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

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

What We did to Weinstein

This has split the critics.

Well, I’ve only read two reviews but Benedict Nightingale of the Times gives it 4 stars and Lyn Gardner of the Guardian gives it 1 star and a very scathing review.

They both make valid points. Lyn argues Ryan Craig is writing “inept string of cliches, stereotypes and bad Jewish jokes” although concedes “There is potential here, but Craig’s play is complicated rather than complex and treats both Jews and Muslims as tabloid stereotypes rather than real characters”

Benedict argues Craig is is using “intelligent exploration” and is writing about the here-and-now

“A dramatist can’t do anything more here-and-now than write a piece in which an Israeli soldier called Josh captures a suspected suicide bomber, and a Muslim fanatic called Tariq asks his sister, who is afraid of taking the Tube, why she “bleeds for a handful of white people” and leaves London for jihad training.”

I have sympathy for both points of view. The issue tackled, the crisis of faith, religious conflict and Israel-Palestine are complex. The extrememist battle, I think is one of the three major problems facing the world, which won’t go away [rich-poor gap and global migration my other two] as it’s a cycle which now has no end, an ill-defined beginning and an unending string of possible (mis)intrepretations.

It’s important that Craig explores these arguments as personified by his characters. Josh who leaves England to become an Israeli and fight and Sara, who wrties and argues against the use of Israeli force.

But, they do often stray into well-rehearsed arguments that have the touch of the sterotype about them. So I can see why Lyn would get so annoyed.

Still, the play does provke thinking, the relationship between the older actors is quite touching, and the directing is paced well.

I think people will bring their own biases to the play and will either be stimulated by the debate or feel it’s been too stereotyped.

Lyn points to Mike Leigh’s new play (see earlier post) as being a much better investigation into the crisis of faith. David Hare’s Via Dolorosa is a much more personal perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict. But this play, even with its well-rehearsed arguments has a place too.

I’d be really interested to know what Tim Supple and Ryan Craig would reply to Lyn Gardner with.

At the Menier Chocolate Factory, until Nov 12 : 020 7907 7060

Talawa Unzipped details

Here’s the programme for the whole of Unzipped. Come along and see something!

The timetable:

Thursday 13th October
Panel Discussion: 5pm – 6pm
Panellists: Kwame Kwei-Armah, Topher Campbell, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Femi Elufowoju Jr.
Play Readings:
6.15pm Batty Man by Troy Andrew Fairclough
6.50pm On the Eve of the Collapse by Ben Yeoh
7.25pm The Coming of Beauty by Kofi Agyemang

Friday 14th October
Panel Discussion: 5pm – 6pm
Panellists: Karena Johnson, Steven Luckie & special guests
Play Readings:
6.15pm Fujimatic by Oladipo Agbolujae
6.50pm The Uniform by Funke Oyebanjo

Saturday 15th October
Panel Discussion: 5pm – 6pm
Panellists: Don Warrington, Tameka Empson & special guests
Play Readings:
6.15pm Partners by Patricia Cumper
6.50pm The Waiting by Geoffrey Aymer

*Programmes may be subject to change. For more information email or call 020 7251 6644.

No more Shakespeare?

Miranda Sawyer wants to ban Shakespaereare for a bit:

“…We should be brave enough to go a year without Shakespeare: to ban him from our theatres for just 365 days, just to see what else is out there, what other plays are worth digging up, or commissioning, or reinterpreting. While we’re at it, let’s ban Jane Austen, the Brontes and the Tudors. Let’s see who we are without relying on our old props. Even if we don’t come up with anything, if all that happens is a year’s relief from all that ‘theat-ah’ overacting, or those crinny-pinny TV dramas, that’ll be all right by me…”

Strangely, this casting out of old plays is similar to what the Monsterists would like (see earlier posts). They ask for as many new plays as old plays and for new plays to be given the same resource and respect…

Davd Farr vs Michael Billington

David Farr replies to Billington.

In the Guardian on September 8, Michael Billington Re: David Farr’s Julius Caesar, at the Lyric Hammersmith (where he is now artistic director)felt that the use of modern dress ignored “the play’s roots in Elizabethan politics”, and that comparing Caesar’s world to that of an ex-Soviet republic was a “shaky parallel”.

