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

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Howard Brenton

He speaks here (link to mp3) to the Guardian on his new play, In Extremis. Background here.

Brenton likes stories about people ahead of their time.

The story was is about Abelard and Heloise, which is not a story I knew a lot about. But they fell in love, they were torn apart by circumstances of the time (Abelard was castrated), both joined the church and were great thinkers and writers.

Their letters are a great work (I haven’t read)

Heloise speaks of losing Abelard: “But if I lose you, what have I left to hope for? Why continue on life’s pilgrimage, for which I have no support but you, and none in you save the knowledge that you are alive, now that I am forbidden all other pleasures in you and denied even the joy of your presence which from time to time could restore me to myself?”


There are many reviews of this brilliant piece of theatre, however I found it moving enough that I thought I should add my own thoughts.

Lyn Gardner Guardian review here.

Interviews with Davey Anderson (Associate Director – Music) and Steven Hoggett (Associate Director – Movement) here

Telegraph review here.

FT review here.
I think you may need a subscription to get it so I’m going to quote the most critical (and perhaps controversial piece of Shuttlwworth’s review)

“John Tiffany’s direction draws out an excellent ensemble of performances, though I do wish he would restrain his taste for interpretative movement sequences. Ten years ago Frantic Assembly, whose Steven Hoggett directs these elements, were exciting and innovative; five years ago, they were an established brand; they have now passed through the phase of being virtually mandatory and are in danger of entering that of cliché. It is these sequences which cost the production a fifth star. ”


My thoughts aren’t quite organised on this, so they’re going to come in a series of notes.

First, some thing most reviews probably won’t mention. Cocktag.

(Bored or not so bored) soldiers get their tackle out and hit an unsuspecting victim in the face with their genitals and they are then tagged. This game can go on for months. It needs to be banned before the embeds (journolists turn up) and probably not a good idea in a Muslim country. The game is a little microcosm of the male cameraderie and in my view, “fun in the face of danger” attitude which I liked about the soldiers.


“Davey Anderson: What gets forgotten is that these troops come home eventually and they have a life beyond the Army. They carry with them their experiences of warfare and take them into whatever it is they do next – being a janitor in a school, for example, or working at the deli counter in Tesco.

We train these soldiers to become war machines, to become fighting machines, to kill other people and there’s something frustrating in that the act of fighting is so technologically advanced now, that it’s all done remotely, like playing a computer game.

So all this frustration and training these soldiers have bottled up often comes out when they come home – which is not part of the story when we talk about the Iraq war, or any other war. This personal aspect is something that’s forgotten about. It was really interesting to get that from [writer Gregory] Burke’s text. It was a reminder of what happens when the soldiers get back to Dunfermline or Dundee.”


The physicality. Ian Shuttleworth denied his reivew a 5th star becuase of the physical work. I disagree. I disagree because it hinted at some of the extraordinary physical trials that a soldier has to go through, while at the same time not pretending that these actors where actually as fit as soldiers. Their physical commitment seemed true and their ability to take physical command (as soldier do) seemed real. To lose the physicality would be to lose a flavour of the sweat and guts of a soldier’s life.


The play is based on verbatim words, but I think as a piece it correctly moved away from that and became the story of these soldiers.

Soldiers, who albeit had made a conscious decision to leave the Army and who weren’t going back, but who had been out to Iraq on two different tours, and some who had been out to Kosovo (“the fanny is good there”) before that.

And in becoming a story, sure we have the wider political points on warfare, but more convincingly we have glimpse of the pain and joy of serving in the army and the responsiblity of these men. We have real men.

Men who know war is about going somewhere because the govt says so and dying becuase that’s what happens to soldiers. It’s a job and they understand that.


I wasn’t aware of the history of the place, of the people until I saw this play.

“It takes 300 years to build an fighting force that is respecting around the world, but only one tour to destroy it” says the English officer (from an army background) in charge.


The moments between the middle class writer claiming to “understand” and the reluctant tellers of the story made me re-examine any assumptions I had about the type of person who is a solider. I don’t think I had the typical “middle class” assumptions [I've had a boss who was a tank commander] about the army, and I certainly won’t have them now.


