The stats are in …

Trip #1 of 3 to the Edinburgh Festival – 2/8/12

  • Time my alarm went off: 5.50am
  • Number of stairs that I climbed up to the Royal Mile upon leaving the train station via an unfamiliar route: approx 1, 000,000
  • Number of shows that I saw: 4
  • Number of shows I could have probably fitted in if I’d been in a running about mood: 6
  • Number of shows that I enjoyed: 3 (Shakespeare for Breakfast at C Venue; The Prize and Susan Calman at Underbelly)
  • Number of shows that I didn’t enjoy: 1
  • Number of shows that made me actually angry and subsequently have a mini rant about: see above
  • Number of seconds it took me to hone in on a Tobacco/Can Cause Death poster while in C Venues: 6
  • Number of people that I saw who I know that made me exclaim ‘eee, it’s a small world’: 3
  • Number of famous people that I saw: 2.5 (the .5 is cos I know I’ve seen her in stuff but can’t remember what or her name)
  • Number of people who asked me for directions: 1
  • Number of people who I was able to successfully direct: 0
  • Number of people who I asked for directions: 1
  • Number of steps I was from the place I asked for directions for upon asking for directions: approx 10
  • Number of free things I got: 2
  • Number of flyers I took: 7
  • Number of times I thought ‘bloody students’ before remembering that I was one such student at the Fringe back in the day: 12
  • Number of bruises I picked up from sources unknown: 1
  • Time spent in Edinburgh: 11 hours

You wait for ages, then 3 come along at once

I haven’t updated my blog in a while. The reason is very simple – I haven’t had anything to say (some might say that doesn’t usually stop me).

Last year saw lots of activity as various plays and projects came to fruition. The problem is, however, that plays don’t write themselves and sometimes you’ve just got to knuckle down and get on with it. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Getting on with writing. And sometimes not writing but thinking about writing. And sometimes not writing and not thinking about writing, but the latter not very often.

I’ve got a few things coming up that I’d like to share with you, if that’s ok. If it’s not ok, stop reading now.

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Saturday 4 & Sunday 5 August (various times daily)

TEN TINY TYNESIDE PLAYS, part of Live Theatre’s ‘Mega Bites’ Youth Theatre Festival

The audience will tour in and around Live Theatre, seeing shorts written by myself and four other writers in various and unusual spaces. Apparently these spaces are a surprise. I know where they are, but I’m not allowed to say. They were fun to write. You’d think the brief “write a 7 minute play for 2 young actors” would be a doddle, but it isn’t. My two tiny plays are called ‘Make A Wish’ and ‘Flapjack’. One involves flapjack – I’ll leave it up to you to guess which.

Tickets are available now – click [here] for the details

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Sunday 5 August (it’s a busy weekend)

Forward Theatre Project’s SCRATCH MY CITY @ Soho Theatre

I really enjoyed the last SMC I did with the Company last year, so I signed up to do another one. For this one the inspiration for the writers is provided by puppet company Colossal Crumbs. We’ve each been assigned a puppet character as our inspiration. Mine is called Cuthbert. He is a lonely fish. He breaks my heart.

I’m writing the play right now. Well, not RIGHT NOW but let’s not get pedantic. It includes a magic library book and a packet of Polos. Unfortunately I can’t say much more than that for the moment.

Again, tickets are available now – click [here] for the details

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Thursday 2 – Monday 27 August (7.10pm daily)

TOBACCO DOUBLE-BILL @ Edinburgh Festival Fringe

I am reliably informed that Esra Taf’s rehearsals are going well and I am very much looking forward to seeing their production of Tobacco/Can Cause Death at the Fringe next month.

So, that’s about the size of it.

For now, at least … x

And the nominees are …

I was delighted to find out this morning that I have been nominated for the Culture Awards Writer of the Year.

I am shortlisted alongside Michael Chaplin and David Almond, which is a teeny tiny bit intimidating but very flattering to be in such fine company.

So thank you to everyone involved in bringing my 2011 productions to the stage.

And thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination.

Keep your fingers crossed come April 16th … x

Beer, pigs & vitiligo (not necessarily in that order)

Awww, did you cry? Did you? Even just a little bit? I did. There, I admitted it.

And no, this isn’t the bit where I reveal I am talking about something obscure, I am actually talking about the Royal Wedding.

