Thursday, May 23, 2013

Dropping acid. Learning to dream. Learning to play: and writing "Losing Venice"

Play 7: Losing Venice. First performance: August 2nd 1985. Traverse Theatre.

Another accidental meeting led to my next play. My partner, Susie, was on a train coming back from London when she met a lovely young woman sitting opposite her. Who turned out to be Jenny Killick, who happened to be travelling up to Edinburgh to work at the Traverse theatre.

We met in the downstairs theatre of the old Traverse in the Grassmarket because  she wondered if I might like to write a play for that space? And I didn’t know really, but had had a pint just before meeting her, being very nervous, and then felt too shy to ask where the loo was.

So by the time we’d had our meeting I was bursting and rushed into the gents in the Grassmarket which has disappeared now, but used to be under the War Memorial. I went to one of the stalls, which was unusual to me, and when I looked around the shape of the public convenience reminded me of the shape of the downstairs theatre in the Traverse and I had what I thought was a quite brilliant idea for a play.

So I wrote it down, several pages, and at the end of the letter wrote PS I’ve got another idea set in 17th century Venice.

In those days you had to write letters and then find an envelope and then find a stamp to put on the envelope and then post the letter in a post box, and everything took a little bit of time, but me and Jenny met again eventually and she took me out to lunch in a place on Victoria street. 

I was signing on for dole money at the time, so lunch was a bit of an unheard of event. I was all geared up to talk about the public convenience play (the decaying gents loo being a metaphor for the state of 1980’s Britain) but she never mentioned that.

She wanted to talk about the Venice idea. Which was based on a true story about the 17th century poet Quevedo hatching a plot to work with his patron, the Duke of Osuna, to bring down the Doge and make Venice part of the Spanish Empire (

I had found the story in a large volume of literary history in the National Library of Scotland (which is how you tended to get information in those days) and never took it really seriously until confronted by Jenny asking me about it. Very seriously.

Very seriously indeed, and then asking me if it was going to be an epic. This question alarmed me somewhat because in all honesty I didn’t have the slightest idea. I was about to say “no” but then, a bit to my surprise found myself saying “Yes”.

Yes Jenny I want it to be an epic...

And before I knew it I had a commission from the Traverse theatre, for the upstairs theatre this time, due to open in August 1985.

This was December 1984 so I had to get a move on.

I stopped signing on, very proudly; and started taking Rebecca to nursery every day, going to the spare room of a dear old friend, and writing the play until it was time to pick up Rebecca again.

And that’s how the play got written.

I had briefly been the Scotsman’s television critic during the Falklands War (which had been a bit complicated because we didn’t have a television at the time) and when the play came out critics said that was what it was all about.

And I am sure they were right, but I hadn’t meant that. I hadn’t meant anything very much.
I recently heard a public reading of the play, beautifully directed by Ben Harrison ( and with a gorgeous cast, who taught me that there were probably 3 other really important things that had shaped the play:

The first being an LSD trip Susie gave me for my 22nd birthday.

It’s powerful stuff, LSD, risky to take, and I’ve never had any since, but I have to say I had a marvellous time. There was a whole amazingly creative succession of incredibly vivid events, connected to every day reality and yet in a completely different dimension.

I remember the sensation of bouncing up and down in the bed. In heaven.

Iremember staring for what felt like an eternity at the most amazingly beautiful cracks in the wall.

I remember staring at myself in the mirror: and seeing a skull. As if staring my own death in the eye: and not being the least bit afraid.

And I remember seeing a woman there, me, myself, someone I utterly recognised and utterly liked. For the very first time, perhaps, seeing who I was.

(And the play has something of this quality)

A few years later I started going to a dream group. The leader was a totally remarkable woman called Winifred Rushforth (1885-1983), someone incredibly wise. 

She had such a real deep wisdom about her ( and it was the most astonishing good fortune that allowed us to meet.

I was in one of her groups for maybe 2 years: she taught me to trust myself. She taught me the language of dream.

