Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Benjamin Yeoh won the international 2006 Gate Translation award for NAKAMITSU. Ben was born in London to a Chinese-Malay father and Singaporean mother. He trained as a behavioural neuroscientist at Cambridge, before studying play writing at Harvard. Theatre: LEMON LOVE, Finborough Theatre (2001); LOST IN PERU, Camden People’s Theatre (2003); YELLOW GENTLEMEN, Oval House Theatre (2006); NAKAMITSU, Gate (2007). Radio: INVENTOR OF FIREWORKS, Radio 3 (2004); PATENT BREAKING LIFE SAVING, BBC World Service (2006); PLACES IN BETWEEN, Radio 4 (2007).

Blog currently on sabbatical.

Endings of plays vs novels / One Day by Nicholls

Modern plays tend to have short or very short codas. The scenes after the climax of the play. The “quick in quick out” school of scene writing which some attribute to the David Mamet style (start the scene close to the climax/turning point, end the scene close to after the turn) has been influential in this.
Compare this to Shakespeare, which had many scenes of the climax to wrap up (or create) loose ends. Today’s audience does supposedly tend to become a little bored with long codas.
However, on many occasion I do find codas satisfying but I read them more in novels.
Former actor David Nicholls (stage name David Holdaway) has written an immensely readable book: One Day which charts 20 years through the lens of one day in the off/on/off/on/sortof relationship of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew from 1988 onwards.
(Nicholls also adapted Simpatico for the screen) and although the one day view point structure means many chapters have a “quick in quick out” compelling drive to them towards the end of One Day he writes a very satisfying coda after the dramatic climax of the book. It gives enough insight and resolution to all the major characters of the book that leaves you feeling you know how they are coping in the world today.
Great book for holiday or tube reading. Or at any time really.

David Hare: writing tips

From the Guardian, which also highlights other authors writings tips.

I like Morpugo:

Ted Hughes gave me this advice and it works wonders: record moments, fleeting impressions, overheard dialogue, your own sadnesses and bewilderments and joys.

And in semi-jest, Richard Ford’s : “Don’t have children.

Link here.

David Hare

1 Write only when you have something to say.

2 Never take advice from anyone with no investment in the outcome.

3 Style is the art of getting yourself out of the way, not putting yourself in it.

4 If nobody will put your play on, put it on yourself.

5 Jokes are like hands and feet for a painter. They may not be what you want to end up doing but you have to master them in the meanwhile.

6 Theatre primarily belongs to the young.

7 No one has ever achieved consistency as a screenwriter.

8 Never go to a TV personality festival masquerading as a literary festival.

9 Never complain of being misunderstood. You can choose to be understood, or you can choose not to.

10 The two most depressing words in the English language are “literary fiction”.

A time to be born, and a time to die.

My neighbour and friend at Harvard, who was training to be a priest, recently gave me a book on David Jones. Jones’ poems In Parenthesis and Anathemata are great works I come back to time and again. They are not easy first reading but very rewarding.

From In Parenthesis, part 7

And to Private Ball it came as if a rigid beam of great weight
flailed about his calves, caught from behind by ballista-baulk
let fly or aft-beam slewed to clout gunnel-walker
below below below.
When golden vanities make about,
you’ve got no legs to stand on.
He thought it disproportionate in its violence considering
the fragility of us.
The warm fluid percolates between his toes and his left boot
fills, as when you tread in a puddle–he crawled away in the
opposite direction.

Turning to economic woes, I’ve only just been made aware of my friend, Leigh Caldwell’s blog on economic and related subjects, called Know and Making. He runs his own business and comments from the front lines, so to speak.

In the tide of reading a lot of commentary on the current state of the economy I rediscovered a poem from Ecclesiastes and with my recent correspondence with my priest friend on transubstantiation I thought appropriate for these times. (I amalgamate the translations somewhat).

To everything – a season, and a time to every delight under the heavens:

A time to be born, and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck the planted.

