Friday, July 31, 2015

performing and arthritis

When I look at the films we made before and during the performance last year I tend to wince.

I look at myself, bandy legged and waddling along as old people tend to do when we have sore hips and knees.

I know I’ve no reason to feel ashamed: but I do.

And when I began to come out using a stick for the first time, that is exactly what it felt like. Coming out. Making myself be open and proud of something I’d been made to be ashamed of.

I don’t wholly understand why old people and disabled people are made to feel ashamed of who we are. Perhaps it’s because we remind everybody, starting with ourselves, of human frailty and human decay. 

That, and the unavoidable approach of sister death. And we don’t want to think about that.

I know I was in denial last year and trying to pretend it wasn’t happening.

That’s one thing professional actors have to learn to be good at. Concealment and denial. Because we are supposed to be able to dance, sing, play multiple music instruments, fence, ride horses and motorbikes and never do anything like show weakness or fall ill.

I, on the other hand, often can’t walk properly. And it embarrasses me.

But there it is. The arthritis began in the left knee, and is now in the right knee and hip.

And note how when I write this I say “the” instead of “my”. As if I still want to believe this is all happening to somebody else, and not to me.

But it is happening. I can’t walk any distance, climb stairs with any ease, or stand for any period of time.

It’s hard for us to talk about this, director Susan, archangel Annabel, and me. Or at least it’s hard for me.

But there’s no choice, really. I don’t want to suffer performing and the only way to begin to deal with any pain is to at least acknowledge it is there.

Luckily one of the many things I admire about director Susan’s style of directing is the way she makes use of space.

And the stairs in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall have lots of railings.

And the script now acknowledges what is happening and maybe the way I perform does too.

I hope somehow that in the process, in this show that openly acknowledges all our frailty and mortality, something beautiful will be made of it.

And eventually, too, that I’m able to create my new show about old age and death.

But that’s another story. For now it’s this one that has to be told.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

No longer a lonely traveller

There’s a story Queen Jesus tells in the play that I’m proud of.

Proud of the writing, anyway, and so it’s one that I enjoy telling.

Director Susan frowns a little.

“You’re always off when you do that story”, she says.

She means off centre, my voice not coming from quite the right place. 

Nor the rest of me neither.

Director Susan doesn’t do scathing. She doesn’t even do mild reproach; more a sense of someone waiting.

A sense that this is something I may not want to hear just now. Or maybe something I’m not able to hear.

But one day I will..
The story is a version of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son discovers she is her father’s daughter, is driven out of home and goes to live in a far country. But eventually comes home and is reconciled to her father.

Suddenly I realise it’s also about me and my dad.

He was always terrified and outraged at my being “sissy” and didn’t quite know how to handle it.

He did his best to be good to me, but didn’t really know how.

I remember once being terrified when he shouted at me after I had stolen a doll; but mostly, like many things that caused him emotional discomfort, he repressed it.

This was what his generation was taught to do.

He died in his early seventies, while we were still estranged from each other, without knowing or understanding who I really was and without even really taking on board the fact I had become successful.

It grieves me that I never could come out to him or that he never truly understood or accepted who I was.

In the middle of discovering all this, we have to move out of the rehearsal room and I leave my stick behind. 

When director Susan retrieves it on the Monday it appears with a label attached.

A cardboard label tied on with string of the kind that always used to be attached to my suitcase when I was a boy. 

And also, when I was sent off to boarding school, attached to me.

My mum used to put me on the train at Cheltenham Spa for the journey down to Swanage, me and my little brown suitcase. With our labels attached.

(And the suitcase, I remember, was the same as the suitcase I carry on stage)

My mother used to hate sending me off on these journeys. She’d try to hide the fact she was crying: but I still saw.

My father thought they were good for me, and could never understand why I wasn’t prepared to send my daughters to boarding school too. “You’ll want to get them out of your way”, he’d say testily.

And so there I was, a small boy of 8 or 9 years old in his school uniform setting out alone on these long train journeys.

