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

Recommending: Growing your own vegetables

Growing food

I’ve eaten my first crop of rocket. Tomatoes are growing. Radishes have just sprouted. I’ve had flat leaf parsley for a year, all over winter, but it decided to flower as is its way and I chopped it away to make for spring onion amongst others.

Spring Onion

And I just ate my first one. Yum.

Nakamitsu coming to an end

Sadly. Sadly. This big adventure and incredible journey is nearing its end. The greatest big thank you to all those who have helped along the way. You’ve been amazing.

There have been some late reviews this week, a good one in the Metro, not available on the web and this brilliant one from Sam Marlowe at the Times.

… Nakamitsu, Benjamin Yeoh’s reworking of a Noh drama, thrillingly suggests the violence endemic in the maintaining of a feudal system through a glossily 21st-century cinematic face-off and through music, movement, symbolism and poetry…

The play’s bare simplicity is swathed in a staging of restrained beauty. …Richard Clews’s compelling Nakamitsu … And throughout, Ansuman Biswas’s live music, with its drums, bells, gongs and trembling strings, scintillates and thunders.

The play is just 50 minutes long, yet its richness gives it stature. There’s a loveliness to the way that Yeoh’s words are absorbed into a whole in which a single gesture has compelling eloquence.

Rare and riveting.

One is meant to be relatively sanguine over reviews, but rare and riveting did bring a smile to my face.

John Berger, learningtoloveyoumore

I’m a great admirer of John Berger‘s work. I’m not very pro-smoking at all but he makes it sound very attractive:

“Berger on smoking, which he does with the fierce enjoyment of a true addict. ‘A cigarette’, he says, inhaling deeply, ‘is a breathing space. It makes a parenthesis. The time of a cigarette is a parenthesis, and if it is shared you are both in that parenthesis. It’s like a proscenium arch for a dialogue.’”

I also saw something on this brilliant idea of a wesbite and art work (part Miranda July colloboration) Learning to love you more
Kissing stops you thinking.

Edinburgh preview 2

Statler and Andrew Field as well as Lyn Gardner suggest

Nonsenseroom’s production The Ballad of James II in the setting of Rosslyn Chapel

There seems to be a Shunt car show [not really it's actually a colloboration see comments for correction], which sounds great

Andrews says “…Pinochio in which two girls from Rotozaza and Shunt drive an audience of three round Edinburgh in a car performing Pinochio”

“…Wait outside! We will pick you up. We are driving. Caught up in Pinocchio’s great diversion, you are lost. Is the city through the windscreen still the same city? You have new eyes, and a brand new pair of ears…”

It reminds that I missed Hush productions’ A Mobile Thriller “performed to an audience of three in the back of a luxury car as it hurtles through the city towards an assassination and Broken Road that intertwines with A Mobile Thriller at its dramatic conclusion….” [Note, Carrie Cracknell is now an AD at the Gate so I’m bound to be bias] I’m also working on an idea based in a mini-cab.

Although I can’t find it listed I can find at the British Council showcase Rotozaza’s Etiquette

Etiquette is for two people at a time. There is no-one watching. You wear headphones which tell you what to say to each other. There are also instructions for small actions. It lasts 25 minutes
and must be experienced from start to finish. Best done with someone you know, someone to share this with – but not essential. You won’t be asked to ‘act’ and it isn’t difficult
- anyone who understands English can do it – but its success does rely on you listening hard to each instruction and responding accordingly. Bring reading glasses if you need them.

Also in the showcase, Gecko are doing The Arab and The Jew A story of brotherhood, loyalty and conflict

Statler also recommends in the comments… “Emergence-See and have hopes for Armageddon & Fishcakes despite an 11:30am start….”
And finally there were references to bananas in my last two stage shows. So by entering banana into and clicking on the last result I get

Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana
A young boy, A grandfather’s wisdom, A mother’s sadness. Join Sinclair on a multimedia journey as he discovers meaning in imagination. Warring monkeys and enchanted lakes vividly come to life in a dreamer’s attic at C soco

Not as fun as Andrew’s drinking game but random, which is a lot about what the fringe is….

