Saturday, March 31, 2007

Four stars in The Guardian today, in an intelligent and insightful review from Lyn Gardner.

Still waiting on others.

Friday, March 30, 2007

So I've caught up on my sleep but most of the critics evidently haven't, as the national reviews are taking a painfully long time to arrive.

We've had a great notice on The Stage website today, which I guess will be in the paper edition next week. And the local press in Sheffield have been raving too, according to my director Ellie, but despite scouring The Sheffield Star website I can't find the review she read to me over the phone ... I hope she wasn't making it up.

Thanks also to Natasha Tripney for pointing out this online review.

As for the rest, maybe they're holding fire till the weekend. Will let you know.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Nice piece in The Guardian today by Maddy Costa. What a nice woman.

Press night tonight. Oo-er.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Just got back from this weekend's previews of How To Disappear, and all I can say is Wow. It seems perverse to review your own show so I shall leave that to other people, but all I can say is that everyone's done such a brilliant job and I couldn't be happier. Sell-out audiences for the previews too!

We were Pick Of The Week in the northern version of the Guardian Guide again this Saturday. I'm getting a bit scared about all the attention now. It's a bit like when you're five years old and everyone sings you Happy Birthday and it makes you want to run away, or burst into tears, or wet yourself. Or all three.

So if you spot a strange man at the back of the stalls quietly rocking backwards and forwards in a little puddle, be nice to him.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Just got back from recording an interview with Mark Lawson of Radio 4's Front Row about How to Disappear Completely & Never Be Found, which opens in Sheffield this weekend. I was on with Lucy Caldwell whose play Leaves opened at the Court last night.

It was an odd experience (nothing to do with Lucy, who seemed very nice.) Mark Lawson was nice too, but he seemed rather preoccupied with the mechanics of changing your identity, which of course is one of the things my play deals with. I answered his questions but didn't feel that I'd done much justice to the underlying philosophy of the play, which the identity business is merely a tool to expose. Nor did I get much of a chance to rave about the truly fantastic production Sheffield are giving me. Maybe I should have been more assertive in directing the course of the conversation. Or maybe it's best not to over-explain the work, or gush. Or maybe Mr Lawson is planning to do some sort of runner and has a need to know these things. You heard it here first.

But perhaps most bizarrely of all, they got me to read out a speech from the play! So no taking the piss out of my shitty acting, they put me on the spot ok? It seemed like a good idea at the time...

Anyway, you can judge for yourselves tonight (yes, short notice I know, that surprised me too) at 7.15pm. If you miss it, or you live outside the UK, apparently you can listen again on the BBC's website. I'm not going to put in a link until I've heard it and feel satisified I don't sound like an arse.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

So I finally have five minutes to myself, and I choose to spend it with you. Aren’t you lucky? You’d better not squander it by making a fuckwitted remark in the comments box.

There were a couple of requests from two posts ago about certain things I have been up to which I have kept you waiting on for a while. They were: RADA workshops, Sheffield rehearsals, and the Edinburgh project. Here we go.

The RADA workshop was via a tutor there called Lloyd Trott, who I met when he taught me on the Goldsmiths Playwriting MA. It was my second workshop there, and this time it was on a play I have in development called South Of The River (the first was on How To Disappear, so he must be doing something right).

It’s a great exercise called Exploring Character, which Lloyd developed initially as an actor’s exercise but which works equally well as a dramaturgical ‘sounding’ of a play in development. It’s essentially quite simple, but the results can be fascinating. I don’t want to give too much away in case it’s copyrighted or something, and I haven’t sought Lloyd’s permission to describe it, but in essence, it’s based on half the group reading the play and being ascribed a character, and half remaining in the dark (they make up the audience for the session). The actors are then asked to write monologues for various specific time periods before, during and after the play takes place. Some carefully chosen scenes from the play are then read (the RADA students are brilliant at this, as you might expect – they even learn the lines and this time round one group had even built their own set!) and then some hot-seating takes place, again at carefully chosen points in time. It works because half the group don’t know anything and don’t get to see the whole play, so have to work things out through asking the characters questions. That in itself is like a bright white light shining if not on the script, then on the idea, and the psychological reality of the characters involved. It can reveal holes, but more often than not these are filled in by the instinct and creativity of the actors, which throws up all sorts of great new details. Most satisfying of course, is when it reinforces the whole idea by confirming that it is essentially watertight, and of interest to actors and audience. The exercise is run three times over one morning with three different groups, so you get to see not only three sets of audience reactions, but also three different actor’s interpretations of the same characters. In South Of The River, what starts out as a domestic black comedy about the Time Out-generation of Londoners steadily becomes darker and nastier and sicker until it isn’t funny at all and the stage is covered in blood. The atmosphere in the rehearsal room also followed this pattern as the events were uncovered, and the result was a bit shocking, but very exciting to have the potential of the idea confirmed. So if any literary managers are reading, I’m looking for a home for that one.

