Monday, 31 March 2008

A Hundred Poems

I had this idea on Saturday that I would write a poem every day (starting that day) and take a photo - or make, I don't know, some kind of craft-related slightly twee collage, or possibly knit something relevant and photograph that. And then I would glue the poems and illustrations into a little book so I would have a colourful documentation of the minutiatae of my life. Yes. I am twelve years old.

If I kept it up for three months I'd have around a hundred poems. Now, obviously they wouldn't be very good poems. You're not supposed to dash these things off - accomplished poets can take up to a year just to write one poem (this is just one of the reasons why they're all so poor). But my book of poems would be good enough for me - a kind of daily greeting card from the past when I looked back on it in the future.

So I duly wrote a poem and took a picture of the bleeding heart plant that has started to sprout in my garden, and printed it out. It soaked the page with ink and looked very colourful indeed. Marvellous.

As Lao-tzu said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And so it must also hold true that the journey of a hundred poems begins with one poem. But yesterday I did some Spring Cleaning and got drunk and didn't write anything. And that was the end of that.

I am afraid that I hadn't considered that the other 99 poems would be of equal or greater value than the first one if I was to have any hope of completing the project rather than abandoning the poor old thing like a broken bicycle at the garden gate, at the first sign of Spring.

Incidentally, Danny Stack talks about a similar subject from a different point of view today (i.e. from the successful completion of a project point of view) comparing his training for running a marathon in 1999 to his preparations to become a professional writer. He's just done a 5k run in Bournemouth to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Joshua Allen Harris - Air Bear

Wow. Look at this. An inflatable creature tied to the grid above the subway in New York. And then when the train comes in...
First seen on Wooster Collective.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Unfinished Sympathy

I've just started working on another play. I've got five projects currently 'in development'. This, as you may be aware, is a fancy way of saying 'that I'm working on.'

If you have ever been paid money by another person to write something for them, you are pretty much duty bound to use the expression 'in development' in place of any other to describe the status of the work you have poured your heart and soul into. I expect this is simply to speed things up if there should ever be a revolution and all the useful members of society need to round up the useless ones, put them against a wall and shoot them, so everyone else can got on with building the future. You can pretty much guarantee, anyway, that whoever built the walls that you'd have to stand in front of on such occasions never went around boasting to their mates that they had a wall 'in development'.

But I digress. I really love the idea for this new play. Love it. Love it. Love it. Maybe it will be 'the one.' Who knows. It almost seems a shame to start work on it because to do so is to begin to see its flaws. An idea comes out of nowhere and seems so perfect. Once you've pinned it down and the project's completed, you're effectively saying 'this is the best I can do.' And it's never good enough. (Or at least, not for you - even if everyone else is very kind about it.)

It is tempting, once you have started work on something, to leave it unfinished and unspoiled. That way, you'll never be called to account about it - no-one can ever be rude about something you have written if it remains in your drawer.

Would I prefer to have five potentially wonderful projects 'in development' or complete them and see that some are good, some less so? Well, I'd rather complete them, of course. I think the main difference between a published writer and an unpublished one is that published writers finish things. Really. Anyone can have ideas. The secret is to keep going; get them down on paper.

Wouldn't it be great if you could move people with a piece of writing as quickly and profoundly as a singer can with a song? You can move them, of course. But it generally takes a whole book or a whole play to do it. You get it right in a song, you can do it with the opening bars.

Here's Massive Attack with Unfinished Sympathy. You know it's going to be sad as soon as she starts to sing. I had never seen the video before, although I've heard the song a hundred times.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

David Hare and Me

I have come across David Hare in person a couple of times and he is someone I admire very much. (We have not ‘met’ but I have twice seen him give a talk – once at the British Library about five years ago or more, when he talked about what it meant to be a writer and I came away feeling somehow better about everything, and once at the Cheltenham Screenwriter’s Festival last year when he knocked everyone's socks off with a brilliant talk about the film industry.)

He is a successful playwright and Hollywood screenwriter, of course. He is also an intelligent, elegant man – dashing, even – and he speaks fluently and wittily in public without notes. I have thought several times that I would like to swap places with him. I don’t mean that I would like to swap lifestyles. I mean that I would like to wake up one day and be David Hare, with no memory of myself.

