Thursday, December 18, 2008

I’m back! Alright, alright calm down, don’t all shout at once. Let me get my coat off. One of you put the kettle on would you, I’m parched. Mine’s an Earl Grey, milk no sugar.

Ooh, it’s cold in here, did someone switch the heating off? And look at that dust! And is that … can I smell … mothballs?

Well, what a year it’s been. I don’t think I’ve ever worked so hard in my life. Where to start?

I suppose it all kicked off in October last year, with a 9-week turnaround to write a contemporary Jacobean revenge tragedy for Liquid Theatre. As regular readers will recall, that one had been in the pipeline for about 2 years, the result of a long ACE-funded research and development process. Well, now the four of us who worked on it have a stunning second draft of CHIMERAS, my first verse drama for adults, and an apocalyptic epic for our times. (Click HERE for a sneak preview.) We had a star-studded cast (including Ruth Wilson, Peter Polycarpou, Sylvestra le Touzel and Corin Redgrave among other luminaries – I think they sort of saw it as their charity work) anyway, they gave it a week’s workshop and invited reading at the Old Vic in April. Liquid Theatre are currently seeking co-producers for a 2010 tour (expressions of interest on a postcard please…)

Then I wrote my first radio play, CAESAR PRICE OUR LORD, for BBC Radio 4. That was great, I love radio, and will certainly be doing more of it. If you ever get the chance, go to a recording of one (best if it’s yours obviously); there’s a whole cavernous warehouse in the depths of the BBC Radio building in Manchester dedicated entirely to making and recording different types of noises. It’s brilliant what they can do. Mine contained the stage direction ‘The baby slithers out’. That stumped them for a while, but they ended up doing it with Fairy liquid on squidgy hands very close to the microphone. Amazing.

Then I wrote UNSTATED for the Red Room at Southwark Playhouse, a bit of an experimental multimedia devised piece about immigration and asylum. The research for that was pretty full-on. I visited a Nigerian refugee under lock and key at Harmondsworth detention centre, and heard how he had been beaten up by guards for leading a protest (in the UK I mean, we don’t think of this stuff as happening over here, but it does.) I wrote a Guardian theatre blog about it, and briefly became involved in the campaign to release him, but the Home Office nipped that in the bud by fast-tracking his deportation. He was in fear of his life in Lagos. I haven’t heard from him since.

During all this I was of course still doing almost three days a week at Mulberry School as their writer-in-residence, teaching playwriting to students and staff, and writing them another play for the Edinburgh Fringe, STOLEN SECRETS. The girls ended up getting a rave four-star review in The Scotsman, and as ever I got all proud and a bit paternal.

My 2006 play for teenagers, LOCKED IN, won the runners-up prize in this year’s Brian Way Award and was revived by Half Moon Theatre for another national tour (there’s a myspace page for the show here – I love the interactivity with the audience, maybe all shows should do this?).

HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND received its New Zealand, Australian and London premieres, the London run beautifully directed at Southwark Playhouse by the ever-wonderful Ellie Jones – with whom I also embarked on a new project for the 2010 Brighton Festival developing a play to take place in a spooky disused hospital… Watch this space.

HOW TO DISAPPEAR’S American premiere at Portland Center Stage in Oregon is now booking and I’ll be heading over there in January for the opening – my first trip ever to the US of A and just in time for that nice Mr. Obama’s historic inauguration.

As if that wasn’t enough, one of my earliest projects for Mulberry School, EAST END TALES, was published in a Methuen anthology of ensemble plays for teenagers this year. It’s a great collection, the first of its kind, and all the plays are really worth a look whether you work with teenagers or not (you can read more here).

On top of all that I’ve been doing regular talks, seminars and workshops for Goldsmiths College, Birmingham University, Central School, Birmingham Rep, Boston University … the list goes on.

Oh, and I moved house.

All of which I hope goes some way towards explaining my prolonged absence. I would apologise and say it won’t happen again, but I can’t promise it won’t, and besides, the theatrical blogosphere seems to have mushroomed recently, so there are plenty of other interesting folks to keep you stimulated, entertained and informed. I barely feel part of it any more.