He has a nice riposte:

“…In approaching a Shakespeare play I immerse myself in its language, and move towards an imaginative world that might best express my interpretation of that story. I have set Shakespeare in 1950s America, Samurai Japan, a crumbling English country house and now in an ex-Soviet republic. The aim, in each case, is to illuminate the play, to render it clear, urgent and exciting.

Billington finds a director’s obsession with using the modern world tiresome. For me, by contrast, the really cliched safety zone of Shakespearean production is that which sets the play somewhere in the early 20th century, preferably in England with vaguely “period” costumes. This type of production lacks specificity, encourages woolly acting and smacks of what I can only call “theatrey-ness”. It instils in me a quiet longing for death…”

Tricycle Season

A resident company of black actors will perform a four-month African-American season of plays at the Tricycle.

The run will start with the British premier of Abram Hill’s Walk Hard, directed by the Tricycle’s artistic director Nicolas Kent.

[Given Talawa doesn't look like it will be getting its permanent home] this is likely to be one of the bigger events in black theatre this year.

On the Eve of the Collapse

A reading of my new play is on Thursday, October 13 at the Soho Theatre. It’s one of three plays in the Talawa Unzipped season.

The readings start at 6.15pm [mine is second probably 6.50pm start] and there’s a panel discussion starting at 5pm with some great people, if you can make it for then.

Do come. Let me know if you are and I’ll come and say hello.

Richard Bean comments on critics

Bean comments on Harvest criticism here.

I think it is hard for writers not to be affected by critics to some extent and it’s good to know, very good and important writers have the jitters about it too.

Critics have pointed to an “unbalanced” last scene. From my view, it may be argued that itis unbalanced in the context of the pace of the whole play but I think that is to look at it wrongly.

The play spans the decades, and each scene to some extent reflects the decade it represents. To the slow start in the first scene, which is pre-war and where life is a slower paced beast. To the last scene, which some view as “sensationalist” but to me is just a better reflection of the times we live in. 2005 is a faster paced, more sensationalist and in some ways more extreme year/decade than the previous decades. The characters also show a bit of nostalgia. But I think so would you if you’ve been a pig farmer or dreamed of pigs for almost 100 years.

I’m not sure the critics have thought hard enough about the play in the context of today’s world and I believe Bean is right to have the last scene as he does.


I really enjoyed Harvest at the Royal Court. It has many elements of great theatre. I guess from Bean’s point of view, the only things he might have liked more is a bigger stage (see my previous posts on Monsterism).

It had scale and humour. Billington would like it for its “big ideas”. Good story, great main characters, even interesting secondary characters [we don't have the time or space nowadays to produce many good supporting character roles]. Performances, direction and design are all also all strong.

It takes the life of a Yorkshire pig farm from its beginnings in 1914 to 2005, and all the characters and family that live with it. On the way you learn about pig farming, country life, pre-war, post-war farming edicts, the battles between gentry and farmer and the love of a way of life.

If you can make it to the Court to see it. I say go.

August Wilson is dying

I read some sad news. August Wilson only has a few months to live due to liver cancer.

He is a great playwright and my thoughts go out to him and his loved ones.

He recently said:

“It’s not like poker, you can’t throw your hand. I’ve lived a blessed life. I’m ready.”

National Theatre doing well?

Hytner revealed that his second financial year as director of the National was even more rudely healthy than the first. The three theatres, the Olivier, the Lyttleton and the Cottesloe, were 94% full in the year ended April 2005, compared with 91% the previous year.

I guess this shows the NT is putting on plays people want to see, but I wonder how its audience demogrpahic is shaping up – is refelctive of the couuntry or London? Is it getting younger or more socially mixed? Does that matter?

Robert LePage’s Dragon Trilogy

I am very excited about the Dragon Trilogy coming to the Barbican.

I believe it is fair to say that Lepage’s work and particularly this key piece has deeply influenced modern theatre.

One can see it in works from Improbable and Complicite, although Complicite was first formed before the Dragon Trilogy was performed.

First staged around 1985, when stil in his 20′s. It’s a six-hour play divided into three acts, spanning over three decades, three Canadian cities and three languages. The play follows the lives of two Quebec girls, centring on themes of war, exile and cultural identity.

It’s almost “monsterism-plus” !

From Lepage’s site:

In the beginning, there was nothing – or almost nothing. Six actors (including the director who had brought them together), two set designers and a producer, looking for the road to the Orient. A vacant lot turned into a parking, where imagination and memory would have to start digging.