This raises the problem of what to do with the current David Hare, if I am to live his life. Presumably he’d have to come and live here, in Brixton, and be me. It’s not a bad life. The kids are fun and Jessie doesn’t need much exercise now that she walks in zig zags. However, DH might not want to erase all memory of his past life – finding himself in my house one day, and looking in the mirror to see a slightly chubby woman’s face and a mess of auburn curly hair, he might prefer to know what has happened to him and why.

Would he moon about the place, sitting at the kitchen table and writing long letters to his family and friends: “something rather remarkable has happened ('disturbing', 'distressing'?)” Or would he just get on with writing plays and screenplays, perhaps embark on an exercise regime, tidy the cutlery drawer? (I can never fit everything in; too many forks.) He’d probably have more of an appetite for playing Scrabble with the kids than I do. If he is not a fan already, they could get him hooked on Midsomer Murders. It might be fun.

But then where would I go – the Helen part of me? I suppose that I could continue to exist in some form or another on this blog. But I’m not sure that’s enough.

In the mean time, I'm happy with the latest draft of the play I'm writing. I'm always happy with whatever I've written when it is late at night, after a day spent working on it. But when I wake up the next morning and look through it, I tend to feel disappointed. However, it's lunch time on Sunday and I'm still feeling positive, so that's a good sign - not just for me but for DH, who can go about his business for the time being without fear of a disruptive sudden transfer to SW2.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

I Never Liked The Play Much Either

It just occurred to me, about 30 seconds ago, that I might call my play 'Please Continue' instead of 'Lost'. As it's early days living with the new title, I can't tell if it's a good idea or not. In the event that I manage to get it put on somewhere, it would pretty much force everyone working on it to refer to it as 'Continue' - as in "We're teching Continue this week," etc.

Whereas if I stick with Lost, at least the friends and family of those involved will be momentarily awed - "You worked on Lost? So what was Evangeline Lilly like?" and in time it will look good on people's CVs, if they don't make too much of an effort to clear up potential misunderstandings with future employers.

But then again, might they shorten 'Please Continue' to 'Cont'?

: Helen Smith - yes, I know her.
: Remember the trouble we had with that Cont?
: I never liked the play much, either.

Whatever. Maybe I'll just stick with 'Lost'.

Happy Easter.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Cosmic Ordering Update

I have been busy writing recently and had completely forgotten that I was going to change my life for the better with cosmic ordering and so I am not yet cohabiting with respected actor Simon Callow in a castle in the sky.

However, there is some evidence that our lives are slowly becoming intertwined. You see it turns out that SC was appearing in Equus at The Cambridge Arts Theatre last Friday while I was at The Glass Menagerie just round the corner. This is a promising sign, although no guarantee that a conventional friendship will ever develop between us. But then, we are unconventional people.

The universe has so many messages for us, if we only know how to read the signs. The poster in the Cambridge Arts Theatre foyer put it very plainly, in black and white (with a bit of blue?), but others require a little interpretation: The dog is walking in zigzags. There are two fat pigeons flirting in a tree in next door's garden. I have written another draft of my play but it's still not good enough. What can it all mean?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

History Cycle - Ensuring Fluidity

For some fantastic insights about what goes on in the rehearsal room and what a theatre director actually does, you can go to the 'behind the scenes' pages of the RSC website here.

RSC actor Nick Asbury also blogs about the History Cycle here. I know Nick and I can confirm that he's lovely and he does indeed like cricket and he plays piano very, very well.

Imaginary Menagerie

As you may know, we've recently taken on an imaginary cat called Fluffy to see us through when our dog Jessie eventually dies - not long now as I have to carry her down the two steps to the kitchen, and help her down the one step into the garden, and even then she fell sideways into a rhododendron bush after taking a shit yesterday.

Lauren is delighted with Fluffy, particularly as I have assured her the cat (actually, she's still only a kitten) sits on my head all day while I am writing, like a bonnet in Cranford. Lauren has consquently gone and got herself an imaginary horse called Peaches. She is training Peaches to do all sorts of tricks like the one in this video.

