Monday, 25 February 2013

Please Mr Vaizey it's not just about the money.

Dear Mr Vaizey,

Last Friday I went to the New Vic to see The Thrill of Love Amanda Whittington's excellent new play about Ruth Ellis.  Last Monday I was in London for the gfa meeting organised by the Antelopes and the Arts Council.

In the New Vic programme Amanda writes 'Three years ago Theresa Heskins (New Vic artistic director) and I discussed the idea of a Ruth Ellis play...'  It takes a long time for plays to get from the idea to the stage, on the way they need help, and success is not guaranteed. With theatres unable to commit funding to the uncertainty of new work increasingly they are being forced to opt for popularism and spectacle. Soon that will be all that is left because the current batch of new plays that have been gestating for the last few years will dry up soon.

Last Monday forty playwrights met with the Arts Council to discuss how to access funding.  We didn't go there cap in hand but because ACE, who were involved in setting up the meeting, aware of the difficulties of writers getting funding directly from theatres are anxious to do what little they can to make sure that there is a future for new work by letting us know how we could apply for alternative funding.

Anecdotes don't carry much weight, I know, but sometimes it seems to be all the individual has to offer. I've had two projects cancelled because of the lack of funds. One was the retouring of a successful play that had played to 92% when the company first produced it because they didn't get the strategic touring money they expected and without it couldn't afford to take the risk, the other, a musical, had been delivered, paid for, and had four weeks of development funded by ACE only for the company to lose its status and funding.

We make work and we provide work. We earn money true, for ourselves, the theatres who put on our work, those who work on our productions, from actors to cleaning staff, and for the exchequer.  We don't want handouts.  We don't consider ourselves to be a special case.

Our job is writing plays, and together we make a major contribution to the economy, and, each of us, is proud of our own small contribution to our shared culture. Take away our ability to do that by depriving the theatres of the ability to work with us and we'll all be the poorer.

Best Wishes,
Nick Wood

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Ebacc Shelved!

I spotted last night on twitter that Mr Gove has shelved the Ebacc. I suppose it had to happen after the cross party opposition and the gradual drip of concessions but somehow I never believed it would. That's why when I woke up this morning I had to go on line and see. There it was on the BBC website so it must be true.
It was defeated with the help of high profile names and institutions, but not because of them. I believe it was defeated because Mr Gove's arrogance, and a well co-ordinated campaign, made people realise for the first time how much they would have missed if the arts had been denied them when they were at school and they didn't want that for their kids.  Neither did they want to live in a society that such a restrictive curriculum would have fostered. 
But it would be naive if we thought that the battle was won.  Mr Gove wants it in the next manifesto.  We don't yet know exactly how he intends to reshuffle what he sees as the core GCSEs. We must be vigilant because he'll have something else nasty lurking round the corner.
Whatever your political persuasion this has been a great result. I'd say it was a victory for common sense.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Django, Les Mis, and Lincoln.

So I've seen the big three, spent seven hours and twelve minutes in the dark, and what have I learned? 

Django.  A deeply moral film I thought.  Wonderful performances. Wonderful to look at. Artfully structured, sometimes tight, sometimes sprawling, sometimes almost clumsy, but at no point can you take your eyes away.  Except I could.  Couldn't watch some of the scenes. Wondered behind closed eyes if the sound effects wouldn't have had as great an impact.  Loved the humour.  Loved the way our need for humanity and love is expressed by an amoral bounty hunter. Loved the disjoint of material and form.  Loved the way I was unsettled throughout, when you think it's this, the rug is pulled away and it's suddenly that.  Loved the fact that it a film as much about the present as the past.  Loved the pastiche, the way genres were turned on their heads, but the scene with the Klan, although hysterical, felt more like a Mel Brooks out take than an homage. In the right hands, you can say more with humour and flash than you can with reverence as long as what seems excess is based on intelligence, passion, and a desire to tell the truth.  I'll be returning to the South later this year, driving past the white mansions on River Road, graphically aware whose backs they were built on.

Les Mis.  I never saw it on stage. I never wanted to. I went because I wondered if I'd been unfair, snobbish in my assertion that nothing on earth would ever drag me to The Glums.
And I still don't get it.  I don't get how Nunn, Caird, MacKintosh et al saw that this could be a success. The music is monotonous, the lyrics banal, the story repetitive.  I can see, as someone who was bowled over by the RSC Nicholas Nickleby that by bringing that style of early eighties upfront RSC energy to a piece like Les Mis some of the audience would be seeing something they'd never seen before in a theatre. But most of all I didn't care, about any of them, I just wanted them to stop so I could go home.  And, I know, it all comes down to taste. Some will like, some will loath. 
But there was one exception, a mini master class, a performance that jumped off the screen, Colm Wilkinson. The original Jean Valjean nipped in to play, God, I think, and showed how it should be done. In his few minutes there was more intensity and honesty than in the rest of snot - ridden, tear - sodden two hours and thirty seven long minutes.
I saw Colm Wilkinson when in another life I took a party of kids from Doncaster to see Jesus Christ Superstar. A Saturday matinee, well into the run, he was playing Judas. The opening minutes were very lack lustre, from where I sat in the stalls I could see the cast on the ramps either side of the stage were more interested in chatting than the audience. And then Mr Wilkinson took charge. His performance was incredible. A huge talent, totally in control, he shook the place up, and if I could lip read I'd be able to tell you what he said when he whirled around and laid into those cast members who were happy to cruise though a lazy Saturday afternoon.  If you're going to do something, do it, and don't give short change. A great man.

Lincoln.  I went to see it because I'd read Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin - a wonderful book, and because I hoped that it was going to be more than God Bless America.  And it was. Like Django it is concerned with the present as well as the past. Excellent performances all round.  Day-Lewis is amazing. It's a performance that is restrained, it doesn't seek to dominate, this Lincoln can exasperate with his endless tales but he can listen too.  Like Django It doesn't let us off easy. This story isn't about the past. The battle isn't over. Complacency and prejudice are still as strong. The same mistakes are being made.  Lincoln fought the battle with his weapons in his time, but his victories were only a step on the way.  The final moments of the film flash back to Lincoln giving his second inaugural speech which reaches out as a rallying call for us to continue to be vigilant.
And the Oscar goes to .....?