Which leads me onto the two main questions I wanted to ask today: First, I am hopelessly out of touch with theatre blogs and bloggers, half the sites on my links list are inactive and I basically need a re-education about what’s out there. Can you help? Please send me your own suggestions for what you consider to be the best theatre blogs. I keep up with Guardian blogs of course, and the ever-wonderful West End Whingers are going from strength to strength. But apart from that I seriously need to get up to speed with the shifting terrain. Maybe you write a theatre blog of your own, if so send me the link, I’ll check it out and if I like it add you to my new and revised links list.

And my second question is very much linked to the first. Given the exciting explosion of online theatre chat, What Is This Blog For ???

Perhaps those of you that are better read than me can tell me: where are the gaps in the existing online theatre coverage? What is and isn’t being covered? Which perspectives are over- or under-represented? Where can I slot in to the teeming pool of cyber thesp thought?

Because it’s a bit shit really if this blog is just going to become an announcement board for my latest shows, which it has this year. That barely justifies its existence and doesn’t make it any different from the News section of my website.

Ideally I would like for it to be a forum for fairly in-depth articles about different aspects of the industry, but if my 2009 workload turns out to be anything like 2008’s then that won’t be remotely possible.

So I wanted to ask you, my dear readers (both of you), what would YOU like it to be?

Remember that I don’t do theatre reviews. Apart from the fact that I no longer live in London and don’t get to see nearly as much theatre as I used to, as a fellow theatre practitioner it’s nigh on impossible to criticise your peer’s work without pissing people off. And then there’s the awful, inescapable, invidious, emasculating assumption that any negative remarks are written with the subtext that you are saying ‘I don’t make these mistakes, my work is better than yours’.

So I don’t do reviews.

But what can I do? Is there even a place for theatre blogs written by actual theatre practitioners when we are so neutered in what we can say about each other and each other’s work? Perhaps we’d be better off maintaining a mysterious silence, communicating only through our cryptic scripts. Most theatre blogs nowadays seem to be by enthusiastic theatregoers, all critics of varying ranges of experience and professionalism, but who stay well away from artistic practice themselves. Is that just an inevitable side effect of the form of the blog? Is there any room or even any appetite for a blog by a playwright? Are you interested in hearing about the process from an inside perspective?

Because it does feel slightly narcissistic to bang on about my own work in post after post, but at least I know I’m not going to offend myself. But even semi-regular posts about plays I’m working on require a fair amount of commitment if they’re to be worth reading, which is hard when you’re busy creating the work itself. So it would be nice to know there is an appetite for it. Maybe there isn’t. Maybe the tumbleweed will waft through my comments box and that will be that. Or maybe one of you will come up with a suggestion that reinvigorates this whole tired enterprise.

The choice, as they say, is yours. I could even take requests. (Now there’s a thought.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I've done an audio interview with theatre critic Aleks Sierz for the website TheatreVoice.com. It's in two halves, the first on the development and journey of How To Disappear, the second on new writing in general and more on some of my work for teenagers for Half Moon Theatre and Mulberry School. You can listen to both halves here.

Friday, October 03, 2008

I thought leaving London would mean life calms down a bit - fat chance! Only just got time to direct you to Dominic Cavendish's preview feature on How To Disappear before dashing off again ... sorry.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Can't stop - frantically househunting - but wanted to let you know that two of my plays are being revived this autumn and currently booking. HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND will be on at Southwark Playhouse in October, directed by the ever-wonderful Ellie Jones who was in charge of its original sell-out run at Sheffield Crucible last year. You can read more and book tickets here.

On top of that Half Moon Young People's Theatre are reviving my first play for teenagers LOCKED IN, and taking it on another national tour. The original cast from its 2006 tour will be overseen by the brilliant Angela Michaels, another one who did a great job first time round. Read more or book tickets here.

I've never had a play revived before, so expect some thoughts at some point on what it's like second time round. That is, as soon as I've paused entire my life, put it into boxes, transported it 70 miles and unpacked it again.

