. End of phone call. Literally, almost immediately an e mail arrives from the theatre will I please send in an invoice for the first payment together with all bank details. And then this morning a letter with the contract for me to sign and send back. I'll be paid as soon as it arrives at the theatre. What happened to all the endless hustling to get work? And the endless nagging to get paid? (Not I hasten to add with every company that has employed me.) Yes! I am so excited. Someone wants me to write a play. Never ceases to amaze me.
After three great days in Newquay working on the plays for this year's Playhouse Project, and lapping up the sunshine and the sea air and now it's back to wrestling with Buckland. I heard some more of the music from part one this morning and some of the songs used my words which was a big thrill. But there's still part two to finish, and a deadline getting closer and closer. There's a moment that comes after all the drafts, all the research, all the fretting when you say to yourself all I've got to do is write it. That's when you know you've got to the final draft. And I'm not there yet by a country mile. On Wednesday we're off to Oxford to talk to Jim Kennedy the director the Natural History Museum that Buckland founded. On the phone this morning I was able to reassure him that we will certainly have Buckland's tame bear in the script, not to mention his horse. It was quite obvious in a brief phone call that he rates the man, has a sense of humour, and is going to be a fund of information. I want to try out our take on him and see how he reacts. See what he thinks about how we've treated Richard Owen. Basically I want to be patted on the head and told that I haven't got it all arse about face by someone who really knows. Very worrying writing about real people, even if they're a long time dead.
After a week playing with actors and a trip to London to see the excellent Jerusalem - go see - hard graft set in as Matt and I took apart the first act of Buckland and looked for where the music would push the action on. Now we have a rough second draft and Matt is about to beaver away at the music while I set out on the relatively uncharted waters of the second act. He played me some of the stuff he's been working on this week and it was a real buzz hearing words that I'd had something to do with put to music and sung! The end of next week has a particularly excellent jolly - sorry I meant three days of hard work - as I'm off to Newquay to a splendid hotel to work with other writers and teachers and theatre people on the plays that are going to be put on in schools as part of this year's Playhouse project. I was on it a couple of years ago and so I know what I'm looking forward to - it'll be fun. And there was fun last night too when the wonderful Cosmic American Music brought Carlene Carter to the Maze in Nottingham. Very strange to hear her tales of being on the road with the Carter Family as a small child and realise that you're listening to someone who connects directly with a world that has vanished. A good night.
When I say finished you'll understand that at the moment we are talking first draft, and that it has yet to be revised, and that it lacks any music which is sort of important as it's a musical, but it is finished, in that there are now words on paper, in a reasonable order, ready for all those things to happen to them. Hence there is a certain amount of jollity in the air. This might also be connected to the fact that this morning we booked flights to the States which means another stay in New York plus all sorts of other goodies and family fun yet to be arranged. I have the second act mapped out and I shall start on that later today. Matt, who is writing the music should at this moment be finally having the operation on his back that has been postponed three times so far, but that shouldn't hamper his composing skills he assures me. It's a funny job writing a musical - especially if you haven'tdone one before - and we've decided that the best way in is for me to find the structure and then we deconstruct it and find the moments when the music can push the action on. In complete contrast next week is the development week for a piece for tinys I've written for Big Window Theatre. We're not going to give the two actors the script but make them play around the action points because actors once given a script cling on to it like a comfort blanket and won't attempt anything that requires two hands. So that's going to be fun, and the week ends in London where I'll see Jerusalem, which had better be good because the ticket cost the bloody earth.
I had a couple of days down in London last week and I went to see Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I've never really liked any of the films or the couple of productions I've seen, so I went on the strength of the cast. What a play. What a great big compassionate play. What a journey. I know it was made in 1958 but how did such an ordinary film come out of such a wonderful play? I was shocked, I was moved, I laughed, I was exhausted when I came out and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. And it made me cry. The cast were excellent, not a single weak link from James Earl Jones to the smallest child. The only production I've seen to compare with it was the New York Waiting for Godot. Both paid the same rigorous attention to the text. And the rhythms in the writing were astounding. Because I doubt there will be a sudden deluge of excellent Tennessee William's productions I shall have to start reading my way through his stuff. Which will mean more books to add to the pile. I've also just finished Christopher Reid's The Scattering, and I think I'll be dipping back into it for a while yet to get the most out of his writing. It's a wonderful collection of poems. Probably not a good idea to read it on the train as I did unless you want to spend a good deal of the journey staring out of the window trying not to weep. It's not all doom and gloom despite it's subject but it captures the moments of love so precisely that it hurts.