A time to slay, and a time to heal. A time to break down, and a time to build up.

A time to cry, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

A time to scatter away stones, and a time to pile up stones. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embracing.

A time to seek, and a time to destroy. A time to keep, and a time to throw away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to be silent, and a time to speak.

A time to love, and a time to hate. A time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes 3. [Young’s literal / King James / Yeoh translation]

Caryl Churchill

Playwrights don’t give answers, they ask questions

Mark Ravenhill writes an article ahead of the Royal Court season of readings, I hope to catch some of the plays although I am travelling out of London most of the time.

The Caryl Churchill readings are at the Royal Court, September 16-26.
020 7565 5000,

Hedda – must see production

This is a theatrical highlight of 2008.

The play is brilliant and Lucy Kirkwood adapts it excellently (I’m jealous, I didn’t do it – please someone call me next time (!!) I’d give it a good go…).
Carrie Cracknell directs with keenness. The physical relationships between the characters staged beautifully, concentrating the language and conflict.

The use of a second stage level, I thought was a superb idea. Designer (Holly Waddington) or director or whoever deserves plaudits. The set seemed to sit just right for the atmosphere, peeling layers of neglect, so much potential, needing love. Even, the humid claustrophobic night of the summer we are having, conspires to add to the electric, cloying environment.

The acting was, across the board, excellent and of the highest level. [On a personal note, it's fascinating to see how an actor changes and develops over the years. I remember - not that well - Alice Patten at Cambridge University (Queen's I think), and then in Vincent in Brixton].

Hedda (Cara Horgan) was sensual, vulnerable, manipulative, fragile and tough at each turn. Lots of beautiful leg and bare feet, yet appropriate and not gratuitous. A beautiful flower “rain dashed”
George (Tom Mison) in love with a girl, he can’t save; in awe of a man he can’t match – awkward but somehow still steering a mainly sincere and hopeful course
Thea (Alice Patten) a nervy rabbit, wanting to blossom into the woman she knows she could be. A woman Eli has allowed her to come.
Toby (Christopher Obi) – a smooth snake; a “lawyer at heart”
Eli (Adrian Bower) – perhaps Toby was right when he called him a make-believe; but “I don’t want to be that man but the things is that I also do… because it’s boring with him life is fucking dull that’s what nobody admits
Julia (Cath Whitefield) – the “spinster”, elder sister / mother figure

And all the interlocking triangles these tangled loves and lovers make. All judged extremely well. A beautiful, heart rending mess.

I expect tickets will sell out fast although it may extend slightly or be transferred. Be quick.

At Gate Theatre, until 27 Sep 020 7229 0706

Juan Munoz / Theatre

“dira’ que loque me interesa en el teatro es que no hay replica posible. Cuando cae el telon te vas. Una pieza deberia tener esa anolidal no poderla replicar”

“I would say that what interests me about the theatre is that no reply is possible. When the curtain falls, you leave. A wok of art should have ths quality of not being able to reply.”

I saw this translated as “art should have this quality of not admitting a reply” but I read it as art should make the viewer unable to reply/speak.

I’m not sure I agree in all cases as I consider theatre often a conversation, and art too. It is not complete without a viewer, without an audience. The audience some times needs a reply.

Yet, the best art can leave you “speechless” and perhaps this is what Munoz is alluding to. Or maybe it is as the first translator says, he thinks great art has the quality of not being able to be argued with.

Persephone bookshop

Wonderful, small, independent book shop on 109 Kensington Church Street, W8 7LN. Persephone “reprints forgotten classics by twentieth-century (mostly women) writers

Persephone Bookshop

Persephone Bookshop

I confess to a bias, as I used to work in Elgin Books and when Elgin Books had to close down, it survived in a non-shop form for many years. However, it has now joined Persephone and its spirit lives on. I bought three books; two cookery and one fiction.

Good Things in England by Florence White is an amazing recipe book and record of old English recipes.

