“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 …