Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm abroad on holiday now until 7th January. Sorry not to have been very bloggy of late, I've been flat out on a new play amongst other things, so just too busy. Next year looks even busier if anything so I'm thinking of giving all this up for a while. Sorry, but you just don't pay enough.

Happy Christmas anyway.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Writing plays, no-one can hear you scream.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's my birthday today. (31 since you ask, and probably the last year I'll answer the question.) But good news on the play front: How To Disappear has won the Mark Marvin Rent Subsidy Award at this year's Peter Brook Awards. Big thanks to Blanche Marvin and the judging panel for bringing that elusive London run a step closer...

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Ask And You Shall Receive

An easy post for a busy time - a recommendation of a great resource for self-employed writers. For years I dreamed about some kind of fantasy research service on a cheap rate phone number, on hand 24/7 to help track down those tricky bits of knowledge which story writers of all stripes need to know on occasion, to give their stories the ring of truth. We're talking about things that go above and beyond the scope of Google, which might for whatever reason appear in your play; procedural issues in obscure professions, finer points of international law, the details of certain medical conditions, what a certain experience feels like, the range of opinions out there on a controversial issue ... the list is endless. Try as we might, writers of fiction can't be expected to know everything, and until recently, these gaps in our knowledge meant lengthy delays to the writing process while we rang friends, colleagues, tangential contacts, total strangers, set up interviews, visited specialist libraries or Googled ourselves into oblivion.

No longer. Yahoo Answers is the answer to my prayers, and has saved me many a wasted hour.

Not that it's a substitute for doing proper research, of course, of which I am a great exponent. Nothing can replicate an hour's interview with a specialist in their field. But for those moments when you're sitting in front of a half-written plot line or scene, inspiration strikes and you think: I know! What if she was killed with a radioactive necklace!? BRILLIANT!!!! ... and then the sinking feeling as you realise that, however brilliant the idea, you know next to nothing about radioactive metals, where they're found, how they're transported, their levels of toxicity, their availability on the black market ... days of agonising research stretch out before you. Google results for 'radioactive metals' are overwhelming. The Wikipedia entries appear to be written in chemical symbols by PhD students with numerical tourettes. No-one you know scraped more than a C grade in GCSE Science.... but there, shimmering on the horizon, an oasis of specificity in a desert of bewilderment: Yahoo Answers.

Alright, sometimes it is full of pricks, and 8 out of 10 answers will be daft, rude or irrelevant. There's also an American bias to some of the answers, but this can be minimised by asking a question first thing in the morning UK time when they're all still asleep. But there are plenty of diamonds in the dirt and it's got me out of many a knowledge-vacuum-scrape recently. If nothing else, it's a great way to blow open an idea, anonymously if you want, solicit opinions, get directed to online resources you'd never have found, and sometimes even get talking directly to a specialist mind. All in under an hour, so if you decide not to run with that idea, no great loss.

Here are some of the questions I've been asking recently:

What kind of radioactive material is used in radiotherapy? If it was stolen could it harm anyone?


Could the internet as a whole ever be controlled or censored by private interests?


What is the opposite of terrorism?

Is there any chance my old mobile phones from 1998-9 could become antiques?


If I find ancient treasure buried in the back garden of the house i own, can i keep it?


Why have men evolved to be hairier than women?


Could Heaven and Hell get full?

How many human beings have lived and died since our species first appeared?

In Islam, is everything that happens though to be God's will?

Why did the urge for revenge evolve in human beings?

Of course, these are just the sensible ones. You can be as silly as you like - and yes, I did think about it, and no, I decided not to share those with you. (You're all under the impression that I'm a serious dramatist, after all). Suffice to say that a cold winter evening in can be merrily whiled away under a Yahoo alias. But you know what they say: Ask a silly question...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Very busy writing and teaching again so no time to blog properly I'm afraid, but here's something to keep you occupied - I recently completed one of OffWestEnd.com's 9Q Interviews. You can read it on their website here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Great review for We Are Shadows on The Stage website here.

Depressingly, not much other press interest. Critics - you're missing a treat (if i do say so myself). You've got a month. Come on, surprise me.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My latest play for teenagers We Are Shadows opens at Half Moon tomorrow night. It’s an interesting diversion for me and a very different play from last year’s Locked In – a high energy ‘hip hopera’ set in the world of east London pirate radio. We Are Shadows is a much quieter, more introverted play, and it will be interesting to see how teenage audiences respond over the forthcoming tour. There is a received wisdom that writing for this age group needs to grab attention rather than coax it, so we shall see if this is true.

The play takes its name from an inscription on the Masjid Mosque on Brick Lane, which in its time has been a Huguenot Church, a Methodist chapel and a Jewish synagogue. The inscription on its sundial, Umbra Sumus, Latin for ‘We Are Shadows’ is a fitting tribute to the imprint such changes have left on the psychology and fabric of east London, and the unique inheritance bestowed on each successive generation of young east Londoners.

The play itself is a series of stylised interwoven monologues for nine characters all aged 16 or 17. This form was initially a response to a request from Half Moon’s schools, and its own youth theatre, who were struggling to find monologues for characters of this age to polish up into audition pieces for college and other drama groups. But rather than simply dash off nine unrelated speeches I wanted to use the opportunity that this form afforded to expose some of the invisible links which connect people in areas of high density living. The result is a sort of solo La Ronde (without the sex) where the actions of one character have a profound effect on the life of the following character, whether they are aware of it or not.

The theme of The Shadow running through the play was in place very early on. In thinking about this image as a metaphor I first looked up a dictionary definition, and was surprised (and pleased) to find that there are about 20 entries for ‘shadow’. There is of course the obvious patch of shade caused by a blocked light source, but it can also mean a person’s ‘dark half’ or a spectre or ghost. ‘Shadow people’ and ‘shadow demons’ appear in many of the world’s oldest mythologies. It can also mean shelter or protection - ‘seeking solace in the shadow of the church’. It can be a premonition, ‘a shadow of things to come’. It can mean an exhausted or half-dead individual, ‘a shadow of his former self’. It can mean both a repressive dominating presence in one’s life (‘he overshadows you’) and an admiring positive youngster who follows you around (‘he’s your shadow’). As an image it litters our language.

As a symbol of the psychological struggles we face in our teenage years it seemed appropriate. You only have to open the papers for another story of teenage violence, be it murders, rapes and assaults or suicide and self-harm. This isn’t the totality of being a teenager of course, but it is this visible manifestation of when things go most horribly wrong that gets the media attention. I’m not a psychologist, but it seems to me that some crucial battle is happening here, as young human beings transform from children into adults. The struggle that takes place at this age against one’s own personal darkness, of whatever form, often dictates the outcome of the rest of our lives. Sometimes we overcome our shadows and sometimes we don’t. In the play, I wanted to show examples of both.

