New Years Highlights!

This New Year has been more packed than I remember – as it’s coming up to that fateful hour, I just wanted to mention some things that have made this year great – only want to focus on the highlights, hurrah! Also, I started the blog this year, to mark any developments and how my ideas for the PhD have changed – I think I’ve learnt a hell of a lot this year – and of course, the more you learn, the more you realise that you know nothing. If that’s a good benchmark, than my quota has been sufficiently reached for this year!

– I learnt how to drive this year and passed first time (thank goodness, that experience was utterly harrowing and I had no idea it was going to be so stressful! Thanks to friends, family and my driving instructor – he’s hella awesome!)

-I graduated from my MA and at Brunel this year – it’s been a great 5 years there, and there’s a lot I learnt (maybe slightly more out of lectures, but that’s the way uni life is for the undergraduate I think). Postgraduate was also awesome and will always have fond memories of people and places there. I can’t go to Uxbridge without reminiscing over some corner or road. Not much has changed there really!

– I started my PhD this year (only in September but it feels much earlier than that – I think I was overexcited and it clearly showed), and at a new university. Getting to grips with the area and met some great people – can’t wait to see how the rest of the years pan out!

– I’ve gotten my plays staged – 3 to be precise – and so happy! I’ve learnt a lot form the rehearsal process and will start some more rewrites in earnest.

– We did do a gig this year – hooray – and a track on an EP, which all of PFN are very proud with. Finally got to recording, hopefully to do some more in 2013 *fingers crossed*

Enigma will be back – sorry I’ve been away from it for a while – it’ll be ready to showcase more of the world’s upcoming and established talents in 2013!

I wish you all a Happy New Year and the best of happiness and health! Oh, and if you’ve been hearing me say “for sure”, then I’m 90% sure you met me this year. A theory of mine.

xxx

Constellations Review

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Constellations – image courtesy of Official Theatre London

Finally, I get round to reviewing this stellar (sorry) production, originally staged at the Royal Court and now playing at the Duke of York Theatre – I wanted to see it when it was the former, but missed the cut. You know, it’s the classic procrastination period until finally all the tickets have been snapped up. You can buy tickets on the internet and it’s a case of – ah, I’ll do it when I’m not feeling so broke. Usually for me, in the world of cash, I’m perpetually sliding down so it’s usually best to buy early – in this case, maybe not – I got them at a reasonable price in a place where I don’t have to strain my neck so much! Result!

Anyway, onto the actual show.

What strikes me the most is the beautiful yet minimal staging – a flotilla of balloons and the gumball-esque constructs upstage. You might think it’s the beginning of a party, when the balloons will be savagely cut down to allow another frieze frame of a scenario – but it’s recurrent throughout the play. Of course, theatre is adept at creating a particular angle or snapshot of a scenario and parade it for all to see, and this is no exception. However, although the cast is small — a two hander – it inevitably spans a multi-verse of different routes and paths the two characters take in their relationship. It’s often a critique of theatre that it cannot create mega texts in the same way as Science Fiction can in the same way as say film or the novel, but this spans alternate timelines in such a poignant, yet stripped down way (the poignant part will be too spoiler-ish, but it is very touching – and another way theatre can create the idea of disconnect and miscommunication much more directly than most media).

An apiarist (a bee-keeper to you and I) Roland (Rafe Spall) and a cosmologist Marianne (Sally Hawkins) are presented in many different scenarios – where they make it down the aisle to where they don’t even make it past the first conversation. You’d think it would ¬†be hard to communicate this, but Nick Payne’s great, simplistic yet powerful writing drives the message within the first few minutes. It opens with a cheerful icebreaker as ¬†Sally Hawkins attempts to get Rafe Spall to lick his elbow – saying that this will promote immortality – a rather chilling aspect in hindsight. ¬†His reactions differ from him being disinterested, to being otherwise engaged ¬†(him and her), to actually continuing the conversation. The acting in this is superb, and Rafe Spall being known for his role in the dry comedy Jeff vs. Life actually helps I think, in the way that his life is being portrayed as branching off in different directions as a result of different and slight permutations. How the characters stop, start, chop and change from one reality to the next, with the emotional ability to switch chameleon-like to the context was really engaging to watch. I did get very emotional at several points, as even though Nick Payne gets to voice the concept of quantum entanglement and the alternative universes through the cosmologist, there is a strong human quality to it that we can all empathise with. What if I did this differently? What if I wasn’t there to meet him/her? Was I meant to marry them from the beginning and can I change my fate? The idea of alternate realities can absolve us of some responsibility – what we may have done in one branch we may have done differently, or does it increase our sense of having to do things exactly in our minds in order to create the rather ubiquitous term of “utopia”? What is out of our control? It’s an amazing piece, that only an hour long and spanning several realities of just two people, can satisfy mentally and emotionally for a long time after viewing.

