Monday, August 01, 2005

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Elyse Dodgson

Elyse has done loads to support playwrights particularly international ones. If anyone is around - worth coming along...

Can Theatre Change the World?

Stephen Jeffreys will chair a discussion with Elyse Dodgson and Sasha Dugdale, Ramin Gray, David Lan, Carl Miller, Winsome Pinnock, Ian Rickson, Indhu Rubasingham, Roxana Silbert, Simon Stephens, Katharine Viner, Sacha Wares, Graham Whybrow and others.

Tuesday 9 August 5pm
Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Please RSVP to Neil Grutchfield on 020 7565 5044 or email

Presented in celebration of Elyse’s twenty years at the Royal Court and in recognition of the Young Vic Award presented to her in 2004 for her work as a pioneer, teacher and champion of international playwrights.
Saturday, July 23, 2005

Decisions a playwright can make?

Again, through the superb Jane Bodie in my Royal Court workshop, we asked what decisions a playwright can make.

My notes read:

Who are the characters/main character?
What’s the journey? Emotional and/or physical?
What’s the setting?
What’s the message?
What’s the theme?
How do the character’s relate?
What is the conflict?

Obviously, there are many more decisions, but this little list offers food for thought.
Thursday, July 21, 2005

My reading at Soho Theatre

Had a good session at Talawa yesterday on our upcoming readings.

We're calling the set of readings Unzipped and it's going to be at the Soho Theatre October 13 - 15

My play is tentatively called "The Eve of the Collapse"

Please do come.

Audio Theatre interviews & critics

I've come across this Theatre Voice

it's an "audio driven discussion forum in which theatre critics from across the UK press talk about London shows"

I've only listened to a few things but they have some great people on there and some interesting topics. The archive looks big as well.

Hopefully some of the critics will come to my new play too.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Hanif Kureishi & London Bombings III

an eye for an eye is not the only way…

Hanif Kueishi is probably most famous for My Beautiful Laundrette in 1985, however before that he was best known as a playwright. He is Pakistani-British and his themes tends to be about race, sexuality, nationalism…

He makes some forceful and interesting points about religion, violence and war, in the Guardian.

We also have little idea of what it is to burn with a sense of injustice and oppression, and what it is to give our lives for a cause, to be so desperate or earnest. We think of these acts as mad, random and criminal, rather than as part of a recognisable exchange of violences.

He goes on to say … “The only way out is to condemn all violence or to recognise that violence is a useful and important moral option in the world. Despite our self-deception, we are quite aware of how necessary it is, at times, to kill others to achieve our own ends and to protect ourselves. If we take this position we cannot pretend it is morally easy and seek to evade the consequences.”

And in one of the more convincing criticisms of war that I’ve read he ends with

War debases our intelligence and derides what we have called "civilisation" and "culture" and "freedom". If it is true that we have entered a spiral of violence, repression and despair that will take years to unravel, our only hope is moral honesty about what we have brought about.

And not only us. If we need to ensure that what we call "civilisation" retains its own critical position towards violence, religious groups have to purge themselves of their own intolerant and deeply authoritarian aspects.

The body hatred and terror of sexuality that characterise most religions can lead people not only to cover their bodies in shame but to think of themselves as human bombs. This criticism on both sides is the only way to temper an inevitable legacy of bitterness, hatred and conflict.

In terms of theatre, I don’t think so many plays at the moment deals with both sides of this. It’s partly because I think that understanding the mind of a suicide bomber as HK suggests is so difficult for “us in the West”. It’s easier for those I know who have spent some time in Israel or any area of continuing conflict.

Many of these conflicts embody the notion of “an eye for an eye”. So from the suicide bombers and their supporters pint of view, this act may simply be fulfilling “an eye for an eye” an exchange of violences that happens in war.

I feel great resonance with what the late Ron Todd, trade unionist, said

“an eye for an eye is not the only way…”

And here is where theatre and other cultural mediums have an essential role to play and increasingly so in the world as it is developing.

