Goodbye 2012. Close the door on your way out.

If you’d asked me, even as recently as a month ago, how I felt about 2012 (not sure why you would, but bear with me) then you’d have probably been met with a barrage of swearing.

Maybe it was always going to struggle in the face of 2011. Of course, rose-tinted glasses do come in to play somewhat so I won’t pretend there weren’t wobbles along the way that year. My eczema recurred in a big way (too much information?) and I suffered rather frightening anxiety dreams as I tried to balance everything. But even with all that, two words – Dolly Would– made 2011 the hard act it was to follow. It dominated my whole year and its early January broadcast saw me start 2012 on the highest high imaginable.

And the rules of the universe dictate that highest high must be followed by the lowest low.

The pressure I felt to keep up the momentum was huge. And projects did come along, I strengthened some existing relationships, started new ones and tried new things like my first stab at dramaturgy (never again, but that’s another story for another day!)

I failed, however, to win the Culture Award for Writer of the Year. I failed to get this commission, or that project, or the other scheme. Things were slowing down, not speeding up. I was slowing down. It’s hard to keep going in the face of, what seems like, a wall of rejections. I had spurts of productivity, creativity, but doubts – never too far from the surface anyway – creep in, the whispers of “what’s the point?” get louder.

Maybe I’d peaked, maybe that was me done. And when I got screwed over financially for the first time (that I know of) in my career, maybe that was the last nail in the coffin – not cut out for this business after all?

I spent much of 2012 frowning. Frowning while Googling my contemporaries to see how successful and happy and funny they were. I cried in public at least twice (mortifying). And there were the darkest few weeks about 3/4 through when I refused to leave the house.

But you don’t take up this profession to be able to walk away from it easily. It’s not a hobby, not a sideline. Something inside me still had fight – something that was still getting me up in the mornings even if the rest of me wanted to pull the sheets over my head.

I submitted my application for the Traverse 50 at 3am on the deadline day. I didn’t write it then – I’d prepared it way in advance during one of the spurts – but I hadn’t sent it. The “what’s the point?” voices thought they had triumphed when I went to bed that night. But when I woke up in the early hours it felt like do-or-die. Was I in this or not? Well I am, as it goes, cos I got up, turned the computer on and a month later I was listed alongside 49 other writers for the year-long attachment to Scotland’s Traverse theatre.

So the back end of the year has seen things looking up. As well as The Traverse 50 I’ve been commissioned for A Wondrous Place, a production that aims to challenge the negative ‘grim up north’ stereotypes and will tour to Liverpool, Sheffield, Newcastle and Manchester in May/June. It’s a fantastic opportunity and concept that I hope I can rise to. December saw me perform my first solo show, and the whole writer slash performer path is one I’d be keen to walk down further (fingers crossed, touch wood, etc).

Who knows what the New Year will bring. Promises and predictions seem futile. All I want is to keep writing and write better. And to shop more in Next.

So then 2012. You’ve had your moments, but I won’t be sorry to see the back of you. Although well done on the Olympics, I did enjoy that very much.

Big thank you to all my family and friends who have supported me this year (and the rest). I know it’s sometimes not easy and I can be a right pain to know, but sometimes I’m quite funny too, and occasionally bring sweets, so hopfully that balances it out somewhat … xx

From puppet to page to stage …

Not that long ago, something like Forward Theatre Project’s SCRATCH MY CITY would have seen me running screaming for the hills. These days, though, I tend to say’ yes’ to things that scare me. Don’t get me wrong, falling off a cliff on to a spike scares me and you won’t see me doing that anytime soon (at least I hope not), but in terms of my writing life I have learnt to embrace a challenge. Because you just never know.

I think the most frightening writing-thing I have ever done was the OVNV 24 Hour Plays. Having a play you wrote overnight introduced on to the Old Vic stage by Jeff Goldblum takes some beating on the Fear Chart.  But I did it.

And in a twisty-path way, that led to my play Fine being performed on Sunday night as part of FTP’s latest SCRATCH MY CITY. Because I met Artistic Director Charlotte Bennett while doing The 24 Hour Plays. She invited me to join FTP and the rest, as they say, is history.

I did my first SMC with the company last year. There’s always a jumping off point for the writers. Last time it was design ideas from Left Luggage Theatre Company. This time it was puppets. Yes, puppets. The brief – how puppeteers create characters differently and what happens if these are humanised on stage. At first I was sceptical. Then Cuthbert came in to my life and I realised how brilliant these Colossal Crumbs creations were.

This is Cuthbert. He is a fish. [Click] the picture to see his story. 

See?! See what I mean! Just looking at him I knew I loved him and he broke my heart on first viewing.

Clearly the pairing of Cuthbert and me was no fluke. In her initial email, Charlotte wrote “ … the tragic/comic style in Cuthbert’s story which I thought you would be very good at”. Clearly my reputation precedes me … a lonely fish who dreams of suicide? Give it to Carr, that’s right up her street. And indeed it is.

I knew fairly quickly the angle I wanted to take. Which is fortunate as the turnaround on these things is tight – a fortnight to turn in your script.

The things that stood out for me the most in the video were Cuthbert’s solitude despite not being the only fish in the pond and his book ‘The Way to Happiness’. So I gave Cuthbert a friend, or at least someone who might become a friend eventually, The Librarian. She’s come for the book which is 30+ years overdue. What I didn’t want was to make Cuthbert a victim – all those lonely years have taken their toll, he’s spikey, he’s put walls up, he’s not going to fall in to the arms of friendship with any passing stranger. And the Librarian too, she has her own reasons for her visit, her own needs.

Two lonely people, one magic library book. Yes, that’s right, because before we start getting all angsty and deep, ‘The Way to Happiness’ was no ordinary tome. It had Rolos inside (you had to be there, I’ll say no more).

Below are some production shots:

  

Fine – first produced by Forward Theatre Project as part of Scratch My City, Soho Theatre, August 2012

The cast was as follows:

CUTHBERT: Rhys Meredith
LIBRARIAN: Jackie Lye

Directed by Sarah Bedi

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.

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 …