Imaginary animals are much more burdensome than you might assume. For a start, they have to have all the characteristics of real animals - otherwise what's the point? So last night while we were having dinner, it was raining so much that we brought Peaches inside and let her shelter in the kitchen. So then you have to walk round her every time you go to get the horseradish (no pun intended - we were eating beef) or whatever. And while obviously you don't have to actually feed them hay, you have to imagine feeding them hay, or polo mints, and then exercising them on Clapham Common, and this in itself can be very time-consuming.

Also, I have insisted that Peaches should be a miniature horse (wasn't there one in the news recently who only stood 18 inches tall?) as we haven't much room. But when I reseached the various miniature horse websites, it turns out that you have to have two of them, because otherwise they get lonely. So now we've got a second imaginary miniature horse called Mambo. But then didn't I read somewhere that if you have more than one horse you have to get a donkey, to stop the horses fighting?

This imaginary menagerie is getting out of hand. The one advantage (apart from the obvious financial one) is that, because you have absolute power over them, so long as you don't cheat and you stick with the basic characteristics of the animal, you can determine other aspects of their nature and existence which can be as mythical or magical as you see fit.

In this case, I have decided that their existence should be tied to Jessie's existence. So long as she lives, our house will remain crowded with these ridiculous creatures. But if (when) one day soon I come downstairs to discover the quiet, not-breathing body of darling Jessie, then the clattering of hooves, the purring etc. will also fall quiet at exactly the same time. (Yes, I know that Fluffy's existence was first brought into being to compensate for Jessie's death but honestly, you don't have to live with it.)

Just in case Jessie doesn't die peacefully in her sleep but starts to suffer and has to be put down, I have talked to the vet about coming to the house to do it. She has agreed in principle. I don't know, however, whether her goodwill will extend to euthanising our imaginary animals during the visit.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Glass Menagerie

I had a very enjoyable trip to Cambridge last night to see Josh's production of The Glass Menagerie at the Corpus Christi Playroom. The ticket for the train was considerably more expensive than the ticket for the theatre. In terms of a return on financial investment, I should have been expecting more entertainment from the journey than from the play.

There was no alcohol served on the train so, entertainment-wise, we were pretty much reduced to trying to see the funny side every time I fished in my handbag for a map of Cambridge and inadvertently handed my companion a letter containing intimate details of a recent outpatient appointment at King's College Hospital. He can't have found it nearly so amusing as I did because on the return journey he bought me a Cornish pasty and pretended to snooze, leaving me to read the programme and worry about whether Josh intends to be involved in as many productions (more than 30) as his male lead has been during his time at Cambridge. If so, we may have to sell up and relocate there until he finishes his studies.

Fortunately, the production of The Glass Menagerie was worth the journey and indeed exceeded our expectations. It was intelligently directed. The cast were brilliant. For entertainment value and professionalism, it matched many evenings I have had at the theatre in London and surpassed many others. The show started bang on time. There was live music. The lines were delivered faultlessly, the American accents impressive. The acting was extremely good and included real tears. Marvellous.

[I'm ashamed to say that because I don't know enough about it, I can't always tell how an individual theatre director's contribution has affected what I am seeing on stage - beyond knowing, of course, that they are ultimately supposed to be responsible for all of it. A friend who is a theatre director once told me (after we had sat through a rather tiresome Beckett one afternoon) that if you don't like a play, it's the director's fault, not the writer's. That seems a bit harsh. I must admit this review of a recent Beckett made me giggle.

Last night, however, my companion was kind enough to explain that if you suspect the director has done a good job but don't want to expose your ignorance about such matters, you will be on safe ground if you say it was 'a fluid production'. So I would just like to add that The Glass Menagerie was a fluid production.]

UPDATE: Full review here.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Find the Lost Draenog

I don’t watch football on TV very often but when I do, I prefer the half-time punditry to the game itself. There is something very theatrical about the discussions – each character is playing a well-defined role and grabs every now and then at well-worn phrases and puts them into play as if they are improvising around a script. What is exciting is the passion, the drama of the occasion. But although I don’t mind watching it on TV now and again, I would never, ever, ever, ever want to play a game of football under any circumstances.

