Monday, 29 October 2007

Lolcat and Welsh

Piers has found a Lolcat version of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland here, which is very funny.

In the same spirit, I've been trying to upload a Welsh version of Putting on the Ritz. But I'm having terrible trouble getting it to work.

Here's a link to the video on facebook - but maybe you have to be a member to see it. If you can see it, there's a 30 second intro - after that, you get the song. Super duper! If not - well, you'll just have to imagine it.

I've just come back from a weekend with some Welsh-speaking friends and members of my extended family. Sometimes when I see them, I try and pick up a few words of Welsh. So now I know that drwgg is naughty, ceffyl is horse, draenog is hedgehog. I have no facility for learning languages and I have to ask them, over and over, tell me again what hedgehog is? It seems really important at the time but I must admit I'm having a hard time envisaging a situation in which I might have to say these three words in Welsh because English simply won't do. Still, if it ever happens, at least I'll be prepared.

One Welsh phrase that has served me well over the years is chwarae troen chwaraeon*. My daughter's father taught it to me when we first met, 25 years ago. We didn't have 'our song', we had 'our time', which was 11.11 in the morning, and we had that catchphrase. I always believed it meant 'play turns to spite' and I have trotted it out many times over the years whenever our rowdiest nights started to get out of hand - and also to impress Welsh people with my learning. But I just looked it up online to try and check the spelling and I think it actually might mean 'play turns to sport', which of course has a rather different meaning.

Twenty-five years of friendship based on a misunderstanding. Dear oh dear. But in a way (he's the gay one) I suppose it does kind of sum it all up.

*The phrase I'm thinking of is chware'n troi'n chwerw (see comments).

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Elvis Test

Right. It's a month til my birthday, so I always get in a panic and try and finish writing something, so I'll be able to look back on the year and think 'well, at least I did this...'

So far, I've got:

i) Half a novel, which is going to be good. Even the title is good. This is the one that I mentioned before, that I think will make a good film. I'm going to carry on with it after my birthday. I'm going to enjoy doing it, so it's a kind of birthday present to myself.

ii) A stage play, which is only one third finished and is aggravating the hell out of me. It's going to be good, if I can get past this bit. I hate the 'making it up' stage. I like the editing/re-write stage where you agonise over one word or one line, putting it in and taking it back out again.

iii) A TV pilot that I've been working on this week. I've got this one really good joke in it about Nietsche. It's so good, in fact, that I'm worried it might have been done before. But the thing seems authored - you can tell I've written it. That's OK in a novel or a play but it's no good on screen, cause you shouldn't notice the writer - the characters should seem to be making it up on the spot. Also, it doesn't pass the Elvis test - A little less conversation, a little more action, please. I love it, though. Christ. Maybe I should see if it would work on stage?

A month to go. I'm going to press on with the stage play. A couple more weeks and it should get to that stage you see with potters at the wheel where suddenly the clay takes shape. It's the same with writing - you keep pressing hard on it, peddling away, whoosh! Suddenly you can see it. You can feel it.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Interactive Theatre

I've been going along to the Masque of the Red Death workshops at the BAC on Saturday afternoons, which are fantastic. They tend to be attended by a mixture of theatre/dance students and others like me who are simply curious about Punchdrunk. The workshops are well-structured, informative, interesting. They're led by different members of the Punchdrunk team who maintain a cheerful professionalism and high levels of enthusiasm throughout the afternoon - and then go off and do a show.

Last Saturday four people came along just as we had started the bit where you go round and say who you are and what you want to get out of the session. I think it was at that point - as they settled themselves in - that talk turned to the absurd prices that Masque of the Red Death tickets are going for on ebay. These four people were delighted, they said, to have secured the last four tickets for the afternoon's session and a chance to experience community theatre. They told us who they were and what they did for a living, and we continued with the workshop, which was very interesting.

It was only later that the latecomers admitted that they thought they'd got tickets for the show itself - not the workshop. I know the Masque of the Red Death is billed as an interactive experience but they must have wondered what they had let themselves in for as they took their place in a starkly lit room, on a row of chairs, and were asked to give an account of themselves before we began.