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

Edinburgh preview 1

Lyn Gardner has done her own personal preview of the Edinburgh fringe – see link here.

I’m hoping to go up but it’s likely I won’t be able to stay very long, so what would I see…

I am an admirer of Chris Goode’s work (as long time readers can probably tell) so his home show with Lucy Ellinson, Henry & Elizabeth is intriguing – details I think will be posted here. I think his Hippo World Guest book (which you can also catch in the artsadmin season on June 16, last night of my play so can’t make it) may also be going up. Have a look at Hippo World.

I never made it to Sheffield to see Fin Kennedy’s play, which is my loss, but MEHNDI NIGHT I’m sure will be worth seeing:

At a traditional Bengali celebration the night before a wedding, the women of the community gather to sing, dance and bless the bride-to-be. But when an uninvited guest turns up bringing painful memories from the past, everyone present is forced to confront their own fears, prejudices and longings. An extraordinary insight into a community all too often overlooked by British theatre, MEHNDI NIGHT puts third generation Bengali women centre stage and reveals the joy and the pain of a 21st century cross-cultural identity.
I loved Tim Crouch’s OAK TREE and he has ENGLAND going on at the Traverse

‘The patients like to look at the art. It helps them to feel better.’ Two guides in a gallery. A bad transaction. A bad translation. A transplantation.

And as usual the Traverse line up looks very strong Lynda Radley’s ART OF SWIMMING, David Greig’s DAMASCUS, Rona Munro’s LONG TIME DEAD and National Theatre of Scotland doing VENUS AS A BOY.

NToS are also doing a version (Greig from a literal by Ian Ruffell) of the BACCHAE with Alan Cumming (which will come to the Lyric in Hammersmith London and Theatre Royal, Glasgow too).

There’s likely to be a lot more interesting stuff and I really want to make it to Aurora Nova work but here I’m influenced by Andrew Field who has an intriguing Edinburgh drinking game to try out

Nakamitsu: last week

Going in to the last week of Nakamitsu (so if you haven’t seen it but want to, you’d better get moving!) and the show is in very good shape but I can hardly believe it is almost all over.

Having said that, I could do with a nice long rest.

What the Whingers (and others) thought

Don’t read further if you don’t like reading reviews.


Lyn Gardner liked it:

Small but exquisitely formed, Benjamin Yeoh’s new version of a 14th-century Japanese Noh play is fusion theatre, borrowing from east as well as west. It is both strange and familiar, accessible and remote, restrained and yet somehow full-blown. The story, in which honour and love rub against each other and ignite, is surprisingly and effectively framed by the equivalent of a dumb show and set in a low-life strip joint, which offers a contemporary spin on an age-old story….the dilemma faced by Nakamitsu seems strikingly modern, and the struggle between what he should do and what he desires to do is beautifully realised. In Jonathan Munby and Michael Ashcroft’s production, movement and sound combine with Yeoh’s script to create something both rich and spare. Mike Britton’s effective design offers echoes of both a catwalk and a scroll. There are moments of great beauty – fluttering fingers represent weeping, and a book wrapped in a bloody cloth becomes a severed head.

But did also think the show “a titbit

Aleks Sierz also had good praise “…Benjamin Yeoh and directors Jonathan Munby and Michael Ashcroft have succeeded in making this archaic form both relevant and dynamic…. Yeoh’s translation [] retains a touch of the strangeness of the original, and yet is completely comprehensible and relevant… The cast – Richard Clews (Nakamitsu), Daniel Williams (Mitsunaka), Peter Bankole (Kochiyo) and Matthew Burgess (Bijiyo) – are both suitably dignified and thoroughly convincing. Percussion by Ansuman Biswas is superb throughout. All in all, this production successfully crosses continents and centuries.

Philip Fisher put into his alternative top 5 with “Nakamitsu may last under an hour but this visually and aurally stunning event punches well above its weight and offers a very enjoyable and unusual evening with plenty of time for dinner at the end.

