Thursday, 27 October 2011

Crossed Purposes

The concept of the past being a different country where they do things differently has never been so clear to me as during the last few weeks working on the Eastern Angles cross generational project Crossed Purposes.  Together with Kate Hall, Mark Grist and Year 10 students from four Peterborough schools we have been collecting memories from elders in residential accommodation of their teenage years for those students to turn into pieces of theatre. Mark and I are shaping the material and Kate will help the them get the work up and on its feet.
The stories have been flowing almost too fast for us to record.  They have been funny, heartbreaking, brave and absurd.  Children running through the London Blitz with only saucepans on their heads for protection, a father rescuing two small children from where they lay next to an unexploded bomb, small tales of heroism, all shared with rare generosity.  And it can't be easy to talk about your most formative experiences to a group of fifteen year olds you've never met before.  The students have been magnificent, any initial nervousness disappeared, and old and young talked together with mutual respect realising that they shared far more in common than, I believe, either group suspected.
A woman who was born to an unmarried mother spoke quietly of the first time she met her father at the age of thirteen and how she used to meet him in a park on Sunday afternoons until her stepfather stopped.  And how she didn't she him again until she had a child of her own.  'The last time had my first child with me and we bumped into each other in the street, he was living in one room he told me. He would have liked to have come to my wedding, I'd have liked him there too, but it wasn't possible then for that to happen.  He said that if we bumped into each other again we'd make a proper arrangement to meet, but we never did, and I never saw him again.'  Her only moment of anger coming when she said 'That's all I saw of him, but never once, although he tried to make me, did I ever call my stepfather, dad.'
As part of a generation that ,unlike my parents and grandparents, never had to be part of a war, I wonder how I would have coped. I sort through the memories we've collected, shaping them into a dramatic form and I pray to God I would have been able to muster a fraction of  dignity and humour and honesty and sheer bloody resiliance that shines through our elders' stories. I have been very moved, very heartened by the humanity and compassion I've found, but at the same moment when I feel only a step away from weeping at the courage and pity of it all, there's that part of my writer's brain that won't stop sifting for material  even through the most inappropriate events in my own life, muttering, 'This stuff is brilliant, there's got to be a play in here.'

Friday, 7 October 2011


Back to work and no excuses. I've just started a project with Eastern Angles in Peterbrough linking school students and older people.  Stories are gathered from the elders and are passed onto the kids to use in creating a piece of theatre. yesterday we were with a 92 year old lady who told us her experiences of being a WAAF - she had total recall, was very lucid and we felt moved and privileged that she's agreed to share that part of her life with us.
I've just finished writing up what she told us from my notes and next is act two of Summer. It's almost all there in my head so now I've got to write it to see how it works. Another couple of weeks and it'll be ready to send off.
A couple of days ago I went through the new act two of Giants in the Earth the musical I'm writing with Matt Marks.  Matt liked it which is always a good start.  Now it's over to him to have a think about how the music's going to work. That's got to be ready for the end of the month in preparation for the two development weeks with Oxfordshire Theatre Company what have commissioned the piece.
So the rest of October is going to be trips to Peterborough, Act Two of Summer, and, mustn't be forgotten, the adaptation of Haroun and the Sea of Stories to finish for Kazaliste Virovitica. Oh, and my birthday present, an afternoon roaring round a race track in a Caterham.