I hate moving house.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

STOLEN SECRETS has got a 4 star rave review in today's Scotsman! Very chuffed. You can read it here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

STOLEN SECRETS, my latest play for Mulberry School opens at the Edinburgh Fringe this coming Monday 11th August, and runs until the 16th August. It's already been featured in Fringe previews by Lyn Gardner here, and View From The Stalls here.

Read more about the show here, or book tickets here.

Sorry, I know this blog has turned into not much more than a billboard for my latest productions, but that's the kind of year I'm having. Can't complain and all that, but I will try and get back to blogging more about, you know, stuff, just as soon as I get my life back.

In the meantime, I hope you're enjoying the shows.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

My play UNSTATED for The Red Room opens at Southwark Playhouse tonight! I've done a blog about it for Guardian blogs here, plus a couple of interviews here and here.

If you want to come and see it you'll have to be quick - it's only on in London for 10 days, then doing a few nights in Manchester and Liverpool.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I've done an interview about UNSTATED with the lovely Natasha Tripney of Interval Drinks fame, you can read it here.

Sorry, I know it's a bit crap just to direct you over there, but things are still pretty hectic.

Anyway I've neglected blogging for so long now my site stats tell me no-one's reading any more, so what does it matter. I may as well be wittering at a wall.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Nice little article about UNSTATED in today's Society Guardian here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Alright, alright, don't get excited I can't stop.

This is just to draw your attention to my forthcoming show UNSTATED for The Red Room, which will be opening at Southwark Playhouse next month, before touring to Manchester and Liverpool. You can read all about it HERE.

Sometime when I get my life back I promise to stop by for a proper chinwag.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This blog is currently dormant due to workload. But do check back now and then, I hope to revive it at some point later this year.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

As you might expect, I’ve been mulling over this whole Arts Council business recently. I thought it might be interesting to put it into some sort of historical context, so I re-read the sections about ACE in John Carey’s lively and provocative 2005 book What Good Are The Arts? What he has to say seems so relevant to recent events (in particular the publication of the McMaster Report with its re-focussing on ‘excellence’) that it bears reproducing in some detail here:

“In England, public policy has not favoured the view that the making of art should be spread through the community. When the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts, which later became the Arts Council, was set up in 1940, it had to choose between promoting art by the people or art for the people. Should central government funding of the arts encourage us in using our ‘marvellous, long-evolved, specialised hands’, or should it turn us into passive art worshippers? The Council chose the latter course. The mandarin aesthetes among its members, headed by Kenneth Clark, who saw the arts as essentially a professional activity, prevailed. W.E. Williams, the Secretary General of the Arts Council, in his 1956 Report, made it quite clear that the Council envisaged art as enshrined in showpieces of national pride, precisely of the kind Hitler had planned to build. ‘The Arts Council believes that the first claim upon its attention and assistance is that of maintaining in London and the larger cities effective power-houses of opera, music and drama; for unless these quality institutions can be maintained, the arts are bound to decline into mediocrity.’ The image of ‘power-houses’ is revealing. Art is to be beamed out to consumers like electricity. All they have to do is switch it on. It is not something that arises from them and the cultivation of their abilities.”

Later in the book Carey goes on to examine the transformative power of creative activity upon the individual in a lengthy case study of the work of the art-in-prisons charity The Koestler Foundation. He concludes:

“There is evidence that active participation in artwork can engender redemptive self-respect in those who feel excluded from society. This may be the result of gaining admittance to an activity that enjoys social and cultural prestige. But it seems also to reflect the fact that standards of achievement in art are internal and self-judged, and allow for a sense of personal fulfilment that may be difficult to gain in standard academic subjects. The difficulty prisoners meet with when they try to pursue their artistic interests after release is a consequence of our inadequate support for art in the community, which stems from a belief in ideals of ‘excellence’, as reflected in Arts Council policy. The contention that the money available for the arts should be reserved for ‘quality institutions’ such as the Royal Opera House, rather than being spread through the whole community, automatically relegates the public to the role of passive art-worshippers. It is not a decision that would be countenanced in any other area. The proposal, for example, that the money available for education should in future be spent only on the supremely gifted would immediately arouse opposition. The idea that the arts are things that happen in ‘quality institutions’ seems to be essentially competitive. It puts ‘achievement’ in the arts on a level with national sporting triumphs or scientific breakthroughs. This triumphalist view of art seems to be related to the notion that high quality artworks are ‘monuments’ to the human spirit … [and] should be left to geniuses, and that ordinary people should not be encouraged to play any part in them."

