Thursday, December 29, 2011


The last performance of THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE happened on Christmas Eve.

The end of the run of the play always brings a degree of sadness.

I become aware of all the incredible effort involved in bringing the play into being: the sweat and suffering that went into the writing of the script.

Into its rehearsals.

Into the design and construction of the set: and fitting it all together into performance.

And at the end of it all you wonder: is it worth it?

Now it’s all over, did it make any sense to work so hard?

Jo Tope, Neil McKinven, Gerry Mulgrew: the cast were amazing. “Magisterial”, I called them. And Jo “luminous” in her final speech.

The audience, crammed into the Traverse, leaning forward in their eagerness to hear.

The last week sold out. Every copy of the script sold.

So: yes. Yes it was worth it.

And today we started rehearsing SEX CHIPS AND THE HOLY GHOST.

But that’s another story...

Saturday, December 17, 2011

On the medical ward.

A very lovely friend came to visit me today. Deirdre McCloskey is an extraordinary and inspiring transwoman, a free market economist whose views affected me profoundly in writing THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE and was able to come and see the show half way through a lecture tour of Europe.

The wonderful thing about having a houseguest is that it roused me from a state of sadness and depression. I had to get going, make her room nice, sort myself out...

And she is a wonderful houseguest. An extraordinary thing happened at lunchtime - that I'm not allowed to talk about - and we celebrated together.

And then saw Adam Smith's house. And Adam Smith's grave - Deirdre being a devotee.

And then went to the hospital. "This place is terrible" says Jean as I arrive. "They are so disorganised".

That is, in fact, the impression I get. It's not that they're bad people, as far as I can tell, but they don't seem to have adequate medical cover and the nursing staff do not seem to be organised in an effective way at all.

This afternoon, as last night, Jean's alarm went off because her drip had run out. She is suffering acute kidney failure. She needs fluids. She needs to drink loads, and she needs a drip.

Last night the same alarm went off. And nobody came. And while I managed to get someone to turn off the alarm last night, I had failed to get someone to change the drip.

Today i thought I would do better. The first three attempts failed. People would come, look a bit helplessly through her file, and say, "There's nothing written up" and then "I'll ask".

And then disappear.

I happened to see the doctor in the middle of this. The third visit, the third attempt.

She was perfectly pleasant and willing to help. But clearly pretty low down the hierarchy; generally working on a completely different ward; no knowledge of Jean; and no access to the treatment plan.

But she did her best. I did learn something from her. And as I left, i said "Please write up Jean's drip".

And so the fourth nurse came, with a full bag, and hooked it up to the machine.

I felt triumphant. But after ten minutes it became clear that while she had hooked it up to the machine, and the machine was functioning perfectly, she had neglected to hook it up to Jean.

So the drip was dripping onto the floor.

So off I went again. it's important to be pleasant on these occasions, there's no sense blaming individuals, but the first nurse said "I'm doing something else". as if my request was a bit outrageous. But she did get the other nurse back, who did hook the drip up to Jean. And then left without cleaning up all the liquid that had by now dripped onto the floor.

In the circumstances, Jean's spirits remain remarkably high. But I wonder how much longer she can possibly withstand so health destroying an environment.

And then off to the show. Another full house. This is unprecedented outside the Festival.

Lovely meeting with Orla O'Loughlin, the Traverse's new artistic director. She said the play has already far surpassed its target for ticket sales for the entire run.

And then I got home, and there was me on the trailer for SEX CHIPS AND THE HOLY GHOST. Which we filmed yesterday. Looking remarkably like a nun.

But that is another story.

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Friday, December 16, 2011

A Day in The Life.

So, yesterday.

The Traverse run a play reading club, a bit like a book club. And there was me, talking to them about my FAUST, which I scarcely remember.

And then going to lunch with my agent, who had come to see THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE.

Then off to buy 60 stamps for the Christmas cards. And buy a pair of shoes, and pick up a nun's wimple thing for today's shoot, and be back in time for the end of the show.

