Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And, last week, I was accused of flirting with the postman

And, last week, I was accused of flirting with the postman

I am almost at the end of my briefing, a briefing that largely consists of 'this is what we have been told - this is not what will happen because they are comedians not actors'. Whilst I haven't worked anywhere near as many comedy shows as I have plays I have worked enough to know that the chances of them running to time are about the same as me deciding to purchase a pair of 'best jeans'. I forgive them this on account of the atmosphere; the audience are drunker, the music in the bar is louder, there are rarely complaints. I'm probably go insane if this were the case every night, but as a bit of light relief I rather enjoy it.

"Afterwards Stew wants to come out and sign, so I'll need one of you to sell his merchandise"

The attendants are looking at me slightly oddly.

"Stew now is it?"

I hadn't even realised that my propensity to shorten names had caught me out.

"Well you know, I've met him now, so obviously, best friends". I pause. "I'm actually all embarrassed about that now".

They laugh. I diffuse my embarrassment with fire regulations. At least they come in useful sometimes.

The night continues, the support act runs 15 minutes under his scheduled slot. Stew runs 20 minutes over his. The queue for the bar, at one point, runs to being four deep. An over-excited (and probably drunken) girl stands on my toes. I have to hold in the urge to swear.

"I can't believe they didn't take the set down".

"Maybe he asked them not to".

I resist the urge to point out that it took us two days to get the set in and that there is a performance in less than 24 hours. Anyone would think we are a working theatre.

I marshall the post show signing. It is slightly different to the one I ran for Alan Bennett. There are certainly more camera phones in evidence.

Afterwards Stew thanks me and gives me one of his CDs. I think this is rather lovely. I manage to hold in a joke about this being a step up from what actors tend to give you*. Because there is undoubtedly nothing more terrible in life than being patently unfunny in front of someone who makes his living being funny. My ego wouldn't take it.

Having said goodbye I pass an attendant who notes the CD.

She smiles. "He's married you know".

I laugh. It's a nice feeling.

*Go on, the punchline is so obvious.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Part Three: Closing Time

Part Three: Closing Time

"You work in retail!" exclaims the voice from the sofa.

I meet the exclamation with as much of a look of disdain as I can muster at 3.00am. "No I do not".

"You cannot say that you work 'in theatre'"

"I work in a theatre". I could elaborate. An actual theatre, with seats that don't sink into the mud, beer on tap and an Arts Council grant. And where people actually listen to me.

"But that's not in theatre. An actor, a director, a designer, a stage manager - a writer. They work in theatre. You just happen to work in a theatre".

He does not say it harshly or unkindly but I cannot mistake its firmness, the ringing truth with which it is proclaimed. And the fact that this isn't really about my job.

As if to confirm my silent conclusion he continues: "If this was about you writing you'd have stayed as an usher".

I blink.

"No it wasn't". I pause. How truthful am I to be to this boy whose own relationship with the truth is, at best, a little blurred.

"But" - there is no real need for deception, it is not a game I can readily play with him - "it does make it easier - there is this perception, the Oxford treadmill..."

He is ready for it. "One of my best friends got a first in history from Oxford and now he's a Manager for Costa".

It is so simple as he looks unblinkingly towards me. But that is not the truth. His friend, afterall, is a Manager, not the person who cleans the cups. "It's not easy to do that".

It is something that I suspect he will never grasp. This is the boy who, months later when he is almost in possession of the final advance for his first novel, will look me in the eye and tell me he never really wanted to be a published author. The boy for whom it is all so carelessly easy.

I do not take that turn, however, knowing it stands as something unbridgeable between us. "I like having money to do things".

£500 a year (and a room of one's own) was Woolf's estimation. That would be £20,000 by today's reckoning.

"Money - is just money".

I smile. Because for him it is.

"I am trying".

"You don't try". The eyes are trained on me alone; I meet him unflinchingly, our game of dare fueled by red wine, summer heat and proximity. "You write".

***

"What would you be doing if you weren't creatives - actors, directors..." the voice trails off as the questioner looks for the words to incorporate me in her group.

I feel a flush of embarrassment, a wordless gap in space. I am not sure how to fill it.

"Writers".

The response is unexpected, I did not realise that he, amidst his fitful silence, had noticed the failure of the sentence.

The questioner is again at ease; "actors, directors, writers..." she continues though I am no longer listening.

Unseen I catch his eye, noticing in the process the hair that is slightly too long, the jumper that is slightly too old, the jeans with an unfortunate hole. He smiles as I silently acknowledge what has passed; the parenthesis which no one else in the room has noticed. There are too many people around us for me to say thank you; I settle instead for seeking out his leg, the contact my concession.
I cannot help but wonder if, one day, I shall remember him, above anything else, for simply having the guts to say something that needed to be said.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Part Two: Making my first steps as a child of twenty five

Part Two: Making my first steps as a child of twenty five

"Look around", I gesture to the other occupants of the corridor.