(And the play has something of this quality)

My elder daughter Rebecca was 4 years old. Me and her went along to another meeting with Jenny, this time in the upstairs theatre of the old Traverse, which was freezing cold and dusty and felt very unloved. We slid down the banks of seating bump bump bump and then went off to meet Susie in a basement wine bar. (That is now called The Blind Poet).

Becca turned the floor into an ocean, the tables into islands, and the chairs into boats. And we travelled about the bar without touching the ground because the ocean was infested with sharks.

When it was time to leave we took a deep breath and ran as fast as we could to the door, and then on up the stairs really fast, “because the sharks can climb up stairs!”.

And the sharks didn’t get us and I went off to Glasgow to review a dance show, and Becca and Susie went home.

As i sat on the trainI knew my daughter had taught me what theatre was.

And that’s why I called my twitter account jocliffordplays because I still am, playing, and am determined never to stop.

Just before rehearsals started my younger daughter, Katie was born.

Just before the end of the play everyone gets a present:

PABLO. Well, we’re back.  Madrid hasn’t changed.

A WOMAN comes on with a parcel.

WOMAN. Are you Pablo?


WOMAN. Something for you.

PABLO. For me?  What is it?

WOMAN. You’d better sign for it.

PABLO (signing).  Right.  But what is it?

The WOMAN goes. PABLO unwraps the parcel.

PABLO. (dismayed).  It’s a baby!  Someone’s given me a baby!

MARIA. (Enters). Pablo!

PABLO tries to hide the baby.  Then he understands.

PABLO. Maria!  Is this – 

MARIA. Ours.

They have a big hug.  QUEVEDO smiles benevolently.

PABLO. He’s lovely.

MARIA.  She is, isn’t she?

PABLO. Oh it’s a girl.  She’s beautiful.  She’s got your eyes.

In the production she was an amazing sculpted baby made of wood. And then afterwards in the bar everyone gave the real baby a hug; and Katie always said: “I’m the baby in “Losing Venice”.

Because she is.

Maybe we all are.

And maybe in the end this is a play about love....

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Sex and chips and the effect of creative happiness

Last night I dreamt I was running to catch a train.

And I caught it. Which astonished me. Astonished me because in the dream I could run.

These days pains in my knees and sometimes in my hips too, coupled with a general draining of strength from my legs, means I can’t run any more. And almost certainly will never run again.

This morning this frightened and distressed me; and, almost certainly as a result, my knees were especially sore as I walked to the station.

My train was at the far end of a distant platform and when I eventually subsided into my seat I felt ready to weep.

I was going to Charing Cross on the western side of Glasgow, and that meant catching a different train from the main line one to Queen St.

On the main line you get tables to write on and even wi fi sometimes and someone comes round to sell you refreshments on a trolley.

These trains are a bit shabbier, and there are no tables and certainly no refreshments and you go through a landscape both urban and rural that looks a bit wilder and more bleak.

A young couple got on at Drumgealloch who were unusual in that they were both wearing brand new clothes. He was powerfully built with a shaven head, a good looking guy with an individual, intelligent kind of face. She wore a silver metallic puffer type jacket with a corsetted waist, immaculate white jeans and a metallic handbag to match. She had elaborately styled blonde hair and immaculate make-up and spent the whole journey looking at her phone. He was clearly attracted to her and sat as close to her as he could; but she ignored him.

I was listening to Brandenburg concertos on my big Bose headphones and almost certainly not looking my best and the one time she really looked up from her phone she saw me and I guess clocked me as a transsexual woman because she laughed in my face. And then made some probably derogatory remark to her companion which I couldn’t hear, and didn’t want to, but flashed the somewhat aggressive smile with full eye contact I employ on these occasions and she immediately took refuge in her phone.

I took refuge in dear Mr. Bach and some entirely fanciful calculation about how many people might have seen my plays or heard them on the radio, both of which also made me feel better. 