I’m very interested in why, as a species, we tell stories. It’s interesting that so many of the stories we tell are aimed at the young. I’ve just finished reading the extraordinary book The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. It’s a truly monumental piece of work that took him 30 years to complete. It not only examines each archetypal story form in turn (Overcoming The Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth) but then moves onto a fascinating analysis of what these forms - evident across all barriers of time, geography and culture – tell us about human psychology. It’s hard to do justice to the breadth of his thinking here, but in short, he concludes that almost every ‘dark force’ in a story is in some way representative of the human ego, and its destructive effects on individuals and whole societies if left unchecked. Booker asserts that the words ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ contain the same etymological root as the word ‘heir’, and concludes ‘the hero or heroine is he or she who is born to inherit; who must grow up as fit to take on the torch of those who went before. Such is the essence of the task laid on each of us as we come into this world. That is what stories are trying to tell us.’

Facing our dark half, our Shadow or Ego, experiencing its power, and learning how to control it, is how we become fully human. We all have to go through this in one form or another before we can become fully mature and take up our place in an adult society. It is the responsibility of the existing adults in society to help their young people in this difficult process by providing safe spaces where this can take place, alongside empirical guidance and positive role models - as those who have come through it themselves and not only survived, but grown and prospered.

Theatres are one such space, and the stories we tell there are our maps for this journey. They are a humanist bible, available for study by anyone who wants to know the workings of the heart and mind of our species. Often they are cautionary tales, but just as often they are celebrations of the rewards that await those who prevail. They chart every possible outcome of this struggle, from the most triumphant to the most disastrous. We should tell them to our young people with honesty, with pride, and with love.

I hope that We Are Shadows might be one small contribution to this immense cartography of life.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I've been badgering my MP again. It's remarkably easy with writetothem.com and hardly takes any time. He's a useless sod but I like to keep him on his toes:

Dear Nick Raynsford,

I'm writing to ask you to sign two forthcoming Early Day Motions on my behalf.

The first is EDM 1961 which asks that the proposed changes to the Legal Aid system get properly debated in Parliament. The proposal to reduce funding from an hourly rate which solicitors can claim for this work to a very low fixed fee per case, means that in practice most people will not receive the level of help that they need. I'm sure you're aware that Legal Aid clients are some of the poorest in the country and often the most in need of decent representation.

The second is EDM 1180 which calls on the Government to disclose to the House all representations it has made in relation to the oil law in Iraq. I am concerned that the involvement of private oil firms in drafting these laws will not act in the interests of Iraq's long-suffering citizens.

In previous correspondence you have said to me that you are not in the habit of signing EDMs as you feel 'the process has been devalued by excessive and trivial use'. In that case the EDM which you declined to sign called for the closure of the Defence Export Services Organisation (DESO), an unjustifiable taxpayer subsidy of private arms firms. As i expect you are aware, it has since been announced that DESO is indeed to close, so it has turned out that you were on the wrong side of that argument. I hope you will agree that the above two EDMs which i would now like you to sign are neither excessive nor trivial, and are also on the right side of the moral argument.

I very much hope that this time you will see fit to add your name to them on my behalf.

Yours sincerely,
Fin Kennedy

Sunday, September 16, 2007

I'm pleased to be able to report that HOW TO DISAPPEAR has been nominated for a Peter Brook Mark Marvin Rent Award. If we win, we get £1500 to go towards hiring a theatre, which will bring us one step closer to bringing it to a London theatre near you (West End Whingers take note).

Fingers crossed, and watch this space...

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

I'm pretty flat out (again) this month on a new play, so not able to blog as much as I do normally. But here's a titbit to keep you happy - the text of my little speech at the academic conference I went to last week. The panel I spoke on was called Fast and Dirty or In Deep: What is Creative Research? So that's why it focuses on research. For those of you that know me or my work, it probably won't tell you anything new, but for those that don't it might be an interesting summary.

It's not all that academic, it just sort of describes what I do, but I that seems to interest academics so that's why they shoved me up there. In fact it's your lucky day because this is an extended version - on the day I was limited to 10 minutes so there wasn't time to read the extract from Mehndi Night. There were three other speakers too and all sorts of interesting debates afterwards, but obviously I didn't write all those down so can't put them here. But sometimes they transcribe these things and put them online so if you're interested keep an eye on the conference website to see if anything pops up.

Anyway here's the speech. It picks up from Liz Tomlin's introduction of me, which mentions at the end that I'm a visiting lecturer at Goldsmiths and Boston University:

"Thanks Liz. I’d forgotten about that last bit, it sounds very grand, like I stand and deliver lectures which I don’t do at all; they’re more workshops as my approach is very practical. But it’s lovely to be asked here today to such an academic occasion. The standard of speakers has been remarkably high and the quality of debate and ideas flying around so impressive that I feel rather humbled. I’m reluctant to over-intellectualise what I do, partly because other people do it better than me (many of whom are here today) and partly because I don’t feel there’s any great secret to playwriting. That said, I suppose part of me is also slightly nervous about analysing things in case I inadvertently kill something off important and can no longer do it.

But the fact remains that I am a very research-led writer. Someone recently described me as ‘method writer’ and before that someone else called me an ‘investigative playwright’. But whatever you choose to call it, every play I’ve written has involved an extensive research period, usually taking months, and usually somewhat obsessive. But this research has taken different forms, and evolved as my own craft has evolved, tempered and shaped by experience. Over the years I’ve crystallised my own ideas about the nature and purpose of ‘creative research’, and thinking back over this process in preparation for today, it occurred to me that it contains a sort of narrative of its own. So I thought it might be relevant to talk a bit about each of my plays in chronological order to show this process in action. The good news is that as I’m still a relatively young writer I’ve only done about four plays, so it’ll be a mercifully brief potted history.