I do believe that this is a great example of Science Fiction in theatre – taking a concept and staging it through metaphor, emphasising human reaction and emotional connect like links on a chain. A must see. Nick Payne is one of the great emerging talents in the playwriting scene – I’ve read comparisons to him with Tom Stoppard, but I feel this play in particular is more Churchill-esque, with that simplistic yet raw dialogue – and how he creates potent images with minimalist settings. Michael Longhurst has done a great job in directing this, too.

Thrills of the Year

As it comes to the end of 2012, it’s been amazing what’s happened in such a short period of time. As you may know, I started writing plays maybe in dibs and drabs at the end of my first year at uni (about 7 years ago), and really focused on writing short stories, novellas and poetry. Reading and seeing plays have always been my passion, but I tended to view them at a distance – they looked so intimidating too write, subtle but engaging in such a different way. Finally, I overcame my fear in a rather bold move – writing my MA thesis as a full length play (first one I did). Since then, playwriting has become my “go-to” medium. Writers are often famous for pursuing a particular medium, with their attempts at the others either banished from the light or simply vanishing into obscurity. I do like writing short stories, however, but it takes me a while to get used to articulating what I really mean, whereas playwriting comes to me a lot more naturally, as does poetry, I think. It’ll take me a good while to write a story that goes somewhere, whereas a play or a poem is something I could knock out once the muse gets through the spiral static.

Anyway! My point was to share what’s been going on. As a stage manager, script reader and assistant director, I’ve been used to seeing new writing, assisting rehearsals and operating etc. but to see it with my own work is such a thrill that makes it feel that I’m entering the process anew. The best part is rehearsal, seeing what the actors make of their character and little mind travels that I never realised I was plotting while writing. It’s a beautiful collaborative process which I guess is a lot different from the relay from editor to writer (wait, I should know this, haha!). I’ve learnt a lot from what exercises can be built through a script, especially in terms of building the sense of cognitive estrangement in the sci fi play that I wrote to the shaping and directing of attention in the simple scene of En Passant. I do want to be writing short stories (I’m in the process of writing one now, actually), but the whole process of playwriting is something I definitely want to pursue further. The words you write are just a blueprint – it’s great because even though after the excitement of getting the words down, it’s just the beginning. Plays are famous for being never finished – it’s like a doll that’s put in its box after every performance. Every time you take it out to play it’s an entirely different character.

I want to thank all the directors, producers, actors and of course the audiences who support new writing. It’s been an amazing journey and I cross my fingers to get more opportunities like this in 2013!

Next post will be on Constellations – an amazingly domesticated play linking quantum realities with the relationship of two people. The staging is almost bare but the illusions are easy to grasp, powerful yet subtle. It relies on the actors so much to be able to stop and start and repeat – reminiscent, I’d say of Churchill in A Number. Anyway, I’m rambling. I spent some time on the journey back from the play swearing to myself at some intervals – it taught me a lot, folks!

 

Also, I’m in Doollee! This is so exciting – to be listed with playwrights since 1956 I believe. Even my advisor for my PhD is listed there too. His name is Dan Rebellato and is a great playwright and academic!

Check out my profile here. Not all of them have been produced of course, but it’s great if you want to see hints of what might be made flesh in the future!

http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsG/gray-susan.html

Review – A Cosmonaut’s Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union *Spoilers!*

First of all: phew! It’s a rather meaty mouthful of a title. I realised I hadn’t reviewed any Science Fiction theatre, seeing as that’s the main focus of my thesis, so I thought what better time than now!?

This is a rather beautiful woven tapestry of a play – proving that a play does not need to contain such a tiny frame of perspective in order to hold attention or to be able to provide adequate information (as the medium as a whole classically has difficulties with this concept as opposed to its cousins film, tv and prose).

