Category Archives: theatre

Playwrighting course

** UPDATE ** This course has been postponed until Autumn 2012 **
New Writing SouthI’m running a playwriting course for New Writing South  in Brighton from Tuesday 7th February next year. The copy says:

This new ten session course offers a supportive atmosphere in which to explore elements of craft, including characterisation, plot, dialogue, and voice. Aimed at both those new to playwrighting and those with some experience wanting a refresher course the emphasis is on discovery, technique, and experimentation.  Building on regular class exercises and individual work, and guided by constructive feedback and discussion, you will work on producing a short drama script.  Some work created by the group will be presented by professional actors in a rehearsed reading at the end of the course which all participants can attend.

If you’ve got any questions, please do get in touch.

I’m running a workshop


Beautiful Rye

Built your bonfire too early? Nothing to do early on November 5th? Why not sign up for a writing workshop!

I’m running a one day course at The School Creative Centre in beautiful Rye on Bonfire Day. The full details and booking thing are here.

The blurb says…

This workshop will use a series of practical and impractical exercises to enable you to create flawed but interesting scenes for performance. We’ll look at how actors find their way through scenes, marvel at their speed of thought and try to creates writing that matches it. We’ll be thinking (or not thinking) about pacing and… rhythm. We’ll delight in toying with the audience’s expectations. We’ll worry about whether our plays’ dimensions and depths are as they should be.

…and it’s all true. £20 would be cheap at half the price.

Write  a few short plays during the day and then go home to enjoy a bucketful of pyrotechnic-based, religious zealotry in the evening. What could be better!

Latest obsession

I’ve been working on a presentation about bread for use at Bodiam Castle. I’ve been rewriting it for weeks but can’t get the pitch of it right. It’s either research heavy, too flip, too pseudo-academic or too cr*p.

As I have to stand up and deliver this to a passing audience I am anxious to make it good (though at the moment I’d settle for ‘adequate’).

Bread word cloud

Word cloud image of the latest version of the presentation

It’s years since I’ve had to perform like this. And I have bad memories of street theatre. I’ve got to get it right.

Luckily the deadline is not until 1st August… Oh.

Word cloud image created in wordle.

Pam Gems

I am so sorry to hear that the playwright Pam Gems has died. I went to see her play Piaf in the West End when I was in my early twenties. It changed my view of theatre and gave me a hunger for more. The memory of that evening still quickens my pulse.


>End of the Rainbow


We went to see Peter Quilter’s play End of the Rainbow at Trafalgar Studios last night. It tells the story of Judy Garland’s last few months. The West End Whingers saw in back in November and their review is here – It’s an amazing performance by Tracie Bennett as Garland, and Hilton McRae nails the other sympathetic part.

The first half, however, was undermined by the person in front of us. Why did they need to check their emails every time there was a song? Why did the person next to them have lean over and thumb their icons? Why not watch the bloody show? Bod know what it’s like from the stage. Just as you’re going for the big number a face amongst the multitude lights up, illuminated by their own idiot biscuit. But they’re not looking at you. They’re checking their  latest marketing missive from Apple Store. Can’t it wait?

Being in an audience can be a great experience. When they ‘go’ together it’s an amazing buzz. It’s one of the things I love about writing for the theatre – trying to write (i.e. leave space for) the audience’s part. It’s about generating a here and now that is irresistible. But it’s easily undermined.

We used to worry about coughers and crisp eaters. Millions were spent developing the theatrical cough drop and the silent Pringle. But now it’s texters and tweeters who are the greatest threat to the communal moment.

I have an idea. I’d been developing it to solve another seemingly intractable problem: the whole latecomers, knee rubbing, “sorry”, “thank you” charade of getting to a seat in the middle of a row. The invention is commercially sensitive so I can’t say too much. But if you’ve ever tried to win a cuddly Homer Simpson from one of those claw machines in an amusement arcade, you’ll have some idea of where I’m coming from.

Once this technology is in place it should be easy to spot miscreants as they light up their blackcurrants. From there it’s an easy step to pluck them from their place with minimal disruption to their neighbours’ theatregoing communion and gently land them in a safe place away from the auditorium, probably unaware that anything has happened. The technology is not ready to go live yet – decapitation is still an issue – but I’m sure it will come.

Anyway. For the second half we circumvented the problem: we moved seats. The experience was much better. The scene where Anthony (McRae) tries to sell life in Brighton is charming and heart breaking. The play then seems to clunk to a halt with some narration, but there is a coda. And something magical happens. Tracie Bennett seems, for a moment, to channel Judy Garland. The whole audience is as one – we get it. We’re delighted, moved, even slightly embarrassed that we let ourselves be carried away. It’s what you always hope for when you go to the theatre, but it’s rare.

>…a3crg ’10’

>After recovering from last week’s lurgy and then going down with a bad case of I can’t be arsed to train-itis I finally got back on the bike on Thursday after a six day lay off. Self delusion being what it is, I rather imagined that I would be rested and ready to rip the other riders’ legs off. After twenty minutes my group dropped me. Hubris I think it’s called.

On Saturday afternoon I rode the …a3crg 10m TT on the A3 South of Liphook (the P881r). It’s a fast course and it was a nice day. I did a 24:30 which looks like a decent time for me, but I finished 76th out of 96. Not good.