And maybe these solitary journeys prepared me, somehow, for the long journeys I was to take later as a writer.

Inner journeys to dark or frightening places, alone, to try to bring back something of value or of beauty.

But this time I have companions. I think of director Susan so thoroughly working on the script; archangel Annabel trying to balance budgets and make sure the right people come; and st. Claire seeking out the right tea lights and towel. 

And I understand there is something very beautiful about this journey that starts at Summerhall a week today and leads to who knows where: the fact I no longer have to make it alone.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

invaded by old distress

Director Susan needs to be very patient with me. 

One of the hazards about trying to perform my own work is that I’m never satisfied with it. 

THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN has been rewritten for this year’s performance, but in spite of all the changes and all the work I’ve put into it there are still lines that I feel are not quite right.

And I tend to rewrite them as I go along. Which is a bit of a problem for poor St Claire and her lighting cues. 

And my attention wanders off from my performance.

And director Susan notices this, of course. And then we have to deal with it.

And then I can so easily get invaded by the past…

We can’t afford to rehearse in the performance space all the time. So the Archangel Annabel has found us somewhere else.

It’s a lecture theatre in the University’s Law Faculty, a really beautiful room that she has chosen because it’s similar, at least in feel, to Summerhall’s Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre.

Except it’s very much grander. It’s part of the University;s Old College and exudes an air of incredible self confidence. A sense that whoever teaches and studies here belongs to an intellectual and political elite. .

It reminded me so strongly of the public school in which I was interned as an adolescent, and of the Oxford College where, as a scared boy of 16, I was interviewed for admission.

Both institutions possessed an unquestioned air of masculine superiority and a total arrogance that intimidated me profoundly and which I learnt to loathe.

I had ended up firmly turning my back on all that, because I so feared and detested it, and in my twenties had abandoned my thesis and all the middle class expectations it represented to work on the buses and train as a nurse.

It was as if all the fear and shame associated with these monstrous institutions, and the wrenching pain of rejecting their demands, had descended on me as I was rehearsing there.

I couldn’t figure out quite what to do with myself and began to forget my lines.

I felt self-conscious and useless and realised I was not in the present moment at all.

I was a scared schoolboy in a classroom. I was with my shocked and dismayed Dad trying to explain the direction my life was taking. I was feeling ashamed and lonely and afraid in my boarding school. I was feeling agonisingly self-conscious about my voice, which had not broken, as I was being interviewed for the Oxford College. And I was being humiliated by some pompous man for daring to walk on the grass in its quadrangle.

And who knows what else besides….

I can’t be the only actor to be invaded by such feelings in rehearsals. Thinking of it makes me realise that I’ve never really spoken to actors about it. Rehearsals are rarely safe enough spaces in which to disclose such things. Everyone is driven far too often by the brutal demands of deadlines and by the fear of failure.

“ I tell you everything that’s been hid must come to light” says Queen Jesus.

Dear love, she’s so uncomfortably right.

It helps to be able to identify the memories; it helps immeasurably to have the good fortune to be working with someone like director Susan who understands.

And so the work goes on…

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Being a writer in rehearsals. Being an actor...

This time thirty years ago I was in rehearsals for my LOSING VENICE in the old Traverse in the Grassmarket.

I still blush to think at how utterly useless I was.

I had no idea exactly what I was supposed to be doing there. No-one had told me, and somehow it didn’t feel safe to ask. Hearing my words spoken aloud left me feeling horribly exposed and full of loathing for my work.

Sometimes I could hardly bear to hear the lines; I would sit with my head in my hands, and so, of course, all the actors thought I hated what they were doing.

Meantime I really admired what they were doing, and only felt sorry for them having to speak such dreadful words. 

In subsequent productions I learnt to try to keep my eyes open during rehearsals and pretend to smile and also, if I could possibly could, try to answer the actors’ questions. At first when they asked me what such and such a line meant I would tell the truth and say I didn’t know. “It’s just the way I heard it”, I would say. Which was hardly helpful or reassuring. 

