Come To Where I’m From online …

Back in June I took part in Paines Plough’s Come To Where I’m From … 61 playwrights from 14 cities across the UK writing about their hometowns, the places that shaped them.

Come To Where I'm FromClick [here] to read an article on The Guardian website by James Grieve and George Perrin about the project.

Click [here] to read my blog about the experience, mainly involving biscuits and near hysteria.

Subsequently, we were invited to record our monologues that would then be posted on the Paines Plough website. A chance for a UK-wide project to come together as one … and another chance for me to panic about having to ‘perform’ my own piece … gulp.

The podcasts are being made available a city at a time, a day at a time … Newcastle took to the online-super-highway TODAY!

Listen [HERE] to the dulcet tones of Mr Michael Chaplin, Sir Dick Curran, Lady Tracy Whitwell and myself … waxing lyrical on topics ranging from memories of the Tyne, American tourists in Jarrow, living in a caravan and the perils of low ceilings …!

If you think it was all glamour – a plush recording studio with them fancy-pants giant headphones like Beyonce would have – then think again … I recorded my play in my bedroom on my MP3 player and emailed it to the offices!

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.

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.

Come To Where I’m From …

(Q) What do you get when you ask a writer (me) to pen a monologue about his/her (my) home town?

(A) Nothing.

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.

So. There we are. It was fun. Sort of. It was scary. Very. It was an honour to be a part of. Absolutely.

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!