Sheffield rehearsals are going well too. The cast are lovely and seem to be having a ball – they get on so well, and a couple of them are such natural comics that often rehearsals are reduced to gales of brilliant helpless laughter. Which is quite odd for such a bleak play, but I think ultimately will give it that lightness of touch which it probably needs. The director, Ellie Jones, is a revelation. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with anyone so thorough and methodical, whilst maintaining a calm, unhurried air of confidence. She’s done wonders for the script, which we did have a little wobble with last week, which is why I had to go up at short notice. Whilst Act One of the play has always been pretty tight, and one of the pieces of writing I’ve been most satisfied with out of anything I’ve done, in Act Two the tone and pace change significantly. This is to do with the pressure cooker build-up of Act One providing the impetus for Charlie to make the final desperate decision to change his identity. By the start of Act Two, he has become Adam, but the terrible price he pays is lifelong loneliness – which is true to life but quite hard to dramatise. I think I always knew deep down that the middle section of Act Two wasn’t quite right, but I was hoping no-one would ask too many questions. But actually, I’m much happier that Ellie and the cast did, because if they hadn’t then the next people to spot it would have been the critics. The essential problem was that after the driving Mamet-ian inevitability of Act One, by comparison there was no particular reason for the chronology of the scenes in Act Two to take place in the order they did. The character was simple drifting. And while this may be what starting a new life is like, it’s rather unsatisying to watch on a stage. So I had to go back and give him a greater motivation to pursue a particular line. Luckily there were a number of unused scenes lying around from some development time spent on the play with Mehmet Ergan and Lloyd Trott at the NT studio, so I resurrected and adapted a couple of those and it finally feels, after three years, like the play is fully formed. That final push was a truly collaborative effort and I’m really grateful to everyone involved. I marked the moment with a milky cup of Builder’s Best and a Rich Tea biscuit in the Sheffield Theatre green room.

Meantime, the Mulberry school Edinburgh Festival project is shaping up well. We’ve been working collaboratively, so it’s taken a while to settle on an arena for the action. The main thing we had to deal with was the fact that Mulberry being a girls school we haven’t got any male actors, so the story idea would have to account for the absence of all male characters. I wrote some rough possible scenarios for the group, everything from the men having all been arrested in an anti-terror raid, through to them having gone off on Hajj, none of which particularly excited them. Interestingly, they seem to have no interest whatsoever in discussing terrorism or Islamic extremism, which in my cynical media-savvy mind I had already ear-marked as a sure fire USP to get press and audiences interested. But despite running some articles by the group, about the demonisation of Muslims in the media, and asking them if they wanted to answer back, they really didn’t seem bothered at all. The girls seem to feel that that whole debate is something that isn’t relevant to them, and doesn’t involve them. It’s a conversation a whole load of boring older men from the fringes of their community are having with a load of boring old politicians and journalists. To them, it feels like another world. And in a collaborative project like this where they’re putting forward ideas, I have to be true to that spirit and respect that. And also, as my brilliant girlfriend pointed out, no matter how honourable the intention of the terrorism idea, the bottom line is that we’d still be conflating the idea of Islam and the idea of Terrorism in the mainstream consciousness, and do we really want to perpetuate that association?