To give voices to those caught up in the conflicts
To breathe hope and strength into the idea that violence and retribution is not the only way
To ultimately douse the fires of conflict, hatred, bile and bitterness that we have left the world.
Monday, July 18, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Would Harry Potter make a good play? The films have been perhaps a bit mixed. Prisoner of Azkaban the best so far (but also one of the best HP books).

The characters are good, the plot gripping and the wants/needs objectives clear. However it is the world of the books, which is one of the most absorbing parts and the magic. I think this would be hard to reproduce.

The National went some way to achieving such a thing with Phillip Pullman’s Amber SpyGlass trilogy. I think ultimately it failed in completely conjuring up Pullman’s world but gained by dramatising some of the epic qualities [via a Paines Plough workshop via Paula Vogel thoughts, epic is one of the 7 or so (debate on this in another post) play structures that plays can fit in to, also linear, parallel, circular, repetitive… note also some story tellers think there are only a few types of story, I think Pullman has spoken and written on this – more in another post] and giving a great theatrical quality to certain aspects like the daemons as puppets.

I don’t think the HP magic will transfer so easily to stage, but it would be a great thing to attempt. If Jo Rowling even fancies collaborating on a play (erm, yeah, and I’m a defence against the dark arts teacher) I’d be up for it. Jo, if you ever read this….

So did any of you guess correctly who was going to die? And who was the Half Blood Prince? It’s probably her darkest book yet, (there’s some proper love interest too), the plot cracks on at a fair pace and lots of missing links in Voldemort’s history are sown up, however it does feel a little like a book preparing itself for the finale… in another 3 years? But for people who want to know what happens (and I do) it’s a good read. So I tend to agree with the Observer which said “if you like this sort of thing, you will like this sort of thing…” rather than the Indy on Sunday which called it flabby and poorly edited. Bring on HP7.

BTW For those who have read the book I have a decent theory on who RAB may be. Drop us a line if you'd like to discuss!
Saturday, July 16, 2005

David Hare on oration

I have mixed feelings on David Hare's work. Some I like. Skylight, for instance. Some I like, even if I find them a bit overly politicised, like Via Dolorosa and some I don't like mainly as the political edge, I feel, comes in the way of the story.

Still, he is a formidable writer whether you like his work or not and is important to British theatre.

In this article in the Observer, which is taken from the introduction to his new book on his colected speeches, Hare discusses public speaking and his theatre writing. It sheds some light on why he writes theatre.
Thursday, July 14, 2005

Funding pulled from Talawa Theatre

Arts Council has withdrawn funding for a theatre for Talawa.

A purpose-built £9.5m building on the site of an old theatre near Victoria station in London was to have opened in 2007. It was planned as a permanent home for Talawa, the country's leading black theatre company, which celebrates its 21st birthday this year, and as a space championing black performers, writers and directors.

I don't know the ins and outs or the finances but this seems a definite step back for the theatre mix of London.

Article in Guardian
Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Directing: Focus & story

Rufus Norris (see earlier post) suggested focus or the craft of telling the story was important as a director.

As a writer this is true too and similar questions apply:

What does each character want or need?

What is happening in the scene that is essential in carrying the story forward? (If you can't find this then maybe the scene is not complete or unnecessary?)

What are the key moments in the scene when a character is faced with an obstacle? Must they make difficult choices?

When/how do characters change tactic to pursue their wants/needs?

Who, at any given moment do you want the audience to focus on?

I think these are often useful to bear in mind when revising a play for another draft.
Monday, July 11, 2005

Structure: scenes

I was in a writing workshop with Tony Craze at the Chelsea Theatre where he suggested only a few basic premises can happen in a successful scene.

X can try and get Y to accept or give up some thing/idea/object.