I got an e mail back from the company in Berlin who were considering doing it in English this morning. I was going to paste their reply in but for some reason I can't which is probably just as well. The gist of it was that they didn't like and they didn't see it as a stage play and they didn't see how it would how the attention of an audience. It lacked a strong conflict and a turning point. I sent back a very polite e mail thinking them for their comments and saying that I understood that because a play has been successful in one country that doesn't mean it is suitable for another. In fact I was less annoyed than I might have been because I have got used to the German habit of direct speaking. Germans don't go back after a disastrous show and faff about like we do, they get straight in there. The text was rubbish, performances were poor, the set unusable etc etc. And also because I said to me German agent that I didn't think it was a play he would go for because it lacked a strong conflict and a turning point. It's true what works in one country doesn't always work in another and there is a tendency in some of the German theatre to shoe horn in plot twists and conflicts so the audience won't go away feeling that it has missed out on its' regulation does of angst. That statement is of course very unfair and unjustly stereotypical, but I don't care because I'm miffed that they've turned it down. When the Hans Otto Theater in Potsdam got me to write a play about a group of kids putting a band together - About a Band, as yet to be produced in the UK, 5 actors, 2 acts, available for me - for them I asked why me, why not a German writer? They talked about the English attitude towards music being more fundamental, and admitted that they'd asked a number of writers but hadn't found what they were looking for. Then Andreas said 'We know you will write a play about a group of kids who want to make a band, not a play about a girl who gets cancer.' You win some...
I got up early this morning sensing correctly that the silence meant that more snow was falling. I made a cup of tea and wandered upstairs to look out of the top window at the gardens running up the hill. Quite a reasonable covering but for those of us who lived through the day Sheffield was cut off from the world in 1976 (I think) it wasn't that impressive. After breakfast I realised I was wandering round the house singing 'You take the High Road and I'll take the Low Road' in a pronounced English accent. I learned it from the Singing Together booklet when I was at juniors. I thought it was stupid song all about the rather obvious fact that if you wanted to drive to Scotland in the shortest possible time you'd get there quicker if you kept to the A roads. I can't remember when I discovered that removed from it's Heather Club tweeness it was a bleak and moving acceptance of death. I watched David Tennant's Hamlet before it disappeared from i-player. Brilliant performances all round I thought. A Hamlet who could have taken up the bare bodkin at any moment. Wish I'd seen it in the theatre. Once when feeling very fragile I was walking above Hebden Bridge taking a break from an Arvon course and I heard the unmistakable clink of climbing gear. I followed to sound to the edge of a small cliff and as I got there I knew it was the wrong place to be and I had what I later found out was a panic attack. I ran as fast as I could across a field towards a wall. I vaulted over the wall and collapsed on the other side my heart beating, head whirling and feeling sick. I closed my eyes and tried to hang on to the earth and reason. After about five minutes I opened my eyes to discover I was lying in a graveyard. Suicidal thoughts can't survive feeling slightly ridiculous. I saw that in Tennant's Hamlet which made his final remarks to Horatio before following Osric to the fencing contest - If it be now, 'tis not to come... - all the more moving. Great stuff. Hey Ho. Cheerful thoughts for a snowy morning. Time to walk the dog.
Today I officially went back to work. And I did some too. I sorted out the rewrite of the schools' piece for York Theatre Royal, and worked on the Stephen Luckwell proposal for Radio 4. I had three attempts to get something down on paper and failed each time, then I decided I would stop trying to make it sound like something I was ending in the the BBC and write what I thought I'd like to do with it instead. And that got me started. And then I went for a swim. Halfway down length seven I thought of an ending of the SL radio version and now the notes are scribbled down ready to look at tomorrow morning. I checked my e mails when I got back from the pool and there was one from a bi-lingual theatre in Berlin wanting to see the English text of SL. That would be fun if they decided to do it. And an excuse to go to Berlin again because I feel that I'm overdue a visit. I worked today to Test Match Special which in all honesty wasn't an unqualified success. Several times I found myself listening to Geoff Boycott with my mouth open and my fingers resting on the key board with no idea of how much time had passed. I think tomorrow I will not go swimming at the gym but find myself an exercise bike. They have Sky Sports and much as I resent and despise Murdoch and all his works there is nothing like watching it live, and if I combine exercise with watching cricket which will relax me, get me fitter, and get me ready to go back to work invigorated, that's good, isn't it? Tomorrow is more snow so there is a chance if it is really nice that a walk might be called for - especially if I can't get up the hill that leads to the gym - and I can always start later and continue into the evening. Yes, of course I can. This year I will attack my work with resolution and vigour. I will.
GETTING BETTER SLOWLY - Published by Playdead Press
A GIRL WITH A BOOK AND OTHER PLAYS - Published by Aurorametro
THE UNDERGROUND MAN - Published by Aurorametro
A GIRL WITH A BOOK - Published by Playdead Press
MY NAME IS STEPHEN LUCKWELL - BBC audio download
WE DIDN'T MEANT TO GO TO SEA (adaptation) - Published by aurora metro
WARRIOR SQUARE - published by aurora metro
There are currently 16 productions of A Girl With A Book in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark.
Mia will open in Dinslaken in October 2017.
Warrior is Square has a new production in Dresden autumn 2017. A second Bosnian production of Warrior Square (Trg Ratnika) opened in Bugojno at Theatr Fedra. There is also a second Croatian production opened in Juky 2017.