In the beginning, there were three Chinatowns : one in Quebec City, in the 1930s, the backdrop to the Green Dragon symbolizing Springtime and Water; another in mid-20th Century Toronto, backdrop to the Red Dragon of Earth and Fire; a third, flourishing in Vancouver in the 1980s, where the autumnal and aerial White Dragon would deploy. There was an imaginary China, made of myth and a mess of miscellaneous rubbish : Tao, Yi King, Mah Jong, Tai Chi, Chinese laundries and Chinese Food, Tintin and the Blue Lotus, ying, yang, ” chin chin “, and Made in Hong Kong. There was the story of aunt Marie-Paule, married to a Chinese man, a mother who had served in the CWACs, a parking watchman in his booth, and a glass sphere that played a Japanese melody.

In the beginning, there are Françoise and Jeanne. They are twelve and they are inseparable. They play shop with shoeboxes, using them to build a whole street, with boutiques and all. There is Lépine, the undertaker… There is Jeanne’s father’s barber shop, where she becomes fascinated with young Bédard’s red head, and where their eyes meet… There is old Wong’s laundry, where, on a cold night, William S. Crawford arrives, an Englishman hoping to set up shop in Quebec City…

Poetry & ellipses

I find some of my most compelling writing is elliptical and full of surprises and “coincidences”. The words, ideas and fragments loop back and refer to themselves, my life, the piece and the world as I experience or imagine it.

I find this to be true in life as well.

My writing started off in poetry, honed by studying under Forrest Gander, before it got to plays. I still read poetry, not a great deal but probably more than the average person.

I picked up a copy of my Poetry Review that had been sitting around for far too long neglected and took it with me on the Tube. I opened it up to this poem called The Bearhug. The first two stanzas:

It’s not as if I’m intending on spending the rest of my life doing this:
besuited, rebooted, filing to work, this poem a fishbone in my briefcase.
The scaffolding clinging St Paul’s is less urban ivy than skin, peeling off.

A singular sprinkler shaking his head spits at the newsprint of birdshit.
It’s going unread: Gooseberry Poptarts, stale wheaten bread, Nutella and toothpaste.
An open-armed crane offers sexual favours to aeroplanes passing above.

[full poem here – not fully reproduced partially for respect of copyright]

It spoke to me of my own desires “besuited, rebooted, filing to work, this [play] a fishbone in my [rucksack]” and struck a bell in my blood.

It was by Nick Laird. Sounded a very little familiar, but I thought no more of it.

Today, I see who is on the Guardian long list. Nick Laird appears. They note he is married to Zadie Smith. I think of the unstinting pressure of fame and am glad to not have it. Then a note clicks.

I realise we both edited the May Anthologies, once upon a time (the first story Zadie had published was in one) and that a some time city life is not our only coincindence.

More on monsterism

The Monsterists are David Eldridge, Moira Buffini, Richard Bean, Roy Williams, Sarah Woods, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Colin Teevan, Ryan Craig, Shelley Silas and Jonathan Lewis.

Moira Buffini has just had a play on at the Arcola, Silence. Richard Bean has Harvest on at the Court. Silas has Mercy Fine on in November at the Southwark. Lenkiewicz has just had Shoreditch Madonna (see earlier posts) and Eldridge and Williams have also both recently had plays.

Some of our finest playwrights writing in a monsterist vein? I wonder how many are writing what they really want to write, I guess it comes close but I reckon they still want bigger stages to fulfil the monsterist ideal…

More on monsterism here

and see my previous post

Mike Leigh’s 2000 years

Tonight should have seen the unveiling of Mike Leigh’s new play however audiences are going to have to wait another two nights to see the new play by Mike Leigh at the National Theatre – because he hasn’t finished it yet!

The 16,000 tickets for the entire run of the play sold out weeks ago, despite the fact no one except the cast and the crew had a clue what it was about. Indeed, it was only at the weekend that the play was publicly given the title 2000 Years.

Famously he devises the script and work. I wish I could be given the leeway of delaying the first night, if my script wasn’t up to scratch yet! But that’s being Leigh. Hope it is good.

Early Works of Playwrights

RLN disagreed with my suggestion that playwrights in the 20-30 age range are unlikely to be ‘doing their best work.’

It’s true that many writers did good work young.

