Monday, April 30, 2012

How ancient this place is. Just inside the present city wall there used to live a hermit. This was many many years ago, when almost certainly there was no city at all, and maybe the hermit had settled in a desert place, or just outside the settlement, somewhere he could be alone. Or maybe there was a pagan temple there, maybe something about the place that marked it out as special. Anyway, dear soul, there he was, a special human being also, and after his death, or maybe her death, because stories get distorted, a little church was built to remember him by. Or her by. And then the muslims came, and they saw it was special place too, and built a mosque there. And all around it grew up palaces and places where important people lived. And then the Christians came, the great hero El Cid among them. And as they were riding into the city in triumph, they passed this mosque, just inside the city walls. Only they didn't go past it, because the Cid's famous horse, whose name I forget, knelt down in the street just outside the mosque door. Being a highly clever horse, as well as an exceptionally strong and brave one, it had noticed what no-one else had: that inside the mosque was a figure of Christ concealed behind a wall. And the spot where the dear horse knelt is marked by a white stone, and we have seen it, and the mosque became a church, and became known as the church of El Cristo de la Luz. And then a new apse was built over the old apse, and it was known as The Church of the Christ Of Light, even though it was actually dedicated to darkness and huge efforts were made to disguise the fact it had once been a mosque. Certainly the last time I was here it was in disguise, and I had no sense it was ever a mosque. Be cause that's how it was, the dictatorship: an immense effort to impose falsehood through force. But now it is called a mosque again, the mosque of the Christ of Light. An exquisite place: and dedicated, truly, to the light.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Beginning an NTS commission

There’s another journey beginning.

 It comes from a commission from the National theatre of Scotland, who a while ago asked me to investigate the possibility of writing something about Spain.

 Which I did. And now I’m going there.

I’m a little scared of the journey, because I don’t know what I will find. Or where it will lead.

 The last time I was there I was still living as a man. I’d gone to Córdoba to translate The Force of Destiny as a kind of therapy, to reassure myself that after my partner’s death, and in the midst of atrocious grief, I was still able to write.

 It was unbearably hot, I remember, and when I went to Granada I was shocked to discover that the snow on the Sierra Nevada had all melted and the mountains looked so jagged and cruel.

 That was where I lived in 1970, under the dictatorship, suffering also under my own dictatorship. That of gender. Equally savage and horrendous and cruel.

 Maybe it was revisiting those memories, I don’t know, but something happened during that journey that made it inescapably clear that I could no longer bear to go on living as a man.

 So now when I return, living t last as a woman, I really have no idea what will happen.

 Maybe nothing at all. But somehow, this journey from repression to liberation is at the heart of the play.

 I’ve written a very plausible and very exciting outline, as you do, but how I’ll do it in a deep sense I really don’t know.

 Something else that scares me. As always.

 I’ve compensated for the fear by drawing up an itinerary, with hotel rooms and train journeys and everything... but its organisation conceals quite a profound kind of chaos.

 For this journey, in the end, is not about destinations or sights or hotel rooms or railway timetables, but deep into me.

 Doing “Queen Jesus” in Brighton I took the audience on a little journey through darkened rooms and I said “I love this place, with all its doors. Doors leading into unknown spaces. Just like the doors of the human heart”.

That is the journey. Opening a new door. Into quite possibly a darkplace.

Maybe it's about letting in the sunlight.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thoughts of a "too risky" writer

When i was an academic studying drama, all those years ago, I used to imagine that writers knew what they were doing. Or that they knew what they intended to say. And the job of the vritic or literary investigator was to try to discover what that intention was, and communicate it as clearly and as forcefully as possible.

Perhaps all those writers were cleverer than me; but I’ve a feeling we are all probably more or less the same.

My preoccupation is always with “tuning in” to the feelings and experiences of the characters, and allowing them to shape and give form to the story.

And I’m also becoming an imaginary actor, performing the lines on the stage.