X can try and seduce/join/partner or separate/break up with Y

X can try and persuade Y to stay or leave a place

X can try and persuade B to take some action or stop (pursuing) some action

The idea is that all good scenes contain these basic wants and if you can't tell what it is, then maybe it's a duff scene. Can anyone think of a good scene that doesn't fit this?
Sunday, July 10, 2005

Directing I: What makes theatre engaing?

I had the good fortune of being in a workshop led by Rufus Norris once.

He asked

What makes theatre engaging?

He asked it from a director’s p0int of view, but I think it’s an important question for writers as well. These are some of my notes from that session.

What makes theatre engaging?
Going to a boring film is a disappointing but stress free use of time. Going to a boring piece of theatre is infuriating. Theatre demands a complicity with and from an audience who demand certain ingredients in return. A good story and honest acting are almost a given. However, along the journey there must be

Action – energy, momentum, the engine
Variety – colour, contrast
Pace – rhythm, energy.
Focus – story, detail, guiding the point of attention

More on this anon.
Friday, July 08, 2005

London Bombings II

More thoughts on a theatrical or artistic response.

Not only is it hard as we don’t have an historical perspective yet, but the vastness and solidarity of London’s response is difficult to match.

It is partly as our world is complex and non-linear. It is unpredictable like the bombings. (Unlike most drama?)

Jeffrey Sachs (who I follow with my pharmaceutical and healthcare hat on) wrote in the FT

Yesterday when the bombs went off in London I was about a mile away. I therefore witnessed one of the greatest triumphs and resources of modern life against the backdrop of yet another heinous crime. Londoners reacted to the disaster not with shock, violence, or disarray, but with unfailing professionalism, industriousness, concern, and emphatically, civility. There were no pogroms, attacks on London’s large Muslim population, Rather there were statements of praise for the Muslim community, for its integral role in London life. There was no rush to judgment, no bluster, no jingoism, only the steady voices of British politicians directing a democratic response to this most undemocratic of deeds.

London, in short, showed even in a moment of real peril, uncertainty, and grief, that it is truly, uniquely one of the great centers of a world civilization, a civilization in which all races, religions, and creeds can live together peacefully, creatively, productively. I feel about London what I feel about my own home of New York City. Both are what mathematicians call a “proof by existence,” in this case a proof that globalization can work, that divisions among people according to religion, ethnicity, language, can be overcome through a commitment to common purposes among people living in close proximity. London must be the way of the future, of an urbanized internationalized life in the 21st century, for if not, our world will likely succumb to hatred, violence, and despair on our very crowded planet.”

More on Sachs
Thursday, July 07, 2005

London bombings

The police casualty number is 0870 1566344 (+44 870 1566344 for intl), although police request that you try calling any friends or family members you're concerned about first.

I am safe and well as are everyone I know and I’m in contact with.

I’ve now been in Manhattan over 9/11, a beach (Ao Nang) in Thailand about 30 minutes before the tsunami, and in Lima around about some riots as well as close misses, which I’ll save for another time.

I still believe one must live life and I’ll be going about my “normal” life. I think in terms of a successful theatrical response to “terror”, it might take time before we can put what’s happening now and our emotional response in perspective. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop trying but it won’t be surprising if many of the plays attempting to discuss “terror” will miss the mark. Then again for the ones which hit it, which tap into what we as humans are feeling from it… that would be a Great Play.

Death of a Salesman

I went to see Death of a Salesman at the Lyric Shaftesbury Avenue, last night. It was brilliant with extremely good performances through out; Brian Dennehy as Willie Loman.

Arthur Miller’s play is one The Great American Plays that aspiring writers have to judge their plays by and it’s a very high standard. It reminds me I have a way to go before I get there.