So it is with theatre. I don’t want to get up and perform on stage and yet I sometimes regret not feeling more involved with what is happening in front of me. I don’t mean that I would want to be pulled up on stage as a stooge, for example, at a comedy show. I’d rather play football than do that. Perhaps what I want is engagement rather than involvement – to feel that what is happening is somehow real and to be on the edge of my seat to see how it will unfold.

There are plenty of people currently working to create new ways to satisfy an audience’s longing to be more involved in/engaged with a piece of fiction or a performance. For example, we are offered the opportunity to join with others in alternate reality games to uncover clues online and in the real world, revealing storylines for ourselves and our collaborators, all the while fulfilling those detective fantasies we all had when we were eight years old . There are lots of different variations of this kind of interactive fiction, and a number of different names for it – chaotic fiction, immersive theatre, pervasive gaming, and so on.

The most important thing, I think, is for the audience/players to be able to have complete confidence in the rules of the fictional world they are uncovering – so the story has to be as tightly plotted as any story anywhere, the characters fleshed out, a beginning and an ending clearly identified before the fun begins. Stories need writers and these stories are no different.

Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree fits in there somewhere. For his show, he had a script, a story and two actors with the skills required for a performance. He was one of the two actors, but the other hadn’t seen the script, and a different actor was used every night. If his show had involved two actors improvising for 90 minutes, I would have stabbed myself in the eye with a pencil and left the theatre – no matter how skilled the performers, it just wouldn’t have been sustainable. But the event was carefully controlled, with Tim Crouch whispering lines through a radio mike or supplying a few pages of the script at a time to the actor, or making suggestions about what should happen next – and so what we saw was somehow ‘real’ because we were watching the actor discovering the story and making choices about how it should happen.

There's Punchdrunk’s Mask of the Red Death, which gives some autonomy to the audience – you can wander at will – while also delivering carefully rehearsed stories in a brilliantly evocative environment; they even worried about how the place smelled, among other design features. The recent Soho Project involved teams of players running around London's streets and collaborating to uncover clues and then make videos about it.

Over on Bebo you can sign up to follow the adventures of Kate Modern and interact with the characters.

Then there have been games like Mind Candy’s Perplex City, and dozens and dozens of others including one that has just started up called Find the Lost Ring. If you're unfamiliar with these kinds of games, you can find out the background and history by going to the Unfiction Forums.

For now, as with the football, and despite my professed desire to get out of the auditorium and get more involved, I prefer to sit on the sidelines of Find the Lost Ring - in my deckchair, as it were, swigging beer and urging on the other players with their considerable collective talents for maths, history, languages,orienteering and puzzle-solving.

Find the Lost Ring's designer Jane McGonigal said recently that the game can be customised to play to people’s strengths, with everyone able to contribute at some level or another, if they want to. Well, good. At this stage, the most I could imagine doing would be writing a humorous poem about it, after the event. Mind you, part of the action is set in Cardiff, so if anyone should enquire about the word for hedgehog in Welsh, I shall of course be able to oblige.

N.B. This isn't supposed to be an exhaustive list of all the kinds of interactive theatre, games and online TV shows available so please don't be offended if your favourite is not mentioned. It is simply, as you might have guessed, an opportunity to use the word draenog once again on the blog.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Intern Wanted

Thank God, I have started work on that play again. I can't say why it took me so long to get going on it beyond the fact that I have been preoccupied with the ailing dog and the imaginary cat in recent days. I really need someone else to take over these onerous chores as well as keeping me in line, pretty much standing over me to ensure I get the writing done.

Regular readers will recall that back in October I wrote several haiku and posted them here, advertising for a cruel husband who would be prepared to encourage me in my work by locking me in an attic and keeping me away from the internet and out of the pub. I was hoping to attract the kind of gentleman who got the French writer Colette* started in her career. I didn't get any suitable replies.

A quick review of the jobs and opportunities routinely advertised on the internet by Arts organisations soon reveals why. I had got the terminology wrong. If you want an individual to work for you for long hours without pay, you are supposed to advertise for an 'intern' not a 'husband'.

Yes, I know. Some of these 'internships' are genuine opportunities, with cash-strapped Arts organisations offering invaluable training and expertise in return for a few weeks of the applicant’s time and a good reference at the end of it. It's a fair trade. But too often, being an intern (what did we call it pre-Monica Lewinsky, wasn't it simply known as exploitation?) seems to involve going into an office for six months to carry out administrative tasks without being paid to do them, then being replaced by another just like you.