But Lucy Powell while she thought “Benjamin Yeoh’s translation is an elegant achievement: powerfully suggestive of the antique traditions of Noh, but cleverly accessible to the uninitiated” and liked the design and music; the piece didn’t “lift off the scroll” for her.

And Kieron Quirke thought “Indisputably the best piece of Japanese Noh theatre in the capital at present, Nakamitsu boasts vivid visuals and enthralling music. If at times, the slow, ritualistic drama is too ponderous for western tastes, the cross-cultural riches on display more than compensate
But who wants Kieron Quirke et al. when you have the West End Whingers? Surely a better barometer of whether the show was worth leaving your merlot for and like David Eldridge, it was most nerve racking waiting for their opinion.

And they enjoyed themselves and liked it! Ok, so they claim it was out of giri (and they know I know what they look like)… but really 45 minutes above a pub with live drumming and a dripping blood scene must have been the real draw…

Yeoh told us that in modern Noh productions [in Japan ] half the audience falls asleep as they only go out of a sense of duty so the Whingers felt rather proud of the fact that not only did they not fall asleep (rare for Andrew) but that they enjoyed themselves and that they had correctly predicted that if you only see one piece of Noh theatre in west London this year, this is definitely the one you should choose.”

Andrew Field also has some erudite points to make on translation, Sara-Mae Tuson and Natasha Tripney liked it “the staging and the story are poetic in their simplicity and, this combined with the music, makes the piece into something that you can connect with on both an intellectual and emotional level. It’s also very visually striking…. It’s all over in under an hour, leaving you with ample time to migrate to the pub downstairs and talk about this unusual, yet strangely magical production.


I think that’s more or less it for the reviews, with perhaps Variety to come. I’d have liked to known what John Peter and Susannah Clapp thought and it’s a shame the Sundays haven’t come as far as I know. But that’s the way…

Howard Barker is cut

The Wrestling School has been cut. Not quite like a Mark Ravenhill play but it probably feels like it [the cut performed in the play that is].

Howard Barker writes here and on at his site

When we applied for an Arts Council grant this year, it was to mark a further drastic switch in form, this time to a swift and nearly wordless series of 40 texts played in two hours. Yet at the end of last week The Wrestling School was destroyed by the Arts Council’s decision – for reasons entirely without artistic value – not to award the grant, following the massive cut in its allocation to service the crisis of the Olympic Games. The squeeze on arts funding is presumably the reason behind the Arts Council’s removal of support for artist development, which has been the grounds for our funding over the last 20 years.


The sinister character of a regime that makes utility its sole value is nakedly evident in the decision-making process. We are describing censorship, not by the police, nor even the critical police, but by a process of selective de-funding. The Wrestling School is a victim of this, and is neither the first nor the last. It asks its public to contest its funeral.

The comments are divided. George Hunka, Alison Croggon, Andrew Field amongst others make good points and counter statler from viewfromthestalls who argues

when resources are limited I’d always prefer to see it going to new emerging companies and talent, and given that your company has been running for (almost) 20 years, if it still can’t be made to work commercially, even with trimmed down budgets etc, then I’m sorry but doesn’t that suggest the work isn’t that worthy (although I admit to having no knowledge of it)

And Lyn Gardner comments

we should all be making more noise and keeping the pressure up on both Arts Council and government or they will just think they can get away with it. The thread on subsidy versus the commercial is fascinating, and the truth is that the lines are much more blurred than we think. Subsidised theatres make commercial deals all the time, and you have only to look down the list of those who have received Grants for the Arts over the last three years to see that commercial producers have benefited. It is not as clear cut as it might appear, and that is often to the benefit of theatre as a whole.
[my bold]
For my own two pennies

If one does actually try to cast it as an “economic” and commercial argument one key problem is that Howard Barker’s work has a large “intangible value” that pure ticket prices would not cover.

But that intangible value may well be larger (and so better to invest in) than the new emerging companies statler would prefer.

I’m not sure we should be looking for economic justifications, an inexact science at best, but still I wonder what has been the (intangible) value that, for instance, Alan Ayckbourn has given to Scarborough? Much greater than any subisdy, I would estimate.

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.

