(Q) What do you get when you ask a writer (me) to pen a monologue about his/her (my) home town?
Not at first, anyway.
Back in April I was asked to be one of the writer’s for the Newcastle-leg of ‘Come To Where I’m From’, a project dreamt up by Paines Plough to launch their new artistic-directorship. 61 playwrights across 14 cities asked to write a short play about his/her home town, the place that shaped them.
I was over the moon to be asked. I may have even done a little dance. Paines Plough. Like, the Paines blinkin’ Plough. I had to make this good.
But. You may have noticed amongst these pages a little thing called Blood & Money @ the Prague Fringe Festival. As writer, co-producer, publicity person, stage manager, dogsbody, et al this project took up a considerable amount of time. Before I knew it, it was the last week of May, I was in Prague and I hadn’t written a word for CTWIF. I hadn’t even written the title with a blank page dangling optimistically underneath. But when you’re busy and abroad it is very easy to think you will never be at home again. So really, nothing to worry about.
Cut to: 8am on Monday 7 June. I got back to Blighty at 10pm the previous night. I wake up with a start. I appear to be experiencing a cold sweat of fear. But why? Prague is over, we lived to tell the tale, it’s all good. Oh. I remember now. That’s why. 13 days until CTWIF. I am in serious trouble.
I react as any sane person would do. By doing nothing.
Cut to: 6am on Tuesday 8 June. Bollocks. Inexplicably a play about Newcastle does not appear to have written itself. I set to work. About time.
I write a first draft by the end of the day. It is awful. I eat biscuits and worry. Because I have not mentioned the extra element in play here. The horror that is keeping me awake at night. I can’t just rush off some substandard piece of fluff to palm off on an actor and hope they can work their professionally trained magic on it. Why not? Well, a) I have higher standards and more self-respect than that and b) I AM the actor. Paines Plough added a little kicker in to the agreement – the writer must perform his/her own work. When I had two months then that was fine – scary but fine. After all, I’d have it all polished and ready no problem. I have two weeks.
I eat another biscuit and get on with the re-write. I am too scared to send it to Paines Plough in case they are so horrified they rescind the commission, so send it to my Agent for reassurance. She rings me and tells me it’s not awful, it’s good. I am pleased. Then I remember she might be lying. I finish the biscuits and re-write the re-write.
Some time later. I have managed to come up with a fifteen minute monologue I am not ashamed of. I pluck up the courage to send it as a draft to Paines Plough, and co-Artistic Director George Perrin says he “adores it”. I also send it to Gez at Live. He says it’s “fine”. I resolve that I like George better. And do another re-write.
The day of reckoning – Saturday 19 June. No more re-writes. AD’s James Grieve and George meet with the ‘actors’ at Live Theatre at 5pm. It’s me, Dick Curran, Tracey Whitwell and Michael Chaplin. We are going to read the plays on the stage. One rehearsal. It’s in the main auditorium at Live Theatre – a lone chair sits on the stage in spotlight. G.U.L.P. We read. It is fascinating. With those five words – ‘Come To Where I’m From’ – and that simple brief of ‘write about your home town’ we have each come up with something totally different. Tracey’s spans from her childhood to the present day; Dick has chosen to create a character piece set at Bede’s World in Jarrow and Michael takes us on a journey along the river. And me. Well. I decided to pare mine right down, right down to the basics of my actual ‘home’. My house. My Agent described it as “miserable and funny”. Rather like me, then. I hope the audience will like it.
7.30pm finally arrives. I have had two halves of lager and a glass of champagne. Idiot. Overexcitement, terror and alcohol don’t mix. Fortunately when I see the size of the audience (a lot more than the one man and his dog I was hoping for) and that chair alone on the stage, any giddiness evaporates in to stone cold fear. Tracey gets proceedings off to a great start, then Dick entertains, then … me. The walk from the stairs to that chair seemed to take an eternity. But. I did it. And the crowd seemed to like it. They laughed, no one booed me and I didn’t trip over – I can’t ask for much more! About half way through I relaxed and realised I was enjoying myself up there. Before I know it, it’s over. I’m back at my table and Michael is delivering the final piece.
Good luck to the 44 writers still to perform (the next event is today in fact, in Birmingham). And good work to the 13 writers who came before us in Liverpool, Sheffield and Ipswich. I hope they enjoy(ed) the experience as much as I did … and I mean that in a good way!