* in Wikipedia it says that Colette's first husband was 'a famous wit'. But I always thought that he locked her in an attic and forced her to write before publishing the work in his own name.

Fluffy, Jessie, Josh and Lauren

I am in the midst of an experiment to try and avoid going to the theatre in favour of living a more interesting life, while reaping the benefits of the entertainment I have missed by simply imagining what the show would have been like.

Also, I now have an imaginary cat called Fluffy, which I hope will see me through Jessie's death. Jessie is very old and still collapses regularly. At first this was very upsetting but now when we hear 'scuffle, thud' it seems almost comedic - she has an actor's sense of timing and collapses with maximum fuss whenever we are doing something that doesn't directly involve her, especially if we are having dinner and don't offer her any of our food. Lauren calls her Dame Jessie.

Fluffy may not seem to be a very imaginative name for a cat and indeed it isn't. But this is about living in the imagination, not about being imaginative. I can imagine having a tortoiseshell kitten called Fluffy to see me through the dark times, sitting on my lap and purring loudly while I watch reruns of Jeeves and Wooster on ITV3 in the immediate aftermath of Jessie's death. I can't imagine having a cat with an imaginative name.

Other aspects of the 'not-going-to-the-theatre' experiment aren't going so well. Yesterday I called up and booked tickets for a production of The Glass Menagerie in Cambridge, directed by a lovely young man called Josh. A friend has agreed to accompany me, although he was quick to point out that there's very little point in going to a tattoo parlour and having the words 'Do Not Sell Theatre Tickets To This Woman' inked on my forehead if I am going to buy the tickets over the phone.

But taking the train to Cambridge counts as an adventure of sorts. Plus, it's not about the theatre, it's about Josh. I look on him as the son I never had. He is, in fact, the son I might have had if my friend and I had met at Drama School about 20 years ago and we had got drunk at a picnic and done something silly but remained on friendly terms and somehow managed to instil in the boy a love of the theatre and avoided passing on our misgivings about it...

In case of confusion:
Fluffy is a cat. She is imaginary.
Jessie is a dog. She's not dead yet.
Lauren is my child. She is real.
Josh is real. He is not my child.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Fish Pie

It’s a sunny day in London after the storm last night*. The house smells of smoked haddock because I cooked a fish pie last night. We ate it while watching Episode Two of Mad Men and it tasted very nice. But because of the lingering haddocky smell, cooking fish pie features on a long list of things I regularly vow never to do again and always return to at some point, after some undefined lapse of time persuades me it’s safe to do so.

This list of forbidden things is one that I could readily recite for you, if asked. But it isn’t written down anywhere, I keep it in my head. It must be possible to identify the physiological location of the list of things I feel I ought to do before I die (visit the Lake District, take a trip in a hot air balloon, have a tattoo, get married, learn to ride a motorcycle and so on) and the list of things I keep doing and swear I will never do again (get drunk, smoke, make fish pie, show kindness to the undeserving etc) and switch them around somehow, so I’m tricked into doing one set of things and avoiding the others. I’m not sure how this trickery could be achieved.

Like all writers, I think I’ve got a very good insight into psychology, motivations and emotional logic. But I don’t know enough about the mechanics of the human brain. The only method I have found that can completely muddle it up is to take drugs. Once I smoked an E and found that I could predict the future. Also, the television set was talking to me. But taking drugs is on the list of things that I shouldn’t do. You see how hard this is?

Some days, I regret not becoming a scientist. Coincidentally, these are the days when I have some writing to do and I’m having trouble getting on with it.

*actually, sorry, it has just started to piss down with rain again. Don't rely on getting accurate weather reports here.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Barbie, Action Man

I have temporarily stopped work on my play. I have been telling myself it is because I saw something at the theatre the other day that was so awful it has put me off writing altogether. But to be honest, I think I'm just fearful that, once finished, my script might turn out not to be much good after all. I always feel like this when I get close to the end of a project. A finished script or manuscript is what it is - it's the best you can do and you're never going to feel it is quite good enough. Whereas an unfinished script still has the potential to be brilliant.