My first play PROTECTION was about a team of social workers. My Mum is a social worker so I had the benefit (if you can call it that) of having grown up with social work as an offstage presence in my life, but I knew very little about what it actually involved, so I set off to find out. At this stage I was very influenced by the process which David Hare outlined in his book Asking Around, about researching his state of the nation trilogy at the National in the early 90s. It seemed necessary to immerse oneself in a world in order to pursue some sort of objective factual truth, and to undertake lots of interviews. That very much appealed to me at the time because in another life I would have been an investigative journalist, but it also seemed to provide a sort of crutch to bridge the gap between my inexperience and my creative ambitions. As an audience member I’ve always had a hunger to see plays which offer me unique insights into other worlds, and naturally these are also the kinds of plays I want to write. But in practice this has always meant writing about subjects I know very little about, and so a period of factual research has to come first. In PROTECTION this was very much about getting to grips with child protection law and quite dry procedural issues. But one recurring theme that this part of the process did unearth was the destructive impact which private sector management techniques were having in the public sector. Strategies originally designed to manage money and resources were being applied to people; social workers, clients, care home staff. This was to go on to become the political heart of the play.

Then the interviews with social workers added the next level. I spoke to idealistic trainees, cynical seasoned workers at the coal face, weary team managers, old school social workers approaching retirement, social policy lecturers and local government officials. I spent a day in a care home talking to the residential staff and meeting some of the kids. The worker’s personal stories about the emotional impact of such gruelling and often distressing work are what gave the play its emotional heart and lifted it above documentary. Their beliefs, impulses and struggles provided archetypal drives for characters, and imbued the play with credible motives for action, which then underpinned all my imaginative work from there on in. But another happy side effect to the interviews grew out of my obsession about typing them up word for word. For an hour’s interview this takes roughly four hours and is painful in the extreme, but its benefits are immeasurable. The act of committing to paper every nuance, hesitation, tangential thought, and grammatical quirk of an interviewee somehow ‘locked’ their way of speaking into my mind in such a way that I found I was able to reproduce it at will when I came to write dialogue. (This technique was to become invaluable in later plays when I was tackling inner city subcultures with their own pantheon of slang and idiosyncrasy.) So the three elements of factual, emotional, and linguistic research combined to create – I hope - an authentic piece of social realist theatre.

Things were very different for my second play HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND. If PROTECTION was a literalist piece of social realism, with a schematic research process, HOW TO DISAPPEAR was a nightmarish netherworld of skewed timelines and characters waking up dead. The research and writing process were to be the most emotionally harrowing I’ve ever undertaken, a process perhaps mirrored by the play also losing its way in the theatre industry before being plucked from obscurity by the John Whiting Award. Things started well. I knew I wanted to write a play about people who go missing, and I approached the National Missing Person’s Helpline, and the Met Police ‘Mispers’ Unit both of whom agreed to see me and were very helpful. But when it came to contacting some actual missing people, I found they were, understandably, a bit difficult to find. I asked the Helpline if I could advertise on their website, for interviewees who’d gone missing and come back. I asked the Met if they’d show me the Thames Ledger – a book recording the details of every corpse that has been retrieved from the Thames for the past 200 years. Both turned me down flat. The Met said to me ‘You have to remember that everyone in that book is someone’s husband, wife, brother or son.’ I’d encountered a moral issue here which wasn’t relevant to my previous play. Whereas with PROTECTION social workers were only too happy to speak to me, this was because I was shining a light into a misunderstood profession and to some extent fighting their corner. But with missing persons there was no getting away from the fact that I was, in effect, saying ‘Tell me your tales of trauma and breakdown so that I can go away and make money out of them’.

It was at this point that I had to make a leap – I had to fall back on my own imagination and trust myself to make it up. I see this now as a fourth form of creative research, what I’d term ‘empathic research’. It involves a lot of day trips to resonant sites within the play (Southend in the case of HOW TO DISAPPEAR) and standing looking at the sea listening to miserable music and trying to imagine wanting to throw yourself in. It involves visiting homeless hostels and arguing with priests about the meaning of life. It involves staring at blank Word documents for 7 or 8 hours before finally committing a blast of frustration and rage to the page from someplace only accessible when the writer is at as low an ebb as the character. It involves hearing that character’s name spoken in public and looking up for a moment because you think someone is talking to you.

As it turned out it is perhaps the most potent form of research for a dramatist, but it took me exhausting the other avenues before I was forced to rely on it to fill the hole in the middle of my play. But like emotional memory it’s also the most traumatic. It’s also of course, the most alchemical, and the form that least lends itself to analysis and explanation. It is the way in which playwrights access the metaphysical.

The last two plays I want to talk about are both for teenagers, and both went through broadly similar processes as each other, but which were different again from PROTECTION and HOW TO DISAPPEAR.

LOCKED IN was my play set in a pirate radio station and written almost entirely in hip hop verse. And MEHNDI NIGHT was my play written for Bengali girls as part of my residency this year at Mulberry School in east London. I have an ongoing and very fruitful relationship with Half Moon Young People’s Theatre in Limehouse, who have an interesting process which they take their writers through. It begins with writing up an idea for a play for 14-17 year olds as a prose treatment, then deciding with the director on a couple of 5 minute sections to write up as full scenes. These are redrafted a little and then used as a stimulus text for a project they run called Careers In Theatre. This is a taster day run for about 80 Year 11 students from across the Borough and involves them producing a play-in-a-day inspired by the 5 minute text. It is ostensibly about career pathways for students about to leave school, but it also doubles up as a fascinating way of test-driving early ideas with their target audience. In allowing the students free reign to create their own performance inspired by the text and not restricted by it, it allows a writer access to the imaginations of groups of young people who may be very different to oneself. It’s an extraordinary way of blowing open an idea and (although they might not realise it) allowing the young people it is for and about to make their own mark on the play at a formative stage. But it’s also like walking into a room full of living breathing characters from the play, because of course Half Moon want plays about east London teenagers, so the target audience and characters are one and the same. I suppose it is a form of experiential or collaborative research.

Developing MEHNDI NIGHT at Mulberry School with Bengali teenage girls took the principles of Careers In Theatre and applied them over a much longer period. A group of ten fifteen year old girls met once a week after school from January through to August with me and our director Jools Voce. The luxury of time in this case meant I was able to take my cue from the group in a much more meaningful way, and to ask them what they’d like me to write a play about for them. In this sense I was very much ‘their’ writer; we’d identify broad themes that interest them, Jools would devise all sorts of imaginative exercises to generate material along this theme, I’d then go away and shape their ideas into a rough story outline or sketch, then bring them back and read through them. We’d hear their criticisms and suggestions for changes, and repeat the process until we’d settled on one idea that everyone was equally excited about.

