Thursday, May 31, 2007

Right then. I'm back.

Been hard at work on a first draft of Mehndi Night, which is going to be fucking great if I do say so myself, so I hope you enjoyed the half-time entertainment. I thought I'd share some early scribblings from my research for We Are Shadows, my new series of monologues for teenagers. None of those speeches will actually appear in the play, but they did form the stimulus for a workshop day at Half Moon some time back, which fed into the main piece. They've been sort of dormant since so I thought I'd dig them out. Needless to say, please don't perform without permission and all that.

I'd like to indulge in a little non-theatre foray for a moment, if you'll permit me. Long-time readers and friends will know that political hip hop is one of my great passions, and which I had a great time exploring on stage in last year's play Locked In. I'm also fascinated by the political situation in France at the moment, which has reached a head with the recent election of Nicolas Sarkozy. What interests me most is the approach that this parallel society just across the Channel has taken to immigration and multiculturalism in relation to our own. Whilst on the surface, Liberte Egalite et Fraternite (how do you do an e-acute accent on Blogger?) seems a great idea, far from uniting people this otherwise honourable notion appears to have come to define a very narrow vision of 'Frenchness' and required newcomers to French society to give up their roots and ethnic identities in order to assimilate into a united vision of the country. The film La Haine, an extraordinary and depressingly prescient portrayal of doomed Parisien youth locked into a deadly cycle of revenge with the forces of the state, was perhaps the first time French popular drama addressed the subject. The 2005 riots were like that film come to life, and things are only going to get worse under Sarkozy.

However, one good side effect of a sort, has been the explosion of truly brilliant French political hip hop and vibrant banlieu youth culture which this civil unrest has given rise to. My MC of the moment and hot tip for future greatness is a French-Moroccan rapper from Lille called Axiom, who is so new and exciting he hasn't yet got a Wikipedia biog I can link to. However you can check him out on MySpace here and watch some of his videos (turn it up loud for best effect). The site also contains links to the other movers and shakers of the French hip hop scene, who I'm in the process of checking out.

Now my French isn't up to understanding every word but I can catch enough of Axiom's lyrics to feel reassured this guy is about more than the usual bitches and guns. His track 'Ma lettre au Presidente', set to a sarcastic sample of La Marseillaise, is a heartfelt lyrical protest from the disenfranchised youth of the Lille slums. Apparently he also wrote it down and sent it to the outgoing Jacques Chirac as well as releasing it as a single, but French media promptly banned it. But the internet being what it is it's been doing the rounds, and rightly so. It's a great track and a great album.

There is a spurious theatre link to all this, and that is the forthcoming talk at Soho Theatre From Brixton To The Banlieus about disenfranchised urban youth on the move. I feel strongly that modern writers should be in touch with debates like this within sociology, so it's great that this is on in one of the leading new writing venues.

Funnily enough in Mehndi Night the girls came up with the idea (completely independently of me) of an estranged middle sister who was kicked out of the Bengali family home for hanging out at pirate radio stations and largin it with the black boys, so I've had great fun this week writing some lyrics for her. In the middle of a blazing row with her mum one of the older characters steps to the girl's defence and pleads with the parents:

"Allow your children their identity crisis. There is so much for them to carry today. They are Bengali, they Muslim, they are British, they are East London, they are young, they are women. Is it any wonder they can’t manage it all at once? Allow them to drop a few. They will come back for them when the time is right. You just have to wait ... Allow them to celebrate who they are, piece by piece. We are lucky that we are in a country that allows them to do that."

It's a moment of clarity for which I am grateful to Mulberry trainee teacher Noorzahan Begum for pointing out to me.

I spent a large part of my early life hating the stuffy old UK and only ever seeing what was wrong with it, and plenty of aspects of it still exasperate me at times. But as I've got older and wiser, I've become increasingly proud of our country, in particular its tolerance and celebration of diversity. Our version of multiculturalism, in London at least, is something we can rightly be proud of, particularly considering the alternative mess across the Channel. I'm not saying it's not without it's problems, or that there's no work left to do (winning the hearts and minds of the white working classes is the next big step), but overall I think the good outweighs the bad. If my own recent experiences as an accidental chronicler of East London life are anything to go by, the tabloid scare stories about immigration are the same old blinkered bullshit they always have been. Multiculturalism is our own home-grown good news story.

