Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Where I Talk Some More About Paddy...

Where I Talk Some More About Paddy...

Today was Paddy Marber's final lecture as the visiting professor of drama. I love the whole idea of the visiting professor, it's yielded some of my favourite experiences in Oxford. In my first year Stephen Daldry, director of Billy Elliot, held the title and brought in David Hare to read Via Dolorosa. I can quite honestly say that the experience of seeing Hare read Via Dolorosa will always live with me. It was one of those moments where the entire audience felt bonded together. And, relatively, there are so few people who will ever see Via Dolorosa that I feel hugely privleged to have seen even a read through*. Paddy's commitment to the post has been rather impressive, he certainly didn't have to come and see the New Writing Festival plays, or take part in the youth theatre programme that went with them, or even be willing to talk to students. I think meeting writers whose work you love can go one of two ways. You'll either love them more or you'll be devastated and never be able to look at their work in the same way again. I'm a huge Hare fan but from what I've heard I wouldn't want to meet him, my illusions would be shattered. Meeting Paddy, however, has only increased my fascination. That teasing line between writer and play is hopelessly intriguing and with Paddy it seems noticeably blurred. And, anyway, he's charismatic, witty and played 'Desert Island Shakespeare' with me. I love the guy.

Today Paddy brought along Cate Blanchett who turned out to be both somewhat stunning and noticeably intelligent. Maybe it was odd to hear someone who is unequivocally a 'film actress' - though she does still do theatre - talk about acting with real interest. It was startling, and rather wonderful to see her interest not in the circus around it all which she finds increasingly 'moronic'**, but in the process of acting. 'Reflecting humanity' she called it. Paddy's 'were you in the school nativity play?' may have been less sublime, but was equally amusing.

Paddy had started the talk by saying that he and Cate had almost worked together. Cate had been cast as Anna in the film of Closer originally. Then, however, she got pregnant, so it was bye bye Cate, hello Julia Roberts. As the talk progressed it emerged that Cate is starring in Paddy's next film [alongside Judy Dench] this summer. When Paddy revealed what this film is I had a hard time not spontaneously combusting and/or leaping from my seat. Paddy has written the screenplay for Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal. Now let me establish some things here:

1. I love Notes on a Scandal. I read it last year and couldn't put it down. I loved it so much that I've re-read it twice since then. And I re-read very few books, especially over such a short time scale. If I re-read then it's a book I'll love for life. If you don't know the story, it's a first person narrative of the events between an art teacher and one of her 15 year old students. But it's told through the perspective of another teacher, a rather sinister, oppressive woman who's somewhat obsessed with the art teacher. In short it's one of those wonderful books where you don't quite know what's going on or who you should trust. Given my obsession with The Great Gatsby and Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day I was always going to love such a novel. And don't just take my word for it - it was shortlisted for the Man-Booker prize.

2. I love the book on another level because Zoe Heller studied English at St Anne's. Given that St Anne's has only been co-ed since 1979 it's not produced any famous men but, along with famous Tory women - Edwina Curry, Mary Archer, it's got a history of having women writers in its ranks. Helen Fielding, Penelope Lively and Libby Purves are all alumni of St Anne's. And I love this little literary tradition. One day I'd like to be part of it. It rather makes me proud that so many female writers have popped up at St Anne's in such a short space of time.

So taking those two things and adding to them what you already know about my feelings on the subject of Paddy's writing and hopefully you'll get somewhere near the excitement I'm feeling about this. Obviously it could go horribly wrong. I might hate the adaptation. But somehow I doubt it. I trust Paddy. It's like hearing that David Hare had written the screenplay for The Hours all over again. I'm almost wetting myself at the prospect.

Away from my barely muffled over-excitement, the talk turned to Cate's reviews and the fact that she hasn't read them since she appeared onstage in Plenty and one reviewer said that the only thing that the production could have done worse than cast her would have been to have cast Dame Edna Everage. Paddy, on the other hand, revealed that he is obsessional about reading his reviews. Any reviews, anywhere, he has to read them however random and obscure. When Closer came out he spent hours searching the internet to see what people were saying. He gorges on the bad ones, but then maintains that after 48 hours he'll have gotten them out of his system. As for the good ones: "I've never bought into this 'the good ones are bad for you' thing". I'm with Paddy, how can you not love a good review? When SSoB finally got a couple of good reviews it had me smiling for days. Plus I know that I'm of the Paddy tendency, I'd be obsessionally reading anything I could get my hands on. It was also nice to realise that even people I think are hugely talented get stung by reviews, and hoard up those bad quotes. On the more worrying side it also means that Paddy must google himself a lot. Now I knew that he was more than internet savvy, he wrote a play in 1996 which featured an internet chatroom after all, but I hadn't worked through that fact. Eeek. If, by the laws of google, you ever end up reading this - I'm sorry for the 'Paddy' thing. You should forgive me though, after all I love Dan. And people who love Dan are a very select grouping.

At the end the cheers for Cate - and indeed Paddy as he'd been very engaging and witty - were louder than I've ever heard at one of these events. There was even what suspiciously sounded like whooping.

*Proper footnote alert; Via Dolorosa is the monologue which Hare wrote about his trip to Israel/ Palestine and it's written to be performed by him. Hence there's unlikely to be a revival.

**Both she and Paddy were very enlightening on the issue of the Oscars. According to Paddy winning votes requires "talking to lots of insane people in nursing homes". Cate said that she'd never actually done this, despite Paddy telling her to. Paddy, ever the pragmatist, would be "doing it like a shot if [he] got a whiff".


billygean said...

Yay, long blogs again!

Nik said...

the question is though - did you whoop?! xx

Corinne said...

The answer to that would comment. :P