This became very much a project about identity and self-representation for the girls. As a group they were fully aware that they did not feature much in the mainstream media, and early on we encouraged them to take the opportunity of performing in Edinburgh as a way of speaking to a mainstream adult audience about themselves and their life experiences. I think out of all the plays I’ve written it’s the one I’m most proud of. It was certainly the most rewarding. It was such a privilege to be allowed into those kids lives and culture with such honesty and generosity of spirit. I don’t know what you’d call it as a form of research, perhaps a sociologist would call it ethnographic, but I can tell you its certainly the most fun, and feels effortless once its underway.

The story we came up with revolves around a mehndi party, a traditional Bengali celebration the night before a wedding, roughly the equivalent of a hen night. Half way through the festivities there’s a knock at the door and a long lost sister turns up, who had been banished from the family four year previously for going off into east London’s music scene and becoming a rapper. Her arrival splits the group in half and the rest of the play looks at whether the family will allow her to come back, and the various perspectives for and against what she did. Within this simple structure we managed to look at an array of issues facing third generation Muslim girls in the modern world – with a level of detail and emotional truth that I could never have accessed working alone.

I’d like to finish by reading the speech at the heart of play where Ripa, the long lost sister, speaks to the assembled women to put her case.

RIPA
First up I want to apologise
To Mum, Nilufa and all you guys
I hope you don’t think that I’m being unwise
Don’t wanna scandalise your mehndi
Want you to know I don’t mean to offend you

Four years ago we all know what I did
I selfishly followed my heart not my head
Defied your advice and went out on my own
Knowing the price that I’d pay was my home
I hurt you all bad and it’s been a long time
I know it won’t heal with a couple of rhymes

So I wanted a career as a pro MC
Cos there ain’t a Bengali what flows like me
Took my chances on my own in the music industry
Swear down, it was hard
Missed my family bare
But I paid it no regard
Pretended like I didn’t care
Grafted and prayed
Cos Ripa’s deep not shallow
Knowing no-one’s self-made
Man they owe it all to Allah
Yeah my faith’s for real
It’s as solid as my rhymes
And if rhyming’s unIslamic
That makes Arabic a crime

But I had this debate with Dad four years ago
Don’t want it all again it interrupts my flow
I’m back here tonight for my sister Nilufa
I’ve missed you big sister
And this is the proof
Been struggling now on my own for four years
I’ve missed you, I’m tired, my eyes hurt from the tears

But I’m older and wiser, I realise the cost
Of throwing this away, of the scale of my loss
Cos what is it in life that keeps us in place?
Like the anchor of a ship – it’s community, it’s faith.

Yeah I’ve had my bit of fun and now I see my life ahead of me
Turn to face the sun cos now it’s time to make a better me
And I ain’t gonna get it in the music industry
Cos Britain ain’t ready for a Muslim MC

Ain’t even gonna tell you what I did to get by
But I lived to tell the tale, I’m here, I survived
Now I want my own mehndi, marriage, feeling connected
Husband, kids, all the things I once rejected
I wanna grow up, settle down, have a few little Me’s
Cos when a man supports his wife is when a woman’s truly free
Yeah let the men do the work, pay the bills, get bored
Cos we’ve got a job that’s really more important
Raising the next generation
Cos if you educate a woman then you educate a nation
Passing on faith and wisdom
Showing there’s more than a place in the system

Yeah I want my Bengali identity back
Cos without it, I’m nothing, and it’s holding me back
Women performing? Yeah tell me about it
Want my sari and scarf, I’m naked without it
Wearing this, I’m judged for my mind not my looks
My words taken serious, like in some book

Mum all I ever wanted was to feel like your equal
You’ve had your life, and now I’m the sequel
I know that right now you’re feelin the friction
But I want you to know there ain’t no contradiction
You’ve always written me off as a dreamer
But what you’re looking at now is a modern Muslima.

After one particularly electrifying performance, the girls were clearing up and a rather earnest journalist came up to them and started grilling them about: What is it you’re actually saying here? That women should be in the home? That they should or shouldn’t perform? They debated the point with him for a while, but clearly still suspicious, he asked them if this was their work or if someone had written it for them. And about five of them in this big group just turned to him and said: “No, we wrote it.”

And that’s the greatest compliment they could have given me.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Alright, I'll come clean. I've been back for a while but just hiding. It's got to that stage again where things have backed up so much that blogging seems like a mountainous chore.

When this has happened in the past I've found it best to just wipe the slate clean and start again from where I'm at. After all, you won't miss what you never knew about will you?

So, it was back to work with a bump this week. Rehearsals have started for We Are Shadows, my latest play for Half Moon. The first day was as exciting as first days always are, helped along by the discovery of an excellent cast and brilliant original score intelligently put together by Leeds-based composer Ed Thomas, who also turns out to be a thoroughly nice bloke. I prefer to let the company get on with things without me in the early stages of rehearsals but I'll be popping in for the first stagger-through in a week or so.

Work is also well under way for my as-yet-untitled modern Jacobean play. A couple of heavyweight plot meetings this week with Matt Peover and Mark Bell have crystallised the story no end, and I'm now ready to pull together all our Jacobean pontifications on modern life into a treatment. (I'm quite schematic in this respect, and always have to map out the play before writing a word of dialogue, all the more so when it's a collaboration like this).

I'm also in the early stages of planning a couple of postgraduate modules which I'm teaching for John Ginman on the Goldsmiths Playwriting MA this term. My old course has gone from strength to strength and can now boast alumni in TV, radio and theatre, as well as having bagged a couple of awards. It'll be a new year and a new intake next month, so it'll be exciting to see who they've got. If you're enrolled, see you there.

Whilst we're on universities, I've been asked to deliver a short paper and talk on a panel at the forthcoming conference Between Fact And Fiction being hosted by Birmingham University. I'll be talking about the process of 'creative research' in relation to my own work, so I might post the paper on here afterwards, if it turns out to be at all coherent.

Then there's Mehndi Night. Ah, bless Mehndi Night. I love that show so much. The girls and Jools did such a brilliant job up in Edinburgh and the whole thing was a joy from start to finish. I think I enjoyed doing that play more than anything I've ever done - seriously. I suppose with professionals you expect them to do a good job, but when it's such young performers with so many variables involved then it's doubly brilliant, especially when you see them coming out of themselves and flowering as young adults throughout the process. The change in some of those kids has just been extraordinary, and reaffirmed all my belief in the power of drama to instill confidence, assert identity and cultivate growth and understanding between groups of people. Looking around the auditorium when they were in full flow was like being at a Bengali party with Scottish grannies, American students, and executives on lunch break all on the guest list. There were plenty of damp eyes in the house too, as the actors milked that heart-breaking little story for all it was worth.