I spent my day filming scenes with my dear and talented Sex Chips and the Holy Ghost colleagues and companions, marvelling at the quality of the pictures and the capacity we now possess to transmit them all over the world...

Staggering a little from tiredness on my way back home I encountered two Gallus Glasgow ladies on their way home from the matinee at the King’s theatre, a lovely show it had been, and one asked the other if she wanted to sit down while they waited for the train. “The bench is awful cold” she said at which point her friend spread out her raincoat so she could sit on it. 

And there they were sitting close together and one said “People might think we’re gay” and they both giggled at the prospect.

And we all smiled in easy companionship and the train pulled in and I felt happy and thankful for the whole journey home.

Something about the joy of being collectively creative, I guess, and also the sheer pleasure of being able to live as a woman and through that, somehow, being able to take such pleasure in a day of filming.

And as I walked back from the station to my house my knees hardly hurt at all.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Bowel Cancer Testing Kit I Got For My Birthday

I got a bowel cancer testing kit for my birthday.

As we all do, here in Scotland, once we reach a certain age.

There is something heroic about the Bowel Screening Centre. They are tackling, head on,at least 3 firmly held taboos:
Bowel cancer exploits the fact that it has plenty of room to expand in. I am aware of this, and the need to catch it early, because that was why my sister in law Angela and my father in law Alec both suffered and died. 

We were with Alec when he died. We saw it.

This happened in 1983 and cancer surgeons were in the habit of lying to their patients then. 

Alec’s surgeon cut him open, saw there was nothing to be done, and sewed him back up again. But he told Alec the operation had been a success.

Somehow we all got sucked into maintaining that lie; and that caused us all the most intense suffering.

As for Alec, he had a deep faith in the inscrutable wisdom of his LORD and so he quietly allowed his life to slip away.

And all these memories distract me from understanding the instructions.

Essentially you cover your hand with toilet paper and use it to catch your shit.

It’s a strange sensation, feeling the gentle but irresistible push of it, and then the warmth and weight in your hand.

They give you little cardboard sticks to collect two samples a day, each from a different part of the same shit.

It’s really not as disgusting as I may be making it sound. Perhaps I’ve been eating virtuously and well.

And here I am on day 2 of the 3, and it feels a bit like an eccentric meditation exercise. One that is somehow connected to the other, very powerful, exercise of looking at my work. My other emanations.

“By your fruits you shall know them”, the dear man said. Which seems to mean that it is not what someone says they believe but what they actually do.

Just as Jesus also said that it is what comes out of us that defiles us. Our treachery, our malice, and our rage.

I wonder what would happen if we could see the consequences of each moment we live and each act we do.

See our emanations as clearly as I can see the shit in my hand.

Perhaps one day we’ll be able to. Perhaps that’s what we call heaven.

Perhaps that’s what we call hell.

Meanwhile I am very frequently washing my hands.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Play 6: collaborating with a Mr. Shakespeare

Play 6: Romeo and Juliet adapted from William Shakespeare. 4M and 3F. First production: TAG Theatre in John Bosco Secondar School, Glasgow on 23rd Oct 1984. Then touring.
With Stuart Hepburn, Robert Paterson, Paul Morrow, Robin Cameron, Isabella Jarrett, Anne Myatt, Helen McGregor.
Directed by Ian Brown; designed by Stewart Laing.

Something I learnt very early on when I started playwrighting was that you have to know the right people.

That discouraged me hugely, because as far as I could tell I didn’t know anyone useful at all.

I was wrong. And then amazed, as time passed and I kept trying, how somehow I came to know exactly the people I needed to.

Romeo and Juliet was a case in point. 

A good friend, Mark Bunyan ( happened to have a musical produced by the Cockpit Theatre, and directed by Ian Brown who happened to be coming up to Scotland to become director of TAG, which stands for Theatre About Glasgow, and was, and still is, the educational wing of the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre.

