Tuesday, June 25, 2013

my lovely st. lucy

Play8: LUCY'S PLAY. (3F, 3M).First performed Traverse Theatre July 4th 1986. Directed by Jenny Killick.

I keep meaning to write about my 'Lucy's Play' (1986) because I love my Lucy and feel immensely proud of her.

But life keeps interrupting. I seem to keep having to dodge unexpected missiles.

But not now: not this moment in Edinburgh airport waiting to fly to Exeter. Where I'm due to perform QUEEN JESUS in a bike shed and work with Chris Goode on his new project.

And so feel happy. Because although 1986 is a long way off now, one thing has not changed: the constant need to create. The joy of creation.

LUCY came about because LOSING VENICE was so successful and I got another commission from the Traverse. I was still young (ish) and interesting as far as my career was going, and so still allowed to have ideas.

In my naivety, I thought I would be allowed to have ideas for ever.

I wanted to make a woman my central character so I could explore the woman in myself. And also because the feminism of my beloved partner Susie had made me so aware of the injustice suffered by women in the world. And especially in the theatre.

(And I know is those respects not a great deal has changed, but I wanted then, and still want now, to do what little I could).

So there were equal numbers of women and men in the cast and the idea for the play came from an art book that was lying around the Travers green room and had a picture of an elaborately dressed young woman with her eyes on a tray.

It was such a strange picture, and when I looked it up I discovered it was of Saint Lucy.

She was a young Christian woman in Syracuse towards the end of the Roman Empire and her prayers kept being interrupted by a young man who said he was in love with her. He was in love with her eyes.

"If you love my eyes, then you can have them", she said and plucked them out and gave them to him. Then she carried on with her devotions.

Obvious subject for a play, I am sure you'll agree, and a perfect vehicle for Kate Duchene, who had been so wonderful in LOSING VENICE.

I remember the play was difficult to write. I was a bit intimidated by VENICE and by the wit and  beauty of its language. I didn't really believe I could do it again.

And looking back over it I can see I was probably a bit too eager to please. And almost certainly put too much in.

I can see how I was using the end of the Roman Empire as a metaphor for the decline of the West and the slow disintegration of capitalism too.

And then towards the end of the play I got suddenly preoccupied by the cold war. At that time the US and USSR were still in a state of mutual hostility and each had an utterly insane number of ballistic missiles pointing at each other. The constantly threatened outbreak of war would be more than enough to destroy the whole world: and that possibility had overshadowed all of us for all of our lives.

And then on top of that there was a whole raft of angry feelings towards Christianity and the historically disastrous doctrine of original sin:

"So I left the mountains and came down to the plains.

They were building great cities.

Huge cathedrals whose towers touched the sky. Great castles. Impregnable keeps.

Markets full of the richest merchandise.

The most sumptuous brothels.

They were all christians there.

Didn't stop them dying.

Didn't stop them grasping for gold.

Didn't stop them lying.

Didn't stop them cheating, stealing, thieving. Didn't stop them leading miserable, narrow lives.

They blamed it on Pelagians.

"It's the heretics", they said,

"Spreading their wickedness.

If it weren't for them, the land would be at peace."

So they started a crusade. I joined them.

There was nothing else to do.

We marched till we came to an open country.

The valleys were green and well-watered,

The villages were spacious and well-ordered.

We burnt them. We took up the corpses,

And we used them to poison the streams.

And the preachers blessed us.

We were doing God's work.

They told us the heretics denied the necessity of grace.

They denied the existence of original sin.

They believed that humans were naturally good. Madmen. They didn't baptise their children.

They didn't see the need for the sacrament of marriage.

So our priests baptised the babies

Before leaving them to be slaughtered

And the women were raped

To give them an understanding of christian love. And so we proved the necessity of grace.

And I was with them. I proved it too."

Pelagius was and still is a hero of mine. He was a fourth century Celtic monk who denied the existence of original sin and believed human beings were intrinsically good. And it might have helped if I had taken the trouble to explain this properly but I tended to be quite arrogant about these things.

