Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Yesterday I went to see a run through of ANNA KARENINA at Dundee Rep.

It was the last time the actors perform the whole play in the rehearsal room. With no scenery, no lighting, just a minimum of props and costumes. There's a kind of purity about the performance under these circumstances. It's like a summing up of all they've learnt and practised and created in the preceding weeks of rehearsal.

It was a very beautiful event.

When I’m feeling good about my work, I see it as a kind of gift.

I write a script with all the sensibility and skills in my possession, and I give it to actors, director, designer, and the whole creative team so that they can give it all their sensibilities and their skills too.

This is one of the joys of theatre: because the end result, when you witness it, and witness it in the presence of an audience, is something generally far richer and deeper and stronger and more profound that what it was when it was just a script on the page.

But it’s not always easy to see.

Because when the script is new, the text is continually being called into question.

The rehearsal room floor is a kind of laboratory where ever sentence, every word, is tested and examined.

No-one can quite rest on the script, trust it and build on it, until that process is complete.

Which it never is until the audience has seen it. And sometimes not even then.

My job, sitting there in the middle of it all, is try to think about what is happening. To try to discern which of the problems everyone is wrestling with has to do with the script.

If the script is wrong, I have to put all vanity and defensiveness aside and change it.

If the script is right, I may sometimes have to defend it.

And I have that feeling, always, of vulnerability that you get when you witness your work being looked at by strangers.
It’s as if there’s a layer of skin missing: and I always feel naked and exposed to an icy wind.

But none of that ever happened with this play. Probably because there was such a huge gap between my writing it and it eventually being performed.

First by acting students at Queen Margaret University, then a few years after that by the Lyceum, and this year first by Adam Smith College and now by the Rep.

So when I look at it now, I know it works, works without any doubt at all, and I can feel the pride of ownership with none of the vulnerability.

Especially when it’s being done by such a fantastic company.

It opens next Wednesday: I can’t wait to see it.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

new productions of ines

INES DE CASTRO is maybe one of the plays I am most fond of.

I wrote one winter in about ten days, walking in the woods beside Roslin Chapel.

Ian Brown directed it in the old Traverse. Alison Peebles played Ines; Una McLean played Death. The production was amazing. You can get a flavour of it here:

I remember a very pale young man coming up to me after the first preview, with an air of great intensity and suffering on his face. He told me he wanted to turn it into an opera.

He turned out to be James Macmillan. And he wrote it.

Scottish Opera premiered it at the Edinburgh festival, i forget exactly when, and the Observer said it was a piece of pornography and all further performances should be banned.

Needless to say, the music was wonderful. In many ways, the hugest artistic compliment anyone has paid me.

The play was filmed, shown on BBC 2, as was the opera, which was revived twice and performed in Oporto. And I also turned it into a radio play.

But basically since then it has vanished from the British professional stage.

Which is a shame. But a shame I've had to get used to.

That means its all the more wonderful that all of a sudden two companies have decided to revive it. And revive it under such different circumstances.

Shakespeare Carolina ( perform Shakespeare. This is their first non-Shakespearean play, which is itself a great honour, directed by Chris O'Neill. He's an artist of great integrity and skill who I met some years ago when he invited me to Winthrop University, where he was directing a production performed by drama students.

I remember the charming and kind 19 year old who played the king driving me around on deserted highways in the path of a tornado. Of seeing the Confederate flag still hanging on remote farmsteads.

Chris and his company operate in a fierce and unforgiving commercial environment; and it moves me profoundly that he should stage so uncommercial a piece. For the love of it.

Some photos can be found here

The other production, by Teatar Verat, in Uzice, Serbia, is more of a mystery.

The company producing publicity images have blogged the process here
... and created some powerful images.

The play is about a civil war: and it moves me profoundly, given the crucial importance language plays in national identity,that this Serbian company should be using a Croatian translation. That the artists involved, translator and director, who fought on different sides, should be working together on this.

I am so curious as to what has happened: I wish i could be there.


Monday, May 09, 2011


Last night I heard it with friends.

Its a pleasure to listen to plays communally..... and I'm proud of this one.

It's available on the BBC i Player till Sunday


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