Dean's eyes move.

"I am the oldest person in this corridor".

For once this is not hysteria. There's a boy to our right who probably started shaving last week, a group of giggling girls in headscarves who most certainly have half fare bus passes and a girl to our left who has come with her mum. Even the students in purple t-shirts who are marshalling the event are probably still young enough to make the age requirement for a girlband. It is a worse demographic than McFly gigs ever are.

I don't want Dean to feel left out: "And you're probably the second oldest".

Dean is dealing with this surprisingly well. "Lots of potential postgraduates are going to be 20, 21".

"And lots of potential undergraduates are only going to be 17". Twenty one is not off putting, I found my first grey hair at that age and, anyway, I am not against the occasional 21 year old, but hundreds of people who haven't even gotten their A Level results yet? Who are still fresh faced and eager and cannot legally buy alcohol?

It is too much.

"It's a postgraduate open day. I have my first degree that gives me priority". Not, of course, in life in general but on day's like today doing the seven exams which consitute my degree over the course of nine days and still being alive should count for something.

I am warming to my subject, the boy with the newly shaven face is looking slightly uncomfortable, "They had better not be cluttering up the drama department stall or I will not be pleased". I frown and try to look as mature and academic as I can muster when I am wearing a spotty dress and purple tights.

When the Open Day officially starts the number of obvious potential postgraudates numbers about five. The rest of the congregation have one or other of their parents with them. It reminds me of the day I went to Newcastle University with my Dad when they served the parents tea and cake and put those of us who'd had offers in a room with a poem by Margaret Atwood to discuss. Seven and half years later I'm at Goldsmiths with Dean. As yet there is no cake.

By luck more than judgement I am first to the drama stall. It is split equally between postgrad and undergrad courses. I realise that they were expecting hoards of hopeful undergraduates who couldn't make their open day to come today. I supress a little hurrumph.

The tutor behind the postgrad section turns out to be the covenor of the course I want a place on. We talk. A queue behind us builds. I realise that I really want a place on this course. We are still talking. Some people get bored of waiting and go elsewhere. We finish, he tells me to apply. I extricate myself from the crowd and Dean laughs at me for having the cheek to ask the tutor what would blow him away in an application.

We wander round the hall, a woman on the accomodation stand talks to me.

"We make sure that people are arranged by age".

Obviously she has noticed my grey hair.

"Good, 'cause I wouldn't really want to be with 18 year olds". Only I say "18 year olds" as if it's a contagious disease.

All in all I'm probably lucky that I get out of New Cross alive.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Part One: "Dance with me"

Part One: "Dance with me"

"So you really like this play?"

"Yes". It is the truth. I like it so much that I am beginning to suspect I have managed to write something which betters the Paris/ 1997/ the future of their relationship conversation between Kate and Harry in SSoB. It has been some time coming. "But the thing remains - I can't tell if I love it because it's genuinely good or if it's because it's been so cathartic to write".

This is probably something of an understatement. I suspect that Films About Ghosts, as this little play has come to be known, has saved me a not inconsiderable sum on therapy bills.

But there is also the voice in the back of my head, the same voice that has been more ruthless in the editing and revising process than I have ever been, which thinks, hey, this is actually quite good. It has something to say. And it may even have started to feel that attending all those workshops (which I have never quite managed to enjoy), and reading all those how-to books (which I find rather perverse pleasure in) and even having the conversation of 'you're a good writer but we don't put the type of plays you write on here' might actually have come in use. Certainly this feels like the tightest play I have ever written (whether this is despite or because of the fact that it spans seven years I am unsure). And maybe, for the first time in a while, I have written not only what I wanted to write, but what I had to write.

"Is there any swearing?"

I consider the question. "I'm not sure - there must be somewhere".

Dean laughs. "Because you know it can't be a Royal Court play if it doesn't have any swearing in it".

We start to read. There is swearing on page 16. That is, at least, one hurdle jumped.

On page 38 Poppy uses the words "some times". Even though I have no strong attachment to these words we spend 15 minutes discussing whether to keep them or not.

A "Maybe" on page 44 looks set to trip us up in the same way until I freestyle a replacement line about Care Bear knickers that amuses us both so much that it has to stay.

After almost four hours, some random tangents, one change of venue, a bit of minor violence (not from me), a couple of lightbulb moments and a variety of line amendments we have finished the first half of the play.

"Three fucks, two fuckings - oh, and an actual fucking. You're fine".

Five days later in a living room in south London we tackle the second half.

There's a protracted debate on line length somewhere around page 82 and an even longer debate on whether Poppy is being bitchy later on in the same scene (and consequently how bad my PMS was when I was writing it).