Maybe more thoughts later, but if this production does tour or come to a place near you, I would book and go see it. Best piece of theatre this year, for me.

Post-war theatre

It’s a little bit of an advert for the plays coming up at the Soho and for Michael Billington’s book next year, but it’s still an interesting read as to what inspires this set of writers, who created plays based on the last 6 decades of British history.

See article here.

Stella Duffy’s thoughts are intriguing about 2000s:

“In 1933, US President Roosevelt said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The 2000s has been the decade of fear: from the millennium bug to Sars and bird flu, via the axis of evil, Bush’s presidencies (the legitimate and the illegitimate), homegrown and imported terrorisms, global warming, the Aids and developing world poverty crises, and the current state of the Middle East. It seems to me that we’ve been told to be afraid of each other, of the world, more this decade than in any I’ve been alive….

….We are being told to be afraid. It excuses the cameras everywhere, the ID cards on their way, the constant infringement of human rights across the globe. The logical extension of not trusting “them” is to not trust “us” – and when there’s no one to trust, what happens to love?

But I don’t believe it. I don’t believe we are going to hell in a handcart. I don’t believe we can’t make a difference. So I’ve written a political play….”

I find this intriguing as I think amongst my peers there is more and more a sense of “we can’t make a difference” on the Big Political scale – but we can perhaps make a difference on the community scale: think blogs, flickr, myspace, bebo, knitting, crafting…

Edinburgh shows

I’m going to Edinburgh in a couple of weeks.

I’m not booking for much in advance although I have picked out Blackwatch at the Traverse – see here – written by Gregory Burke and directed by John Tiffany as part of Vicky Featherstone’s National Theatre of Scotland and based on interviews on solider who served in Iraq. My bet is that it is great. My tenuous link is that I once assisted John on a reading for Paines Plough.

I also want to see Daniel Kitson telling more stories – c90… “a new story show about a mans last day working in a compilation tape repository. funny in bits, sad in bits, hopeful in bits. you know, the usual.” My tenous link here is that I went to school, and college (university) with Kitson’s agent.

I’m also supporting my friend Tim FitzHigham who’s appearing in a Flanders and Swann show and also in Tim FitzHigham: Untitled. The link here is less tenuous, as I’ve actually directed Tim in days when I directed more than wrote.

Apart from that I’m open to suggestions.

I’ve heard Kylie was dancing around Edinburgh lately and got away virtually unrecognised. Mark Fisher from GU reports. I have a very tenous non-connection to Kylie and Edinburgh too. I shook the hand of her sister, after Dannii’s performace in Edinburgh 1999 (I think)…. (she played Lady Macbeth at the Royal Botanic Gardens – believe it or not – I also sat next to Jacques Villeneuve… whom she was dating at the time).

More minis

I’ve been hard pressed with writing and going to weddings and planting seeds (get a plastic tub, some compost, preferably some bits of broken clay pot for drainage, some seeds – then water and place in sun and it’s amazing! I can now completely understand all those people spending time on the allotment…)

I’ve entered for the Paines Plough wild lunch series, but I expect many will apply so I’m not going to hold my breath.

Still working on the radio plays.

In the mean time, I thought I’d give the Miniaturists a plug as their last show in the Southwark playhouse space is now about 2 weeks away, on Sunday the 20th.

It’s 5 short plays by members of The 50, the writers’ group formed when the Royal Court and BBC Writersroom asked 50 British theatres to nominate a writer of promise.

There’ll be two performances of all five plays, at 5pm and 8pm.

The bill:

by Charlotte Allan (nominated by the Theatre on the Lake, Keswick)
directed by Ellen Hughes

by Daniel Gritten (Menagerie, Cambridge)
directed by Gemma Kerr

by Sam Holcroft (Traverse, Edinburgh)
directed by Rachel Parish

by Ian Kershaw (Oldham Coliseum)
directed by Gordon Murray

by Duncan Macmillan (Theatre 503, London)
directed by Jason Lawson.

The damage: Tickets are all £6 and are available from
or by calling the Southwark box office line, 08700 601 761.

  • 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