And then I’m also being an imaginary audience, making sure what happens is clear. And hopefully entertaining.

Then when it comes to the next drafts and the rehearsals, I’m completely obsessed with trying to make sure the lines actually work.

None of which actually leaves any room for consciously trying to mean anything.

So when people ask me what such and such a scene means, the truthful answer is “You tell me. What does it mean to you?”

Though when I watch a play I’ve written, I sometimes do get little flashes of what it could be about.

If I’m performing, then there’s no room in my mind for any little flashes at all.

No flashes during "Queen Jesus". Just the endless struggle to stay connected.

So it was lovely to be told by someone in the audience that what shone for her was “genius specialness of being trans” and her pleasure in seeing it communicated “out there in the big wide world”.

Because I hadn't quite understood that at the time.

But she's right: that is one of the things "The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen of Heaven" is about.

Just as it was lovely to see the rehearsal photos of how we used the space to understand that what our production did was embody the very simple idea that “We’re all in this together: here to love, and to be loved”.

Two simple ideas: trans people have something special to give the world; and “We all belong together”.

Strange to discover how dangerous they still apparantly are.

Obeying an impulse, I put forward the idea of performing“The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven” in St John’s Church, Edinburgh, as part of the Festival of Spirituality and Peace.

The Board have turned the idea down, because it’s “too risky”.

I wrote back:

“Do thank the board for considering this; do give them my sincere apologies for filling their lives with fear and trembling; do tell them that I. too, am trying to work for a peaceful future; and remind them that Jesus, too, was an extremely risky character.
And obviously continues to be so.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Performing Queen Jesus in the Nightingale, Brighton

After last night, I begin to think performance may even be a kind of meditation.

Or maybe this is just something to do with doing a show about Jesus...

There is a journey that as a performer you have to make. Words you have to say, actions you have to take, obviously, but I am trying to think what goes on underneath all that....

There is a point of openness and trust inside. A point where you want to be, and keep straying off from.

As you think about what you have to say or do next and are aware of the energy of the audience, very much so in this case, because we are all in the lighted circle together, and so you lose your centre, and somehow have to come back to it.

Again and again.

Of course success is very important, the show going well, but it's important to let go of all that and do what has to be done.

Trust the text. Trust yourself. Trust the moment.

All this is hard for me, hard for anyone, and who knows how much I succeeded.

That matters but also doesn't. Maybe the main thing is to keep learning.

And try to take pleasure in the whole process....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Getting ready for Queen Jesus

I love being a visiting artist.

I love my little room above the theatre, just opposite the train station.

The theatre is above the Grand Central pub and in the old days used to be the dining room of the Grand Central Hotel, which is where I guess travelling salesmen used to stay on their way to sell vacuum cleaners or encyclopedias.

The theatre itself, The Nightingale, has a lovely feel to it, a warm kind of energy, and a wonderful flexibility that we intend to make the most of.

That's been one of our tasks in the past two days of rehearsal: to figure out how best to use it, the warren of fascinating rooms all around it, and the shutters which open up its beautiful windows.

Rehearsal has been happening in the Marlborough just down the road. This is another theatre above a pub, much older, a miniature proscenium arch space with a slightly sinister and seedy feel to it. We're rehearsing in what looks like the old saloon bar across the corridor with a beautiful bay window the sun streams through and which helps us, somehow, as we rediscover the text.

The pub down below is a gay bar where to be Lesbian, or Gay or Transgendered is the absolute norm. Which is one reason why when we have a drink there after rehearsal I feel so absolutely at home.

But then from the very beginning of being in a rehearsal room, all those years ago when I was still a boy, I have felt at home there. And I think about the extraordinary misfortune that led to the theatre becoming for me a forbidden space of shame and terror; and then the extraordinary good fortune that has led back there. Back home.

Today is tec day and dress rehearsal day and performance day all in one.

Bread-making day also. When I began typing this, the loaves were in the oven : the loaves I use for the communion ceremony at the end off the show.