David Grieg employs his mastery of using “doubles” – a¬†hearkening¬†to the “dual” identities of Scotland – being one and the other – to great effect in this play (which he is well known for, with such potent examples as Europe and The Architect), proving that rooting a play or idea in cultural identity can be explored anywhere, even to the furthest reaches of space. With seemingly post-modern sensibilities, we’re invited into many sets of characters in different places and relations, but with some characters doubling up (of course, this is common where the cast numbers are significantly large, but it accounts for a hell of a lot – I’ll come to it later). You may think that this is simply like a Baudrillian-esque catacomb where their lives are separated, but there’s a great thread of thought throughout the play. What makes this even more effective is that this thread that connects them all together is actually through disconnect – dissonance.

The theme of miscommunication occurs frequently – Oleg and Casmir, the two cosmonauts, are unable to contact the world below – one missing his daughter, the other missing the woman whom he enjoyed a brief sexual stint with. Even though they cross the path over Europe, they cannot reach them. Like the classic paradigm, we’re caught between the far-reaching expanses of space contrasted with the claustrophobic-like nature of travelling inside such a vessel. In fact, the scenes between the two can be read in a Beckettian Waiting for Godot/Endgame sense where they are at a loss of what to do, ruminating but never going anywhere (well they’re in orbit, but you know what I mean). It really starts from the word go as the play begins with:

Oleg: They’ve forgotten us.

Caismir: What?

Oleg: They’ve forgotten us.

Caismir: I can’t hear you.

Oleg: They have forgotten us.

Caismir: I’ve done it.

Oleg: What? (Greig, p.209)

This sense of claustrophobia is echoed through the other characters – whether they’re imprisoned in their own mind, without the power to articulate their thoughts as well as they’d like. Keith, who doubles as Bernard later in the play, constantly complains to his wife about feeling “like a crated animal” in London, “sweating like a pig”, with a latent desire to get the hell out of there (well, what it seems like, anyway, hence latent – he thinks that his new Cezanne style tie will liven him up, and indeed it might. I like Cezanne). Their interactions are incredibly awkward, and we get to see later on in the play why this might be – I’m sure it’s on the tip of your tongue. His wife’s little speech, as indeed the technical difficulties of the TV set malfunctioning brings us back to the unanswered questions between earth and space. She mentions that she looked at the red sky at night –¬†Shepard’s¬†delight “You do get such beautiful skies in this city” (Greig, p.212), neatly¬†contrasted with Oleg’s rather insensitive referral to the seas and lakes below:

Oleg: Everyday we pass over Baikal and every day she looks up. Every day, Caismir. She calls out to you.

Caismir: Cool water.

Oleg: Think of the water in the lake.

Caismir: Can’t remember.

Oleg: Try.

Caismir: I can’t.

Oleg: Remember cool water.

Caismir: I don’t want to remember cool water, you cunt. I want to swim in it.

Oleg: She’s swimming. In the cool water. No clouds over the lake. Natasja’s swimming. I can see her.

Caismir: I don’t know what she looks like.

Oleg: Dark hair. Her eyes… calling for you.

(Greig, p210)

So we’re experiencing alienation not only from the top-down, but from the bottom up. We’re also about to traverse this wave and go sideways. Natasja, an exotic dancer, is busy with Keith in a London hotel. We are neatly linked into this by the description of the graphic playing cards that Oleg and Caismir “engage” with in order to deal with loneliness in space. Rather poignantly, Caismir has refused to use one of the cards as he models her on his daughter – he no longer remember what she looks like.

Natasja on earth, however, is very much real as during the morning after, she greets London with a renewed vigour (she shouts GOOD AFTERNOON MR LONDON! I found this quite endearing). She expands on how she’d love to go to “where the film people go”, to having children with Keith in a vivacious – puppy dog-like energy mostly associated with women in their early 20s, I guess. I’m 25 and I’m not sure I had that boundless, reckless driving force- well, energy always fluctuates, does it not?¬†Maybe I need to cast off my Blake-esque mind forged manacles, eat sushi at the local haunts and chat up business men. I hear it can be fun (sushi is most delicious). But I digress. She is a very dynamic figure and isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind – she is fond of saying that she’s “not fucking English with shit”, and maybe that’s what it is with me (I’m half English though, after all.) She tells him to leave his wife, yet he mentions that he would be like a “damp cloth over a flame” and despite “feeling like a caged animal” in hot days, that he must go home. NB: Natasja later refers to the club in which she dances “a tomb”, thus adding to the tripartite image of claustrophobia that Grieg depicts on Earth. She rightly explains that if he chooses to be unhappy, it’s to with him, and gives him the opportunity to articulate his desires for the first time. Keith, now overcome with his newly found love for London, is able to half bake his articulation as he qualifies what is meant to be a highly explosive term: “I think… I’m probably in love with you”. I think that’s the best you’re going to get from him.