So we knocked some other ideas around, and it occurred to me that actually, doing a project like this with a group of young Muslims from east London, choosing not to tackle the subject of terrorism at all is in itself a subversive political statement. Far better, far more interesting, would be a play looking at their ordinary lives as young women – something emphasising their essential humanity and foregrounding the similarities we have across cultural and political divides.

And of course, they are just ordinary teenage girls. When you ask them what genre they’re interested in working in they tell you Comedy or Horror. So we may yet end up with a Bengali version of Scary Movie 4.

In fact, the idea we’re working with right now is a Bengali Mehndi Night, the equivalent of a hen party. It’s an all-female space, there’s singing and food and dancing and henna hand-painting and blessings bestowed on the bride. It’s the one idea where they all got excited and bubbled over with anecdotes and suggestions, and it feels really right as an arena in which a story can unfold (we’re working on that next session). It also has great potential for transforming the performance space into an actual Bengali celebration, and to treat the audience as guests, so it’s like an installation piece before the play even starts, with everyone getting flower garlands and samosas on the way in. It finally feels like we’ve settled on something which has come from them, but which under dramaturgical guidance will work brilliantly as a setting for an original drama.

Right then. Now I’m behind. Piss off and stop bothering me.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I have thought of a new phrase to describe a phenomenon within the new writing business which bedevils many a budding playwright.

When a professional theatre company, director or literary manager expresses an interest in a play you have written, and encourages you to write draft after draft without actually paying you any money, or fully committing to a production, or indeed anything at all, this shall henceforth be known as 'being a script-tease.'

There's a free pair of tickets to How To Disappear for the first reader to use this phrase in a meeting with a literary manager. (The independent verification of which shall be, of course, that they never work with you again.)

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ooh I’ve been referenced in an article on theatre bloggers in this month’s Writernet magazine. Welcome, if that’s how you found me.

I’ve had a bit of an absence lately due to workload, but I’ve found that a bit of a vicious circle has begun. The longer I leave it to post a blog entry, the more stuff builds up that I feel duty bound to tell you about, and hence the more daunting the task becomes of doing a huge post with all my news. And so I put it off. And then more stuff happens. And then the bigger the job becomes, and frankly the logical outcome is that I never blog again. But a little plug from Writernet has been just the tonic, because the last thing I’d want is lots of excitable new readers coming along to see what I’m about only to find the blog equivalent of a playwright in a Persistent Vegetative State.

So here I am again, wide awake. It’s a miracle.

Having said that, I am still quite busy and not really in a position to give an exhaustive account of everything I’ve been up to because that would quite easily wipe out my weekend. So what I thought I’d do is put this interactive internet thing to good use and give you all a summary of what I’ve been up to, and then you – yes, YOU – can choose what you’d like to hear more about by leaving a request in the Comments box. Of course none of it might interest you at all in which case we’ve saved ourselves a job and we can all go home.

Right then, let’s see.

I saw An Oak Tree at Soho Theatre. I saw Stars In The Morning Sky at the Union Theatre. I went on Resonance FM and reviewed both of these. I taught a playwrighting class for Dan Rebellato’s 3rd year Drama students at Royal Holloway. I finally got to see Coram Boy at the NT courtesy of a Mulberry School trip. I had a meeting with the new head of the Red Room, Topher Campbell, and heard all about his vision for the company. I completed a series of two-minute monologues for teenagers for Half Moon Young People’s Theatre, which they had commissioned from me as stimulus pieces for their forthcoming Careers In Theatre day. I read a play by Geraldine Aron called the Donahue Sisters, which one of my A-level classes are rehearsing. I had a workshop on a new play of mine called South Of The River with 2nd year RADA students, courtesy of the inspirational Lloyd Trott. I went to Sheffield Crucible for one day of rehearsals of my new play How To Disappear Completely & Never Be Found. I had an occupational health appointment at Tower Hamlets Borough Council. I experimented with the idea of a pre-nuptial Bengali Mehndi Party as a possible location for my new play for Mulberry School, which I am writing for the students to perform at the Edinburgh Festival this summer. I signed a contract with Venue 45 in Edinburgh as the theatre where we will perform it.

There. Take your pick.