Where I meet a group of women from a women's refuge who had just seen the show and were deeply touched by it.

And then a group of new playwrights being mentored by Playwrights' Studio Scotland.

And then met the cast. At the start of the play they have to get to their positions in a blackout. Gerry had missed his chair, sat on his table, scattered tea cups and saucers teapot and book, lost his wig, and somehow managed to recover his wig and his self and be sitting in his position when the lights came on.

Jo, meanwhile, was figuring out how her Eve could contrive to tidy everything up; and Neil's Smith was too busy eyeing up the male members of the audience to care...

And no-one in the audience noticed a thing.

Then I got on a bus to go the hospital.

I had intended to go to a session in the Scottish Parliament about political plays - because I have just written one and am proud of it - but Jean, my mother-in-law, has just added kidney failure to all her other sources of suffering and had to go to hospital the day before.

My daughter and her husband had driven her to the hospital at about 8. Although they knew she was coming, there was no bed for her and she had to wait for 3 hours to be admitted. Bex, frantic with distress, finally texted to say she had left her tucked up in bed just before midnight.

From what Jean said, she had then been turfed out of bed soon after Bex had gone - maybe for an x ray - and then left in a wheelchair until five in the morning.

I happened to meet her in a corridor just as she was being moved again to another ward. We smiled at each other and the porter said, o there's your daughter come to visit you, and then after I spoke started to address me rather tentatively to sir, and I really did not have the energy to sort that one out, and so he kept darting sidelong glances at me on the long long journey to the ward.

As we arrive, we hear a man's voice was calling loudly and desperately for "help!" "help". An old lady in the bed opposite jean's was sitting very abstractedly on her bed in one of those hospital nighties with the slit up the back, and then as we spoke a woman next to her was being sick. And Jean said philosophically, "you see the worst of life in these places" and I held her hand as she spoke of the chicken salad she had for lunch.

The chicken was very tender, apparently, and in her voice no trace of self-pity or fear.

The porter has forgotten to bring her notes. So although she’s supposed to be on a drip, suffering as she is from kidney failure, no-one can actually put it up because no-one knows what to put in it.

The woman in the bed diagonal to Jean has been left on the commode and is feebly calling for help. The woman next to Jean is sunk in a deep and desperate silence and stares at me mutely from purple-rimmed eyes.

I hold Jean’s hand, and we try to talk of indifferent things. “I try not to think about it”, she said to me once.

And I am complicit for a while.

And then home in a taxi, half dead with exhaustion. We go past the National Portrait gallery, where there's a party going on. I’ve an invitation to it. It’s to celebrate the hot hundred artistic talents of 2011. I'm hot, and in the hundred. Apparently.

When I get home, I discover the show has sold out.

“It gives you hope”, someone once said at the end of it.

And I try to remember that.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

This must be me being ignorant, but when people make nice comments on this blog I want to be able to write to them, and say thank you.

Their addresses are hidden from me, so all I can do is put them up again, here, and write back here too.

Jo, I loved your play - it was just so brilliant. it was hard to hear the mocking of my faith but I realised that there was a purpose - to challenge, in the end, those doing the mocking but not in vindictively as is so often the way in our "got to be right all the time" culture, but in a rediscovery from experience. Hilary and I talked about the play for ages - and now I am off to read it again to grapple with the bits I missed.

Thank you

Hi Jo. I am the person whose partner asked you if you had anything to do with the play, and I was glad to shake your hand last night. We talked and talked about the play all evening, and sitting next to you meant such a lot to Merlin, he was very moved by your reaction to seeing the play realised, and has talked all weekend about what a privilege that was. He studied philosophy at university, so was fascinated by the re-imagined Hume and Smith, and I work for a violence against women charity, so Eve's story really resonated with me. We're so so glad we were able to see this fantastic play and so glad you were happy with the first night. Wishing you all the best for the rest of the run and all else that lies ahead!

