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Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Critics round-up

The Indy has a “review” of  16 theatre critics. See here.

I didn’t realise there were quite so many of them. They miss out a couple of influential ones eg Timeout, Metro and they capture Michael Billington but miss Lyn Gardner.

Interesting to note how many Oxbridge critics. Not quite sure what that says but like the male/female ratio, it probably is pointing at some underlying (bias?) structure.
The star rating is rubbish but maybe it is ironic rubbish — like the stars that the critics have to give the plays they review….

New Artistic Director wanted at the Gate theatre

I have a vested interest in this as the new AD may be in charge (or at least have an influence) when NAKAMITSU goes on… So, I’m banking on a good AD although I am sure Thea Sharrock will be supportive until she leaves in the spring and it does depend on the programming. The new AD will be in charge of the autumn 2007 programming.
Deadline is Monday, Dec 11th, 6pm, if you want to apply. An application pack is at this link here and at the website:
These are some of the questions to think about:

1. What would be your vision for the Gate?
2. What would be your first season?
3. How would you raise the substantial funding the Gate needs over and above its Arts Council grant?
4. What do you think are the challenges facing the Gate in the coming years?

    Why not give it a go? How does the phrase go… “you need to be in it, to win it…”

    Churchill: Drunk Enough to say I love you?

    Drunk Enough to Say I love you by Caryl Churchill, directed by James MacDonald
    Caryl Churchill is a heroine of mine. She’s genius – whatever genius is meant to be. So, I have to admit that I don’t think I’ve managed to join up all the dots in my thinking or reaction to her new play, Drunk Enough to say I love you.

    There’s lots of stagecraft and dramaturgy thoughts, but I can’t as yet resolve the nub of it.

    *Spoilers* if you are the type that does not want to know anything about a play before seeing it, then don’t read further yet, I’m not going to detail the whole play but it’s hard to describe some of the themes without revealing some of the theatre behind it.

    Two men, one American, Sam, and one British, Jack, speak often in truncated sentences about the atrocities of power. Jack would do anything for Sam. Sam would do anything.

    The set is a couch, which steadily rises throughout the play. (This echoes Stephen Daldry’s Machinal with Fiona Shaw, who was also on a raised platform of no escape.)Everything outside the world of the couch appears/vanishes into the darkness (except in certain seats where one can glimpse the hidden). It’s an effective device and supports the sense of isolation (and arrogance?) surrounding the characters.

    The language is truncated. This echoes Churchill’s play Blue Kettle in the dual play: Blue Heart (1997). In Blue Kettle words in the dialogue are increasingly replaced by “blue” or “kettle” until the last scene abandons words altogether and the characters communicate by sound alone. Almost a virus in the language. This leaves the audience to have to form an imaginative leap to complete the sentences – perhaps to complete the ideas and images.

    However, some of the images are obscure, in my opinion. Perhaps that is the point in raising our awareness. There is also “a detective element” the audience can play. But, should we be rewarded for knowing? I had the sense that when an element was known – there was a “Ha. I get that bit” moment – but it made me feel awkward. Ok, so I know. Will anyone else? Is this a play preaching either to the converted or to those who won’t know, won’t care? I am unsure.

    So I knew that neem is a tree in India that supposedly has pharmaceutical properties and the point is Western companies are supposedly trying to patent some of its uses when it has been known as local knowledge for hundreds of tears.

    That the juxtaposition of orange grove / Israel refers to Israeli rockets that were meant to hit an orange grove where supposedly Israeli troops saw rockets fired from, but instead hit homes.

    That a reference to Afghanistan / goat game / replace human is referring to a Persian “goat dragging” game – bukashi – that was only recently reintroduced into Afghanistan (after the fall of the Taliban) where horse riders compete to grab and control a goat carcass. I’m writing a play involving Afghanistan, so I happen to know.

    Will anyone be bothered to find these things out? Is that the point? There must be many more references I didn’t understand.

    I’ve grappled with some cousin ideas when I was writing Lost in Peru. Particularly the use of facts and figures to justify acts and the juxtaposition of such statistics to draw up uncomfortable comparisons. However, part of the point is who comes up with the figures and whether they are true / feel true. I do not think I was absolutely convinced. Then again maybe that is the point to try and know what is true or not, when some “body” purportedly claims them.

    Many tragedies and atrocities are referred to… some directly, some obliquely often simply by a country’s name. Perhaps the imaginative leap to complete the stories is the point and perhaps it is the glib way the characters discuss the stories that is meant to penetrate to me and maybe there were too many stories I didn’t know.

    The US-UK relationship, to some extent was made real by Sam and Jack. That “special relationship” and maybe we are drunk enough to fall into bed with the US and its power politics and the “trickle down” atrocities caused by pursuing its policies.

    And perhaps yes, Sam’s greatest need is to be loved “you have to love me me / can’t / love me love me, you have to love me, you “ And that needs is like a country’s need (America?) and so…Jack would do anything for Sam. Sam would do anything.