Later I learnt to make something up and try to say it with an air of confidence. Often that assuaged whatever anxiety had induced them to ask in the first place. And so I learnt it was sometimes useful to lie a bit.

I also learnt that most of the painstaking research I had undertaken as part of my PhD thesis had been an attempt to answer the wrong question. I had been trying to understand what Calderon intended to say in his plays; when probably, like me, all he was trying to do  was trying to create moments that worked on stage.

Whatever that meant.

Over the years and over all the subsequent plays I gradually came to understand that what I was supposed to be doing as a writer was listening to the words, making sure they were the right ones and in the right place, and then changing them if they weren't. 

And that what I wanted from the actors was not that they say the lines always in the same pre-ordained way but that they be in the present moment. The moment suggested by the script, and by their creative response to it. That they’re able to trust the moment, trust the text and trust themselves.

And then let go of that moment and move on to the next.

As I was to say eventually in my GOD’S NEW FROCK: 

“Welcome to this moment. This moment that has never happened quite like this before and will never happen quite like this again.”

And it’s only now, as I re-rehearse my GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN, that I begin to understand quite how difficult this is….

Monday, July 13, 2015

Performance as a kind of meditation...

Once upon a time I used to be a theatre reviewer. It came about because, after twenty years of trying, I finally came to understand that I would never be a novelist.

And that I was a playwright instead.

My difficulty was that I knew nothing about contemporary theatre. I’d hardly seen any. I’d spent the previous ten years working as a bus conductor, and a nurse, and a yoga teacher, and a co-counselling teacher, and becoming an expert on the theatre of 17th century Spain.

And by then neither me nor my partner had any paying jobs. We had a baby daughter instead.

And so I couldn’t afford theatre tickets.

A dear friend suggested I become a theatre reviewer on the Fringe, and so get tickets for free.

Which I did. Allen Wright of the Scotsman gave me a job reviewing for the 1981 Fringe, and then, being a kind and generous soul, kept me on.

Then, as now, I had strong views about what I saw; and if a production gave me a wretched time I would very forcefully say so. And equally if it filled me with joy.

I assumed no-one was reading and that what I said didn’t matter. Which was a big mistake; and I know now that along the way I very deeply hurt many people. Which I still feel bad about.

And what made it worse was that people enjoyed my negative reviews much more than my positive ones. And praised me for them. 

My capacity to injure seemed to be much more highly valued than my gift for praise.

Which tells you something about the kind of society we live in…

Feedback I’ve had about this blog makes me realise that in my attempts to describe the rehearsal process I’m making exactly the same mistake.

It’s so much easier to write about the difficulties. So much harder to describe the joys.
I don’t seem to have the vocabulary somehow.

I was listening to an interview with Arvo Part yesterday. The problem in trying to know how to set one note after another, he said, is essentially the same as the problem of knowing how to set one foot in front of another.

And unless you’re in the right place in your self, you will never write the right music.

This spoke to me so deeply, because I meditate morning and evening, and because of something that happened on Friday.

Dear Director Susan, who is wise this way, and in many other ways also, pointed out to me that performing, too, is like meditation in that you are trying always to keep yourself centred, and constantly losing it, and then coming back without judgement. 

And then losing it and then finding it again…

Today, Monday, was about trying to remember this and put it into practice in the space as I staggered through a rough draft of how the production will be.

And this evening, as I think about it all, I realise in a way there’s not much point in trying to describe the joy and fascination of it.

What matters is whether I’m able to remember this, and keep myself in the present moment, in front of an audience.

And whether you feel it, dear reader, if you manage to come and be part of an audience.

And so help create it…

Sunday, July 12, 2015

We audition the trunk. It fails....

Today’s rehearsal is about auditioning the trunk.