Tony Kushner writes (more here)

"Mr. Miller, yours is a career and a body of work every playwright envies and wishes were her or his own; yours is the difficult standard against which we are measured and measure ourselves. For many sleepless nights and days of despair, I want to say thanks a lot; and for making my heart break, and burst into flames, time and time again, since the night, when I was 6 years old, I saw my mother play Linda Loman in a Louisiana community theater production of Salesman, and I think at that moment secretly deciding I wanted to be a playwright. Seeing Incident at Vichy on TV a few years later, I admitted to myself the decision I'd made. Watching splendid recent revivals of View From the Bridge, Salesman, The Crucible, I have gone home, chastened, to re-question all my assumptions about what playwriting is and how one ought to do it. And for always being there, on my bookshelf, when people say that real art can't be political, or that a real artist can't also be a political activist; your life and work are there to remind me what preposterous canards those are--for all this, I want to say thanks a lot."

For American playwrights who come after Arthur Miller, there is of course an unpayable debt. Those of us who seek mastery of dramatic realist narrative have his plays to try to emulate. Scene after scene, they are perhaps our best constructed plays, works of a master carpenter/builder. Those of us who seek not mastery but new ways of making theater have to emulate his refusal to sit comfortably where Salesman enthroned him. Arthur once praised Tennessee Williams for a "restless inconsolability with his solutions which is inevitable in a genuine writer," for making "an assault upon his own viewpoint in an attempt to break it up and reform it on a wider circumference."

Saturday, July 02, 2005

William Gaskell returns to direct Carver stories at Arcola

William Gaskell returns to direct on the stage after 10 years (or so the blurb says) at the Arcola.

He’s a big figure in 20c British theatre. Artistic Director of the Royal Court Theatre (1965-1972) and Associate Director of the National Theatre during Laurence Olivier’s regime.

The production (originally developed at RADA) dramatises five of Raymond Carver’s stories: What’s in Alaska?, Fat, Cathedral, Put Yourself in My Shoes and Intimacy.

I’m going to try and see it. There’s also a very good Turkish kebab place nearby. The Arcola is based in a very strong Turkish and Kurdish community and has had built a remarkable reputation on the fringe in a short time.
Monday, June 27, 2005

Rhythm of a play

Jane Bodie suggested plays are closer to song and poetry than novels and I think I agree. There's more rhythm and word play.

Different writers have tried to express the rhythm of their play writing. I've come across Suzan Lori-Parks (writer of Top Dog Underdog - great play, worth reading for aspiring writers and others) who has a possibly useful way of describing rhythm. (I've seen Debbie Tucker Green use the form too.)

I'm using it in the play I am writing. I show an example here. This and '/' are quite useful markers for playwrights today - I think.

Author's note:

Active silences. Denoted by repetitions of characters names with no dialogue.





No action is necessary but the characters are active. Directors should fill this moment as they best see fit.

(Rest.) = Take a pause, a breather, an amount of time; make a transition. It can be smaller than an active silence. It will often denote a transition.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Meeting with Paul Miller

Paul Miller came to speak to us at Talawa the other day. One of the points we discussed was dramaturgy. Paul viewed the director-writer relationship as paramount.

I would concur to a large degree. I think as a writer forging relationships with directors can be invaluable. Knowing what you want from a director and the type which you don’t want is essential.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

I've received Arts Council funding for my latest play.

I’ve received Arts Council funding for my latest full length play. Currently titled Yellow Men, although this will likely have to change as it’s very similar to a recent play called Yellow Man.

I’m supported by Yellow Earth Theatre and I think I’ll have some help from Talawa.

The production is likely to be beginning of 2006. My creative team includes Bronwyn Lim, David Tse and Ragnhild Morch.

If you are looking for theatre experience in London and think you have something to offer, drop me a line.

This is the second time the Arts Council have supported me, so I am grateful.

The first time was for my play, Lost in Peru (design here), (mixed review from Lyn Gardner at the Guardian, here; TimeOut liked it) directed by Sarah Levinsky, who went on to win the Oxford Samuel Beckett Trust award.
Friday, June 17, 2005

Royal Court Mission Statement

All those years ago, George Devine argued for a theatre, The Royal Court.