Mark introduced us to each other and Ian had had the idea of adapting Romeo and Juliet for Glasgow schools.

And that’s how my first professional writing commission for theatre came about.

Their policy at that time was to mainly tour schools in areas of musltiple urban deprivation, and these were the main venues for the tour.

So my brief was to create a version that:
So I kept the bits of the text that moved me or made me laugh or seemed essential to the story and cut the rest. And that was at least a third of the original play gone. I was amazed. I didn’t know you could do that to Shakespeare.

And then I took the bits that were left and made sure that I understood them. I modernised the grammar, and where there were words that were obscure I replaced them with others, reliving the moment in my imagination and trying absolutely to keep the feeling and rhythms of the original. As if I was translating from a foreign language. The result looked a bit like this:

Come night, come Romeo, come day in nightAnd you will lie upon the wings of nightWhiter than new snow upon a raven’s back.Come, gentle night, come loving black browed nightGive me my Romeo, and when I dieTake him and cut him out in litle starsAnd he will make the face of heaven so fineThat all the world will be in love with night...

Sometimes I’d keep the original if I liked the sounds of the words and they seemed to make sense

Lord how my head aches! What a head have I!It beats as if it would fall in twenty places.And my back.. at the other side.. ah, my back, my back!Beshrew your heart for sending me aboutto catch my death with jauncing up and down.

Sometimes everything would need to be rephrased

He’s hiding but I know he’s there.He’s sitting under a willow treeWishing he was a piece of fruit,That hard and horny kind that women useTo exercise their provate parts.Have you come yet? Turned into a loofah?Are you warm and wet?...

I was really shocked to see how frankly Shakespeare can talk about sex. Because in the past I’d just let the words kind of drift over my head, I’d always assumed he was mostly polite. Really having to understand what he was saying was a revelation.

The photo, of the late Robert Paterson as the Friar and Helen McGregor as Juliet, makes the whole thing look more conventional than it actually was.

The design was by Stuart Laing ( and he clothed the actors in an amazing edgy mix of renaissance glitz and Doc Marten boots. And Ian Brown’s production, among other lovely things, beautifully did the balcony scene without a balcony.

Our Romeo, Robin Cameron, was playing the romantic lead in the STV soap opera "Take The High Road" at the time, and he was always mobbed by autograph hunters.

A royalty statement from Christine Hamilton (, who was their administrator says my royalty came to £120.00.

But how amazing to get the chance to enter Shakespeare’s mind, learn his storytelling technique from the inside, and watch its impact on totally frank and uninhibited audiences.

In that sense, what I learnt was priceless.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Play 5: At the end of time

play 5: Ending Time Broadcast on Radio 3 on 7th November 1984.
With Martin Heller, Crawford Logan, Ann Louise Ross, Bill Paterson, Iain Cuthbertson.
Technical presentation: Jim Ross.
Directed by Stewart Conn.

This commission came out of the last. Only this one was for BBC Radio 3. I was excited. 

I’d heard a performance of Messaien’s Quartet For The End Of Time and got incredibly excited and deeply moved by it.

I don’t think the piece was very well known in those days (1984) because I seem to have felt there was a need to explain it...but I had obviously just discovered all these possibilities in Radio Drama and was so excited by them. 

Because there’s an unnamed radio producer having a petty feud with his unnamed (and unspeaking) secretary, there’s Mary and James who are in a car on the way back from a camping weekend, and they can’t decide whether or not to have a child, and James is a disgruntled violinist who’s just been playing the the Quartet, and there’s John of Patmos, him of the Book of Revelation, in Patmos, and in the present with James and Mary, and there’s an Angel too...

The whole thing is tied together by the structure of the Quartet which we hear playing in a concert hall, and on Mary and James’ car radio, while we zap around between Patmos, the Celestial Throne, the campsite, the producer’s office and the prison camp where the Quartet was first performed before ending up in the loo of Kinross motorway service station where John has a beautiful revelation of the new Jerusalem...