I slightly resent this. I’d rather spend the time rehearsing the script. But trunk and script have become tangled up together; and unless we can solve the problem of how Jesus enters with her luggage, and decide the luggage she enters with, then we seem to be stuck.

in the meantime we’re stuck anyway: with this large pink trunk.

Next door to the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre, where we’re performing, is a big storeroom with a huge fridge. There’s a ramp leading down from the fridge, down which I imagine you were supposed to push the corpses of animals to be dissected. You did it on a gurney with a rather sinister drain, for the blood and other substances, which I guess connected with a drain in the centre of the lecture theatre. 

The drain has been covered with lino that disagrees with the trunk. Its wheels flow easily over the lino in the storeroom but stick in the lino in the theatre.

Which makes pushing it across the stage a hazardous and exhausting business that requires every inch of concentration and which, because of the height of it, makes me “look like a trolley dolly”.

Not a good look for Jesus.

And even if we got better wheels, the trunk would still look too big.

Fill it with Jesus' necessities, and it still has all this empty space in it.

Perhaps we could fill it with a sleeping bag. Or earth. Or stones. Or a glamourous assistant, gender immaterial, double jointed and prepared to wear spangles.

But Archangel Annabel, our producer (currently absent playing football in Antwerp) would almost certainly veto it. Not enough money in the prop budget.

And the very fact we are having to think such ridiculous thoughts means the thing is surplus to requirements.

Don’t call us, trunk. We’ll call you.

We call St Claire of the props and light switches and she’s off on the hunt for a replacement.

Which she finds by lunchtime. A shop close by, she says, and we set off to find it.

She leads the way, glowing and Amazonian, with Director Susan looking both wise and gorgeous and me hobbling along behind with my stick like an old crone, swearing.

The shop is stuffed to the ceiling with junk of every description, presided over by a slightly sinister genius.

We squeeze along a narrow aisle to the back where the cases are, and there, next to a rather distracting faux leopard skin number, is the case. It has a label from the Royal Hotel in Woburn Place and we all contemplate it thoughtfully.

Do the catches work. Is it the right size. Would Jesus carry it.

We think yes. St Claire goes to haggle with the shop keeper while I contemplate a diaphanous pink dress from the seventies that once upon a long time ago I would have been so happy to have been wearing.

We take the case back to the theatre in moderate triumph and once St Claire has gone I find myself weeping.

It’s maybe the frustration of spending two precious days thinking about luggage. It’s maybe I’m reproaching myself for being carried away and charmed by a large pink useless trunk. 

Or maybe it’s the diaphanous pink dress and its memories of the misery of being in the closet.

I think it is that. The process of making this piece seems to be opening up so many old wounds.

As often, the solution is creative work. I pick up the suitcase and we rough out the opening scene. And the suitcase is not a roadblock, like the trunk, but a help.

And it looks so lovely against the wood of the theatre space.

And afterwards as we talk about it I’m so very tired all of a sudden and half way through a sentence when I find myself drifting off to this lovely place.

And then I open my eyes, and director Susan is looking at me rather strangely.

“Were you asleep?”

And I was. And no, I can’t remember what it was I was going to say.

“Time to go home”, she says.

And it is.

And we do….

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Insomnia and a nightmare

I can’t sleep.

My mind too busy after the day’s rehearsal. Too busy about the show.

Like a fool, I pick up a newspaper.

And I get furious. There is something so insane, something so destructively mad, about the way Germany, especially, is treating Greece.

I cannot understand this obsession with austerity. Something everyone knows has failed and will continue to fail and will absolutely not succeed in helping Greece to pay off its debts.

Instead, as everyone knows, it will only make the situation worse.

And then I see: it’s an act of war. 

And both countries are locked in the madness of war and cannot escape.

It may be a continuation of the conflict of the second world war; or a new phase in the unacknowledged and continuing war of the speculators and high end capitalists against the people of the rest of the world.

An expression of their insatiable and self destructive greed. Their implacable determination to steal every government’s assets and place them in private hands.

And Greece is an example and a warning here: for the war is against all of us.