To top it all, the press response was universally positive and we started to sell out towards the end of the run, and could easily have filled another week (though of course everyone was knackered by then so I think a week and a half was about our limit). I'm due a meeting at the school next week, as there has been talk of reviving the play down here. But we're running up against what I think it's safest to call 'cultural complications' in doing the play closer to home. I'm afraid I can't really say much more than that, but if we get to do any public performances you'll be the first to know.

In other news, I'm delighted to report that the brillaint Ellie Jones of How To Disappear fame has been made artistic director of Southwark Playhouse. Hooray! And as if that wasn't enough, the formerly threatened John Whiting Award (which rescued my career not so very long ago) has been saved by a consortium of theatres with the generous backing of the Peter Wolff Theatre Trust. So good news all round.

I think that's all from me for now. I keep meaning to get on the case with scouring autumn seasons so that I can publish a list of forthcoming recommended shows, but any advance tip-offs from those of you a step ahead of me would be very welcome.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Having a bit of a rest, and spending some long overdue time with Mrs Fin.

Got all sorts to tell you about, but it's going to have to wait. I'm knackered.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Can't stop, but just to say Mehndi Night has had some fab reviews.

The Guardian here
The Herald here
And Statler of View From The Stalls fame here.

So happy!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

No time to blog properly but just to say that Mehndi Night has been getting some great audience feedback on the DIY review facility at edfringe.com ... So proud of them all!

Guardian and Scotsman were in yesterday too... Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Here it is. Mostly ok, but you can tell it's Society and not Arts! (I did tell them I'd evolved beyond my David Hare phase...but I guess they need their angle). And all publicity is good publicity with a show opening tomorrow.

Monday, July 30, 2007

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

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

Sunday, July 22, 2007

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

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

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

Bless you all.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Very, very busy (again). Sorry.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a horrible dirty addiction theatre is.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

I was once told by someone (I forget who now, but they seemed authoritative at the time) that David Hare once observed a fundamental difference between British and American playwrighting styles. Hare posited that Americans write plays from ‘the inside out’ whereas the British tradition tends to write from ‘the outside in’. What he meant by this is that the Americans begin with character groupings – families, workplaces, friendship groups – and tell their personal stories, allowing any issues or themes to emerge organically from those stories. The British (and certainly Hare himself, and many of his generation) by contrast largely start with the theme – postcolonialism, female emancipation, the state of the judiciary – and then populate the drama with the characters best placed to explore this theme.

Now I don’t want to get sidetracked in a big comments box discussion pointing out all the exceptions to this broad rule of thumb, because whether it’s true or not of those particular countries and their playwrighting traditions is irrelevant. It’s the distinction itself that has always interested me, as it does seem to encapsulate two very distinct approaches to playwrighting and play commissioning with which I myself struggle.

There are advantages and drawbacks to each approach, of course. At their worst, plays written from the ‘inside out’ can avoid hitting on any interesting issues at all, even accidentally, and can turn out to be narcissistic affairs about the writer’s immediate circle of friends, without any insight to offer about anything much at all. But they may also be great examples of writing psychologically watertight characters, with all the messy urges, contradictions, and nuances of fear and longing that characterise the human condition.

‘Outside in’ plays at their best can be political epics of Homerian scope and Shakespearean complexity, offering devastating critiques of the world around us and the forces at work in it. But at their worst they offer weak one-dimensional characters, who act as mere ciphers for the playwright’s transparent agenda, parroting ideology uninformed by human complexity or heart.

There are fine (and terrible) examples of both, from both sides of the Atlantic.

My natural tendency when thinking of new ideas is to use the ‘outside in’ approach. It's not a choice, it's just how I work. Characters in plays very rarely occur to me as the initial seed. When I’m sitting in those meetings casting around for an exciting way to sum up a play idea that is at that stage a mere feeling in my guts, I never start ‘Well, it’s about this guy whose marriage breaks up …’ Instead I usually try to sum up something at the heart of the idea that I feel is far more important than the mere people involved. ‘Well, it’s about what happens when you unleash market forces into the public sector…’ or ‘Well, it’s about whether choosing to remove oneself from society is the ultimate pursuit of freedom or the ultimate death wish’ or ‘Well, it’s about the logical effects of consumerism and where humanity as a species is likely to be in fifty years time.’

You can see commissioners eyes glaze over. Sometimes they’ll lie and say ‘Hmm, sounds interesting’ then just not call. Other times they’ll gently reveal their subtext ‘Do you think this could be done with a lighter touch?’. Occasionally they’ll come right out with it: ‘No-one wants to think about that, it’s too depressing. How To Disappear was really funny, can't you do something like that again?’.

Actually, How To Disappear was bleak as fuck. It’s just that I know how to make bleak subjects entertaining, because I work hard at my craft and I know what I’m fucking doing. I just can’t tell you prior to the first draft all about my main character’s love life, favourite food, happiest memory and the colour of his garage door. But I know I’m onto something important with what the play’s really about. I just need you to take a small leap of faith and commission that draft so that I will have a roof over my head while I show you how it will work. Trust that I will pull it off - I’ve done this before.

Commissioning from the inside out drives outside in writers up the fucking wall. Does anyone else have this problem? What's to be done?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Honestly, will you people not let me relax? I'd just laid out my towel for a well-earned sunbathe when all these comments come flooding in requiring me to explain my self-censorship. Well, so be it. If this is the beginning of another two years out of work then I'll hold you all personally responsible. My site stats tell me where you live, you know ...

David, bless you for your concern. Whilst that row back in January (no I'm not going to link it) did of course make me sit up and take notice, it isn't the main reason for my current gloom. However, what it did do is make me realise that people actually read this stuff, and that there's no reason why I shouldn't take every care to formulate my thoughts here just as carefully as I would if I was writing in the pages of a national paper (not that I'm flattering my humble stats but you take my point; this is a public arena and I'm no less accountable, or exposed). And I have had some very positive social encounters with a number of writers and others in our biz since then that make me grateful to be involved in it, and glad to have colleagues (in the broadest sense) who are so interested in ideas, zeitgests and debates about proper intelligent stuff.

