Short plays of my life – #2: No Movement

Miniaturists 42: Arcola Theatre, 7th July 2013.

Apsley: Alexa Brown (@alexabrown)
Rayek: Frankie Meredith (@frankiemeredith)

Directed by Pamela Schermann (@PamelaSchermann)

A room in RAYEK’s house. RAYEK and APSLEY are sitting at a small table. On the table is a blank sheet of paper. On the blank sheet of paper is a pen. They are both gazing at it. RAYEK is in the early stages of a degenerative neurological condition. APSLEY is just doing what they’ve been told. Under the table is a bowl.

A very long pause while both of them stare at the pen. APSLEY starts to fidget slightly.

RAYEK
You alright?

APSLEY
What?

RAYEK
Are you alright? You’re… shuffling around…

APSLEY
Yeah, yeah, I fine thanks, I’m…

Pause.

RAYEK
Do you need the loo?

APSLEY
(points upwards) Is it…?

RAYEK
Second on the left.

APSLEY stands and makes to leave, then turns back.

APSLEY
Sorry, um, what are we going to do if it moves?

Pause.

RAYEK
It is not going to move.

APSLEY
I’ve got to account for it, I can’t go back and be like, ‘oh actually, there was this time when I went for a- a wee, and the client said that nothing happened and I just took their word for it’. I can’t do that.

RAYEK
Well… has your phone got a camera?

APSLEY
Yeah, yeah it has, that’s a good idea. (pulls out phone, fiddles to open video function) Right, okay, cool, got it. (pause) Just a sec, sorry, never used the video before.

RAYEK
Have you got enough battery?

APSLEY
Um… how much do I need?

RAYEK
I’ve no idea, it’s your phone. (pause) Has it got at least half power?

APSLEY
Yeah.

RAYEK
That’ll be fine, just, you know, be quick.

APSLEY
Yeah, sure… hang on.

APSLEY faces the camera – prepares.

APSLEY
Right, it’s… three fifty-three pm on… Friday 17th… I’m, I’m at the client’s property, just finishing the assessment. I have to… step away, for a minute, and the client’s kindly agreed to help me with this part of the assessment while I do that, so… I’ll just hand over now.

Hands the phone over, awkwardly.

APSLEY
I have to say ‘the client’, it’s for confidentiality/

RAYEK
/yeah, yeah, I know.

APSLEY
You got it?

RAYEK
Yep.

APSLEY
In the frame? Am I in the frame as well, so they know I/

RAYEK
/yes, yes you are, can we…

APSLEY
Yeah, sorry… second on the left?

RAYEK
Yes!

APSLEY exits. RAYEK holds the phone, pointing the camera at the pen. Arms start to wobble. Props the phone on the table. This is better but it’s still a struggle. It’s entering the realms of physical pain when APSLEY re-enters.

APSLEY
Right, okay, sorry about that. Anything?

RAYEK
No.

APSLEY
You were trying weren’t you, I mean, we talked about/

RAYEK
/please take the phone.

APSLEY
Yeah, sorry.

Takes the phone, talks into the camera.

APSLEY
Okay, it’s… three fifty-five and I’m now back and… refreshed. Client reports no movement and I will review this on return to the Centre.

Saves film, puts phone away. Pause.

APSLEY
Course if you need to go to the loo, go ahead, you know…

RAYEK
Thanks.

APSLEY
I’m happy to video that.

RAYEK
Thanks, but I won’t be going anywhere.

APSLEY
Yeah, but, if you need to.

RAYEK
No. I won’t.

APSLEY
(laughs) If you gotta go, you gotta go.

RAYEK
I don’t trust you.

APSLEY
Oh… I want you to know that you can.

RAYEK
Thanks. I don’t.

APSLEY
Um… well, that’s, um… that’s a shame. (pause) Is there anything I can do to make you/

RAYEK
/disappear.

Pause.

APSLEY
You mean, like, leave?

RAYEK
If you want. Or stop existing, it’s all good.

APSLEY
I find that quite aggressive, and/

RAYEK suddenly retches, grabs under the table for the bowl and vomits into it.

APSLEY
Okay, no problem…

RAYEK
Thanks.

Pause.

APSLEY
It’s only a couple more minutes, I need to go at four so I can get back to the Centre.

RAYEK
Centre’s only fifteen minutes on the bus from here.

APSLEY
Yeah, yeah I know, but/

RAYEK
/Friday though/

APSLEY
/yeah/

RAYEK
/you want to knock off early.