And it might also have helped if I hadn't allowed myself to be overruled about the custard pie fight I wanted at the end, because for me it somehow expressed the grotesque stupidity and wastefulness of the cold war:



I knew it would end in tears.

I knew it. I went up to the Lord, and I said to him: "See here", I said, "them humans", I said, "they're going to end up in serious trouble", I said, "unless you do something."

He just shook his head. Men.

So I just came down anyway to see what I could do. And there's Lucy. Poor soul. I must wake her.



Here love, wake up now. It's all over.

It was just a dream. You're safe now.

That's it love, that's it. That's the way.


What happened? Am I dead?


Dead or alive dear, makes no difference.

Life goes on.


I thought you'd gone.


I did. But I came back when I heard the fighting.




I wanted to help you. Don't be frightened. You're safe now.

Take the water. Use it well.

They were your friends."

But then if I'd been able to understand I was OK, I really could write, and didn't need to prove myself to anybody, and especially not to myself, then that certainly would have helped me even more.

I remain so very proud of the piece, though, because it's warm hearted and tender and funny and sad and has a part in it for Mary the Mother of God:



Lucy. Help me.


I can't help you. I can't help anything.


Help me find my son.

There are no children here.

He wasn't a child. He was a man.

He had dark hair and bright green eyes.

And when he laughed, you had to laugh with him.

When he wept, you had to weep too.

But he was too good for this world.

They strung him up and they killed him.

And after they'd done that they even stole his corpse.

And now his picture's everywhere. I see it in all the churches. I run to each one, hoping to find him. But they're all fakes. Every one of them.

The things that are done in his name must surely make him weep. But if I could find him, I'd wipe away his tears.

I'd embrace him in my arms and we'd be whole again. Then I'd be happy.

And so I travel from town to town, and my back is sore and my feet are just one big mass of blisters and I'm getting tired.

I'm just about ready to leave this place altogether but I tell myself he must be somewhere. Must be.

And I have to laugh at some of the statues. Statues of me.

Awful sentimental. I mean if they knew what I'm really like they'd run a mile. I know they would. And the pictures. Of him and me. In the worst possible taste. Him and his wee willie. And they're nothing like him. Nothing at all.

I mean he was nice enough as a baby, don't get me wrong, I loved him, but he was a wee terror just the same. And at night he was terrible. Wouldn't let me sleep a wink. On at me all the time. Pawing at me. Like he wanted to suck me dry. And when he got bigger he was worse. Talking all the time. Never a minute's peace. About the law. And the prophets. Couldn't understand a word. And the son of man.

Said he was the son of man. I told him he wasn't the son of man, he was my own son and he could he no just leave us alone?

But o no. It was Moses. And the ark of the covenant. At the age of three. And when you're his mother you've got to take an interest.

Wore me out, he did. I was glad enough to see him leave home. And then I missed him. The house seemed that empty with him gone. So off I went. On the road. At my age. Bethesda. Gennesaret. Capernaum. All they places. And he spoke like an angel.

Everyone came to see him. Everyone for miles.

His voice was the loveliest thing you ever heard. Listening to it you felt like you'd give up everything, everything you ever had just to hear him for always. People did. Good people. My friends.

And then they took him away and they hung him.

And I lost him again. My heart still bleeds.

Have you no seen him?

No. He isn't here. He's never been here.

And you must go too. You're in danger.

There's going to be a war. I can feel it in my bones.

And I want to stop it.

But nothing I do makes any difference,

And nothing I do makes any sense.


Don't despair my love. You are Lucy, light on the mountain.

If you have light, do you hide it under a bucket? Do you cover it up with a stone?

No. You put it high on a hillside,

Where everyone can see it. You can't help it.

And you can't put it out. It's in the nature of light.

It was Him who taught me that. Don't forget.

And don't lose hope. Peace will come.

The good you do is never lost.

Remember, Lucy. Never forget.


I won't. I promise.



The mother of God. I have seen the Mother of God. I must tell the others.


It is a real piece of play, angry and funny and deeply serious and surreal and that is what I wanted it to be: a poetic journey through the world of the inner self. Utterly mysterious and utterly clear.

