Tuesday, February 05, 2013

West End dreams

We went round the corner and there it was.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS in big letters jutting out into the street.
'Vaudeville Theatre' very beautifully picked out in a mosaic of stained glass.
I had to stop to look at it.
I had to stop to take it in.
I wouldn't say I'd ever really dreamed of this moment. I'd never had the grounded self-confidence or the self-belief.
Besides, it's not as if being a playwright gives you a coherent career structure. You just get thrown into this jaggedy chaotic shambles. And anyone expecting or dreaming to come out of it rich or famous is being foolish and naïve.
And yet. And yet...
There was a time in the late eighties when I was briefly fashionable. LOSING VENICE had been hugely successful when it opened in the Traverse in 1985. It had toured Sweden, gone to the Perth Festival in Australia, and then to the Arts Festival in Hong Kong. It had been broadcast on the radio and had a brief run at the Almeida. A fraction of what it could have achieved: but still something.
A West End producer called Michael Codron asked to see me. He had an office near Covent Garden and I remember seeing a beautiful dress in a market stall. A dress I wanted to buy but didn't dare.
I felt very shy in the office, as in those days I invariably did, but through all my timidity I remember I liked him. I liked him a lot.
He offered me a commission to write a West End play.
For me in those days a play in the West End meant the pinnacle of success. It also meant a play like QUARTERMAINE'S TERMS (currently on at the Wyndham's: http://www.quartermainesterms.com/): conventionally structured, almost certainly with a sofa and a French window, and a big part for a star. I knew I couldn't write that play.
So I turned him down.
I told him I wasn't ready.
I was diffident, I was arrogant. I was foolish and naive. And maybe I was right.
And yet... Soon after that meeting I wrote GREAT EXPECTATIONS.
For TAG. For a small touring theatre in education company. Without a second's thought for the west end.
And then last night there I am sitting on my own in the middle of the stalls in this beautiful theatre. A theatre that once was owned by Michael Codron.
Twenty six years later: somehow after 26 years of the intensest struggle & chaos & illness & heartbreak & success & setback & broken dreams.
Waiting for the curtain to rise.
And the stalls are full (on a Monday!) and there are cameras in the circle and in each of the aisles, preparing to broadcast my play not just to 150 cinemas in the UK, I have just discovered, but to 500 or so all over the world.
And I know, somehow, that what Michael Codron did when he offered me that commission, even though I wasn't then ready to receive it, was plant a seed of self-belief that helped keep me keep on going to the place where I am now.
Someone else to whom I owe deep gratitude.
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