But it just puzzles and exasperates me that this is so rarely translated into our theatrical output. I honestly don't know why this is, but it drives me mad. Maybe I'm just not seeing enough stuff. Maybe my standards are too high. Whenever I start a new playwrighting class, I usually give the following little speech to my students (so long as they're adults and above a certain level of competence). I may have said something similar here in the past, but here it is again:

"When considering what it is that you want to write about, look for the nuggets of originality at all times. The hardest question I have ever been asked about my own work, and the question I now ask of all plays I see or read is: Why are you telling me this? What is so pressing about what you have to say that you have devoted 3, 4 or 5 months of your life to getting it down on paper, probably for no pay? In theatre you have a far more demanding contract with your audience than in any other art form. Why does the story you have to tell justify £20 of my hard-earned money, me giving up my evening, running the gauntlet of British weather and public transport, then sitting in the dark without talking for two hours or more, then risking my life making my way home in the dark? Not to mention the thousands of pounds and man-hours it will cost to produce. What you have to say has to be pretty damn devastating. When I come out of that theatre after seeing your show, I want to be totally blown away. I want to go out into the night saying FUCK! I had no idea that went on!!! Or, I had never thought of it that way before!!! The trick is to shine a light into hitherto uncharted areas of human experience. Or, if it is a subject that has been done before (which is most of them) then what is the totally unique angle that you are going to bring to it? Nothing less justifies my time and money - especially if you are writing in the subsidised sector and your commission fee is made up of this nation's taxes. Go out, meet the people who have lived through the experiences of your play, interview them, read about them, hang around where they hang around, immerse yourself in their world and lives. You are panning for gold. Find the nuggets of originality. You will know them when you find them by the bolt of pure excitement they send through your guts. Gather them together, wash off the crap, and polish them till you can see your own face in their reflection. Only then can you start writing your play."

I'm sure my comments box will fill up with all kinds of objections to this doctrine, but frankly, I don't really care. In a nutshell, as an audience member, that's what I expect of playwrights who are being professionally produced. And recently, I ain't been getting it. And at a time when our industry is under threat from Olympic idiocy, it depresses me hugely.

Why can't every play be fucking great? I don't think that's too much to ask.

I don't want to slag off theatre. But when you have friends who aren't involved in it, who used to go a lot, but who now say they won't bother again because they've been stung once too often after a hard day in the office with dire, dull, overpriced shows (which sometimes you have erroneously taken them to see after reading some promising blurb) - when you can physically see your audience drifting away before your very eyes and you can't blame them ... well, that does rather affect my mood. Especially when a certain loyalty to my own profession prevents me from letting rip about it here.

I read a lot of apocalyptic books about global warming and peak oil. I am utterly convinced that as a species we are going to hell in a handcart. And what's more, we'll have been such ignorant selfish brats that we'll deserve everything we get. But I don't see that reflected in our theatre. We still have a plethora of plays looking at boy-girl relationships and other minor domestic upsets. Where is the rage? Where is the terror? Where is the passion that should be unleashed by fact that we are now living through the beginning of the end of the human species? We're fiddling while Rome burns!

I'm not saying that all plays should be about global warming. Just that in the light of this extraordinary, unprecedented sword of Damocles hanging over every one of us (not to mention geopolitical complications) there's increasingly little excuse for navel-gazing plays about nothing much at all. Theatre, like the rest of the world, needs to get some perspective.

I don't entirely blame writers. As ever, it's what gets commissioned that gets through. And I have indeed tried and failed to get plays and screenplays commissioned on these very subjects. But that just adds to my sense of despair about the whole industry. I don't want to spend my life as some outsider peddling doom-laden but unfortunately truthful dramas that aren't deemed 'entertaining' enough to commission. In fact, part of the problem is that despite my recent successes I'm still not deemed skilled enough to make plays about Big Ideas suitably engaging and accessible.

I suppose I just want to be trusted enough to get to write what I think is important, and to be supported enough throughout the process to make a good job of it. Writing is the only means I have at my disposal to actually affect the things that I know we have coming to us. Without it, I'm impotent. And that makes me unhappy.

Anyway, enough. I have a towel on the balcony and an increasingly hot sun calling my name.

Oh, it's stared raining.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Ha! Not 90 minutes after the post below and I have just had an excitable email from Poland about said show...

Honestly, this fucking business. It's enough to give you manic depression.
I'm not feeling especially bloggy at the moment.

It's partly that I'm still busy finishing a number of different writing and teaching jobs. It's partly that it's been a long year and I'm ready for a holiday. But I think it's also that I'm feeling a bit restricted in what I can and can't talk about.

I've seen a string of duff shows lately, ranging from mediocre to appalling. But I can't discuss them. After dipping my toe into these waters last time and getting a nasty nip, I got some sage advice from trusted quarters that those in the business of producing art shouldn't criticise it. It's not that we're incapable, or that morally we should avoid doing so, or that we have an unspoken oath of solidarity towards our colleagues (though there may be something in this). It's more that when deconstructing other's work and finding fault with it, there's no getting away from the awful unavoidable subtext that you are somehow saying: I can do this better than them, I don't make these mistakes.

Even when you're not.

So I have given up theatre criticism, at least until I see something good (recommendations welcome). And anyway, there are bloggers out there doing a far more intelligent job of assessing the nation's dramatic output than I could ever be bothered to.

I could blog about how, for a variety of diplomatically-sensitive reasons I again can't discuss, a certain well-known play of mine now looks exceedingly unlikely to make it to London. But a foot wrong in that minefield could finally finish off a career that's already been brought back from the brink once too often for my liking. (And that's a howl of frustration directed southwards rather than northwards, for anyone from the fine city of Sheffield reading).

I could blog about the whole depressing Olympics situation but (apart from the fact that this has been done to death in the blogosphere of late) after my initial burst of rage-fuelled letter-writing I've become rather defeatist about the whole thing. Apart from a dismissive email from my MP, and an incoherent statistic-strewn letter from one of Tessa Jowell's minions, the net result of my missives has been a resounding bugger all. David Lammy, Gordon Brown and Peter Hewitt have all ignored me, and I'm not really a joiner in the shouty protesty let's-have-an-arts- sports-day sense (though I wish them all the best.) The blogs and mailing lists and meetings all rail about how 'We must let them know they can't get away with this', but the depressing truth is that of course they can. They're the government. They can do what they like. If they can go to war with millions of people protesting against it they can sure as hell nick some cash from us and bulldoze half of east London for their pointless corporate javelin chuckathon.

So I might take a bit of a break from blogging for a while, and try and catch some sun. Chances are that now I've said this publicly, something extraordinarily dramatic will happen and I'll be back in 24 hours to eat my words and tell you all about it. Then again, it might not.

See you on the other side.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Right then. I'm back.