I've been trying to work out whether theatre as a whole might benefit from an interrogation of the audience before the curtain goes up. Obviously, with larger audiences, given the time constraints, you'd have to have a show of hands - Who's here to enjoy themselves? Who's here to take part in a coughing competition? and so on. Very useful, because if most of the audience are there just to cough, the actors can tailor their performances accordingly and the rest of us can go home.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Finborough Forum

Last night I went along to a Finborough Forum. These are theatre discussions, produced by Andrew Haydon, held monthly at the Finborough Theatre. A panel of theatre people (last night Chris Campbell of the National Theatre, critic Ian Shuttleworth of the FT and playwright James Graham, author of Little Madam) discuss a given subject and engage with the audience, whose input and involvement is actively sought by writer and actor Jack Klaff, who chairs these events.

It was an interesting evening, informal and friendly, with a gratifying smattering of well-judged theatrical anecdotes from the panel and some eccentric contributions from the floor - all rounded off with a few drinks afterwards. If that's the sort of thing that appeals to you (as it does to me), I'd thoroughly recommend attending a future event.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Fantasy Theatre Repertory Company

I have noticed there are a few variations on Fantasy Football League in the newspapers and elsewhere, where you set yourself up as a manager, choose players and put together your own team - you can even do a Fantasy Shares variation on this somewhere - is it the FT? Never mind. It doesn't matter.

I can see the beauty of football - at its best it's like a kind of devised ballet, as well as being satisfying combative, without anyone actually getting hurt. But I do worry about the men who wear replica football shirts emblazoned with the name and number of a Premiership player or a member of the England squad, as if this is the standard they measure themselves against. I'll see a forty-something 'Rooney' or an 'Owen' or a 'Beckham' on the tube with his son, the overpriced shirt seemingly an admission that this is the closest he'll ever get to the glory he once dreamed of when he was the boy's age "sorry, son, I didn't make the grade" - it breaks my heart every time.

There is a statistic bandied about that more people go and see live theatre every year in Britain than go to watch a live football match, so it's surprising no-one has come up with a Fantasy Theatre Production variation on the Fantasy League team for a newspaper.

I don't quite know how it would work as there is not the competitive element in theatre that there is in football but presumably you could choose the performers of your choice and somehow go head to head with others playing the game. Would you have to choose which production you were going to put on? A Cherry Orchard would make different demands on the performers than Hairspray the Musical. Perhaps it makes more sense to be in charge of a Fantasy Repertory Company. Much better! But how would points be awarded? Never mind, let's leave that for now.

The temptation would no doubt be to cram the fantasy company full of theatrical dames - Diana Rigg, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith etc - but presumably, as with strikers, you shouldn't have too many of them or you leave them without enough to do and they get restive.

No doubt there would be financial constraints. Would you scrimp on the sets and costumes if you thought you could get John Hurt and Richard Griffiths as well all the dames on your list and Penelope Wilton and Frances de la Tour? Would they do it if they thought it might look shoddy? I'd want Clive Rowe and Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings. And Simon Callow. And Rafe Spall. I really like Sally Hawkins. What about Shirley Bassey or do you have to stick to proper actors? Could you bring Clarke Peters over from America? Are you allowed French people? Would Michael Caine do it? Michael Caine and Ian McKellen in something - I'd write it...Or would Andrew Davies take a pay cut and write something for us just for the fun of it? A panto?

Marvellous! The first production would be a panto featuring the whole company and would take place on the streets of London. A sort of promenade production on the scale of the Artichoke productions (wasn't that elephant one of the best things you've ever seen?) the climax featuring Maggie Smith duetting with Clive Rowe on the top of the 159 bus going down Oxford Street, passing Michael Caine and Ian McKellen sharing a moment on the 137 bus going the other way, as Shirley Bassey dangles precariously from a helicopter above them while belting out a show tune, her face filmed and projected on to every London landmark simultaneously.

No, it's too complicated and doesn't even sound very good. I resign. I hate playing games anyway. I'm going to stick to writing.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Present Laughter & Nancy dell'Olio

I went to see Present Laughter at the National the other day. Alex Jennings and the rest of the cast were fantastic. I loved the set by Tim Hatley. After the show was finished, I'd really have liked to get up on stage and poke around it - which, of course, is what is so lovely about the Masque of the Red Death at the BAC. There the set has been specially-created for you to walk around it, picking things up and disturbing them as you see fit. You can even smell the props if you want to.

I heard that tickets for the Masque of the Red Death are going for 200 pounds on ebay. The show is very enjoyable but honestly, nothing's that good! If you want to see it, go to the box office at 6 o'clock and ask for returns. I gather you are likely to be able to get in. If it's a bit of a trek and you don't want to risk hanging around Clapham with nothing better to do, why not call the BAC box office on 020 7223 2223 and ask for their advice - they should be able to tell you whether you're more likely to get a ticket on a certain night.