Pause.

APSLEY
I wouldn’t move the pen about or anything. If you had to step away.

RAYEK
I don’t care. I don’t care what you might specifically do, I just don’t want you here by yourself. You could just make anything up if I’m not around to dispute it.

APSLEY
I want to assure you that wouldn’t happen in an assessment/

RAYEK
Yeah, you see, you also assured me that the assessment procedures would be reasonable.

APSLEY
Yes, and/

RAYEK
/you’re checking whether I can write using just my mind. (pause) You’re checking whether I’m… Superman, or…

APSLEY
Professor X.

RAYEK
Excuse me?

APSLEY
It’s Professor X. The one who’s psychic, um, who can…

RAYEK
The one who’s telekinetic?

APSLEY
Yeah.

RAYEK
You’re checking whether or not I’m telekinetic. (pause) Why do you think I’d be telekinetic?

Pause.

APSLEY
Well, with the senses, like, blind people get really good hearing, so…

Pause.

RAYEK
Go on.

Pause.

APSLEY
So if you… right, if you… you might get… (waves hands around head)

RAYEK
What does that mean?

APSLEY
Um, what bit?

RAYEK
Any of it.

Pause.

APSLEY
Look, I have to demonstrate, okay, that that’s the case, I really, REALLY have to demonstrate that that’s the situation. Before five. That’s what I have.

RAYEK
Right. And is this everything you can think of to do? You’re not going to start a fire so I rescue a child from a burning building with… with whatever I’ve got?

APSLEY
No…

RAYEK
Why not? Coz you want to knock off early?

APSLEY
No, because it’s fucking…

Pause.

RAYEK
It’s after four now.

APSLEY
Shit, how much?

RAYEK shrugs.

APSLEY
(packing up) Well, I think that’s all of the assessment, that was really helpful, thank you, you should have the results back in about two working weeks.

RAYEK
Don’t I need to sign it off?

APSLEY
Um, you can probably/

RAYEK
/I’d like to sign it off.

APSLEY
(sighs) Okay…

APSLEY fumbles for and produces a long form and the pen, pushes both across the table to RAYEK.

APSLEY
It’s just the last bit, on the back.

RAYEK
(starts to flick through the form) I know, I’m just checking the rest of it.

APSLEY
We’ve done the rest of it.

RAYEK
I won’t sign it.

Pause. RAYEK keeps flicking through the form. APSLEY waiting impatiently.

RAYEK
That looks fine. Can we do the last bit?

APSLEY
Last bit?

RAYEK
Where you thought I might be Professor X.

APSLEY
Well, just sign it off at the bottom and I can fill that in at the Centre.

Pause. RAYEK doesn’t move.

APSLEY
Okay, right…

APSLEY scribbles frantically on the form – eventually finishes and pushes it towards RAYEK, who reads slowly.

RAYEK
Your handwriting’s awful.

APSLEY
Yeah, yeah…

RAYEK
Might as well do it with your brain if it’s going to be like this…

Pause while RAYEK finishes. RAYEK looks up and then stares at the pen again.

APSLEY
What are you doing?

RAYEK
Just one more go. Can’t hurt.

RAYEK picks up the pen and signs the form. APSLEY takes it briskly away.

APSLEY
Thank you. I appreciate your time today.

RAYEK
Your pen.

APSLEY
Keep it, it’s fine.

RAYEK
It makes me sad.

APSLEY
Throw it away then.

RAYEK
It’s a perfectly good pen. Maybe they’ll think you’ve nicked it.

APSLEY snatches the pen back.

APSLEY
Thank you for your time today.

RAYEK
There’s usually a feedback form, can I have a feedback form?

APSLEY
Sorry, I don’t have any.

RAYEK
Can you email me one?

APSLEY
Yes.

RAYEK
Have you got my email address?

APSLEY
We’ve got your phone number, if we don’t have your email address then I’ll call you. Okay?

Pause.

RAYEK
That’s fine. See you later.

APSLEY
It might be me who gets back to you, it might be one of my colleagues.

Pause.

RAYEK
I’ll see you later.

End.

[Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this play and would like to stage it yourself, please do drop me a line – it would just be nice to know.]

Short plays of my life – #1: Earplugs

Miniaturists 34: Arcola Theatre, 25th March 2012.