I went to see Tree of Knowledge last night, a packed house. As I got up the stranger next to me turned to me and asked me spontaneously if I had enjoyed it, and I told her yes (I had been sitting between her and her teenage daughter and teenage daughter's friends, who had started restless and ended enthralled), and we shared mutual appreciation of how wonderful it had been - she said "It gives you hope, doesn't it?" and I said yes, but more than that - I hadn't seen a play in years that made me think as I watched it - think, laugh, feel sad - it's brilliant. In the middle of a fairly miserable week, it made me not forget my problems, but reconsider them. I bought three copies of the script as I left, quelling a slightly mad impulse to buy 50 and give a copy to everyone I know.

Thank you, all of you, for these. I am trying to write something that moves people deeply, in a variety of ways, that stimulates people to think about the world we all live in.

And think about it in a hopeful, empowering way.

I do intend it to be a political play - but not in the sense that it denounces or despairs.

I am angry with the established churches - I hate the way they have been behaving over gay marriage. I hate the way they selectively use scripture to support their prejudices. I hate the way they are so unchristian.

When Hume denounces them, he sometimes speaks with my voice. But even when he denounces the "canting Christians" he behaves in a truly Christian way.

It’s lovely if people feel at the end that yes, there is hope, and that small gestures count as well as large ones.

But I must remind myself, once again, that beyond satisfying myself I have done all I can, I have no business judging this play.

It’s up to everyone who watches it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A first night and a funeral

I went to a funeral today. Annie Garven was an old friend of Susie's, fiercely feminist in those early days but a good friend to me too. Passionate and kind, a hugely intelligent individual it was always a pleasure to be with.

She died suddenly, falling down a tenement stair: someone I wanted to get to know better again and see more of,.

But didn't. And now it's too late.

So I at least wanted to be there to say farewell.

It was a beautiful service.

Her beautiful sister Jane had gone to the Poetry Library to choose a poem, and chose Jackie Kay''s profoundly moving "Fiere Good Nicht".

On the way, she happened to meet Jackie Kay herself. She went up to her and explained what she was doing and Jackie Kay very generously agreed to record herself reading the poem for the ceremony.

A beautiful poem. A lovely gesture. A piece of magic serendipity of a kind I always associated with Annie herself.

She had that kind of magic to her.

And the Loud and Proud choir she belonged to sang a beautiful arrangement of Tennyson's "crossing the bar" which made me weep but brought me comfort at the same time, and also David Paul Jones exquisite arrangement of "Auld Lang Syne", using the original words ("for auld Lang syne my jo") which Susie loved and always insisted we sing correctly, and I loved her for that, so she was there at the funeral too.

Afterwards I walked down the beautiful old railway path close by under the gentle winter sunshine and found myself loving life.

Loving life in all it's beauty and sorrow.

Which somehow helped put into perspective all the intensity of the first night of TREE OF KNOWLEDGE and the reviews which have started coming out, and are good, but not as good as I would like them to be.

So I discover, yet again, that my appetite for praise is disconcertingly limitless, and resolve, yet again, to take no notice of reviews which I know perfectly well, yet again, are really not helpful for me to read.

But which I know, yet again, I will read anyway.

None of which makes any difference to my fierce pride in the play.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

finally, the first performance of TREE OF KNOWLEDGE

I am so very tired. But I know, somehow, that until I write down something of what happened tonight I will never rest.

It was a full house. The main thing is that people laughed. And cried. And got angry (someone walked out).

But above all they listened. They listened with that very special attentive silence that I so love.

After the show, the person next to me asked "Are you anything to do with this show?"

And I said: "I wrote it".

And he said: "It was so funny. And so thought provoking, and so moving. I loved it".

And then he shook my hand. And his companion shook my hand.

And in so many ways I could not ask for better. Could not ask for better than that.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

TREE OF KNOWLEDGE: before the first preview

I tell myself there’s no need to be frightened. Or nervous, even...

At the start of the week, there were two days of technical rehearsal that were the calmest and most creative I have ever experienced.