And had we in Scotland won the referendum we would right now be in the front line.

It’s hard to go to sleep.

And when I do I have a terrible dream. Nuclear war has broken out between India and Pakistan and its consequences have engulfed the rest of the world.

Everyone is dying around me. There are corpses everywhere and I cannot dispose of them…

I wake myself up. I wake myself up and fiercely turn to meditation.

I feel so helpless: our tiny show so insignificant against the forces we wish to resist.

But actually there is nothing else to do.

And suddenly I’m thinking of my hero and inspiration. Dear Calderon: writing in Spain of the 1600’s, a vile decaying society of institutionalised racism and collective delusion. Writing under the most ferocious censorship from both state and church.

He knew the helplessness we feel: and he used the metaphor of a dream to describe it.

And was still able to write:

“The good you do is never lost. Not even in dreams….”

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Rehearsals day one; or the huge pink trunk

I remember so many rehearsals as a writer. I’ve only been at a few as a performer.

And I do remember all too well the rehearsals for my “Sex Chips And The Holy Ghost” which was A Play, A Pie and a Pint at Oran Mor in Glasgow.

We had a fortnight in various rehearsal rooms and then the final dreadful Monday when we turned up at Oran Mor at nine in the morning for a technical rehearsal and a dress rehearsal and a preview all rolled into one until the opening performance and the press show all happened at lunchtime that same morning.

And the pressure of that morning is only a very extreme example of how we do theatre in this country - with rehearsals in the space with costume and lighting and everything all happening at the last moment and at the very end.

And I understand why it has to be so… but one of the good things about having your own company is that you can do things differently. 

And we are…

So the very first rehearsal week happened last month. And the very first day of the rehearsals happened in the space, in Summerhall, so we could carry the memory of it in our bodies.

And then end the week back in Summerhall again so we could leave with a very rough outline of how the show might work there. A very rough outline that we could leave to cook in our subconscious minds.

And while it’s cooking get the props together and the costume together, and be very grateful our work is set specific and doesn’t need a set, and then begin again this fortnight in the performance space.

Which is why I find myself this Monday alone in the Old Anatomy Lecture theatre, profoundly moved by the beauty and possibilities of it. And scared by it all too.

When I was young, I’m remembering, and forced to live as a boy, I ended up hating my body. 

That was one attraction of becoming a writer: I felt I could detach myself, somehow, and instead live in the imagination and in the much safer world of the mind.

And how natural, somehow, and yet how strange that eighty or so plays later it’s all led me back to the body.

And to more mundane practical things. Like Queen Jesus’ luggage.

She travels about with her Christlike paraphernalia, telling stories and blessing people and space. And sharing communion at the end.

Last year she carried it all in a rucksack.

But this year, for some reason, she needs something else.

Which is why this large pink trunk arrived in my house the week before.

We all loved it in my sitting room, it looked funky and playful, but now…

But now in the performance space it looks huge and pink and somewhat resembles an elephant.

And its wheels keep sticking on the lino, and it’s far too big for Jesus’ stuff so when you upend it everything just gets shuggled about and when you open it it looks ridiculous.

And it's so big. And so pink and director Susan says “It pulls attention away from you”.

Which means I’m being upstaged by a piece of luggage. 

That's a great start. Must try harder.

And should her scarf be blue or should it be green?

And all this matters. It affects Jesus and Jesus affects it.

And does she use matches or a lighter?

I say a lighter. Director Susan says matches.

So we try it out. And she’s right, dammit. Inescapably. Right.

And I swear a lot and we laugh a lot, her and me and Saint Claire of the Light Switches (Also of everything else you can possibly imagine. And quite a few things you can’t….)

And it goes on and on all this attention to details and at the end of the day I’m so tired I can barely stand.

But there’s also such a happiness, after years of writer’s isolation, to be so much and so deeply a part of this collective creativity which is where I should always have belonged, somehow, and which is leading us all God knows where.