It was quite a day, first up I discovered I really am an old softie at heart (every time they cut to Kate – sorry, Catherine – or her Dad, or her Mam, or a reveller, or some union jack bunting, or anything really, I welled up). I also found I am quite partial to beer, lucky really as after the nuptials I headed to the Gateshead Beer Festival (surprisingly I had the  afternoon free having not been invited to the reception).  ‘Raspberry Blonde’ was my favourite – I have no other information on it than that, I’m afraid. I picked my beer like I pick a horse in the Grand National, if it’s got a name I like then I plump for it. And so ends the science bit.

It’s all been mental busy of late. But, needs must. I’ve got to put the work in, them there scripts don’t go writing themselves. In the past few weeks of nose-welded-to-the-grindstoneness I’ve done my back in from hours sitting at my desk and my eczema and vitiligo have flared up from stress … sorry, too much information?! Vitiligo is what they say Michael Jackson had, fact fans. Although fortunately that is where any similarity between us begins and ends.

Forefront in my mind at the moment is The Girls From Poppyfield Close that opens in about 7 weeks at Live Theatre …

Over two decades ago, Charlotte set off home from school. She never made it. But now the papers say a body has been found, bones dug up and the case back in the headlines. In the remains of the house they all grew up in, now condemned for demolition, her sisters wait to find out, each harbouring their own guilt and secrets about what happened.

Thurs 23 – Sat 25 June … click [here] to see booking information.

This is my first solo production at Live, by which I mean it’s a full-length play and I am not sharing the bill. On the one hand this has been a long-held ambition of mine and I am super-duper excited. On the other hand, I am as nervous as you’d expect, not being able to share the load and having to carry a whole night. Some people, eh. Never happy. The cast is TBC but the director is Rosie Kellagher who has been there every step of the way as I’ve developed the script from its 30 minute original Blood, and she directed my last piece at Live Clint.

I’ve been invited to the launch of Live’s new Season tomorrow, where I’ll chat about the play. Ha ‘chat’ hark on me, just shootin’ the breeze. Mainly I am channelling any nerves into worrying about what to wear. That said, I’ve just had the schedule through and every slot looks like it has a whole 5 minutes – how far wrong can I go in 300 seconds? … (famous last words) It’s being held at The Broad Chare, a new pub next door to Live, and I hear they have a wide beer selection. So then, I’ll be in my element – what with me being such an expert now.

I’m also continuing to write Dolly Would, my first radio drama. I’ve had the feedback from Draft #1, all very positive and encouraging. I’m  going into Draft #2 with lots of ideas, less worried about getting my head around ‘thinking with my ears’ and able to focus more on the story and its characters. I also have the recording dates which makes it all very real. If I ever feel like slacking, I can think ahead to that recording and the fact that in eight months or so it’ll be on air (gulp!)

  • In other news … I spent Saturday looking up online how to butcher a pig. Suffice to say it was for research purposes for a new endeavour with Forward Theatre Project. I felt a bit queasy and, at the same time, desperate for a bacon sandwich.  Confusing.
  • In other other news … the Rascals are convening this evening to discuss our brand spanking new project … details announced soon
  • In other other other news … my friend Helen Macfarlane is appearing in The Crucible at York Theatre Royal this month. One of my favourite venues as that’s where the whole Tobacco double-bill adventure began. Speaking of which … the Latitude Festival looms ever nearer, and along with it a certain Chekhov/Carr double-bill.
  • And finally … The Royal Shakespeare Company. I’ll leave that with you.

Numberwang! (Past Glories; Day 219)

A Kit-Kat Chunky to whoever can tell me what the following numbers mean… 

  • 3
  • 35
  • 23
  • 6,000

Anyone? Anyone? No. Ok …

  • 3 actors (cast and rehearsals underway)
  • 35 days until Past Glories opens
  • 23 hours of rehearsal time (approx.)
  • 6,000 props – or thereabouts. More on that in a moment.

So then. Here we are. Firmly on the homeward stretch for Never Rains But It Pours. Blimey, how time flies. Rehearsals kicked off a couple of weeks ago – sadly I wasn’t able to make the first one due to a clash with the Tobacco double-bill at Northern Stage. However. Last week I rolled up at the People’s Theatre to sit in.

I’m pleased-as-punch with the cast director Kath Frazer has assembled – and here they are, pictured below (L-R) Emma Watson (Cari), Jo Kelly (Lyn) and Louisa Shirley (Meredith) – cheery looking bunch, aren’t they …!!

I’ve worked with Kath before on My Mam Was An Ice-Cream Blonde and with Louisa on Patricia Quinn Saved My Life (along with Kath, again, as it goes), and Jo took part in the first ever workshop for Rains back in Jan 2010 when it was still called Trickle and only 20 pages in length … small world! Emma is new to the People’s, but from what I’ve seen so far she’s a cracking young actress and I’m really excited she’s on board.