It perhaps means that we don't do political hip hop quite as well as the French, but I think I can live with that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trouble Next Door

Been trouble round our way lately
I mean there’s trouble round our way a lot
But this kinda trouble’s gone burstin my bubble
And it’s suttin I haven’t forgot

Been trouble round our way lately
New family moved in next door
This pale lookin lady with a couple of babies
And a boyfriend who’s been in the wars

Been trouble round our way lately
Been things that go bump in the night
At first it was plates that started to break
As the two of em started to fight

Been trouble round our way lately
The screamin it keeps us awake
There’s trouble next door at flat number four
Our windows have started to shake

Been trouble round our way lately
I said: One of us oughta go round
It sounds like she’s scared, but nobody cares
My dad turns the telly up loud

Been trouble round our way lately
The babies have started to scream
It goes on for ages during his rages
But dad he just stares at the screen

Been trouble round our way lately
Everything’s gone a bit quiet
Mum feeds the cat, goes: Thank God for that
Goes back to her magazine diet

Been trouble round our way lately
No-one’s gone in or gone out
I said: Should we go –
And dad he goes: No
And looks like he’ll give me a clout

Been trouble round our way lately
Postman can't open the flap
Been ringin the phone but nobody’s home
My nerves about ready to snap

Been trouble round our way lately
Suttink has started to smell
Dad says it’s my breath that smells like death
Mum says she doesn’t feel well

Been trouble round our way lately
The police came and broke down the door
Took the bodies away on these three metal trays
Then came round to ask what we saw

Been trouble round our way lately
We all had to fill in a form
As we gave them the facts
They said: Didn’t you act?
And we go quiet and look at the floor

Been trouble round our way lately
I mean there’s trouble round our way a lot
But this kinda trouble’s gone burstin my bubble
And it’s suttin I haven’t forgot.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Crossing

So it’s Community Awareness week in school
It’s your Opportunity
To help da Community
That’s what they keep sayin
On all posters and that
With pictures of smilin people mowin each other’s lawns
Like anyone has a lawn round here
Or a smile come to that

So I ain’t really thought much about it
But it musta stuck in there somewhere
Cos that night
I’m waitin to cross the main road next to the estate
On the way to Spyda’s place to play a bit of PS2
Blow shit up
And it’s peltin it down
Proper little bullets
Like suttink outta da tropics
And there’s this old lady standin there
Clothes hangin heavy
Soaked to da skin
Waitin to cross

And I’m stood there thinking
I ain’t been that good this week
Detention after school every single day
Except the day I bunked off
Sparked two other kids
Though they was bad mouthin my sister
Sat outside da Head’s office twice
Letters home what I never gave
Plus I took twenny quid outta Mum’s purse
Which I still ain’t put back
I better do suttin good quick
Case anyone’s watchin

(Indicates God)
Y’get me

So I turns to the old lady and I goes:
Can I help you?
And she looks at me like I’m gonna merk her
The fear in her eyes
An I’m like: Na na na it’s alright
Just cos I gotta hood don’t mean I’m no good
And she seems to like my rhyme
My little lyrical miracle
Cos she smiles
And I take her arm
And we dodder across
And it’s nice

Takes fuckin forever mind you
Halfway over I swear I see a snail overtake us
But I don’t mind
Cos she’s started chattin
Tellin me about when all this was rubble
From being bombed in the war
By the Germans

And I’m like: Yeah man I heard about that
Was it suttin to do with losing the football?
1066 and all that
Talk about bad losers

But she ain’t listenin
Cos she’s talkin about how her brother
And her auntie
And her cousin
And her husband
All died

We get to the other side
And I say goodbye
And I walk off to Spyda’s
I dunno
But I don’t really wanna play PS2 no more

‘What’s da matter with you?’
Shut up I say
Ain’t nuttin

I sit on his bed
And look out the window at the rain

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Minicab

Yeah I get all sorts in here
Make a crust innit

Work all hours me
Got a baby on the way
Y'know how it is
So it'd be nice
If you could sort us out wiv a tip

Yeah I'm knockin off after you
Past my bedtime innit
But I took pity on ya din’t I
Standin there
White as a sheet
I thought: There’s a man as needs his bed
I’m perceptive like that
See things no-one else sees
Little bit psychic my wife reckons
I say: Yeah right love
You mean psycho not psychic

Hey you feelin alright?
Look if you puke its fifty quid straight up
Only had them seats done last month
Bloke pissed hisself
Not funny
Jumped a red there