    It’s made me think. I’m trying to join up the dots. I still think Churchill is genius. However, I am left a little cold at this very moment – perhaps it will marinade in time – but maybe I’m not drunk enough. Or too drunk.

    Still, you ought to go see it and I recommend you do.

    At the Royal Court, Until 22 Dec, 020 7565 5000

    The legal system

    David Eldridge, via his very entertaining blog, drew my attention to this piece by Abi Grant.

    It describes the painful and horrific process of trying to gain a convinction for rape.

    It’s an important piece to read, I think, as I didn’t really have any idea about how the process would work and how difficult it all is.

    She ends:

    But as business seems to be the lingua franca of the government, I’d point out to John Reid that if the English legal system was a company, it wouldn’t just go bankrupt, its customer base would burn it to the ground. Now, when I look at that one-in-20 statistic I’m not appalled, I’m amazed. Wow, that high?

    Letter from the Adirondacks

    I read this from Poetry Review, Autumn 2006.

    Chase Twichell:

    “As the editor to of an independent literary press (Ausable Press, founded in 1999) I read a great deal of poetry, that is looking for a home… a book has to tell the truth and has to be as least as smart as I am. I need to feel in the presence of a human consciousness from which I can learn, and I want that mind to speak to me on profound matters in language made new to me… in order to write poems that cross into the mysteries of love and death and return with something freshly discovered in language, a poet must be willing to be a little stupid, and a little reckless, and to confront repeatedly his endless ignorance and fear, his vanity, cowardice and laziness. The pursuit of truth is difficult, and mostly thankless work. It’s also the most important thing a human being can do on this poor blighted planet, so close to the world’s end.”

    Faust, PunchDrunk: must see production

    Punchdrunk’s production of Faust is a must see piece of theatre. [Review of Masque of Red Death here]

    The journey starts in the effort of finding the disused warehouse in Wapping. No disrespect for Wapping, but as night creeps in and you weave in and out of the mish mash of building sites and Docklands traffic on a Friday night, it sets the scene for a descent into hell…. The atmosphere is what hits you first. A bar, ramshackle in feel and southern American in tone (it’s not important at all but the bar staff’s accents are not 100% convincing – but who cares?). You wear a mask (tip for glasses wearers – if you have contacts use these, the masks aren’t easy to use over glasses; the mask adds to the disorientation but practically it also distinguishes between actors and audience), you go in a shuddery lift and you’re thrown out into a world on walpurgisnacht. Practically, you either end up exploring the world and the detail created or you end up following/chasing a character. The cast are skilled physically and seem organic to the world. The story at every point is clear: the deal with the devil (charismatic and spooky if he starts feeling you up, yes I have personal experience of this), taking the innocence of Gretchen (quirkily beautiful, lithe and beguling in movement), Faust’s descent in to hell… …and much of the pleasure is in the “smaller details” such as following the plot of a witch (sexy and scary) , or stumbling on a cinema (good for a rest, but I wanted some popcorn too) or someone changing in a bedroom (almost an invasion of privacy, am I meant to be here?); the smell of a pine forest; walking into a cornfield….

    I think the play is helped by having a story that the audience knows (and a sheet informing you, in case you don’t) this means you can fill in any gaps that you don’t see. Also, the play goes through two cycles on the night, so you can fill in the missing gaps of the parts that you really want to see. The audience becomes part of the play and the uncertainty of not knowing quite what is happening or where you should go adds to the excitement/pleasure. It has a cousin in what Rabbit (self-assembly) is also aiming at, I think. This theatre where you have to fill in some of the gaps, create some of your own drama. Much of the language of the play is physical and here I witnessed an interesting point. At times, it seems the audience were mystified by some of the physical vocabulary used. Some of it was circus derived, some riffed with dance and the physicality of passion but some was abstracted a stage too far for the audience (judging by what I overheard). I found this interesting because I pretty much liked all the physical expression – I often wanted to reach out and touch the performers/everything. Now, an audience doesn’t need to understand everything to have a profoundly enjoyable or visceral experience of theatre or performance but it made me think of parts of opera or dance which is some times so far removed from “the everyday” that the audience can no longer stretch out to reach it. I don’t think this is a criticism of Punchdrunk, but neither can I think it is a critcism of an audience if they find performance confusing; perhaps it is in the gaps imbetween where confusion becomes clarity or where visceral performance bypasses the brain that we find the most satification.


    If you tire at any stage, head back to the bar where a band is playing. Have a beer or bloody Mary and rejoin the world when you feel up to it.


    I believe the run has been extended until March 2007. Do go. It’s a theatrical experience worth tasting.

    Punckdrunk. Booking through NT, +44 (0) 20 7452 3000.

    Discussion: My Name is Rachel Corrie; Auster

    George Hunka, who I don’t quote enough (as I assume most theatre blog readers will be aware of his blog), writes extremely intelligently about theatre matters.