Been hard at work on a first draft of Mehndi Night, which is going to be fucking great if I do say so myself, so I hope you enjoyed the half-time entertainment. I thought I'd share some early scribblings from my research for We Are Shadows, my new series of monologues for teenagers. None of those speeches will actually appear in the play, but they did form the stimulus for a workshop day at Half Moon some time back, which fed into the main piece. They've been sort of dormant since so I thought I'd dig them out. Needless to say, please don't perform without permission and all that.

I'd like to indulge in a little non-theatre foray for a moment, if you'll permit me. Long-time readers and friends will know that political hip hop is one of my great passions, and which I had a great time exploring on stage in last year's play Locked In. I'm also fascinated by the political situation in France at the moment, which has reached a head with the recent election of Nicolas Sarkozy. What interests me most is the approach that this parallel society just across the Channel has taken to immigration and multiculturalism in relation to our own. Whilst on the surface, Liberte Egalite et Fraternite (how do you do an e-acute accent on Blogger?) seems a great idea, far from uniting people this otherwise honourable notion appears to have come to define a very narrow vision of 'Frenchness' and required newcomers to French society to give up their roots and ethnic identities in order to assimilate into a united vision of the country. The film La Haine, an extraordinary and depressingly prescient portrayal of doomed Parisien youth locked into a deadly cycle of revenge with the forces of the state, was perhaps the first time French popular drama addressed the subject. The 2005 riots were like that film come to life, and things are only going to get worse under Sarkozy.

However, one good side effect of a sort, has been the explosion of truly brilliant French political hip hop and vibrant banlieu youth culture which this civil unrest has given rise to. My MC of the moment and hot tip for future greatness is a French-Moroccan rapper from Lille called Axiom, who is so new and exciting he hasn't yet got a Wikipedia biog I can link to. However you can check him out on MySpace here and watch some of his videos (turn it up loud for best effect). The site also contains links to the other movers and shakers of the French hip hop scene, who I'm in the process of checking out.

Now my French isn't up to understanding every word but I can catch enough of Axiom's lyrics to feel reassured this guy is about more than the usual bitches and guns. His track 'Ma lettre au Presidente', set to a sarcastic sample of La Marseillaise, is a heartfelt lyrical protest from the disenfranchised youth of the Lille slums. Apparently he also wrote it down and sent it to the outgoing Jacques Chirac as well as releasing it as a single, but French media promptly banned it. But the internet being what it is it's been doing the rounds, and rightly so. It's a great track and a great album.

There is a spurious theatre link to all this, and that is the forthcoming talk at Soho Theatre From Brixton To The Banlieus about disenfranchised urban youth on the move. I feel strongly that modern writers should be in touch with debates like this within sociology, so it's great that this is on in one of the leading new writing venues.

Funnily enough in Mehndi Night the girls came up with the idea (completely independently of me) of an estranged middle sister who was kicked out of the Bengali family home for hanging out at pirate radio stations and largin it with the black boys, so I've had great fun this week writing some lyrics for her. In the middle of a blazing row with her mum one of the older characters steps to the girl's defence and pleads with the parents:

"Allow your children their identity crisis. There is so much for them to carry today. They are Bengali, they Muslim, they are British, they are East London, they are young, they are women. Is it any wonder they can’t manage it all at once? Allow them to drop a few. They will come back for them when the time is right. You just have to wait ... Allow them to celebrate who they are, piece by piece. We are lucky that we are in a country that allows them to do that."

It's a moment of clarity for which I am grateful to Mulberry trainee teacher Noorzahan Begum for pointing out to me.

I spent a large part of my early life hating the stuffy old UK and only ever seeing what was wrong with it, and plenty of aspects of it still exasperate me at times. But as I've got older and wiser, I've become increasingly proud of our country, in particular its tolerance and celebration of diversity. Our version of multiculturalism, in London at least, is something we can rightly be proud of, particularly considering the alternative mess across the Channel. I'm not saying it's not without it's problems, or that there's no work left to do (winning the hearts and minds of the white working classes is the next big step), but overall I think the good outweighs the bad. If my own recent experiences as an accidental chronicler of East London life are anything to go by, the tabloid scare stories about immigration are the same old blinkered bullshit they always have been. Multiculturalism is our own home-grown good news story.

It perhaps means that we don't do political hip hop quite as well as the French, but I think I can live with that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Trouble Next Door

Been trouble round our way lately
I mean there’s trouble round our way a lot
But this kinda trouble’s gone burstin my bubble
And it’s suttin I haven’t forgot

Been trouble round our way lately
New family moved in next door
This pale lookin lady with a couple of babies
And a boyfriend who’s been in the wars

Been trouble round our way lately
Been things that go bump in the night
At first it was plates that started to break
As the two of em started to fight

Been trouble round our way lately
The screamin it keeps us awake
There’s trouble next door at flat number four
Our windows have started to shake

Been trouble round our way lately
I said: One of us oughta go round
It sounds like she’s scared, but nobody cares
My dad turns the telly up loud

Been trouble round our way lately
The babies have started to scream
It goes on for ages during his rages
But dad he just stares at the screen

Been trouble round our way lately
Everything’s gone a bit quiet
Mum feeds the cat, goes: Thank God for that
Goes back to her magazine diet

Been trouble round our way lately
No-one’s gone in or gone out
I said: Should we go –
And dad he goes: No
And looks like he’ll give me a clout

Been trouble round our way lately
Postman can't open the flap
Been ringin the phone but nobody’s home
My nerves about ready to snap

Been trouble round our way lately
Suttink has started to smell
Dad says it’s my breath that smells like death
Mum says she doesn’t feel well

Been trouble round our way lately
The police came and broke down the door
Took the bodies away on these three metal trays
Then came round to ask what we saw

Been trouble round our way lately
We all had to fill in a form
As we gave them the facts
They said: Didn’t you act?
And we go quiet and look at the floor

Been trouble round our way lately
I mean there’s trouble round our way a lot
But this kinda trouble’s gone burstin my bubble
And it’s suttin I haven’t forgot.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Crossing

So it’s Community Awareness week in school
It’s your Opportunity
To help da Community
That’s what they keep sayin
On all posters and that
With pictures of smilin people mowin each other’s lawns
Like anyone has a lawn round here
Or a smile come to that

So I ain’t really thought much about it
But it musta stuck in there somewhere
Cos that night
I’m waitin to cross the main road next to the estate
On the way to Spyda’s place to play a bit of PS2
Blow shit up
And it’s peltin it down
Proper little bullets
Like suttink outta da tropics
And there’s this old lady standin there
Clothes hangin heavy
Soaked to da skin
Waitin to cross