The blurb suggests: “‘Ever wondered how to cook Thomas Hardy’s frumenty, make Izaak Walton’s Minnow Tansies or pickle elder buds?’ asked the Sunday Telegraph. ‘Good Things in England is a collection of 853 regional recipes dating back to the C14th. First published in 1932, it was written by Florence White, the country’s first ever freelance food journalist, and, like all classic culinary works, it is a pleasure to read.

Wisdom Teeth

Recently had my wisdom teeth out. Ouch.

Lyn Gardner back to school

Gardner back to school….

“…In my day, it was just accepted that theatre was part of school life. Every summer term, each class would participate in the drama competition, putting on a play from scratch. By the time I’d left St Anne’s, I had been involved in devising, writing, directing, designing, acting in and stage-managing seven plays, with almost no adult input. I wouldn’t be doing the job I do today without that experience. Mrs Martin says, sorrowfully, that today this would be impossible. “There are too many exams, not just in the summer but throughout the year. There just wouldn’t be the time.”

So the Coloma girls end up creating performance and theatre not for the sake of it, not because they really want to, but because it can be marked and graded, in what seems to be the GCSE equivalent of Pop Idol. As I take my leave, I can’t help thinking the girls aren’t as fortunate as I was – at school in a time before endless tests and league tables, when we could spend our days spouting poetry, putting on plays and seeing as much theatre as we could afford for the sheer pleasure of it. It was great fun. Little did I know how useful it would be.”

5 things

1. What was I doing 10 years ago? I had directed the Crucible at Cambridge and now with summer I’d be heading towards exams in Natural Sciences and then my first May Ball.

2. What are 5 things on my to-do list for today?

- Assess the benefits of GLP-1s in diabetes, make sure I mention the Gila monster.
- Think about writing
- Make sure A. does not stress out too much
- Think and write about planning applications
- Figure out how to keep the cats from pooing in the garden especially on my beans.

3. Snacks I enjoy: Kinder surprise, chocolate buttons, home made crispy pork scratchings, Tortas de Aceite de Ines Rosales. I like all yummy food, snacks included! Can I have Jamon Serrano or culatello as a snack?

4. Things I would do if I were a billionaire: Amongst other things, I’d kick start some creative hub or industry; with theatre but probably other arts as well. Some great arts centre maybe like the ICA but with more resourced sections for various artists.

5. Places I have lived: London, Ham, Cambridge, Cambridge, Mass.

Pursuit of Happiness

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

So states the US Declaration of Independence written mainly by Thomas Jefferson, however it is believed that Benjamin Franklin may have wrote the phrase

Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness

Changing it from

Life, Liberty and Property

in Jefferson’s draft. However it was put back to Life, Liberty and Property in the Bill of Rights.

I’m not sure anyone quite knows why the changes occurred. I don’t believe the change was explained during Jefferson’s lifetime. The pursuit of happiness is the better slogan but perhaps legally “Property rights” is a more important (or at least easier to understand legally) concept to legislate for.

It is thought that the phrase is based on the writings of, English philosopher (and other moral thinking of the time), John Locke, who expressed a similar concept of “life, liberty, and estate (or property)“. Locke said that “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Strong legal property rights are now a fundamental for forging a modern healthy economy and society but were only developing under English common law at the time. At the time, it was probably not readily thought of as an essential component of liberty which we take for granted in many societies today.

However, on a moral philosophy level, I would like to speculate that the phrase was influenced by Aristotle and his Nicomachean Ethics.

Aristotle argued that eudaimonia is the goal of life, and that a person’s pursuit of eudaimonia will result in virtuous conduct.

Eudaimonia has no direct translation in to English but is often thought as best translated as happiness. And so the Declaration also has this ethical dimension.

On this dimension, does the right to pursue happiness also give use the “right” to fall in love and find our life long partner?

I think it does. In this way our pursuit of love and hence happiness is an unalienable right that is self evidently true….

American writers’ punchup

There’s a good ol’ barney sparked by Neil Labute.