    He has a post on Rachel Corrie, which is link back to Mark Armstrong’s (Mr Excitement) report on the post-play discussion between Tony Kushner, David Hare, Robert O’Hara with contributions from Alan Rickman. Makes interesting reading particularly along side David Grossman’s recent speech (in post below).

    “…David Hare talked about the rise of documentary theater, of which he called My Name is Rachel Corrie “a distinguished example”. Interestingly, he placed the impetus for the phenomena squarely at the feet of writing teachers “who don’t write plays themselves” and encourage pre-formulated “fictions which are shaped too crudely”. Documentary theater is powerful, he claimed, because “stories take a different shape from the rules dictated by studios and dramaturgs”, which he said favor “rules that are imposed on the imagination rather than truly imaginative work”.


    Paul Auster in an acceptance speech for the Prince of Asturias Prize for Letters, Spain’s premier literary honour, spoke about the impulse to write – in his case novels – but I think his passion probably applies to many artists (full article here):

    I don’t know why I do what I do. If I did know, I probably wouldn’t feel the need to do it. All I can say, and I say it with utmost certainty, is that I have felt this need since my earliest adolescence. I’m talking about writing, in particular, writing as a vehicle to tell stories, imaginary stories that have never taken place in what we call the real world. Surely it is an odd way to spend your life – sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper in order to give birth to what does not exist – except in your head. Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing? The only answer I have ever been able to come up with is: because you have to, because you have no choice.

    Reading while delayed; hunting, Iraq & Israel

    After my second plane in twenty four hours gets cancelled; and I am in for another 4 hour delay waiting in a Milan airport… there’s not much to do except read scraps of newspaper.

    I am not sure this is verified but I read that parliament spent about 700 hours debating the fox hunting ban but only about 7 hours debating whether to go to war in Iraq. Article on how hunts are faring now here.
    I guess one could argue that both matters are in a mess now.


    I also read a rather moving plea from David Grossman (see here) for peace between Israel and Palestine. His son died in the recent conflict. I think if interested, you’ll have to read his whole speech yourself; but I leave his last paragraph in conclusion.

    From where I stand at this moment, I request, call out to all those listening – to young people who came back from the war who know that they are the ones who will have to pay the price of the next war; to Jewish and Arab citizens, to the people of the right and the people of the left – stop for a moment. Look over the edge of the abyss and consider how close we are to losing what we have created here. Ask yourselves if the time has not arrived for us to come to our senses, to break out of our paralysis, to demand for ourselves, finally, the lives we deserve to live …


    And finally, on a lighter note, but of importance to property obsessed Brits, John Kay gives some good advice about ignoring useless house price forecasts. See here.

    “…Well located houses are what the economist Fred Hirsch called a positional good. House prices are consequently a product of sociology as well as economics. That combination explains why it is Britain, Ireland and Spain, not France, Italy and Germany, that have seen the fastest rises in European house prices and why Hawaii, California and New York, not Idaho, Mississippi and Nebraska, have been the hot spots in the US.

    The aspirant rich do not displace the very rich from the best houses but they make the very rich pay more for them. This is the self-defeating character of the search for the symbols of status and affluence. So it goes on down the scale. The level of house prices depends not just on levels of income but on social mores and the distribution of wealth.

    Successfully predicting house prices involves good economic models, an appreciation of the sociological dynamics of aspiration and a trader’s flair for the waves of market psychology. Not many people combine these skills. My files tell me I wrote about house prices in 2001 and 2004 and concluded that the only information anyone offering confident predictions about house prices gave was that you should not pay attention to them. It is still true…

    Film, Terence Davies

    I’m not so well versed in the language of film, definitely not as I would like. It’s hard enough keeping up with the range of theatre and live performance; reading and keeping a job and life.

    Still, when Chris Goode, who is much better informed than me, points to something; I listen. (I know technically listening to pointing won’t get you very far, but you know what I mean).

    Via his insightful post, I’ve come across Terence Davies and an interview with him in the Guardian. Sadly, he is really fighting to get funding for his films. However, there was a little snippet of poem that I liked. I’m unsure how the breaks should work; but here is the snippet. I must go and see some of his films.


    We will not fight

    We will not strive

    Against the fading of the light

    Or hope to keep our souls alive.

    Oh my demons come and get your quarry now.


    There’s also some very entertaining rants against producers and Robert Mckee:

    …Another person said we need background stories for every character. I said, ‘That would make the film four hours long. Are you prepared to fund a four-hour film? And if you can tell me one film where every character has a background story I’ll go out and buy it.’ ‘Do you know Singin’ in the Rain?’ ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘can you tell me what background story Kathy Seldon has?’ Quiet. Again, I was shown the door. You’re up against people who know nothing, who have done a media degree or, worst of all, have done the Robert McKee lectures.”Why is that worst of all? “Because they’ve done a great deal of damage. Who can turn round and say it’s good to have a climax on page six? Who said so? Robert McKee, and his theories are based on Casablanca, which was being written as it was being shot. So you’re up against that level of philistinism. It beggars belief….

    • 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