Don’t say much do ya?
Silent type is it
That’s alright
We all got our secrets
Take this town for instance
That spot yeah
That spot where I picked you up
Massive pile-up there only last week
Lorry jackknifed doing sixty
Similar time of night too
People think they own the road in the small hours
Multiple deaths
Claret all over the shop
‘pparently the driver
The driver yeah
My mate Ricky reckons anyway
The driver
Got his head cut clean off
Whiplash or summing
Clean off
Makes me go cold just thinkin bout it
‘pparently the firemen
Had to wash the blood down the drains with the hose
Wouldn’t know nothing lookin at it now wouldya?
Secrets see
I’m tellin ya

He’s full of shit though is Ricky
He reckons
The night after that accident yeah
He stopped to pick some bloke up
At that very same spot
At that very same time
Pale-lookin geezer
Didn’t say much
Sat in the back
Where you’re sittin now
Silent as the grave

So Ricky’s chattin away
As you do
Half a mile later
Turns round
Geezer’s gone!

What does he take me for
Full of shit is Ricky

Now then
Where was it you said you was goin?


Mate ...

Friday, May 18, 2007

I've been being a critic again this week, watching some fringe shows for Resonance FM's theatre magazine show On The Fringe. Last night I saw the opening of Phil Willmott's new version of Gorky's The Lower Depths at the Finborough, and the night before that I saw an improv group called The Institute at Canal Cafe Theatre. I'm pleased to report that both shows were rather good, which makes reviewing them a whole lot more fun. You can tune in to my inane ramblings on Monday night at 9pm on 104.4FM (so long as you live in London).

In other news, I've discovered the curse that is Facebook. I predict that it will be the death of all self-employed people attempting to work from home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Well, where do I start? I've had one of those gaps again where the amount of stuff I could now talk about makes blogging seems a bit daunting.

The good news is I've finished my first draft. It was a commission from Half Moon Theatre, a series of monologues for young people called We Are Shadows. You can read more about it here, and if you run a venue you can even book it. I think it's turned out rather well, though I always think that about first drafts and have sometimes been wrong. It's hard to see the wood for the trees after a while.

I'm now flat out on my next one, which is the new play for Mulberry School where I'm writer-in-residence, and which we are taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It's called Mehndi Night and I've created a page about it on my main website here. It's a serious challenge to write authentically about a community so far removed from my own, but I'm really excited about it, and the girls themselves have just been a joy to work with. It's one of those projects where they could never do it without me and I could never do it without them. The result is going to be something totally unique and brilliant, the kind of play which could only ever be born out of working in this way - and which I'd never get the chance to tackle working in isolation. It's been such a privilege to be trusted enough to have been taken into their world with such openness and honesty. The revelations about the reality of trying to juggle all the facets of a third generation British Bengali identity have been by turns poignant, hilarious, tragic and compelling - effortlessly the stuff of drama. I'm seriously excited about the show.

I've also updated my main website to include some more general information about my residency at Mulberry. On that same page there are also links to some scripts by my Year 10 (that's Fourth Year for everyone over 25) students, all of whom completed my playwrighting course with flying colours. We had a reading in school with professional actors hired for the occasion, which went brilliantly. I've just started a similar course for staff in the school, the first time I've ever done a course like that, and we'll probably have a public showcase of their work towards the end of the summer term.

What else?

Oh yes, I'm this close to getting my first radio commission. I'm being supported by a lovely producer at BBC Manchester, but even so the process is rather involved. I won't say any more cos I don't like to jinx these things, but I should hear in a week or so.

Also had my first meeting this week with Matt Peover, Mark Bell and Chris Moran of Liquid Theatre about our modern Jacobean project. It's a real luxury to have the time and cash for some considered creative thought on a play of this size - it speeds the whole process up no end to have four minds working on it. All those conversations you would normally have in your own head about abstract concepts and themes and thrashing out possible storylines are suddenly brought out into the open and held up for such a thorough four-way scrutiny that it's immediately obvious if you're barking up the wrong tree or not. When you're used to working on your own it almost feels like cheating. So I'm having quite a collaborative year what with that and Mehndi Night, and I have to say I'm really loving it.

No news yet on How To Disappear having a London outing, but you'll be the first to know.

I've also been getting some responses to my letter writing campaign about the Olympic arts cuts, but I'll save that for another post soon...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Please sign this petition on the Downing Street website against the Olympic arts vandalism.

Still flat out on first draft. Back next week. Hopefully.