It's the same sort of silly logic that means every murdered teenager these days seems to be described in the newspapers either as a potential model or a promising footballer, the faux-glamorous gender-specific careers bestowed on them as casually and as meaninglessly as if a Barbie or an Action Man were to be put in their dead hands by way of compensation for their death, even though nothing can ever compensate for it or for the loss of their right to grow up to be as ordinary and disappointed and healthy as any other potential model or promising footballer of their age.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Find The Lost Ring

Two weeks ago, Ariadne woke up with no memory of the past - a tattoo on her arm that translates as 'find the lost ring' the only clue to her identity. Eli Hunt seems to know something but won't tell. Who is Ariadne?

Discussions about the mystery here and here.

Update: Findthelolstring

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Exiled Writers and Eminem

Last night I went to a poetry evening, Exiled Writers Ink, which is held at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton Street on the first Monday in every month. I went through a phase of going to an awful lot of poetry readings a few years ago. I was looking for a kind of 8 Mile vibe. Maybe I was looking in the wrong places - Andrew Motion at the Magic Circle on National Poetry Day, Andrew Motion at the Poet's Church in St Giles, Andrew Motion again at Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey; lovely though our sometimes maligned Poet Laureate is, he's no Eminem, and certainly at these events no-one ever gets round to the all-important duelling bit where poets of note take it in turns to stand and insult each other in rhyme, as I always hope they might.

The closest I have ever got to finding what I was looking for - because of the energy and passion - was going along to Kindred Spirit, a monthly music and spoken word event run by Michelle Escoffery and her family, although the atmosphere is far from aggressive and there is no 'battling'. Indeed, it is so full of peace and love and blessings - with the audience encouraged to turn and introduce themselves and even shake hands with each other - that the first time I ever went, I was worried that I had wandered into a meeting of some kind of religious cult. (No, seriously. I have never been anywhere before where everyone is so nice.)

Anyway, poetry. Going along to a poetry reading rivals an evening at the theatre if you want to get in touch with your animal self - you're pretty much guaranteed a flash of that 'fight or flight' feeling as you take your seat and the first wave of misgivings starts to wash over you. I spent my formative teenage years living in the country-side where the only entertainment was to sit around in bus shelters smoking, or attend a monthly Christian youth club in order to drink coca-cola mixed with aspirin (is it working yet?) and behave repellently in the face of overwhelming kindness and patience from the club's organisers.

I left for London as soon as I could, promising myself the bright lights. And indeed, the lights are rather bright in the Poetry Cafe if you are expecting a bohemian underground den. And the seating arrangements - rows of unmatching, uncomfortable plastic chairs - are disturbingly reminiscent of Dorford Baptist Church hall.

Last night I was struck by the thought - not dismissed quite quickly enough - that maybe London is not so different from Dorchester after all. What were the intentions, I wondered, of that pleasant-looking smiling woman with the accoustic guitar? Surely she was not going to...?

But of course it was a lovely evening. We heard from Syrian, Iranian and Indian poets who read in Arabic and Farsi as well as English. The smiling woman did sing - in Yiddish, which impressed the friend I was with, herself a Somalian refugee who can speak Arabic, Italian and English as well as her own language(s). My friend has a lively sense of humour - she nudged me very hard when the Syrian asked us to sympathise with him for having to live in Brixton when he first fled persecution in his country to live in ours - but she seemed perfectly sincere when she said that if only Simon Cowell had been there last night to hear the Lithuanian folk songs, he would have signed the singer up.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Insane in the Brain

The next piece of theatre I'm not going to see is a Saturday matinee of Insane in the Brain, a hiphop version of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which comes highly recommended in the Guardian. It sounds great. There's a seat close to the front near the middle for £26 plus £1.50 booking fee, which is the second most expensive price in the range. Obviously, I'd rather save the price of the more expensive seat - £34 plus booking fee - but I'm going to be honest; I would never have paid that much to see the show.