And on my way home I see a T shirt in a charity shop window with a slogan on it that reads:

And so it is.

And I’d have bought the T shirt: but the shop was closed.

And we all wear it anyway.

Wear it on our hearts....

Monday, July 06, 2015

rehearsals begin...

Packing my bag for the first day of rehearsals this morning was like packing for the first day of a long holiday.

Except… not much of a holiday.

Packing for a long journey then.

Preparing for every eventuality.

The first three days we’re in our performance space: the old anatomy lecture theatre in Summerhall. Last time we were there it was cold. “Bring layers” said director Susan in her beautiful thoughtful way, like an anxious parent. 

So I brought all the layers. And the costume. And candles. And bread and wine because at the end of the day I wanted us, as a team, to have a proper communion together. Hopeless romantic that I am.

And then the last minute panic. The thermos flask. Water. The script!

And then I’m taking the suitcase off my bed without checking whether or not I’d closed it. 

And I hadn’t. And everything I’d packed so carefully fell out onto the floor.

And it’s not true I’m nervous, I tell myself firmly. I’m not. I’m not…

AndI throw everything back in pell mell and the taxi comes.

“It’s a heavy case”, I tell the taxi driver.

And it is. It has so many hopes. So many dreams. So many candles.

And the journey, the impossibly long journey, the journey to who knows where, has just begun….

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Thank you "Great Expectations". Thank you Dundee...

I started to write this on the train to Dundee. On my way to see the production of my “Great Expectations” there.

The production was so beautiful, and stirred so many thoughts and memories, and that’s maybe why it’s taken so long for me to get this entry finished.

Because that train journey was weeks ago.

I wrote the script way back in 1988. We didn't especially want to write a novel. What we wanted to do was seamlessly incorporate dance and spoken text to tell a story. It seemed utterly outlandish then. In some ways it still is.

The only way we could see to get tour bookings was to tie the project to a classic text. 

And “Great Expectations” was not the first choice. The first choice was “Wuthering Heights”; and although eventually I went on to dramatise it I couldn’t really connect with it at the time.

I think it was Ian Brown, the director, who suggested “Great Expectations” and I was a bit reluctant because I’d had a wretched time reading Dickens at school.

But when I read the book… maybe it was Miss Beattie, who was our downstairs neighbour in St Andrews and who always seemed to be nursing a secret sorrow we didn’t understand. 

Until we were invited to help clear her house after she died and found a collection of unwrapped, beautiful, wedding presents in her back room and learnt that she, too, was a Miss Havisham who had been jilted on her wedding day.

Or maybe it was Pip not really knowing who he was… and I, too, as a closet trans*woman doing her best to live as a man, not really knowing, and inwardly gnawed at by the feeling I was somehow a fake.

Or maybe it was the sufferings caused by my family’s obsession with class. My first school was the local primary school, just outside Stoke-on-Trent, and at first I would come home speaking in a North Staffs accent. Until my dad got very angry with me and told me I mustn’t speak like that, I had to speak posh like him or i would never get a job and never get anywhere in the world. And then I was sent away to boarding school and lost touch with my roots and ended up feeling I belonged nowhere.

Whatever the reason, the book spoke directly to my heart and that was the one I decided to work on.

I still didn’t want to adapt it though. The show was supposed to be two hours or under and I knew that was impossible.

So the show was to be called “Havisham” instead, and simply tell her story. 

The whole company had a week’s workshop together and there was a young actor called Alan Cumming in the cast and he was so amazing as Pip that by the end of the week I knew it was Pip’s story that had to be told.

And then I had 5 weeks to write the script.

It started off so beautifully… the characters were so strong, the situations so dramatic… but then I realised I would have to cut so much I loved. The Aged P had to go. And the beautiful friendship between Herbert and Pip. The whole wonderful Pocket family had to disappear… 

One of the many miraculous things about the book is that although Dickens wrote it in instalments, he somehow kept the whole thing in a very tightly knit structure that I could not figure out how to put on stage.