Labute throws a good left hook. Calling writers pussies for not tackling the greater world around them. Audiences as wimps too.
George Hunka takes the hit and throws a one-two combination back citing several American counter examples.

They then trade a few blows on the blog (do check it out) before scaling back the blows as they both probably fight on the same side.

But. Then. Into the ring. Naomi “upper cut” Wallace. With kick ass power she reels off a list of deeply engaged writing, enthusiastic audiences of The People Speak Project and claims Labute is myopic.

But NL is out of the ring and simply awaits a Wallace play back in the USA. He wants to be shown how it’s done.
I’ve got to scurry away outta the audience and finish writing my play (and several more) before I’m worthy to get in the ring with these bruisers.

Lack of Asian work / Labute

Michael Billington claimsThe rich mixture of work coming from British writers of African-Caribbean origin is not matched by those with Asian roots” in this GU blogpost. I wish he had come to see my YELLOW GENTLEMEN but hey that’s probably just me.

Neil Labute makes a call to write bravely about “important matters” and how US theatre may be losing its way.

“…my literary heroes – Harold Pinter, Edward Bond, David Hare, Howard Brenton, Caryl Churchill and Howard Barker. These playwrights, all of them British, not only spoke to me, but shook the very ground I walked on, the ideals I believed in…

…Theatre is not dying. We hear this every so often and have self-important conferences to defend this or that. Theatre is a resilient little shit of an art form that will go on long after any of us are around to worry about it. But it can get stuck, and I believe American theatre is currently in danger of this. I include myself…

…We are small writers in America these days, writing tiny plays about tiny ideas with two to four characters, so that we get produced and nobody loses any money. American playwrights have been workshopped and “staged-readinged” to death, and we are now a fearful bunch who add sitcom lines to our dramas and tie things up at the end so that folks can walk out of theatres smiling….

…Maybe every writer has a political play hidden away in a drawer somewhere, but my guess is that we’ve stopped writing them. Pilot scripts are a lot shorter and easier to hustle.Let’s face it, most writers are pussies. We sit back and watch the world go by, writing down the things we find funny or sad while trying to make a buck off it….

..audience… Let us know that if we are brave enough to write about the stuff that matters, then you’ll come and watch. I may never fight a battle, or run for office, or help an old lady across the street – but when I sit down and put pen to paper, I can promise to write about a subject of some importance, and to do so with honesty and courage. The time for fear and complacency is past. Bravery needs to make a comeback on both sides of the footlights, and fast.”


I was a very young Scrabble fiend. I played competitive Scrabble when I was 7 to 10 years old and I still remember the indignation on a best of 3, scoring totals +/- wins, when my nearest rival pulled some unbelievable tiles to surpass me. I still have my second place trophy. Sad.

I just finished reading Word Freak by Stephen Fatsis and that has re-inspired me to play, particularly on Facebook. And I’m glad to know I didn’t grow up into the majority of characters in the world of competitive Scrabble. Or did I?

In any case, I believe with out this Scrabble interlude I probably would not have the same relantionship to words and writing as I do today.

Arts funding, writing to your MP

Quite recently I wrote to my MP. I used A great, non-profit service (incidentally one of my friends, in my school class, was a founding force for this but very sadly he died recently) that helps to ensure your MP works for you, and you know what they are doing.

This is part of her reply:

Investment in the arts is one of the signs of a civilised society.
Spending on the arts increased hugely in the early part of this decade,
quite rightly, and  we have many things to show for it (numbers
attending free museums and galleries, for example). Of course we should
campaign to maintain high levels of spending, because public pressure
matters. However, this has to be set in a broader context. There are
huge demands on public spending- housing, schools, the NHS, the rising
pensions bills, the fact that we are still only getting on for halfway
towards our target to end child poverty and so forth, whilst there also
remains a powerful political lobby for tax cuts and reduced public
spending. I am more than happy to continue to lobby for more money, but
not at the expense of other essential areas of public spending.

 to my questioning / lobbying on arts funding levels. I’ve never lobbied for anything before.