To this cause David lan and the Young Vic and the Barbican are staging some early work of your writers/directors.

‘Everything young is beautiful,’ says director David Lan.

From Robert Lepage’s Dragon’s Trilogy, written when he was 27, to Wole Soyinka’s classic The Lion and the Jewel, which the Nigerian writer produced aged 23.

Dragon’s Trilogy from 16 September, Barbican, London EC2 (0207 638 4141). The Lion and the Jewel, from 28 September, Barbican. For details of other productions, including plays by Marlowe and Buchner. See or here


“love is the only sane and satisfactory answer to the problems of existence”

so said Erich Fromm, the post-Freudian psychologist, in his conlcusion to The Art of Loving (1957)

Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans

I don’t have much to add that is not being said better or more eloquently elsewhere.

After being in Manhatten over 9/11 and missing the tsunami by minutes, I’ve come close to my fair share of disasters. However, so much seems to have gone (and is going) wrong in new Orleans.

My friend Hana, is closer to what it is like and writes here on her blog.

Director’s obsessions on writers

Intriguing article in the Guardian about certain directors and their obsession with writers.

Joe Orton, Ibsen, David Mamet, Charlotte Jones and August Wilson provide the obsessions for

David Grindley, Stephen Unwin, Lindsay Posner, Anna Mackmin and Paulette Randall.

Good quotes include:

when you are working on any play, all you need to realise is that which is absolutely essential to the action. Any embellishment is a mistake. Whether it is Mamet, Wesker or Shakespeare, it is about doing the bare bones.

[Wilson] has made me realise how few playwrights allow the characters to really tell the story, but he does.

Orton has taught me that whatever you are directing – even if it’s essentially a conversation piece – you mustn’t be afraid of invigorating every moment.

That’s the hard thing as a director – not just to show the tip of the iceberg but also to create the great seething mass underneath, to show the hidden present in everyday actions.

Urban magic

On the way to hear Zadie Smith, I passed through some urban magic.

Besuited, untied, Thursday working week bedraggled
I stutter up out of Euston Square into the hazy light

Stepping not lightly down Gower Street fading into the worker
Ant mass I realise I am travelling the wrong road

Not just the wrong road of working life simply
Just the wrong road to the Bloomsbury theatre

I turn left. University College London. Graduation day.
Besuited students. Smiling in their family best. Fathers, mothers

Grandfather, grandmother, grand-everyone always
on the edge of embarrassment on the edge of tipsy

set against the forbidding old architecture of UCL; the pretty little
gardens, the absurd magicalness of obtaining a degree – I step

through this, down the stairs to the left of the garden, through the
wasteland of a basement and building detritus up some stairs into

a foyer full of readers, books and people waiting in anticipation of Zadie.

Strange, contradictory and somehow very magical slice of urban London.

Zadie Smith

I re-found Nick Laird the other day (see future post) and went to hear Zadie Smith read (at the Bloomsbury theatre) this week.

I didn’t particularly have any expectations either high or low (although my friend Nadia was very excited) but I found Zadie to be very erudite, witty and intriguing to listen to. She came across as first and foremost a reader of books and I felt kinship with that sentiment.

I also came face to face with the potential horror of the “book tour”.

A queue of constant strangers asking all sorts of questions, wanting all sorts of requests and seeking all sorts of dedications and signatures.

Out came a yellow post-it, where we respectively wrote a dedication or name, which Zadie dutifully filled out and finished with a flourish of a beautiful signature (do novelists practise it? They must obtain enough practice on tour).

Yet, I found myself sinking into the book queue mire. I had this instinct to find out more about the Zadie in front of me. Particularly her preface in her new book On Beauty. It said, more or less:

time is how you spend your love

Which reminded me of “love is how you spend your time”

Which reminded me of

It is the time you have spent* for your rose that makes your rose so important.” From the Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Which reminded me of Jon Swain in a River of Time (reporter in Vietnam, part of the story evoked in the film the Killing Fields

He speaks with his love, and their relationship is ending and she reminds him of it, in my blurred memory this suggests

It is the time that you waste that makes someone important

It is the time that you waste with someone that shows you love them.

I wonder, whimsically if Zadie had come across this. But mostly, I wish her luck on her book tour trials. (see here).

* the original French uses perdre which is more literally to lose or waste (as in some translations) but probably has a slightly different sense

Next Page »

  • 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