As to Present Laughter - see reviews here and here. It's a Noel Coward play, so there are lots of funny lines in it. My friend Richard's favourite was 'surely you haven't reached the age of 43 without knowing how to give a few words of encouragement to a troop of boy scouts.' (I'm quoting from memory and may be paraphrasing, sorry). Richard murmured it more than once when we went for drinks with our companions afterwards, so in case he felt the words held any particular significance for me, I had to remind him that I enjoy the services of the same age-defying beauty parlour as Nancy dell'Olio and I shan't be celebrating my38th birthday for a good few years to come, never mind my 43rd.

How life turns out

Following on from the Battersea Park haiku in my previous post, I ought to mention that it wasn't Jessie's poo that the child stepped in. Of course not. I am a diligent collector of dog shit on our outings to London's parks.

Isn't it funny how life turns out? When I was still young and full of hope, I'd never have thought, when asked to describe myself in a few words, that I'd one day volunteer that I was 'a diligent collector of dog shit'. But so it is.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Battersea Park Haiku

The kids are away next week so I'm going to work flat out on the play I'm writing and hope to get the bastard thing finished soon. It's going to be really good if I can just get through it. After that, I can go back to the novel. Or alternatively I could sit around and write haiku:

Battersea Park; a
small child plays in scattered leaves –
dog shit on shoe. Shame.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Screen Nation Awards

Sharon D. Clarke has won the Screen Nation Award for Best Female TV Performance for her part in Holby City. Other winners are listed here. Yay! I know Sharon and she's a charming and very modest person as well as a very good actress - she's really delighted with the award. And boy, can she sing! Here she is on a hit record she had a few years ago called I Wanna Give You Devotion with a group called Nomad:

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Situations Vacant/Work Wanted Haiku

Situations Vacant:

writer seeks amanuensis
to work without pay

generous author
seeks imaginative aide
to help and inspire

unicorn seeks
understanding hat-maker
to help with disguise

Work Wanted:

milliner, very
discreet, desperate for work,
will try anything

aide seeks sanctuary
from miserly employer
will make tea and jokes

evil genius
seeks change of environment
anything considered

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Writing and Drinking, Orson Welles, The Wire, Hairspray the Musical

I find writing a bit like drinking - or rather, a good day's writing is like those enjoyable times spent drinking with friends. If all goes well, the evening's entertainment begins to take flight as you exchange stories and confidences and make jokes, trying to top each witty line with a better one of your own. Emotional connections are found, friendships renewed, a theme emerges: 'this was the night when we did this or said this' and the whole thing builds to a kind of never-to-be-forgotten alcohol-sodden crescendo. Then you wake up the next morning and feel like shit.

I had a very good day's writing yesterday, working on something for TV which I had put aside, thinking it was rubbish. When I looked at it again, I realised it was quite good. I worked all day on it and was delighted to come up with a wonderful joke for page 29. It is not, perhaps, the ideal place to place your best joke in a 30 minute script. Page one might be better. But still - every scene I wrote fitted into the narrative and shored up the logic of it. Every line was right. Everything connected. And of course I read it through this morning to start work on it again, and it looked like a pile of shit. Never mind. It always goes like that. As with the drinking, you just have to keep going with it and hope for the best - functioning as a sort of depressive optimist, if such a thing exists.

Fortunately, when all else fails, you can turn to professional entertainers to cheer you up. I've started reading the first part of Simon Callow's excellent biography of Orson Welles, The Road to Xanadu. It's brilliantly, entertainingly written and I'm reading it knowing there are two more installments yet to come. It's the same lovely anticipatory feeling as watching Episode Three of the first series of The Wire (yes, I'm only on Episode Three and it's as brilliant as everyone says!) knowing they're already broadcasting series four and I have all that to come.

And last night I saw Hairspray, the Musical. If you like musicals, you should go. The sets, the wigs, the costumes, the songs, the cast - they're all fantastic, and there are some funny lines in it. Penny Pingleton's transformation was the most thrilling I've seen since Olivia Newton John's in Grease and Tracey (Leanne Jones) and Edna (Michael Ball) are every bit as good as the advance publicity suggests.

The place was packed and they got a standing ovation. God knows why it took so long for the production to come to London - it opened on Broadway in 2002. I might as well be back at school in Dorchester, enthusiastically embracing punk rock a full four years after the Sex Pistols first hit the stage. We improvised hair dye with small bottles of food colouring but it didn't really show up in my hair, which was red and curly and cut very short at the time. Imagine John McInroe in a bin liner and a scowl - it was a very unhappy period of my life.