With a new play the early rehearsals are the most crucial for the writer, I think. It’s the first time you’re seeing the shape of it and hearing the words up on their feet with the actors who are going to be performing it. Read-throughs are great but will only get you so far, actual rehearsals are a priceless opportunity to make those final changes, cuts and additions. That said, me and my editing pencil have not had too frantic a time of it – a few line changes here and there, a couple of added lines of dialogue for clarity. The biggest jiggery-pokery to date has been re-writing a whole page, but only because when hearing it I realised what I already had threw up an interesting question that could be explored a little further.

The rehearsal time for this project is very limited. As the People’s is non-professional, rehearsals are in the evenings, 3x a week from 7.30pm til 10pm at the latest, for 6 weeks. But there are 4 plays to rehearse for Past Glories, and it’s been allotted the same 6 week rehearsal period. So. Two plays rehearse per night, meaning each get half the normal rehearsal time – approximately 23 hours, plus a few more when taking into account Sunday rehearsals the fortnight before opening. Not long, is it. It will all come together – it always does – but it does make me feel a bit sick if I think about it for too long. So I don’t think about it. I busy myself trying to be useful – making notes, answering questions, being available for edits or to talk about scenes or characters.

Oh, and bringing in rehearsal props …

The Studio Upstairs is a small venue, seating about 80. The brief for the plays was something without a set. And I can confidently say I have no set. Instead I have props. Lots of props. The action in Rains takes place in an attic room, described by one character as a ‘junk yard’ … basically, everything this family don’t want is dumped up there – from camping equipment to Christmas decorations. And a lot of it is utilised during the play. Props are a pain. Fact. Or more to the point, props are a pain in the early rehearsals when an actor is trying to hold the script in one hand, read it, act, remember where to be and deal with aforementioned prop at the right time and in the right way. Assistant Director Bev has been a star on the rehearsal props front already – there is an ever-growing pile in the rehearsal room, atop it a note reading ‘Do Not Touch’ in formidable black marker pen. I have provided the duck. He is doing pretty well with his lines and is good at finding his light. He may turn out to be a diva, but time will tell.

Me and duck won’t be back along to rehearsals until next week now, cos this Thursday and Friday I’ll be hangin’ (get me, down with the kids) with them there Boys on the Edge. Do you see that seamless link … do you? Clint makes its debut, along with Laura Lindow’s Mine and Bridget Deane’s I Am Legend, at Live this week – both performances now sold-out which is fantastic. I’ve been along to a few rehearsals the last couple of weeks, Rosie Kellagher is directing and David Tute stars. It’s been interesting seeing Clyde come to life – he’s not a straightforward boy in not a straightforward play.

I’ll let you know how it goes … xx

  • In other news …
  • The Tobacco double-bill went down a treat at Northern Stage – massive thanks to everyone who came along and made it such a memorable couple of days. It was great to have the team on my home turf. For the reviews, and details on when the show is being performed next, click [here] 
  • I have been commissioned to write a BBC Radio 4 Afternoon Play. How mega-tops-fandabby-dozy is that! It is called Dolly Would, due for broadcast in December. Today I start writing it … D(olly)-Day!

Me & Chekhov hit NE1 …!

Just a quickie to say that tickets are on sale NOW for ON THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF TOBACCO / CAN CAUSE DEATH at Northern Stage.

The dates are Wednesday 16 & Thursday 17 February 2011, 8pm. You can book via the [website] or call the Box Office on 0191 230 5151.

For more details on the play, click [here]

Suffice to say, it would be super aces if there were more than just me and my folks in the audience, so do come along if you can …! xx

“And it’s a day out, is it not” …

You know at the end of the film Babe when the farmer says “That’ll do pig, that’ll do” … well I felt a bit like that last week.

I spend an awful lot of my time worrying – I worry if I will ever be able to write another play; if I do then I worry it will be awful and no one will stage it; if they do I worry it will be awful and no one will like it; if they do I worry if my next play (if it’s any good, if anyone stages it, etc) will live up to the last one. As such, I spend a lot of time sitting in a darkened room frowning and biting my nails.

But last week I emerged from said room to go down to London to see my play Can Cause Death performed at the National Theatre. And for those 24 hours between boarding the train to go and boarding the train to come back I was determined to enjoy the moment. I allowed myself to be happy and – rarer still – I allowed myself to feel proud.