Technically it's amazing, beautifully directed by Stewart Conn, recorded on tape amazingly mixed and spliced together by Jim Ross. With Sue Meek clacking on a piece of lino in her heels, and doing the typing on her typewriter. (This was before computers. There were electric typewriters).

There’s a lot of me hating myself as a man in the portrayals of James and the radio producer, which is a shame, but I love the zany energy of it, it makes me laugh and laugh, and there’s moments of amazing beauty too.

Like just now. Listening to Messaien’s haunting, beautiful music, slowly coming closer:

JOHN: What is it?

ANGEL: Listen. It’s music. It’s for you.

JOHN: For me?

ANGEL: For you. And look. All the people. Do you see them? They’re listening.

JOHN: But how thin they are. How pale.

ANGEL: They are starving.


JAMES: He was in prison. Behind wire. He’d lost all his friends. It was winter. He was hungry and cold. They squabbled for food. Someone had a clarinet, someone else a violin. The piano was broken. He had to make do. People were dying. He still wrote it. No one, he said, no one has ever listened so well. I can’t even play it. How could I be someone’s father? Father to a child....

JOHN: How still they are. That’s how they listened to him. In their thousands, packed together. Beside the sea shore, all silent. Hungry for every word. How beautiful he looked. How soft his voice was. He spoke low, but they all heard him. If our child asks for bread, he said, will you give him a stone?

ANGEL: (SADLY) You give him gas.
And when he’s dead, you burn him.

That must have been when I fell in love with radio. How amazing to go from the sky to Stalag VII-A to a motor car to the shores of the sea of Galilee and then to the ovens of Auschwitz. Seamlessly. Travelling by the power of the mind.

And what a cast. Bill Paterson as John of Patmos, Iain Cuthbertson as the Angel, Martin Heller as the producer, Crawford Logan as James and Anne Louise Ross so lovely as Mary. 

With a deep pang I could feel how one of the scenes was inspired by me and my late partner Susie making love. The debate betwen the two characters was one we had had some years earlier, as to whether it was right to bring a child into this disintegrating world. 

And those moments. Those beautiful moments of tenderness. This must be why, the night before last, I dreamt she was still alive. And I could talk to her.

But I won’t think of that. I’ll think of John, and the final vision of the play. With Messaien’s utterly beautiful last movement...

JOHN: How peaceful it is. How quiet. All this water. Patmos was a desert place, but here is water. I saw the City. I remember now. I measured it with my hands. I saw it with my eyes. The city was of gold, like unto clear glass. There was no more war. There were no tears and the seas had all run dry. I said, Lord I am not worthy, Lord I am not worthy but the rod was put into my hand. So I measured.
The streets were full of dancing.
All the children were there, they rose up from the ovens and all the women too. All the downtrodden, all the oppressed.
All the prisoners were set free. And the others they, too, cast aside their whips and their truncheons and laughed. They laughed. Everyone was there, everyone. All joined the dance. It’s over they said. It’s all over. It was just a bad dream. And it’s over. It’s finished and done. And the lion lay down with the lamb. And there were springs of pure water.
I was there. I ate the bread. I drank the wine. I must tell them I was there.


I must tell them. I mustn’t forget. Dear God don’t let me forget. I was there. Let me not forget. Let me not forget...

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

An encounter with the Mother

Play number 4: Desert Places. Directed by Patrick Rayner and broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland some time in 1983.

I remember those early years getting so frustrated. No-one in theatre seemed to want to put on new plays. And no-one seemed willing to even read them.

The Scottish Society of Playwrights had a reading service, in the sense that you could send a play to them, someone would read it and write comments that would be sent back to you. They were sometimes helpful, but not enough: they weren’t getting me closer to a production.

I learnt that radio was hungry for new plays, and that if you wrote one and sent it to Stewart Conn, the head of radio drama in Scotland, you would get a reply.

And so I did. I sent him two or maybe three plays that he was polite about. And then he commissioned me to write another one.