I know much bigger fish than me lobbied direct to Gordon Brown et al and this week we have heard in the pre-budget report that Chancellor, Alistair Darling confirmed this week that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s allotment would increase from £1.68 billion to £2.21 billion in 2010/11, a settlement which he said “guarantees an inflation increase for the arts”.

So the result: a 2.7% inflation level increase in DCMS funding, which the government has guaranteed will be passed onto the arts.

Tony Hall (Royal Opera House) described the settlement as “the best result we could have won”, while National Campaign for the Arts director Louise de Winter said the funding package was “very good news”. She told The Stage: “We’d like to think that we made a strong case for arts funding and thankfully government has listened. There is still one small fly in the ointment though – the relief is slightly tempered by the Olympics issue – what the arts are still missing is the £137 million which was diverted to the Olympics.”

Lyn Gardner is more guarded. She is not cracking open the champagne. She identifies a point that I wrote to my MP about. She writes

While we are about it, let’s remember that the money that the government gives to the arts is not a handout but an investment. The arts gives more back to the economy than it takes in subsidies, but what cannot be measured is what it gives back in nurturing the imaginative health and well-being of the nation.

And I wrote to my MP:

On arts spending, obviously there are other pressures such as housing,
schools etc, but part of the problem is that the benefit of the arts
by its very nature is “intangible” it can not truly be measured by
attendance of galleries. One of the theoretical reasons, humans are
quite so bad at looking after the environment is the fact the tangible
cost/benefit is very hard to measure in monetary terms for the
environment – what price the ecosystem of a forest? As a theatre
writer amongst other things, I don’t think a civilised society could
put the arts above, for instance, child poverty but without the arts
and the ability to explore what it means to be human – a measure that
can not be measured in GDP, life expectancy or waiting lists
– then
our children will remain poor in other important ways too. I would ask
you to bear in mind the intangible nature of this investment and the
fact that we may very well not have that much tangible to show for it.

Artistic Directors

Jane Edwardes (and Rachel Halliburton) from Time Out have done some interviews with recently appointed Artistic Directors. She forms a critical first impression of Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell, who are the Artistic Directors at the Gate.
She writes “I have to admit that when I came back from interviewing Natalie Abrahami and Carrie Cracknell, the young artistic directors at the Gate, the theatre above a pub in Notting Hill, my feeling was that if they were the future of British theatre, I didn’t want to know. There was far too much talk of ‘going on journeys’ and their references to ‘brave and bold decisions’ was in sharp contrast with an apparent desperation not to upset the theatre’s board by saying the wrong thing. It seemed a far cry from the charisma and drive of their predecessors, who include Stephen Daldry, Mick Gordon and Thea Sharrock. But to be fair, when your programme is still being finalised and can’t yet be talked about, it’s difficult to deal in anything but abstractions…

Everyone is entitled to opinions and first impressions make valid copy.

However, I would like to say, having worked with both of them at the Gate and Natalie previously that I think they will be brilliant there. Both strike me as thoughtful directors and I expect them to put on interesting and brilliant work.

Perhaps, as new ADs running a building for the first time they will have steep learning curves but I have no doubt they will fill the shoes of their illustrious predecessors.
Edwardes ends her article on a more upbeat note:
A week later with crucial contracts signed, Abrahami rings to tell me that Cracknell will be directing the first production, ‘The Sexual Neurosis of our Parents’, by Swiss playwright Lukas Bärfuss. She is then following it up with Fernando Arrabal’s ‘Car Cemetery’, which she describes as an ‘irreverent, exuberant absurdist play’, a celebration of the playwright’s seventy-fifth birthday. Given that Bärfuss has never been seen in this country before and that the Spanish playwright, Arrabal, has never been particularly popular, they are indeed ‘brave and bold decisions’ – and, of course, just what the Gate should be doing.