I wish I could bottle the anticipation I felt from about 6pm the night before … to know what was coming, to have it ahead of me. I must be honest, even the night before I felt a little sad knowing that it would be over the next day. Of course I was nervous, but something inside me was telling me to make the most of the experience and not be overwhelmed by The Fear.

I had not seen the play since workshopping it at the beginning of September with Charlotte and David. Since then David had been in Dublin performing in Endgame at the Gate Theatre, returning about a fortnight earlier for final rehearsals. Chatting to him after the show, it was weird to think he had been learning his lines for my play during the run of that one.

I knew he would give a good performance – it’s David Bradley for f’s sake – but I couldn’t have been happier. It’s quite an ask – play both husband and wife – and there was every chance it wasn’t going to work. But David’s performance, along with Charlotte’s direction, meant it absolutely did – and the change from Nyukhin to Popova was a highlight in itself.

 

As often happens with me, as I waited for the play to start I found myself thinking back to the beginnings of it – 1 May going to York with my friend Sarah to see On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco and getting the brief for the project for the first time. Snorting with laughter when the deadline for submissions was announced, given the short time frame and the fact I was in the midst of rehearsals/organisation for Prague at the same time. Heading home on the train thinking it had been a nice day out but no way was I going to have time to write something for it … but not being able to get it out my head for the next week. Writing the first line of a first draft – “while the eldest I was the last of my sisters to tie the nuptial noose around my neck and kick the matrimonial stool from under my feet” … a line which remains having survived my rewrites. Such thoughts make it all a rather out-of-body experience but there it was in the flesh, out-loud, on the Cottesloe Theatre stage at the NationalCan Cause Death by Alison Carr.

All of the feedback, I am happy to say, has been positive. The audience reaction on the night was great. The first laugh it got, I relaxed. One line got such a belter David had to take a pause while it died down – I couldn’t help but grin.

I can’t praise Forward Theatre Project’s Artistic Director Charlotte Bennett any more highly, not only for her direction of the plays but for making it all happen in the first place. And the rest of the team – it is all quite an achievement for everyone involved.

And that is not the end as the double-bill is heading up to Newcastle’s Northern Stage in February. And who knows what else the future holds for it …? Regardless, I can safely say the whole thing is up there as a highlight of my career to date. 

So how am I going equal and/or top it? Oh cripes. Back to the darkened room … back to the fretting and the anxieties. Next up is But Otherwise Went Well, part of the OVNV ‘Ignite’ programme … click [here]for details.

Blimey O’Reilly, where do I start?

Ok, so, the last blog entry was the “BIG NEWS” re ‘Tobacco’ double-bill at that there National Theatre

Well, since then the big news has got bigger in as much as people are actually coming to see the show. A capacity amount of people, in fact, because it’s now sold out. Huge excitement in Carr Towers, especially when our tickets arrived and I got a NT brochure and it had my name in it in black and white (well, in red)! Of course, all the while that knot of terror in my stomach is getting bigger and bigger …

And what a massive achievement for the team headed by Charlotte Bennett and Forward Theatre Project, having a show on at the National within two years of forming is no mean feat. And a sell-out show at that! Just over three weeks to go … gulp.

Alongside all this excitement, of course, I am juggling my other ongoing projects. Lest we forget Past Glories (Day 85, for those keeping track … no? Just me then). Monday was the day of reckoning, or at least the day the first draft of the play was read by The People’s Theatre. The Friday before had been the turn of Sue and Philip, whose plays Wordworth’s Sister and Keeping Up With The Joans were read for the benefit of the writers, the directors (John MacDonald and Kath Frazer), the production manager (Maggie Watson) and mentor-although-he-does-not-want-to-be-called-mentor, Michael Chaplin. I was all cool-as-a-cucumber that evening, cos it was not my play under the spotlight. I was just there to have a listen (read: be nosey). Monday though, a whole different kettle of bananas. First Tony’s work-in-progress A Spoonful Of Honey and then … me.

Hearing your script read is invaluable for a writer, especially at this early stage when there is still plenty of time for that all-important re-write. It exposes the draft in a way that nothing else can – you can stare at your script on the screen/page for hours, days, weeks and not see what a reading flags up. But it’s scary – you’re putting your work ‘out there’ … what was safely hidden away on your computer is now being read out loud and pondered and judged. You are being pondered and judged. There was a time when the mere thought would have made me ill. Silly, really. It’s a draft. It’s not set in stone. But The Fear is ever present, this time manifesting itself as a six hour headache … which was delightful.