About this point I also have one of those wonderful moments when you realise that two of the characters are having a conversation about something totally different to what you thought they were talking about.

We reach the emtional climax of the play.

"You know what he needs to say..."

I pull the script up over my face, aware of the fact that I may cry. "Are you trying to break my heart?". I have, it is fair to say, become deeply fond of these characters.

"He has to".

And when he does I see something that I had never quite expected from Charlie. Sitting on a train to Leeds noting revisions, when I get to this section I have a little cry for him. And I realise in a flash that I am crying for Charlie, not for any connection to the starting point of this play. Which, maybe, was the place I needed to get to.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

This is what a feminist looks like

This is what a feminist looks like.

Sitting in the midst of 'An Evening With Sylvia Plath' (almost) at the Southbank Centre a couple of months ago, I joked about my feminism whilst Dean cowered at the sight of so many militant! short haired! probably braless! women in the one room (obviously, I would like it noted, that I didn't fit into that group). Because I do joke about my feminism in the same manner I joke about my Drama-Queen-ness, or my competitive-ness, or my general ridiculous-ness. And it is one of my many, many beliefs that I can buy a pair of stupidly high shoes that I can hardly walk in and still be a feminist.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, today it's 90 years since women (over 30) gained the right to vote in Britain. I don't need to stress how far we've come since then but there is no way I subscribe to the idea that we're now in a period of history which can neatly be labelled 'post feminism'. There is, as Katherine Rake's interview in the Guardian points out, still, even here in a supposedly enlightened Britain, some way to go.

So why am I a feminist?

On average, women in Britain working full time are paid 17% less than men. For part time workers this rises to 36% less.

Only 20% of MPs are women. There is only one female judge in the high court.

A woman is a slag. A man is simply playing around.

There is a frightening statistic suggested by the organisers of V-Day that, worldwide, one in three women will be subject to violence at some point in their lives. Amnesty International actively has a campaign against this very issue.

Government sponsored discrimination against women (Morroco, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia...I could go on) makes women unequal in the law.

Over the past two decades rape has routinely been used as a weapon of war, often with almost complete impunity.

Abortion laws and a woman's right to chose are becoming more and more precarious throughout the world.

And because on the web, with very little irony or self awareness, you can find sites actively suggesting that to be a feminist equates you to being evil. And they would term 'feminist' as being any woman (for in their world a man cannot be a feminist)who does not equate themselves with being a doormat.

So that is - to name just a few of the reasons - why I'm not afraid to use the 'f' word.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

And, yes, I was in my school choir

And, yes, I was in my school choir

I'm not sure if this is a 'List of Shame' moment (I'd have originally said not, but the jumper really isn't great) ...

Oh, I would.


That would be Gareth Malone of The Choir fame. And I'd forgotten how much of a crush I developed on him last time round. C'mon it's text book - he's a bit posh, plays the piano and has a social conscience.

Given that in someone's wisdom it has been decided to put his new series on a Friday evening (when I am, inevitably, out) thank the lord for BBC iplayer.

Friday, February 01, 2008

"Now, I'm relieved to hear/ That you've been to some far out places"

"Now, I'm relieved to hear/ That you've been to some far out places"

"It doesn't look too busy" I say as we pass the window, a female voice drifting out into the early evening sky. The beer garden too is deserted. This has to be a good sign.

We turn into the doorway, through the brick entrance, a couple of lonely smokers in the way and I realise instantly that I have made a mistake.

There is, as I'd seen, only a few people seated around the windows. Around what is the makeshift stage where a girl with a Kate Nash haircut is singing, however, there is the entire population of a small town. Say Bath, or Hastings, or Stratford. During the tourist season. A predominantly female tourist season small town. But a small town nonetheless.

More worryingly the spread of people is blocking the route to the bar. Suddenly abseiling the walls looks like a very real possibility.

Val looks at me. "Shall we try?"

Full of the spirit of adventure (and, erm, Champange) there is only one decision: "Let's go".

It is slow work, breathing in, pulling your limbs along, trying not to end up with a pint over your head. I realise that I am sharing the kind of proximity with these people that normally I reserve for floppy haired boys who can talk about Shakespeare.

"Don't they know" - I remove an elbow from my ear - "there's an expensive bag coming through!"

I hear the man in front of me laugh; he turns round.

"Are you paying with it?"

I make some sort of noise and continue with the hike.

When I eventually reach the bar they try to give me a malibu and coke. I do not begin to elaborate on how wrong they are.

Later, when I have drunk and bounced and Griffin has sung the abridged version of my record collection, one of the bar staff attempts the hike.

"Pregnant woman coming through!" he exclaims.

Mildly disgruntled I turn to Val -

"I think mine was more original".