I'll put £20 in a virtual jar and then I think I will use the remaining £7.50 to go out dancing myself. I could go out to a nightclub, although £7.50 will barely cover the bus fare and the price of a vodka, lime and soda, and it's been fifteen years since I tried to get on a guest list anywhere. But why not take a dance class? I have always rather enjoyed Body Combat at the local gym on Saturday mornings. You bounce around to high energy music with a load of other women in trackie bottoms and lycra sports bras, pretending to do upper cuts and jabs and roundhouse kicks on invisible opponents. Most entertaining.

In 2007 I think I might have gone to see too much theatre. In a way, it was a cry for help; sitting in a darkened auditorium and watching other people enjoying themselves on stage begins to feel like one of those cliched movie scenes in which a troubled character slashes at their wrists and goes and lies in a warm bath while jaunty music plays in the background. As we know from such scenes, this does not actually kill you, it will merely make you lose consciousness and disconnect you from your concerned friends in the real world. And so it is with going to the theatre too often.

But I have learnt my lesson and I'm trying to straighten myself out. Although I must admit, I am going to see Nicholas de Jongh's play at the Finborough this week. Please don't judge me too harshly. I had already bought the ticket. Anyway, it looks like it will be interesting...

Sunday, 2 March 2008


Remember the £20 I saved by not going to see Pierre Rigal’s Press at The Gate last night? I spent it on sponsoring friend of the blog Danny Stack in some kind of half marathon he's taking part in at the end of March, on behalf of the British Heart Foundation.

I know – I’m being pious, disingenuous and slightly vulgar by mentioning this. Especially as I would have sponsored him the £20 anyway.

Never mind that. I can’t stop thinking about Pierre Rigal and whether I’m seriously missing out by not going to see that show of his.

What if it’s as hauntingly beautiful as Aurelia’s Oratorio? That show left a fingerprint on my soul. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. And she's French.

What if it’s as charming as Belgian Jos Houben’s demonstration of how physical comedy works, raising a laugh from the audiences in The Art of Laughter just by tripping up on stage?

What if it’s as mesmerising as the one-man circus* show I saw given by a Belgian man in a Little Top on Clapham Common about ten years ago?
Size-wise, as you would expect, a Little Top is considerably smaller than a Big Top and so you are very close to the action. At one point the man walked from one side of the Little Top to the other on his hands, balancing on empty upturned drinking glasses. You could see how difficult it was – his great big arms were furnished with knotty, impressive-looking muscles but they shook with the effort of what he was doing. Sweat fell from his head and his arms on to the floor. We watched in silence. It was masculine and beautiful and unexpectedly moving, as if we had walked into a forest and discovered a man alone there, giving birth.

What if it’s like parcour, the curious and exciting pastime of ‘free running’, developed in urban France and now practiced all over the world?

Europeans can be so damned enigmatic and agile.
And now one of them has come to a small theatre in Notting Hill and is supposedly eliciting gasps from the audience with an intriguing-sounding performance set to a soundtrack of electronic beats. And I’m deliberately missing out.

Maybe I should take the £20 I was going to save by not-seeing the next piece of theatre, and use it to see Pierre’s show? Or I could stick to the plan and use the money to buy a ticket to Paris on the Eurostar. After all, if what we see in London is the thin end of the wedge, then Paris must be brim-full of enigmatic and agile performers.

* it was a circus without animals, obviously. Keeping animals in zoos and circuses is just plain wrong, as I’m sure you agree.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

The Experiment

I worry constantly that I don’t live an interesting enough life. I have had my share of wild adventures in the past – I used to live by the motto ‘accept all invitations’ - but these days I prefer to stay indoors watching TV. It’s a sign of getting old, I suppose. In your youth you never ask yourself whether you might enjoy going out, it is simply something to be endured as part of the quest for companionship; part of a complex and mystifying social ritual that I’m glad to abandon in favour of sitting about doing nothing. But what if I’m wrong? What if I should constantly be pushing myself to do challenging and interesting things, as a way of delaying the onset of old age if nothing else? What if my store of life experiences eventually runs so low that I have nothing left to write about?

I’m going to compromise. I’ll turn down invitations to events, meals, parties and so on that I might have accepted in my youth (by which I mean up to and including yesterday, 29th February, an auspicious date to turn your back on foolish things and acknowledge the relinquising of youth, wouldn’t you agree?) and simply imagine what they might have been like if I had attended, thereby living as interestingly as possible on a virtual level but saving time and money for doing other things. ‘Invitation’ in this case is a fairly loose term and includes liking the sound of something from a review I have read and wanting to go and see it.