And I’m stood there thinking
I ain’t been that good this week
Detention after school every single day
Except the day I bunked off
Sparked two other kids
Though they was bad mouthin my sister
Sat outside da Head’s office twice
Letters home what I never gave
Plus I took twenny quid outta Mum’s purse
Which I still ain’t put back
I better do suttin good quick
Case anyone’s watchin

(Indicates God)
Y’get me

So I turns to the old lady and I goes:
Can I help you?
And she looks at me like I’m gonna merk her
The fear in her eyes
An I’m like: Na na na it’s alright
Just cos I gotta hood don’t mean I’m no good
And she seems to like my rhyme
My little lyrical miracle
Cos she smiles
And I take her arm
And we dodder across
And it’s nice

Takes fuckin forever mind you
Halfway over I swear I see a snail overtake us
But I don’t mind
Cos she’s started chattin
Tellin me about when all this was rubble
From being bombed in the war
By the Germans

And I’m like: Yeah man I heard about that
Was it suttin to do with losing the football?
1066 and all that
Talk about bad losers

But she ain’t listenin
Cos she’s talkin about how her brother
And her auntie
And her cousin
And her husband
All died

We get to the other side
And I say goodbye
And I walk off to Spyda’s
Feelin
Feelin
I dunno
But I don’t really wanna play PS2 no more

‘What’s da matter with you?’
Shut up I say
Ain’t nuttin

I sit on his bed
And look out the window at the rain

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Minicab

Yeah I get all sorts in here
Make a crust innit

Work all hours me
Got a baby on the way
Y'know how it is
So it'd be nice
If you could sort us out wiv a tip
Knoworramean?

Yeah I'm knockin off after you
Past my bedtime innit
But I took pity on ya din’t I
Standin there
White as a sheet
I thought: There’s a man as needs his bed
I’m perceptive like that
See things no-one else sees
Little bit psychic my wife reckons
I say: Yeah right love
You mean psycho not psychic
Hahahahahahahaha

Hey you feelin alright?
Look if you puke its fifty quid straight up
Only had them seats done last month
Bloke pissed hisself
Serious
Not funny
Shit
Jumped a red there
Woops

Don’t say much do ya?
Silent type is it
That’s alright
We all got our secrets
Take this town for instance
That spot yeah
That spot where I picked you up
Massive pile-up there only last week
Serious
Lorry jackknifed doing sixty
Maniac
Similar time of night too
People think they own the road in the small hours
Honestly
Horrific
Multiple deaths
Claret all over the shop
‘pparently the driver
The driver yeah
My mate Ricky reckons anyway
The driver
Got his head cut clean off
Serious
Bam
Whiplash or summing
Bam
Clean off
Brrr
Makes me go cold just thinkin bout it
‘pparently the firemen
Had to wash the blood down the drains with the hose
Wouldn’t know nothing lookin at it now wouldya?
Secrets see
I’m tellin ya

He’s full of shit though is Ricky
He reckons
The night after that accident yeah
He stopped to pick some bloke up
At that very same spot
At that very same time
Pale-lookin geezer
Didn’t say much
Sat in the back
Where you’re sittin now
Silent as the grave

So Ricky’s chattin away
As you do
Half a mile later
Turns round
Geezer’s gone!

Honestly
What does he take me for
Full of shit is Ricky

Now then
Where was it you said you was goin?
Mate?

Mate?

Mate ...

Friday, May 18, 2007

I've been being a critic again this week, watching some fringe shows for Resonance FM's theatre magazine show On The Fringe. Last night I saw the opening of Phil Willmott's new version of Gorky's The Lower Depths at the Finborough, and the night before that I saw an improv group called The Institute at Canal Cafe Theatre. I'm pleased to report that both shows were rather good, which makes reviewing them a whole lot more fun. You can tune in to my inane ramblings on Monday night at 9pm on 104.4FM (so long as you live in London).

In other news, I've discovered the curse that is Facebook. I predict that it will be the death of all self-employed people attempting to work from home.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Well, where do I start? I've had one of those gaps again where the amount of stuff I could now talk about makes blogging seems a bit daunting.

The good news is I've finished my first draft. It was a commission from Half Moon Theatre, a series of monologues for young people called We Are Shadows. You can read more about it here, and if you run a venue you can even book it. I think it's turned out rather well, though I always think that about first drafts and have sometimes been wrong. It's hard to see the wood for the trees after a while.

I'm now flat out on my next one, which is the new play for Mulberry School where I'm writer-in-residence, and which we are taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It's called Mehndi Night and I've created a page about it on my main website here. It's a serious challenge to write authentically about a community so far removed from my own, but I'm really excited about it, and the girls themselves have just been a joy to work with. It's one of those projects where they could never do it without me and I could never do it without them. The result is going to be something totally unique and brilliant, the kind of play which could only ever be born out of working in this way - and which I'd never get the chance to tackle working in isolation. It's been such a privilege to be trusted enough to have been taken into their world with such openness and honesty. The revelations about the reality of trying to juggle all the facets of a third generation British Bengali identity have been by turns poignant, hilarious, tragic and compelling - effortlessly the stuff of drama. I'm seriously excited about the show.

I've also updated my main website to include some more general information about my residency at Mulberry. On that same page there are also links to some scripts by my Year 10 (that's Fourth Year for everyone over 25) students, all of whom completed my playwrighting course with flying colours. We had a reading in school with professional actors hired for the occasion, which went brilliantly. I've just started a similar course for staff in the school, the first time I've ever done a course like that, and we'll probably have a public showcase of their work towards the end of the summer term.

What else?

Oh yes, I'm this close to getting my first radio commission. I'm being supported by a lovely producer at BBC Manchester, but even so the process is rather involved. I won't say any more cos I don't like to jinx these things, but I should hear in a week or so.

Also had my first meeting this week with Matt Peover, Mark Bell and Chris Moran of Liquid Theatre about our modern Jacobean project. It's a real luxury to have the time and cash for some considered creative thought on a play of this size - it speeds the whole process up no end to have four minds working on it. All those conversations you would normally have in your own head about abstract concepts and themes and thrashing out possible storylines are suddenly brought out into the open and held up for such a thorough four-way scrutiny that it's immediately obvious if you're barking up the wrong tree or not. When you're used to working on your own it almost feels like cheating. So I'm having quite a collaborative year what with that and Mehndi Night, and I have to say I'm really loving it.

No news yet on How To Disappear having a London outing, but you'll be the first to know.

I've also been getting some responses to my letter writing campaign about the Olympic arts cuts, but I'll save that for another post soon...