Race stats: Time: 24:30 (24.49mph). First 5 miles: 12:35, second 5 miles: 11:55. Top speed: 32.2mph. Slowest mile (4): 2:45 (21.82mph), fastest mile (10): 2:04 (29.03mph). Average HR: 164bpm, maximum HR: 168bpm. 76th of 96 finishers. Ave. cadence: 74rpm. Winner: Stephen Whitewick (UTAG 19:45

On Saturday evening we were scheduled to see Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 at The Globe. I arrived late and so viewed the first half from the side. Those bloody pillars can’t be right. For the second half I was re-united with Pat and our friends and managed to see the show from the front – much better. Roger Allam has been highly and deservedly praised for his performance as Falstaff.

Sunday was a long drive to Ross-on-Wye and back for my mum’s 80th birthday lunch – nice to meet family and old friends again.

>The Prisoner of Second Avenue


We went to see Neil Simon’s The Prisoner of Second Avenue at the Vaudeville Theatre last night. It’s about a guy who loses his job, loses his mind, and then puts so much pressure on his wife that she loses it too. I’m not sure why Pat chose it.

Jeff Goldblum is good, but the production really gets going when Mercedes Ruehl’s character comes into her own later in the play. Not all the critics have liked it but it was a good night out.

>Love Song


We went to see a production of Love Song by John Kolvenbach at the Pleasance Theatre last night. A funny play with a great cast (my niece Eleanor Yates plays Molly). It closes today (shows at 5.30 and 8.30).

Well worth a look. Don’t wear a big jumper though – the  auditorium was very warm.

>West London Combine 25m TT and a trip to The Miniaturists


A day of two halves.

The morning began with a 6.30am alarm. Off to a lay-by under a motorway bridge (ah! the glamour) for the second West London Combine event of the season – a 25 mile time trial organised by Hillingdon Triathletes with some marshals being stumped up by the Willesden as well. I offered to supplement the marshals but Dave, the organiser, suggested that I ride. I should have insisted…

It was a beautiful day: warm(ish), still(ish), dry and sunny. The Amersham Road course (the HCC113) is always tougher out to the turn, but the gentle breeze made it seem easier than usual. I knew I wasn’t on top form (a tough training week this week and a Calshot velodrome session the day before left my legs feeling like… sore legs). I did think, however, that my course personal best of a couple of years ago (a middling 1h 6m) would be easily achievable. As it turns out, I know nothing.

Photo by Ron Purdy. Bike by Peter D. You can see how miserable I was after the race

I crawled to the turn (feeling ok, just slow) and accelerated towards home. I was lacking power when the road kicked up, but nothing fatal. So I was surprised and embarrassed to finish with a course worst of 1:9:25. While club mate Peter turned in a course best of 1:1:14 for 7th place and Simon took three minutes of his PB for a 1:3:37 I was… riding quite slowly.

As ever, in these circumstances, I turn to the records and the data to search for clues – My RHR has been slightly high for the last couple of weeks. I’ve been trying to catch up on last weekend’s lost training (I know, I know) and might have overcooked it. It’s the first time this season I’ve used big gears. I’ve never actually done a fast ’25’ in March, and so on and so on.

The race data shows a low-ish average heart rate. This is partly due to some hard sessions this week (but I had an easy Friday) and largely, I think, due to a lack of effort. Pat reckons my new-found pre-race calmness (she said lack of “nervous energy” which is better than her previous term: “going daft”) might be to blame. She suggests finding something to psyche myself up before a race – code for HTFU I suspect.

The speed figures are very strange. I was actually slower than 20mph average for the first 12.5 miles (37:55 = 19.78mph) and came back in 31:30 (23.81mph). That’s a big swing even on a gently uphill first half. I suspect that I didn’t start racing until it got easy.

Race stats: Time: 1:09:25 (21.61mph). First 12.5 miles: 37:55, last 12.5 miles: 31:30. Top speed: 34.8mph. Slowest mile (3): 3:22 (17.82mph), fastest miles (21 and 24): 2:21 (25.53mph). Average HR: 148bpm, maximum HR: 159bpm. 28 of 49 finishers. Winner: Steve Golla (High Wycombe CC) 58:33.

After a rather glum journey home, Pat and I headed off to Dalston for the latest Miniaturists show at the Arcola Theatre. Five well-written, well-presented short plays – a great evening out. It turned the day around. Thanks, minis.

>A Page Turner and the 20/20 conference


Last weekend I attended the 20/20 Playwriting/Pedagogy conference run by The Department of Drama and Theatre Arts at Birmingham University. It was great to meet up with old friends, meet some new friends and listen to some interesting and inspiring papers. The US playwriting/pedagogy scene (with its much longer history of teaching playwriting) was well represented and produced some interesting insights.

The conference celebrated the 20th anniversary of the MA/MPhil(B) in Playwriting Studies – Britain’s first postgraduate playwriting course. I attended the course in 1999/2000 and was one of 20 graduates commissioned to write a 10 minute play to be performed at the conference.

The play, A Page Turner, was directed by Gwenda Hughes and performed by third year undergraduates. There were two shows of ten plays each. The productions were very good – casts moving from one play to the next with ease.

For the first time ever I didn’t attended rehearsals of the first production of one of my plays (I don’t think any of the playwrights did). Seeing the play for the first time, I wished I’d cut more heavily. It makes me realise how much I rely on a dialogue with the director and actors to fine tune my work. I’m not a naturally authoritarian author. Something to work on.

The weekend was a boost for my writing. After a long time away from the stage and rehearsal room you forget what a buzz it is to be around theatre (and radio drama) makers.