Now of course, in recent years the Arts Council has become known for its box-ticky ‘inclusion’ agenda – which I’ve argued in other posts and in other people’s comments boxes doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me as it does to many. But put into the context of ACE’s historical raison d’etre, it could be that this social agenda was an aberration. What we are seeing now could be a sudden reversion to type in ACE policy. The emphasis does certainly seem to be shifting away from artistic process and back towards artistic product, which is perhaps why companies such as the inspiring and much-loved community theatre company London Bubble are getting it in the neck (not that their shows aren’t brilliant, just that their community sensibility and aesthetic doesn’t fit the ‘product’ model when it comes to judging value).

My dictionary defines ‘to excel’ and ‘excellent’ as ‘to be superior to or better than; to surpass others’ and notes its Latin roots in ex (‘out of’ or ‘from’) and celsus (‘on high’). I don’t like the whiff of snobbery in the etymology of that word. And I certainly don’t like it in the art which I pay for or consume.

Let’s hope that the Arts Council has learned something about art’s role in the community in the past 60 years, and outgrown the unpleasant and elitist post-war culture which engendered it.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

If any Arts Council employees with a conscience are reading this, can I just draw your attention to the rather marvellous www.wikileaks.org

Have documents the world needs to see? They protect your identity.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Separated at birth?

This made me smile: This photo accompanied an interview in today's Guardian with new Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, with the tag line 'The Lib De m leader says he's no Cameron clone'.


The difference is most striking when you put them side by side isn't it?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Goodness me. What a firestorm to come back to. I leave the country for three weeks and the Arts Council goes mad and stabs everyone to death. I shall have to be more careful about leaving them unattended.

I've not got much to add to this debate which hasn’t been said elsewhere. I’ve done a bit of letter writing but won’t bore you with the text, you can imagine the sort of thing I said. I thought it might be more useful to publish the details of those in whose power it lies to fix this mess (with thanks to the brilliantly organised Bush Theatre for putting these together into a briefing pack):

In no particular order, they are:

Moira Sinclair
Acting Chief Executive
Arts Council England
2 Pear Tree Court
London
EC1R 0DS

Barbara Matthews
Director, Theatre Strategy
Arts Council England
14 Great Peter Street
London
SW1P 3NQ

Lady Sue Woodford Hollick
Chair of the London Regional Arts Council
c/o Arts Council England
2 Pear Tree Court
London
EC1R 0DS

The following Councillors and London General Assembly members also sit on the London Regional Arts Council and can be emailed as follows, if you’re writing in support of particular London theatre companies:

General Assembly:
Londonwide - Sally Hamwee - sally.hamwee@london.gov.uk
London Borough of Enfield and Haringey - joanne.mccartney@london.gov.uk

Local Authorities:
London Borough of Richmond on Thames - cllr.jcoombs@richmond.gov.uk
London Borough of Harrow - anjana.patel@harrow.gov.uk
London Borough of Hackney - guy.nicholson@hackney.gov.uk

You can of course also lobby your MP to raise your concerns with James Purnell at the brilliant www.writetothem.com

I’ve already had a message back from Sally Hamwee who seemed very open to hearing from both theatre professionals and ordinary Londoners in support of the companies under threat. This is by no means a fait accompli. Together I really think we can fight it.

Was anyone else at the meeting at the Young Vic this morning? What rousing stuff. Josie Rourke in particular I thought was inspirational. Peter Hewitt on the other hand came across as an irritable schoolmaster, berating his naughty assembly. Though I had to admire his balls for being there at all.