Anyway, you'll get a proper review of Hairspray here. They haven't posted the review quite yet but I saw them swept up in the spontaneous eruption of joy as the audience members in the front row of the Royal Circle leapt to their feet at the end of the show, so I expect it will be positive.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Dog Shit Epic

I've decided to write an epic poem, based on my own life. The problem with that is that I rarely leave the house and certainly never do anything heroic along the lines of fighting dragons. Sure, someone just turned me into a Werewolf on Facebook. I don't think that counts, do you?

So, what to write about? Well, there is one inexhaustible subject that is a constant source of inspiration to me when writing poetry. Regular readers of this blog will know what that is. Yes, Wordsworth may have had his daffodils but, as discussed elsewhere on this blog, I have never been to the Lake District. You know what they say - you have to write about what you know:

Dog Shit Epic - Part One
A treasure hunt in the garden
Yielded the usual prize;
Three of Jessie’s confections,
Roughly consistent in size.
They were soft to the touch when collected,
Though the coldness was quite a surprise;
I’d have thought that the late autumn sunshine
Might have warmed up those three little piles.
Though not a topic that’s epic in subject, at least
(as you will have surmised)
The activity keeps you quite agile and
trains you to open your eyes.

Alright, I know what you're going to say. It's neither epic nor, indeed, much of a poem. Poetry-writing is intrinsically funny to me but maybe it is not to you. Maybe this doggerel (ha! there's a joke in there...) offends you in some way. I'm sorry. I've only done it as a distraction from writing this play which is proving to be extremely aggravating. I MUST finish it. Once I've finished it, I won't have to do it any more, will I? That's the way to look at it.

If only dogs could be trained to eat dictionaries instead of Pedigree Chum, and shit out plays. Never mind. Onwards...

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

How to get your play on at The National

John Morrison has some advice here about how to get your play on at The National.

The trouble with this, as with all such advice, is that first you have to finish writing the damn thing. (As my agent put it so succinctly 'write a full-length play - a good one'). Believe me, I'm trying.

I wish that, instead of actually having to write a play, I could simply get a job as a playwright, which would be much more convivial. I'm talking about drawing a monthly salary in return for doing the things you would expect a playwright to do. No doubt the job description would go into a bit more detail but I expect it would involve sitting at home writing a play (but not necessarily ever finishing it), and might also include drinking and brawling (although that's a bit 20th century, frankly) or giving workshops. I hope it might also involve knitting and eating biscuits.

My ideal job advertisement would read as follows:
London-based single mother needed for well-remunerated job as writer of novels, poetry and plays. Some international travel involved. Must enjoy knitting, Midsomer Murders and occasional theatre trips. Short-listed candidates will be invited to an interview at which they will be required to demonstrate a taste for vodka and light swearing. Please apply in the first instance enclosing a short poem, a half-finished hand-knitted child's cardigan and a selection of photos of yourself in which your head appears much larger than other people's, as if you are genetically part-lion. Priority will be given to applicants with the name 'Helen Smith'.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Writer's Personal Ad Haiku

fun-loving writer
seeks intolerant man to
drag her out of the pub

lady novelist
seeks tee-total husband with
strong work ethic

writer seeks cruel husband
with attic, no broadband

Thursday, 4 October 2007

National Poetry Day

It's National Poetry Day today and so I have been trying to write a poem.

With poetry, as with most things, you have to remember that it's the thought that counts.

For Shan: Ffarwel Justin
So many people cried. I wish there had been
some magical material, strong but very fine, spun
from gold or some other kind of precious metal, that
I could have held up to their eyes, to collect the
tears and thread them all together in a line, like
diamonds or crystals, but more real and alive.
It happens in nature, after the rain falls and
raindrops collect on the washing line.
When the sunshine comes, if I have washing to dry,
I'll walk into the garden and shake the washing line,
and watch the raindrops fly. But I'd have tried
to keep the tears this time; those little drops
of sadness, preserved in brine. You could wrap them
round your wrist, and wear them like
those rubber bands that advertise a cause that
people support or admire. Or else you could
put them on a long loop around your neck, so they'd lie
close to your heart and brush against your skin every time
you move, a waterfall of tiny reminders;
millions of memories represented by a
necklace of teardrops. Because we were all
thinking about Justin, and the good times, and the way
he was, and the way you were together, as we cried.