His arguments, I believe, still hold very true today, although quite how closely the Court or anyone else follows them is perhaps open for debate.

Part one – the argument

Although the major classics are now well catered for by the Old Vic, the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, Sir John Gielgud’s productions, etc., there is no theatre in England, which consistently presents the whole range of contemporary drama. Modern movements in music, sculpture, painting, literature, cinema and ballet all have reasonable circulation, but the comparable body of work in the theatre has not outlet.

This bound, in turn, to affect the quality of original work produced, and is probably largely responsible for the lack of interesting new palys in this country.

The commercial theatre cannot be blamed for this state of affairs. If there is any chance of an interesting play becoming a possible commercial proposition, it is given a production, eith er in the west End, on tour or at a try-out theatre. But there is a point of risk below which a commercial management cannot afford to go.

There are however many contemporary plays of great interest, which by their nature, can never command a large public, and other which are at pronounced “ not commercial” because they are in advance of normal public taste., as much modern music and art is. But the whole international range of these plays should be available to English audiences, and they might well have a stimulating affect on dramatic development here.

For dramatic development, the urgent need of our time is to discover a truly contemporary style wherein dramatic action, dialogue, acting and method of presentation are all combined to make a modern theatre spectacle, as definite in style as it has been in all the great periods of theatre. Much successful effort has been expended in this country on bringing the dramatist of the past into focus for the present, but no comparable attention has been given to the future. There should be a theatre where all the experimentalists of the modern era may be seen - from Buchner, Pirabldeelo, Stringberg, wedekind to Crommelynck, Giraudoux, O’Casey, Lorca and Betti, Brecht, Eliot, Odets, Tennessee Williams, John Whiting, to select some important names at random. These are all hard-hitting, uncompromising, writers, and their works are stimulating, provocative and exciting: they belong in a vital modern theatre of experiment where the intention will often be as important as the achievement.

A theatre of this sort cannot be created overnight, nor can immediate results be expected. But it must be able to keep going, and to do this it must collect a public, which will come finally to support its policy. BY associating with similar ventures in the other arts, by taking trouble with the promising dramatic, and by providing an instrument for all kinds of modern theatre experiment, it could become an essential part of London theatre life.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

How long should a play be?

Billington (Guardian) has come out attacking the length of plays that playwrights are currently writing.,11710,1460809,00.html

He says

“the new, slavish obeisance to the 90-minute rule stems, I suspect, from a mixture of fashion and ignorance; in particular, a shocking unawareness of even the recent past when drama moved beyond a single situation or point of crisis to examine causes as well as effects”

I know he is all for the “state of the nation play” but I think he misses the point about what playwrights are trying to do now.


Here’s a riposte to Billington’s no 90-minute play article.

One from Ian Rickson (artistic director of the Royal Court),11710,1463920,00.html

I like “New cultural and political eras demand new forms” and “We live in a time when there is a disappointment with unifying ideology and a greater consciousness of contradiction. The old forms in which the writer diagnoses and hypothesises no longer speak to today's playwrights.”


Another from David Elridge, who has just had Incomplete and Random Acts of Kindness go up at the Court.,11710,1471207,00.html

this riposte is elegant, thoughtful and something I empathise with.

I like:

“I am getting impatient," Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian recently, "with ... dramatic driblets that offer ideas for plays rather than plays of ideas." Well, not half as impatient as play-wrights are with him, as he tirelessly pursues his own agenda of trying to encourage the re-emergence of the old-fashioned polemical play whose prime function is "social analysis".
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Jane Bodie's questions I

Jane asked

What are the problems, possibilities, concerns that we think shoud be written about?