Now I,ve taken them out, I can see they've turned out well.

A good omen.

(THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN, at The Nightingale Theatre, Brighton, today and tomorrow)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Back in the hospital

Yesterday was the day Jean was supposed to go home.

Like many older people, my mother-in-law is deeply attached to her home and this attachment has, I think, somehow been keeping her going in her increasing illness of the last years.

So this has been the focus of her latest stay in hospital.

She lives in really rather lovely sheltered housing just beside Holyrood Palace, and has been there for at least fifteen years.

It was so ideal for her when she was fitter and more active. But now it has simply become too much for her to manage, and this is crystal clear to everyone but herself.

I walk down the long corridor from her bedroom to the bathroom to the living room and shudder at the memories of her struggling down it, at first with the stick she refused to relinquish, and then with her zimmer: in desperate pain from her arthritic hips and back, heart pounding and gasping for breath.

Somehow she has forgotten the strain and anguish of those times, and simply wants to return.

Getting ready for this has brought back much of the suffering her stay in hospital has helped her leave behind. Her legs are red and swollen, she has pain in her back, she is aware of increasing weakness in her legs, and becomes breathless just walking to the window and back.

On Monday she fell in the toilet, and had to be rescued; and then yesterday morning results of blood tests showed her kidneys are suffering from the strain of it all.

So she didn’t go home.

I went to visit her in hospital in the afternoon, learning my lines on the way, and was so happy to find her somehow quite calm about it all. Philosophical. Maybe even a bit relieved.

I’d asked to see the doctor, who turned up soon afterwards.

Like all the staff I’ve encountered on this ward, she was intelligent, caring, idealistic: very respectful of Jean’s situation, and of mine too. She told Jean that it will be a while before they’re able to reassemble the care package that made her home visit possible and that maybe she’d like her to contact the social worker so that they could arrange a few visits to care homes so she could have a sense of what might be involved.

Just in case it turned out she couldn’t stay at home after all.

And so it was arranged, this simple step I’ve been trying for over a year to accomplish, with immense friendliness and professionalism and tact.

Chatting about it afterwards, I said “You’ll like visiting these places. And you’ll know which ones you like and which ones you don’t” and her gleamed with pleasurable anticipation.

And she chatted with Mary from the bed diagonally opposite, and I went down to buy her more Ribena and the People’s Friend.

Headlines in a newspaper were screaming some new NHS horror story, and while I understand why, I felt so grateful that Jean’s ward, 202 in the new Royal Infirmary, was somewhere it felt so safe for her to be and where she is treated with such dignity and respect.

And then went back up in the lift, repeating the lines from JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN as I went.

Back in the ward, a nurse was patiently redirecting a confused old man who was wandering. I used to do that, the time I was in despair at my inability to write, and was nursing.

And I thought of that old man’s untold story, and Jean’s untold story, and the often exasperating but so real heroism of these lives.

Some day I must find a way to tell these stories: but for now they must wait.

QUEEN JESUS is travelling down to Brighton.

Friday, April 06, 2012


I've prepared a new version of the script to perform in Brighton and gradually, bit by bit, have been learning it again.

Most of it is deeply embedded in my memory by now, so it's fairly light work. Pleasurable, even.

I am more and more convinced that the only way to make a play project worth while is to give it a long life. Which is precisely what the current economic structures of theatre make it almost impossible to do.

(A prime example of this is TREE OF KNOWLEDGE, which i wrote for the Traverse last year, played over christmas, sold out in its last week, and averaged 95% ticket sales. It could have done with a longer run. But the Traverse say they cannot afford to run a play for more than a little over a fortnight. And now, in spite of its success, they say they cannot afford to bring it back and have no plans to do so)

The only reason that this becomes impossible is because I am creating absolutely outside all normal funding structures.

And am dong it myself.

But this is no time for frustration: more for the pleasure of seeing a good and worthwhile project continuing to extend its life....

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]