And I had no idea how to kill off Miss Havisham and Magwitch so close together.

And the closer I got to the deadline, the more my script started to fall apart.

And how could I write for dancers? And how would the dancers interact with the actors? It was a small cast and most people were going to have to play at least two parts. And how would that all fit together?

We lived in Roslin Glen, and I would go for long anguished walks in the woods. Until, the day before rehearsal, when everything was hopeless, I broke down and cried under a tree.

And Jaggers’ last speech came into my head. And everything, miraculously, fell into place.

Thank you tree…

And then rehearsals started. We had five weeks rehearsal. Unheard of in those days: but we needed every hour of them.

We kept meeting in different spaces: I remember long journeys to Glasgow and then in the overground. A lot of poring over street maps and assembling in mostly dreary rooms where the most amazing and difficult things were happening.

I was rewriting the script and the Gregory Nash was doing the choreography and the composer was composing the music and the designer creating the set and somehow, miraculously, Ian Brown holding everything together.

It was incredibly intense and i don’t remember it being wonderful, especially, but it must have been because the final production was extraordinary.

Many people who saw it have never forgotten it.

The script became etched into my brain in that first production, and then the next year’s tour to Baghdad and Cairo and Alexandria and Delhi and Bombay and Kandy and Columbo and Madras and Calcutta and Dhaka.

I saw it in Egypt and in Bangladesh and in Cairo I watched as the Berlin Wall came down and my whole writing style changed forever.

And then when it was all over I had no realistic expectation of ever seeing the play again.

There were so many vital and beautiful choreographic moments and I could think of no way to write them down. They couldn’t fit into the script, and i couldn’t see it making sense to anyone without them.

But somehow companies did want to do it. I remember Salisbury Playhouse and the Lyric Belfast and even the education wing of the Royal National theatre. And I would write more words to replace the dance bits. And Northern Stage did it with a section on film.  And I wrote more words for Edi Macarthur and Pitlochry. And less words for the Unicorn. And others I think in all sorts of other places I forget until there was a beautiful touring production that went all round Scotland, and another amazing one that was done in Perth and which became the basis for the West End version which I also wrote more scenes for. 

And then last year it was translated into Japanese and put on in Tokyo and I changed the ending into a happy one because the director had just lost her husband and the line “Oh Pip take my hand before we part for ever” filled her with so much grief she didn’t know how to direct it.

And how amazing to sit in Dundee Rep, in that beautiful space, and be taken way back past all those rewrites to the very first version, because that’s the one the Company chose to do, and be amazed that the script still works somehow.

When I saw it on the first night I was so utterly engrossed in it I didn’t recognise any of the actors. I thought Jemima Levick, the director, has somehow assembled a new company for it.

So i was rather amazed when I met the cast afterwards and saw all their familiar faces… 

I must have looked at them a bit blankly. I hope they understood. Seeing it again I could finally fit all the actors to the roles and realised I knew just about everybody and had in fact worked with them on several occasions…

They moved me so much. This second time their performances had sharpened in their detail and so grown in their emotional depth.

It’s my job to communicate with actors, to put my intent in their words, and I don’t know why it always surprises me to discover I have succeeded.

I’d never consciously intended anyone like John Paul Jones playing the piano at the side of the stage: but what he did was so beautiful, and so utterly in tune with an old dream I’ve had. To write a melodrama. A melodrama in the proper sense.

It all made me so proud and happy and I write this to say thank you.

Thank you Dundee. Thank you tree.

And thank you John, as I was then, for doing such a good job with the script.

The script that in those days I had to write for others because for over forty years I could never, ever, have performed anything myself.

But now I can, in a way that continually strikes me as miraculous. And next month I perform my “Gospel According to Jesus Queen Of Heaven” in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in Summerhall.

And look there it is in the Fringe programme.

How amazing.

I don’t quite know how it’s going to be. But I’m about to find out.

Because rehearsals begin tomorrow….

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