They also interview Josie Rourke (Bush, with the wrong photo image at the time of writing), Dominic Cooke (Royal Court), Lisa Goldman (Soho, again wrong photo), Paul Robinson & Tim Roseman (Theatre 503).
They gave a flavour of what each director may be looking for but I’m not sure they represent them that accurately in my opinion. Maybe.
Andrew Haydon also has an interesting take on it suggesting interviews are hard when there’s no track record.


Article on screen writing by Ronald Harwood
…an important lesson when adapting for the screen: always to be true to the source material, the original author’s truth.

… Certainly, I have learned that the screenwriter’s relationship with the director is at the very heart of film-making, but the cult of the film director is now so pervasive that the screenwriter is mostly consigned to oblivion. If a critic admires the film the screenplay is ignored; if he finds fault, the screenplay comes in for a mauling. Thus, the screenwriter must learn that he is not an equal partner; indeed he is somewhat subservient. …

But most important of all, the writer must be sure of the world about which he’s writing and has to approach the screenplay with the same degree of commitment as he or she would any other work. I have also come to understand that form is of secondary importance to content. What a film is about stands above all else. Moreover, the screenplay, besides supplying all the information that it needs to supply, must be enjoyable to read. My advice is: just tell the story – which is not as easy as it sounds. And, finally, the director should shoot the film laid down in that document and no other. I talk, of course, of an ideal world.

He makes an interesting point about the cult of the director in film making (and the subservient role of the writer), which is not as strong in theatre making, although we have our fair share of brilliant auteurs.

Royal Court Open day

The Royal Court is having an open day.

Click here to download the full Open House programme

They ask you to book in advance by calling 020 7565 5000. What follows is from its site:

Tours, 11.30am-12pm, 12-12.30pm, 12.30-1pm, 1-1.30pm FREE

Talk, Do You Remember The First Time? 12.15 – 1.45pm, The Site FREE

Playwright Simon Stephens, former Artistic Director Max Stafford-Clark, Richard Wilson and Lindsay Duncan share their stories about their own ‘firsts’ at the Royal Court.


Technical Design, 11am – 12pm on THE PAIN AND THE ITCH, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.
1.30pm – 2.30pm on ALASKA, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs.

Accompanied by a matinee ticket for a special price of £10.

Play On Words, 10.30am – 12pm, The Site, Suitable for ages 8 – 11 FREE

Led by Leo Butler, this workshop includes drama games, improvisation and other practical exercises designed to inspire children to write a short play.

Working With Masks, 2.30 – 4pm, 4.30 – 6pm, Rehearsal Room, FREE

Mask creator Roddy Maude-Roxby leads two interactive workshops in which participants get the chance to try on a variety of masks and play with their personas.

Directing The Pain and The Itch, 3.45 – 5.15pm, The Site, Dominic Cooke talks… £7.50

Directing Alaska 5.30 – 7pm, The Site, Maria Aberg leads a practical workshop £7.50


Directing New Writing

2 – 3.30pm, The Site, A rare opportunity to witness a Royal Court director lead actors through a demonstration of some rehearsal techniques. Led by Sacha Wares, Associate Director. £7.50

Drop-In Events

Performances in Promenade

11am – 5pm, Iconic scenes from Royal Court playwrights’ first plays make their impact on different spaces around the building. FREE

Mask Exhibition

11am – 2pm

An exhibition of Roddy Maude-Roxby’s exquisite masks which were first used in rehearsals in the 1950s by Royal Court founder George Devine. Roddy was an original member of the English Stage Company and also a founder member of the legendary mask and improvisation group Theatre Machine.


Sneaky Peak Tour

11.30am – 2pm

Weave your way through, under, around and over the stage on a rolling tour and discover what makes the Royal Court tick. See performances along the way and the backstage team in action. FREE

Street Theatre

11.30am-12pm, 1-1.30pm, 2.30-3pm. 4-4.30pm Stop, look, and listen at outdoor performances in Sloane Square. FREE

Noh notes, Kyogen

Some short notes I’ve written to put my version of Nakamitsu in context.