The plane is high above the clouds now: we are in that space which can't be experienced on earth, where the sky is always clear. And the clouds are like cotton wool under our feet and how wonderful to bounce up and down on them. Up and down in the fluffy fields...

I'm thinking of the event I performed bits of QUEEN JESUS in last Sunday. A really lovely spoken word event in the Bongo Club run by Out:Spoken

I felt like I was doing a gig, out there all alone with a fierce light on me. And I so loved the audience: fierce and idealistic and absolutely at home there. Well informed and familiar with it and knowing the score. Able to take part should they wish: not the slightest bit interested in being told what to think.

In love with the word, the beautiful word spoken in darkness, and open-hearted and alive...

I wish LUCY had had that audience. They would have loved her better.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Thinking about art and social media

A Kolkata publishing house has invited me to write an essay on “How To Write A Script” for a forthcoming anthology.

Predictably, I immediately feel a massive ignorance.

Which is strange, because I actually do know something.

I dreamt last night I was writing a new play and was full of the power and the joy of it. 

When it comes, which doesn’t seem to be that often, the intense pleasure in the moment of creation is worth all the suffering and distress that somehow also seems necessary in order to get to it.

Everyone I’ve ever known has that capacity for creation inside them; and everyone also sees to have intense suffering attached to it. Suffering that is generally due to humiliation we were put through as children, when our creative impulse was mocked or misused. There is something in the world we inhabit that is compelled to mock and stifle creativity. As strongly as it is also in need of it.

Those moments she comes, the beautiful Goddess the Greeks personified as inspiration, she helps us live entirely and beautifully in the present moment. What happened in the past can’t hurt us any more; and although the audience may have brought us to this moment, they somehow don’t matter either. Whether they live in the flesh in front of us or whether they inhabit our mind.

We know somehow, absolutely know, that what we are doing or saying is writing is absolutely beautiful and right and we don’t need to think about it.

I so love that feeling. Whether it comes in writing or in performing. 

A few weeks ago we filmed a few new scenes of “Sex, Chips and The Holy Ghost” to webcast (if that is a verb) and I remember the intense pleasure of improvising in character in front of a camera. 

The endearing thing about a camera is that unlike an audience, whose attention you sometimes feel you have to capture and hold, its little attentive light is on whatever.

There’s something very freeing about that. (Terrifying, too, of course, but we won’t go there now)

Making the little films was a joy; and it is astonishing that the technology is now available to create the images; and then to distribute them.

But then there’s something so dismaying about entering the world of ‘likes’ and ‘hits’ and ‘retweets’ and ‘favourites’: I think because it makes the least important part of the whole process seem like the most important.

How sad it is to be out in public places and watch lovers not paying any attention to each other, but looking down at their phones instead. Or parents ignoring their children in favour of their texts.

As if the present moment has become so unbearable in our post capitalist world that we are all compelled to escape from it.

I hope as an artist that doesn’t happen to me. Because if it does it will undermine the true foundation of my creativity.

And maybe it’s all part of the bigger picture: of our civilisation busily engaged in its own destruction. 

Not simply of the outer world of nature: but also the inner world of the collective imagination.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The first sex chips and the holy ghost webcat

This is usually such a verbal blog. For once, there will be very few words...

Monday, June 03, 2013

Trying to survive the impossible economics of theatre

Play 8:  Losing Venice (radio) 1986.

So there I was. In 1985. I’d spent 5 years on the dole. earning the occasionalm pittance as a theatre reviewer. which I’d had to declare: and had then had the whole amount deducted from my dole.

Because that’s how it is in this filthy world: the very poor are taxed at 100 per cent and it is so incredibly hard to pull yourself up from poverty.

But when I got the commission from the Traverse to write Losing Venice I stopped signing on as unemployed and felt so very proud.

I started in January 1985 and kept going until the run of the play finished in late August.

After a period of real doubt and despair (read the whole story here http://www.teatrodomundo.com/losing-venice.shtml) the play became a huge hit of the 1985 festival. 

It was invited to at least 15 international festivals, was completely sold out for every performance, and I had the feeling, even in my shell shocked state, that I really had succeeded.