It was called Desert Places, it was broadcast some time in 1983, and it was the first time I was paid for a play.

I got the idea on Iona. 

I loved the ruins of the nunnery there. The history of the place was displayed on boards round the cloister walls. The last one said that at the time of the Reformation gangs of reformers used to travel round Scotland smashing up the monasteries. It took a long time for them to get to Iona, and when they arrived they found the place a ruin and only one old monk and one old nun living there. All the others had died.

The other thing that struck me was a sheela-na-gig on the nunnery wall: a fearsome female figure with a head like a skull who was laughing and showing her teeth. With big breasts and great staring eyes and her hands pulling open her vagina.

It was amazing.

And I combined all this to write a play that Patrick Rayner directed and that we recorded on location in Crichton Castle.

And then me and Susie bought a bottle of cheap fizzy wine and drank it as we huddled round the radio.

And afterwards I remember a sense of anticlimax. I felt like I’d dropped a stone down a very deep well and hadn’t even heard it splash. And maybe hundreds of people had heard the play, maybe even thousands, but because I hadn’t seen them I couldn’t quite believe they were there.

And I hadn’t heard the play from that day to this.

Listening to it last night I was struck by how strange it was. It seemed to come out of nowhere, this weird story written by someone following their own preoccupations without any regard for anyone else’s.

Stewart Conn ( and Patrick Rayner are another two people to whom i owe my artistic life. I’m amazed at the trust they placed in me.

But although strange, I think the play’s strange in a good way. It’s overwritten, I don’t know how to end scenes and I haven’t really understood how to use radio... but there’s something rather amazing going on. Something that still haunts me.

I loved the scene that was mostly in Latin. And the scene mostly in gaelic. And the character of Agnes, the old nun who sleeps with the monk and worships the Sheela-na-Gig, who she reveres as the Mother:

“I wonder what they said when they found you in the wall, dark mother of hidden corners. You frightened them too - they would have trod you underground but you scared them. They thought you might destroy them, so they set you in your corner just in case. Now they run from you in terror and won’t even know you’re there, but you’ll catch them, catch them in the end. Your enormous breasts, your great staring eyes. Mhairi says you’re the Mother. You’re as bitter as life, as bitter and frightful and full of wild spite. She says if I see you I’m not to be frightened, you’re the witch in the story I must greet as a friend. I walk up and I kiss you, though my gorge rises in terror, I walk up and I kiss you and then... then you become the true lover I’ve always imagined. We take hands and we dance. We dance.”

Monday, May 06, 2013

playing no.3: me trying to break down the fourth wall

Play no. 3: How Like An Angel. Written 1981, performed 1987 by Fifth Estate Theatre Company. Directed by Allan Sharpe. 5 M.

So: I had discovered I was a playwright.

Time to write a play.

I had no faith in myself back then. I didn’t believe I could make up a story, so thought I’d better use my own experience.

So I based the play on people I’d met when I was a nurse for a couple of months in the admission ward of a psychiatric hospital.

It was a horrifying place: where men were separated from women and where suffering people were locked up together, given tranquillisers and occasionally had electricity passed through their brain to induce fits in the hope this would make them better.

There was one young man in particular who I held down when he was given ECT and I based the play on his story.

He wanted to save the world and I so wished I could help him.

There was another, older man on the ward that I called Fred who in his more quiet way was also a bit of a rebel:

“I can’t tell you all the jobs I’ve taken.Job after job. Time after time.It’s always been the same. After the the first dayI’ve just had to go up to the boss and saygive me my books pleaseand sometimes they haven’t believed meand I’ve had to insist, give me my books pleasegive me my books, I’ve said, I’ve just got no interestI’ve got no interest working here at all.Working. The same thing, day in, day out,I don’t know why folks do it, to be honest,I think they must be crazy.”