Because this is a virtual reality, it means I can be much more adventurous than I would in real life. So I’m going to extend this to accepting all invitations in my virtual world, no matter how bizarre, even if I would have had no intention of ever accepting them in real life.

Anyway, the experiment has no sooner begun than I can see a flaw in it.

This evening, I put the £20 in a jar* (£16 ticket plus £4 tube fare) that I had saved by not going to The Gate to see a show called ‘Press’ that I liked the sound of. Then, so as not to miss out on the experience altogether, I tried to imagine what the show might be like. The blurb says that creator and performer Pierre Rigal ‘sets himself a Houdiniesque choreographic challenge’. What does that mean, then? The title doesn’t give much of a clue: Press. Does it involve a French man literally pressing himself against the walls of the theatre for 50 minutes? Surely not.

I saw Metamorphosis at the Lyric, in which an Icelandic man moved around a room which had been turned 90 degrees to face the audience, clinging to the walls and ceilings. It was extraordinary, an acrobatic performance that played with your spatial perceptions, as well as being quite upsetting and moving. Perhaps Press is something like that. But Metamorphosis wasn’t funny, and Press is supposed to be funny. Actually Andrew Haydon says it is ‘laugh-out-loud funny, tragic, breathtaking and hugely uplifting.’ Lyn Gardner calls it ‘a desperate and desperately beautiful 50 minutes’. Oh dear, oh dear. Now I desperately want to go and see it for myself.

It answers the vexing question of why I go to the theatre, at least. I had thought it was ‘for the acting’. But it’s more complex than that. It seems obvious, written down – and no doubt any sixteen year old theatre studies student could have told me so, if only I had asked - but because another person’s imagination will be different from mine, when I see something (performance, theatre/art/whatever) created by someone else, it fills in some of the gaps in my own experience and triggers creative thoughts of my own.

* a virtual jar, obviously.

Sopranos, Squid, Scallops and Sobriety

Not going to the theatre is going spectacularly badly. I have remembered that one reason for sitting for two and a half hours in some discomfort in the dark, watching a play, night after night, is that it keeps me sober.

Last night, instead of going to the theatre, I watched three episodes of The Sopranos (good, as Bridget Jones might say) but drank one bottle of red wine, a Belgian beer and a miniature bottle of Bailey's, got very drunk and consquently smoked a Marlboro Light that I found at the back of the cupboard and chewed two Nicorette chewing gums that I also found there, that someone gave me about three years ago saying willpower was all he needed to give up. You might be interested to know that he's back on the fags and enjoying them very much.

On the plus side, none of these antics cost me any money, because I harvested all the relevant provisions from the cupboards in my house. On the minus side, I always behave very badly when I'm drunk and I find it difficult to write the next day with a hangover. Plus, no script I have ever written is as good as even one episode of The Sopranos, and I always find that knowledge rather discouraging. Three episodes in one night does rather ram the message home.

It seemed very funny at about 1 o'clock this morning to write a 'cosmic ordering' list and slip it under the dog to see how effective dogs are at making wishes come true. Not very, it turns out. The list ranged from the jocular (make Chinese food appear, bring fags), to the drunkenly sincere (ensure Jessie doesn't suffer, clear all debts) to the secretly earnest (get my play Lost produced, publish my books The Miracle Inspector and The Woman Who Could Fly).

I haven't yet removed the list from under the dog's blanket; well, you never know, maybe she does have magic powers - Is that the doorbell, do I smell salt & pepper squid and scallops in ginger & spring onions? Etcetera. Ha ha ha. But even the most magical cosmically-attuned dog can't get writing produced or published until it is actually finished.

Well, Lost is almost done. The Miracle Inspector is half way through. The Woman Who Could Fly is bubbling away, consuming those parts of my sub-conscious not preoccupied with squid and scallops.

So...fingers to the keyboard. Onward. Jessie, if you can't be the intrument of my success, you can at least be my muse. Sit down here next to me, have a Gravy Bone. There.

OK. Let's go.