Everyone was working together so well. As if making up a new theatrical language as they went along - incorporating the text with the set with the lighting with the music and with the projections in a way that moved me profoundly. Because all this highly technical, highly skilled and highly co-ordinated activity was happening at the service of the text, and I could trust it all completely.

And then yesterday the actors, who hadn’t done a run for 5 days, did two dress rehearsals that made giant strides towards incorporating all this new and amazingly complicated information into their bodies’ creative intelligence.

And then a few people were in for the second dress rehearsal, and it all seemed to make sense to them.

A perceptive piece in the Herald on Tuesday mentioned a dream I’d recalled. A dream a friend of mine had in 1985, around the opening of LOSING VENICE, when she’d seen me naked on the Traverse stage.

It’s like that: all these precious dreams, intimate moments in my deep heart, exposed on the stage.

Worse than naked: flayed. Held up as an object for dissection.

But there it is.

Nothing to be done.

The fear has to be acknowledged. Given thanks for even.

And then we’ll see.


Monday, December 05, 2011

Technical Rehearsal

Today is the first day of technical rehearsal.

In the past these were usually something of an ordeal for me: I hated watching my fragile construction of words buckling under the weight of the lights and sounds that were being forced on it.

Maybe it's because I understand better now, or have more faith in what I have written. But now I find a huge fascination, and a real sense of peace and calm, in sitting in the darkened theatre and witnessing the painstaking and immensely skilled process of coordinating lights, images and sound with action and words.

It's a beautiful expression of the collaboration and trust the art of theatre requires.

I find it soothing - in that I absolutely trust my colleagues' skill and taste - and incredibly exciting. Because I get blown away by revelations of unexpected beauty.

Friday, December 02, 2011

I said goodbye to the rehearsal room today...

It’s an unlovely and not an ideal space: a converted garage that often fills up with exhaust fumes from the still working garage next door.

A good floor space, but not quite as big as the Traverse stage... and, being in Leith, so remote from the rest of the theatre.

But ther’s some brilliant spaces to eat nearby, and most lunchtimes we’ve been gorgin ourselves at the Water of Leith Cafe Bistro - such a friendly place, and with a fantastic French chef.

I've never in my life eaten so well in rehearsal...

And for all its obvious unloveliness, the rehearsal room has been a kind of home.

Time to leave it, though.

All that can be done there has been done. Time to move on stage.

I saw the stage yeaterday: a fascinating space.

Tim the video designer was fretting over the calculations as to ow to fit his images into strange geometric shapes.

I told Ali, the designer, how much I liked it. “Beautiful”, I said. And then “Really interesting”.

She laughed and said: “That’s what you asked for”.

And so I did.

The first stage direction says:


And that is exactly what I have....

Thursday, December 01, 2011


A time of seeing myself in mirrors.

This photo arrived today: taken just before I performed JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN in the Bakehouse.

I did an interview over the phone with TVBomb (; another over the phone with The Independent; one with the Herald; and one with The Scotsman. And a podcast for the Traverse. And an item on Radio Scotland’s Culture Cafe next week.

All these are coming up; I hope I haven’t said anything foolish.

I dreamt last night a man said to me: I’m doing to take your dress away. It’s too old.

And he did: and brought another.

I felt a little insulted by this - how dare he say my dress was too old! But pleased at the same time that he cared.

And then puzzled because the dress he brought me looked more or less exactly the same as the one he’d taken away...

I understand the dream as somehow being about my anxiety at this onrush of visibility.

I saw myself in another mirror this afternoon: as the cast did a run of the play.

I was profoundly moved.

The incredibly gifted cast have taken huge steps forwards: and what i am seeing, in its depth and power, is really beginning to represent the event that i foresaw.

It’s uncanny and strange. I ask myself: how did I do that? Did I really know that was how it was going to be?

Partly, of course, I didn’t. I simply did my best to hear and experience the characters as clearly and as vividly as possible.

But with another, often hidden, part of my deep self I did know.

It is amazing and miraculous to see that dark knowledge brought up into the light.

And shining.

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