I think this question as writers we should continually come back to.
Friday, May 20, 2005

Osama, the Hero

I went to see Osama, The Hero at the Hampstead. There’s an interview with the playwright, Dennis Kelly, which is worth reading. Generally the Hampstead has not be showing plays that have not interested me. This play was good challenging and intriguing in both form, style, content and language,

I thought the actor who played Gary, Tom Brooke, was excellent, in particular. I’m going to reserve judgement on the directing. I think the directing could probably have helped the play more, but didn’t.

The writing itself was very good and I recommend the play for its examination of people living in a society of suspicion where “You don’t need evidence for terrorists”.

Billington at the Guardian gave it a fairly good review.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Commission from Talawa

I am part of the writers’ group at Talawa. We’ve been commissioned to write plays for a reading in October at the Soho Theatre.

Talawa is moving towards plays about the stories that don’t get told. So, yes, it includes “minority stories” but it’s a wider remit than that. I think it will produce some interesting work particularly when Talawa move in to their bigger theatre soon.

However, the “stories that don’t get told” I think are some of the most interesting in any form or medium. Humans crave good stories, both the familiar and increasingly the unfamiliar.
Saturday, May 07, 2005

Qualities a playwright needs?

I'm studying under Jane Bodie (a great playwright) as part of the Royal Court Writers' programme. One of the questions we are asking is:

Qualities that that playwrights need?

I think it's a question writers should come back to, every now and again, whether they write plays or in another mediu. Of course, there's no "correct" answer, and whatever answer one does have will probably change day-to-day, year-to-year, relationship-to-relationship...

We came up with (amongst others):

life, language, experience, imagination, sadness, joy, emotional access, flair,


Interestingly, Jane suggests articulation is the one thing she can teach something of. The rest might be unteachable.
Sunday, May 01, 2005

Moti Roti

I had a creative lunch with the people behind Moti Roti, the other day.

Anyone interested in live performance and theatre of the not-3-act-play kind, should check them out. Actually, anyone interested in theatre or performance should.

Similarities between differences

Differences between similarites

Two of the themes, Ali of Moti Roti is exploring and something which resonated with me.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


Ben Yeoh’s third play has recently won Arts Council backing and his latest play, ON THE EVE OF THE COLLAPSE, has been commissioned for a reading at Soho Theatre by Talawa. He initially trained as a behavioural neuroscientist at Cambridge, before studying play writing and dramaturgy at Harvard. He has participated in various new writing programmes an d workshops (Royal Court, Soho, Paines Plough, Talawa, BBC radio); his first play, LEMON LOVE, premiered at the Finborough Theatre and his second LOST IN PERU was at Camden People’s Theatre.

“tiny diamonds that glow in the dark” The Stage on Lemon Love
“pushing the boundaries of form and style” Lyn Gardner, Guardian, on Lost in Peru
"Lost in Peru is edgy, provocative, and timely theatre" Time Out

Commissioned by Talawa for On the Eve of the Collapse to be read in October, Soho Theatre
Wins Arts Council funding for Yellow Men
Reading of Confessions in ROAR festival, Chelsea Theatre
Royal Court writers programme led by Jane Bodie
Talawa writing group

Staged Reading of Yellow Men, Soho Theatre, dir Ben Payne
Reading of Yellow Men, RADA, dir Natalie Abrahami
Inventor of Fireworks, airs BBC radio 3 with David Yip
BBC radio writers programme led by Nandita Ghose
Workshop with Rufus Norris

Lost in Peru, Camden People’s Theatre, dir Sarah Levinsky
Letters & Nights of Love & War, Theatre & Beyond, dir Maria Pattinson
Paines Plough workshop led by Mark Ravenhill
Asst. Director to John Tiffany on Mark Ravenhill’s The Cut

Statements, Pleasance, reading, dir Amanda Hill
Day in Life, Gate Theatre, reading, dir Tassos Stevens
Bus Dreaming Through Suburbia, Soho Theatre, reading, dir Yael Shavit

Lemon Love, Finborough Theatre, by Elizabeth Freestone
Soho Young Writers programme led by Lisa Goldman