But I’d run out of money.

I’d spent everything I had made from the play, and the first instalment of my next commission, and there was nothing from the royalties because the theatre was too small.

I was supposed to be writing my next commission - which was a play about Robert Burns for TAG Theatre Company - but I had nothing to live on.
So I had to go back to signing on the dole.

In my discoragement and despair I failed to write the play for TAG. And I almost stopped writing altogether.

But out of this I’d got an agent - Alan Brodie, who still represents me http://www.alanbrodie.com/ - and his boss Michael Imison was in Edinburgh, and came to see me. He’s a wise man, Michael, and someone of great authority (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Imison). He persuaded me that he believed in me; and that it was possible to make a good living out of theatre. To make more money than you would out of telly, in fact.

I believed him. Though in actual fact none of that has yet come true.

I didn’t want my children to grow up in poverty; I figured out that it would be reasonable to earn about as much as a school teacher; and that to do that i would need to write five plays a year.

So I set about to do that. One way to manage was to do translations, which came next; and to turn theatre plays into radio plays.

So, full of hope, I submitted Losing Venice to Stuart Conn at the BBC, and it was accepted. It was beautiful on radio.

And with huge courage and energy i set about the task of making the system work for me.

I was very naive.

I didn’t understand that the problem I was up against was hard wired in to the very structure of theatre. That I was working in a labour intensive craft struggling to survive in a post industrial capital intensive economy. 

That while theatre was very good at making money for other people, it faced the hugest difficulties making money for itself. Since, unlike a normal industrial enterprise, it cannot outsource its labour to the Third World, where wages are minimal.

All of which meant that its health was dependent on an intelligent government who understood its importance and was prepared to subsidise it.

But that understanding was gone.

I knew none of this. i thought that what I needed to do was to be recognised: and that somehow my troubles were now over.

But the struggle had hardly begun.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

A glimpse of the queendom

“The Queendom is like a man who stumbled across treasure buried in a field...”

I’m learning my lines for my “Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven”. 

I’m rewriting the book, chapter by chapter. I’m strangely steeped in Jesus’ words, which is odd for someone who was an atheist for so many years.

And I spent today in a profound meditation class run by Father Laurence Freeman (http://www.wccm.org/home) and he was using this story to end meditation.

And then we were reflecting on it together, a practice he calls lectio divina.

After that was over I suddenly had a memory. A memory apparently out of nowhere: of the day I learnt Susie’s brain tumour would kill her, and that in the hospital’s judgement she had only a few days to live.

I was in the relative’s room of the hospital ward, and had just been told, and had undertaken to be the one to tell Susie. And knew I would also have to tell my daughters. And tell her mum too.

It was one of the worst moments of my life, and I’d been left alone with it. The nurse had gone off to fetch a cup of tea, as British people do at such moments, and I was staring blankly out the window.

And then I saw the tree. It was a pretty sad tree, growing in the shadow of the cancer ward, but it was doing its best. As trees do. 

It was doing everything it could to make the most of what little it had. And it struck me as quite indescribably beautiful.

And then the nurse brought the tea, hospital tea, with sugar in it, and it tasted like the best tea I had ever tasted in my life.

After Susie had been told she entered a state of grace. There are no other words for it.

Somehow I did too. In the middle of all this desperate sadness there was this sense of profound thankfulness and joy. Thankfulness for the love we had for each other and for the precious few days we had been given to enjoy it.

I was remembering all this in the converted school gym the class was being held in, and the woman next to me said “You’re Sue Innes’ partner, aren’ t you?”. 

It turned out she had nursed Susie in the hospice; that she had been with her when Susie died. “She was larger than life”, she said. And “We enjoyed going into her room. We always laughed together”. And “She was utterly peaceful when she died”.

And I sit now and look out at the beautiful evening sunlight, and I can’t say I understand anything at all.

The story says when the man found the treasure he buried it again. And then “for sheer joy” sold all he had so he could 
buy the field.

That forgotten glimpse of heaven did cost us everything, as far as our love went. And that treasure, which has just come to light, did get buried.

Buried deep in my heart.

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