Nakamitsu: Guardian

Emma John writes an article in today’s G2. Link here.

“…Its translator, the British-Chinese playwright Ben Yeoh, never expected to see his adaptation on stage. Inspired by a love of eastern poetry, Yeoh decided to translate a Noh play as a personal challenge before submitting it to the Gate’s prestigious translation award, where it won plaudits from the judges, who included playwright Christopher Hampton and actor-director Simon Callow. “I almost didn’t hand it in to the competition,” Yeoh admits when we meet in London. “I thought, ‘Who’s going to choose something that, if you were to read it out, is only 20 minutes of text, and in a completely alien theatre form?…’”

Speed Death of the Radiant Child

I travelled to Plymouth to see Speed Death of the Radiant Child and it was completely worth it even if in the combined train travelling time and ticket prices I could have watched the play almost 4 times…

There will be more detailed thoughts later, but I wanted to record my sadness that this seems unlikely ever to make it to London and that so few people had the chance to see it.

In the macro, it seemed to me to be a kaleidoscope of life in all its noise and random/ intended interconnectedness of being and unbeing.

In its detail, it threads the information we radiate out with the data we receive in with the brilliant blazing children – like River Phoenix – and the lack of language to describe ______   the words needed to build the ground to walk on (what’s a condition or illness if you don’t have the terms or words for it?) and various types of death – blue skin – and water.

If that doesn’t quite make sense, it’s partially because it’s very hard to recreate the sense of theatre the work gives you, in words.

For me personally, I had images and sounds of these kids – radiant children themselves – jumping off an abandoned high dive platform into the Plymouth sea – splash boom – look towards the light house – look back – catch the sight of the stillness of the rock pool – interweaving with the heat and wet of the play; and on the train journey back: flash a pylon – radiant – sleep – wake – where’s the language to describe that?

Nakamitsu Notes

It is virtually impossible to translate exactly from one idiom to another. A translator and adaptor has to do the best they can in representing the original in heart and spirit yet remaining alive to the sensibilities of a modern audience.

In transforming a Noh play to English, there are not just idioms of language to tackle but a whole theatrical form and culture that are very different to an English or Western world.

There are several ways to attempt this, all beset with problems and possibilities. There are translations which will describe a Noh play more closely to what you may see in a performance in Japan and those that will treat a Noh text in terms of literary criticism. Those types of translations can be brilliant and useful.

However, there are those who will argue that the plays only exist in performance. Japan has no great tradition of reading Noh as literature. My version was written with performance in mind. It is not academic. It is not attempting to be literature.

In attempting to write a version that can be used by English speaking actors from a Western culture, the roots and traditions of classical Japanese Noh will need to be explored.

A strict adherence to the way it might be performed by one of the schools of Noh in Japan is not likely to work for Western actors who do not have the long training of classical Noh performers, let alone all the other aspects that need to go into a classical Noh performance.

Forgetting the traditions of the classical way would be a mistake as well. There needs to be some way to remain true to both a modern sensibility and a classical one.


For the Gate production, the introduction of a prologue to Nakamitsu was influenced by the traditional format of presenting a Kyogen before a Noh play in a Noh programme, and by the use of ghosts in Noh plays. It was also inspired by placing the world of Nakamitsu into a context reflecting a modern dilemma.

Giri (duty) vs ninjo (compassion/humanity) is a pivotal topic in Japanese literature and society. Duty does not properly translate the meaning of giri. It is closer to the Roman concept of pietas or the Greek concept of honour, timē / τιμή. It is the sense of “obligation to one’s superiors”.

The choices and arguments fought out by the characters in Nakamitsu seem modern. We face the same dilemmas today between what we ought to do and what we want to do.

In the version for the Gate, we created our own performance language from an understanding that we are not Noh trained but acknowledging the roots and aims of Noh. Our approach uses western psychology and theatre practice and combines that with Noh traditions.

Discussion revolved around an adherence to the elements of a Noh structure, for instance keeping a gesture of weeping where appropriate but informing the gesture with the company’s western theatre practice rather than trying to imitate classical Noh.

It is a collision and fusion of our arts.

  • 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