This rather enlightening scene brings into effect where all the character doublings come into play, a very strong alienation effect kicking in. We see Keith’s wife, Vivienne, digging her garden when her neighbour Claire arrives and they properly talk for the first time. Claire is played by the same actress as Natasja, which may make you jump for just a second. Rather pityingly, we find that Vivienne is a speech therapist, and medically treats those who have problems communicating – with her biggest patient in our mind being her husband.

“Vivienne: I’m a speech therapist.

Claire: The things you can do.

One can do.

You have to tell me sometime.

Vivienne: It’s not terribly interesting, I’m afraid.

Claire: Oh no, Viv. It is. Everything’s interesting if you’re interested in people…” (Greig, p234)

There is also reminiscent asides on Brian Friel’s Translations as she wishes to teach her children Gaelic as well as learning it herself. She mentions that “it would be a waste if nobody speaks it. A waste of all those place names. A waste of all that poetry.” It is also echoed in the fact that after Keith makes his descent into the waters, presumed dead, he is not only found to be alive later, but also cloned as the character Bernard, who attempts to communicate with the poor Vivienne, but to no avail:

“Vivienne: Hello?

Bernard: I don’t speak English.

Vivienne: I’m sorry?

Bernard: English. English? I don’t speak it.

Vivienne: Oh, I’m terribly sorry, I’m sorry.” (Greig, p283)

It reminds me, in part, of the relationship between Maire and Yolland, with their communication evolving out of gesture and repetition, something which theatre can articulate eloquently. In fact, Bernard and Vivienne’s communication seems stronger than his past life’s, Keith’s, even though they spoke the same language. We also see through the perspective of the Proprietor, a figure who comments on both Natasja and Keith’s lives respectively, who is very defensive over Gaelic:

“Proprietor: It’s my language, you cunt.

You come here we talk it.

Mountains we can share.

Place names we can share.

But leave me my language.” (Greig, p298)

I have loads more to say on this, but I’m planning to use it in a chapter for my PhD so yes, I may cut it here. Suffice it to say, Oleg’s sacrifice, an explosion in the sky to bring all the parties together is magnificent and very touching at the same time (Bernard completes the circle by beaming messages and radio signals up to space). The ultimate way to put a message across. It’s a wonderful play and definitely worth reading/seeing. The doubling can often awaken us to ponder who’s found who – another great facet on this play about miscommunication and identity. Not only are we watching, we’re oddly participating. Greig is an extremely deep and articulate playwright, and this piece is no exception.

A rather odd question…

Some book covers do ‘ave them; this rather strange platitude, a trailing off, a rather flashy, blank statement which drifts into the aether of critique – and that is…

“[This author] has got what it takes.”

I often think that he/she has got what it takes to do what, exactly? Sure, the book has accomplished enough transit for it to be read from the front cover, but for what end? To be a commercial masterpiece? To become part of the canon? To split down the middle, marmite-style, where two factions fight over their combined pride for having discovered this book? To be discussed in curriculae for years to come?

I wonder.

Insignificant Theatre Review!

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Last Thursday (29th November) , Insignificant Theatre held their Rough Readings evening at Sylvia Young Theatre school and I was fortunate enough to not only be present, but also witnessed one of my own pieces there – Narcissus and Echo: A Bathroom Myth. The performances were in response to a particular room of a house, and some will be taken through to next year. Having no previous experience of their past Rough Readings (although I thoroughly enjoyed their Speakeasy event), I had no idea of what to expect.

It was a great display of acting talent – I can’t believe they had only one rehearsal prior to this – and a great range of scripts focusing on a myriad of emotions. A lot were written in order to set up a particular scenario and feeling to suddenly self right or disorient itself, which worked particularly well!

The night was so surreal, after spending time in Stage Management, Casting and Script reading – seeing my own writing in front of me being acted out, critiqued and feeling the nerves – how have they read it? Will it come out as I expected? I didn’t realise how scary it can feel from the seat rather than the stage, but I couldn’t have asked for a better interpretation! They are truly a wonderful company, and I’d like to thank Insignificant Theatre and the audience for a great writing night! Also, looking at Woodhouse’s artistic interpretation of the myth – the frame was quite similar, even though it’s set in a bath tub and the tone is significantly different! What a nice flavour of icing on the cake! ūüôā

On Monday will start workshops/rehearsals for A Christmas Gift. I’m so excited!