As it goes, it went well. The play was nicely read by Maggie Childs, Anna Dobson and Emma Watson (not off of Harry Potter) and I have plenty to work on for the next stage. Mainly paring it back, especially in the later scenes. Less is more and all that. The same applies to the next draft of another play I am working on … as previously touched upon, draft #2 was a bugger but happily draft #3 not so much. Draft #4, pending, is all about stripping it back. So I’ll be making good use of the Delete button over the next few weeks …! 

Talking about less is more (smooth link, eh) I will be greatly inspired by David Harrower’s Good With People that I saw as part of the Play, Pie & Pint series last week at Live. Short, snappy dialogue; as much in a look as a speech; not every question answered and the audience allowed to do some of the work and fill in some of the gaps. Terrific performances from Blythe Duff and Andrew Scott-Ramsey didn’t hurt either. It’s off to the Traverse next week … highly recommend it. You get a pint and a pie, too … so really there is no excuse.

  • In other news … I am about to embark on a brand new project. It’s with The Old Vic. Suffice to say, my old mucker Kevin Spacey has obviously missed me since we last met and wants me back on board. Understandable. Am off down that London soon for the first workshop … more details as and when …
  • And finally … I met Blythe Duff on Thursday and did not say “there’s been a murder” in a terrible Scottish accent (nor any other accent) … this was a huge accomplishment. I did not gabble or curtsey (big fan) or make a tit of myself (much). She, in return, was gracious and friendly. Which was nice.

Big news, folks. BIG. NEWS.

It’s big (did I mention?) …

Can Cause Death, my companion piece to Chekhov’s The Harmful Effects of Tobacco, is going to be staged at The National Theatre on Thursday 11 November. Yes, you read that right … The. National. Theatre. The double-bill is directed by Charlotte Bennett and will be performed by David Bradley (as both husband Nyukhin and wife Popova!)

    

 I have known about this for months. Since before I went to the cottage-on-a-hill and that was the end of July. Keeping it to myself has been hellish but it was a self-imposed embargo. I have a tendency to veer towards the superstitious and I was sure if I blabbed too early then it would all fall through. Confirmation from the powers-that-be means, however, that I am now free to bellow it from the rooftops. And bellow I shall!

Tickets go on sale from Tuesday 12 October. I am told details might be up on The National’s website in early October, but have no fear you will be the first to hear (see previous re ‘bellowing’!)

Click [here] to visit The Forward Theatre Project website while I nip off to a corner to hyperventilate …

Anton & Me … (+ Past Glories; Day 46)

Howdy. How are we all? Good? Great. Let’s get back to me …

I am delighted to report that the workshop for Can Cause Death went incredibly well. Charlotte, David and I went through the script bit by bit and by the end were left with a rehearsal draft I think we’re all happy with. David is heading off to Dublin to perform at The Gate Theatre until the end of October, so he’s taking the signed-off script with him to learn. How very thrilling.

I also got the chance to meet Sophie, the producer; Fabrice, the designer and Phillippa, the composer.  AND, saw my piece alongside Chekhov’s Harmful Effects for the first time since York back in June … which suddenly made it all very real.

Me on a double-bill with the mighty Chekhov, who’d have thunk it?!

We rehearsed at Paines Plough, and below are a few poor-quality shots of David and Charlotte in action …

Just a quick word about David Bradley. A legendary actor, we already know this. But what a damn nice man, to boot. Generous, gracious, patient, funny – he and Charlotte made me feel so welcome and I am delighted to be part of the project. David didn’t even mind when I asked him about Harry Potter. Well, it didn’t seem like he minded but then he is an Olivier Award winning act-or … oh dear …

 ‘When’s it on?’, I hear you ask. ‘Where?’ Patience my friends. Announcements coming soon … [Update: announcement announced – click here]

Past Glories; Day 46 

Just a mini-update on this one … the feedback from Michael Chaplin is in and it was all very positive, with useful suggestions of things to look at again/consider. Armed with this – along with an informal reading last night by some friends – means I am on the homeward stretch towards the official Draft 1, to be handed in on Mon 13. Hearing work read out loud is invaluable, it flags up so many things, so to be able to do that even at this early stage was great. Thanks to Kath, Jo and Alisha.

  • In other news … I WON!!! My play Yackety Yak triumphed at Live’s A Million Short Cuts event last week. 57% of the audience vote, I’ll have you know. There is no actual prize, just the warm glow of victory! For details about the night, click [here]
  • In other other news … disappointingly I was unable to record my Come To Where I’m From monologue. Dull story, don’t ask. All is not lost though and I am hoping to get a recording organised on home turf and send it down to them. Fingers crossed.