Monday, July 30, 2007

Although I'm back I still have no time to blog! Keen to tell you all about the BBC scheme - though I shall have to choose my words carefully. Plus Mehndi Night had its first in-school preview last Friday, and I almost exploded with pride in those kids. We've also been longlisted for an award. But alas all this will have to wait.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the Society section of Wednesday's Guardian ...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I'm away on a BBC training scheme until 28 July so I'm just going to use this space to shamelessly plug my forthcoming shows.

You can catch my play MEHNDI NIGHT at the Edinburgh Fringe from 2-11 August. You can book online here.

My new play for Half Moon Theatre WE ARE SHADOWS is also currently booking for its autumn tour. More details here.

Bless you all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Very, very busy (again). Sorry.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

HOORAY!!! I have finally seen a show I enjoyed and can recommend: Baghdad Wedding at Soho Theatre.

It's a beautiful piece of writing, with a fine cast and imaginative staging. Excitingly, it also has an inherent sense of theatrical possibility, with the dead talking to the living, and scenes freezing while outsiders interject, that sort of thing. But most importantly for me it has at its heart a glimpse into a world of licentious, promiscuous, middle-class Iraq, which you just don't hear about very often. Of all the shows I've seen lately this is what made it stand out; it opened a door onto an unfamiliar world, and in so doing told me something I didn't already know. It isn't perfect - the portrayal of the American characters is (perhaps understandably) rather one-dimensional in its fury, and at 1 hour 50 minutes straight through it could do with a trim. But even so it's certainly the best thing I've seen in a long time.

All of which set me wondering about whether I've been looking in the wrong places for the originality of material I so crave in drama. My girlfriend reminded me that the shows we have enjoyed most at the Royal Court, for example, have almost always been the ones developed by their International Department; readings from Cuba and India, or the Russian seasons with plays by Vassily Sigarev and the Presnyakov brothers which were on a few years back. Our favourite show from last year was The Overwhelming, about Rwanda, whilst other favourites like Royal Hunt Of The Sun, or The Pillowman, or going even further back in time Fallout, The Battle of Green Lanes, or Jitney - all located their worlds in either specific cultural groups alien to our own, or fantastical imagined landscapes, or time periods long ago. Whilst in my own work I'm finding it particularly exciting and satisfying getting to grips with the worlds of the Bengalis and the Jacobeans.

Perhaps I know my own culture too well. Perhaps having watched and studied, from A-levels onwards, so many plays chronicling the state of modern Britain, that this is an exhausted furrow which writers need to leave fallow for a while before returning to.

Or perhaps my insistence that theatre should take me to places never before seen is just asking too much. Maybe I should just shut up, pay my twenty quid, and try and take some comfort and enjoyment in hearing the same familiar stories one more time. (It worked for Shakespeare after all.)

But then a show like Baghdad Wedding comes along and ballses that idea up... Once that itch gets scratched it just seems to get stronger.

What a horrible dirty addiction theatre is.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Had a terrific meeting at LAMDA this morning with Matt Peover and Mark Bell of Liquid Theatre, one of our fortnightly sessions to thrash out ideas for our modern Jacobean play. Interestingly enough, given the recent debates on this blog, we were looking at Character.

I love working with Matt and Mark because, like me, they work from the ‘outside in’ (see previous post for more on this). Again, I’m not for a moment suggesting this is the only way, or inherently better, but it’s the way I work and it’s been causing me problems of late as it doesn’t seem to be an approach that makes commissioners feel very safe.

I think this was our fourth Liquid meeting, yet this was the first time we had considered Character. The previous three times we’d spent in wide-ranging discussions comparing the Jacobean world with our own, and trying to find where the core Jacobean themes of Power, Love and Revenge might be located. On the way we’d taken in the Russian mafia, Baudrillardian hyperreality, global warming, cannibalism, Heat magazine, the Third Reich, atheism, Rupert Murdoch, the Mills-McCartney divorce, and the Olympics. We looked at how human structures create the conditions to destroy themselves. We read scientific reports about depression in chimpanzees. We talked about how gambling undermines economics and even the very concept of money itself. We considered making our audience eat until they were sick before the start of the play. We drank a lot of coffee.

Only then did we turn our attention to Character. (These are my kind of theatre-makers).

I’m a particular fan of John Webster and I was delighted to find the following quote about him in an essay by Simon Trussler, which we examined in today’s session:

“In the Poetics, Aristotle, arguing for the pre-eminence in a play of action over character, declared that a man’s happiness or otherwise is decided by the choices he makes – especially ‘when those are not obvious’. And this comes close both to Webster’s Jacobean view of ‘character’ and to what we would today call ‘existential’ choice, by asserting that our individuality is shaped not (as in ‘realist’ drama) through the deterministic effects of heredity and environment but, as with the character here [in The White Devil] through the sum of our own actions and the choices determining them: truly, existence preceding essence. While reasons or ‘motives’ can be found for Flamineo’s actions, it is probably more helpful to understand him through his behaviour and his attempts at a kind of self-definition: he becomes what he does.” [Italics in original]

As you can imagine, this was very exciting to me. It’s the total antithesis of the character-led psychological-realist approach that so exasperates me. It led on to a fascinating discussion in which Matt pointed out that the Jacobeans were writing long before the advent of modern psychology. They thought purely in terms of storytelling and action. This is what makes their plays so compelling – almost every character possesses a driving, obsessive, primal urge of one kind or another, which not only transcends rationality, but during the course of the play comes to commandeer the character until they are indistinguishable from the action itself. Everything else about them, in particular their brutal, visceral language becomes defined and subsumed by it. There’s something almost magical realist about engendering something so abstract on stage in this way.

This begs the question, can action be divorced from character? In life, perhaps not (though the existentialists might have something to say about that). But in deconstructing life and reassembling it, otherwise known as playwrighting, there is no reason why life can't be reduced to its constituent parts in this way, and abstract action alone become not just the starting point but the defining characteristic of a human being.

I find it fascinating that in a world without modern psychoanalysis, this could well have been how almost every play was written. And not only that, but without any public subsidy such plays were financed entirely by popular demand. Directors, producers and audiences were entirely comfortable conceiving of the world around them in this way.

You’ll find me on eBay looking up Time Machines.