In general, many Japanese Noh plays are not “very dramatic” in the Aristotelian sense. However they are beautiful. Noh plays are full of poetical allusions and the dances, though slow, are elegant. There is abstraction in Noh and indeed it is discouraged to appear to imitate the external forms of people and objects too closely, concentrating rather on the essence or soul which the actor will attempt to recreate.

Western theatre and television are strongholds of naturalistic performances. Television is often a version of a transcript of life. Noh does not follow realism. Symbols and gestures; music and poetry; a language of physicality; these are all important.

Noh plays are written partly in prose and partly in verse. Sections are chanted. The language of a prose passage often will heighten into verse.

In a classical performance, an old dialect of Japanese is used which is often difficult for a modern Japanese audience to understand without programme notes.

The poetry of Noh is dense and complex despite an often restricted vocabulary. Cascades of images and words echo one another visually, in meaning, and sound. Translators try to do their best but it is said even scholars do not always grasp the heart of such poetry.

Persons speaking for one another
Japanese avoids specifying grammatical subject. Nouns have no plural form. Verbs are invariant to person or number. The subject of a verb can be hard to determine with certainty.
In Noh, the concept of the character or person may not be distinct. Sometimes actors speak for one another although a translation into grammatical English makes this less vague. In chorus passages, a choice must be made from line to line on who should deliver the words.

Importantly, a speaker who seems to be in a first person mode of address may suddenly change to a third person mode in order to narrate his or her own actions. This often happens at heightened moments of emotion or drama and should be accepted as part of the special qualities of a Noh play.

Noh texts are short. They take ten to twenty minutes to read out. In classical Noh, today, a short performance would take about an hour and some plays can take over two hours. Some dances can be prolonged a long time and delivery is slow. Historically, in the 1400s, plays seem to have been performed in half the time or less than they take now.


Schools of Noh
The “schools” of Noh are hereditary lineages of shite actors. Each school has its characteristic style. Details of music, dance, singing, staging and text will vary from school to school. Each school will have a “normal” way of presenting a play but several plays will also have named performance variants.

Presentation and categorisation of Noh
Noh plays are usually placed into one of five categories. However different schools may give different classifications. The first category of plays are often called “god plays”. The shite is a god who praises the peace and prosperity of the land and performs a dance in celebration. The second category are “warrior plays”. The shite is usually a famous warrior and often appears as a ghost. The third category are often called “woman plays” although the shite is not always a female character. Fourth category plays are difficult to define. Some times called “madman plays” they often fall in to an “other” category and are often concerned with characters in present life (as opposed to ghosts). Fifth category plays are called “concluding plays” or “devil plays” as the shite can be a devil and these plays finish a complete programme of Noh.

Historically, a complete Noh programme would be made by choosing a play from each category and performing them in that order with Kyogen plays interspersed between. Today in a Noh programme in Japan, often only two or three Noh plays are performed still with Kyogen in between.

Kyogen is the classical comedy theatre art of Japan, however a Kyogen performance may not always be comic. It has been passed down in its present form back to back with Noh drama. Its name is created from the Japanese writing characters for “crazy” or “totally involved in” (kyo) and “speaking or “words” (gen). It is often considered a physical and comedic counterpoint to Noh although it is an art in its own right. A Kyogen play is much shorter than a Noh performance and often averages about twenty minutes.

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  • About me

    I'm a playwright and investment analyst. I have a broad range of interests: food, gardening, innovation & intellectual property, sustainability, architecture & design, writing and the arts. I sit on the board of Talawa Theatre Company and advise a CIS investment trust on socially responsible investments.

  • Recent Work

    Recent plays include, for theatre: Nakamitsu, Yellow Gentlemen, Lost in Peru, Lemon Love. For radio: Places in Between (R4), Patent Breaking Life Saving (WS).

  • Nakamitsu

  • Yellow Gentlemen