He has an amazing speech in which he describes ECT in the days before they used anaesthetic:

“In the old days you could see them jumpingfirst they’d let out that peculiar kind of screamthen they’d jump, every bit of themand they’d jump right out of bed if the nurses didn’t stop themonly it wasn’t them, it wasn’t them jumpingit was the electricitythey used to go a peculiar kind of colour, kind of blue,then they’d breathe in a peculiar way,kind of snorting it was, like horses.They’d come down the rown towards you, like a procession,and you had to lie still in bed and wait your turnand you could see it, see it all happen.”

I wrote in my introduction to the play that "I want it to be a play about maleness; about the violence men do to each other, to their own selves, and the world".

The play is that, I think. It describes the limits of human experience, it makes them understandable, and has a real compassion for patients and staff, all damaged by an inhumane system:

FRED Doctor have you got something for me

DOCTOR Something for you?

FRED Yes doctor something from your magic box


FRED From your magic box, doctor, like you used to say


FRED You remember, doctor, I’d say “hello doctor, what’s it to be today then”, 
                         remember, “what’s it to be today, doctor, what’ve you got”.

DOCTOR (BACKING OFF) No. I’m afraid I don’t.

FRED “here you are Fred”, you’d say “here’s a magic pill.
        A magic pill from the magic box”

DOCTOR It was a long time ago

FRED I know, doctor, it’s been a long time, but there must be something. 
                        You must  have something

DOCTOR No. There’s nothing. Nothing. I’m sorry.


FRED But doctor. Doctor...
Nothing? Nothing?

He’s changed. He has changed.
He’s...he’s not looking too well, is he?
He’s not. Not well at all.
Perhaps he should see someone.
Perhaps...he should. He definitely should.”

From the very beginning I couldn’t keep to the conventions of the naturalistic stage. I wanted to break down the barrier between the audience and the performers. And I had to write in verse.

I was a bit ashamed of all this. 

But now I feel proud of it. Proud of myself trying to break down the fourth wall way back in 1981. All on my own.

I wrote the play for a competition because I didn’t know of anywhere else to send it. And then when it got nowhere I sent it to the Traverse and to the Royal Court.

Neither of those theatres even acknowledged it.

I assumed it was because the play was rubbish. And so it disappeared.

I was trying to check the dates of it on my CV just now, and was horrified to see I'd forgotten about it somehow and left it out.

A few years later I got a letter from the Royal Court saying they appeared to have this play in their possession and if I wanted it back I’d better send them the postage because otherwise it would be shredded.

And after that I discovered there was a cupboard in the Traverse where they put unsolicited scripts because they didn’t have the resources to read them.

Meanwhile I’d heard of an amazing organisation called Edinburgh Playwrights’ Workshop where they undertook to give every play that was sent them a public reading followed by a public discussion. A discussion that was structured so every audience member had the chance to speak in it.

It was run by two admirable idealists, George Byatt and Bob Macaulay, and they were true to their word.

I was terrified. The playwright was supposed to be in charge of the process but I didn’t have a clue what to do.

The man playing the Charge Nurse, Allan Sharpe, helped me and eventually him and his company, Fifth Estate, put on a couple of productions of the play.

He was a fine man, Allan, and I owe him a lot. He was a really interesting writer himself, and a gifted actor and director.

He was braver than me. He was able to see what I was after, but was somehow too frightened to ask for or even fully conceive. So he scattered chairs at random through the performance space: seating that was shared between audience and performers alike. He was particularly good, I remember, as the Charge Nurse persuading the audience to take their medication.

He made of it a moving and funny and compassionately subversive piece of work and helped me hugely.

Since his death, both him and Fifth Estate (which he founded with Sandy Neilson) have been mostly forgotten. He doesn’t deserve to be.

Even now he encourages me. When I think, as I frequently do, that this exercise is a waste of time because no-one’s going to be interested in reading about this stuff, I think of him and I think of our work together.

And I think: this deserves to be remembered. Allan deserves to be remembered.

And then I think: if I don’t record it, who will?

It matters we all find at least that basic pride.

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