Rice: Harrie Hayes (@harriehayes)
Hope: Monty Burgess (@montyburgess)

Directed by Katharine Armitage (@ksarmitage)

RICE sitting at a table, upon which is an unseen bed cradle which lifts a section of the cloth away from the table top (although in production a shoebox will suffice). RICE is drinking a cup of tea and cradling a shopping bag with a number of metallic-sounding, heavy items inside. RICE looks a little awkward – this is not their house.

It is HOPE’s house. HOPE is sitting opposite RICE under heavy sedation and appears very drunk. One of HOPE’s hands reaches under the bed cradle, hidden from the audience, but visible to RICE. RICE smiles awkwardly – a pause.

HOPE
Why… why don’t you do this in hospitals? I mean… that seems like the obvious place… for this kind of thing.

RICE
Well, I think there was a policy decision, that maybe, someone in your situation might prefer to have the procedure in a more familiar and comfortable environment. I can see where they were coming from, I mean, it’s not very nice thing, at the end of the day, so/

HOPE
/I’d rather have it in hospital. No one likes going to hospital, might as well be… consistent.

RICE
I know, yeah, yeah, I know. But I think also the hospitals didn’t like it. They didn’t like us there – doing this.

HOPE
Are you not a doctor then?

RICE
Me? No…

HOPE
Shouldn’t you be? I’d have thought it was essential.

RICE
We get… training. It’s actually quite simple, as it goes. And you’ll get a nurse come around for follow-up checks, make sure you don’t get gangrene or anything.

Pause.

HOPE
Awesome.

Pause.

RICE
That was very nice tea, thank you.

HOPE
You’re welcome. Thought I might as well make it a good’un.

RICE smiles awkwardly – moves the bag under the bed cradle and manipulates some of the things inside.

RICE
How are you feeling?

HOPE
I feel… like a little confused brain hovering above everything. Like I could just take off and fly about except there’s a forcefield keeping me here for some reason. Bastard forcefields.

RICE
(smiles) That’s what we want. (clink) Can you feel that?

HOPE
Feel what? (grins) Ha-ha, funny.

RICE
Funny is good. Can you tell me a joke you like?

HOPE
Actually, yes, yes, yes, I can, there’s a pub, and the barman’s setting up, he’s literally just opened for the day, and in comes this guy, he’s like, fifty, sixty years old, big wiry hair and staring eyes, wearing nothing but a dressing gown and slippers and he staggers over to the bar and gasps ‘double whisky please’, barman pours him the double whisky, old fella gulps it down and says ‘give me another one’, barman pours another drink, guy drinks it, ‘one more’ he says, barman pours it out, guy drinks it, this is three double whiskies in, like, a minute, barman’s a bit concerned, thinks he’s just about to collapse, the old fella says ‘ooooooh, I shouldn’t have had that with what I’ve got’, ‘what have you got?’ the barman says, and the old fella says ‘80p’.
(chuckles, then laughs loudly a few times)
I LOVE that! It’s only funny because it’s eighty pee, if it’s not eighty pee it’s not remotely funny. Whatcha doin?

RICE
At the moment, I’m pushing the tip of my scalpel right under your middle fingernail.
(pause)
Can you feel anything?

HOPE
A bit sick, to be honest.

RICE
That’s only because I’ve just told you about it.

HOPE
Yeah yeah, psychmacology, whatever – what’s your favourite joke?

RICE
(clink)
My favourite? God, erm…
(clink)
Actually it’s another man walking into a bar, I don’t have to tell it.

HOPE
Do it, men in bars are the funniest thing ever, clearly.

RICE
Alright. It’s basically your joke. Opening time, barman’s setting up and so on, barmaid at the bar, she’s fairly new. Man walks through the door, goes over to the wall, up the wall, across the ceiling, down the other wall and over to the bar. ‘Small brandy, please’, he says to the barmaid…
(extended wet slicing)
…she’s pretty baffled but she gives him his brandy, puts the money in the till…
(more slicing)
…there we go… she puts the money in the till, he drinks his brandy down, then walks over to the wall, up the wall, across the ceiling, down the other wall and out of the door. The barmaid turns to the barman and says, ‘that man was unusual, wasn’t he?’ The barman nods and says ‘Absolutely – normally he walks across the floor’.
(pause)
I like jokes like that, that aren’t actually jokes. Maybe I’m a bit weird.

HOPE
No, I, I, I like that one. I do.

RICE
You don’t have to, it’s fine.

HOPE
You’re in charge.

RICE
I’m not in charge, just doing what I do.

HOPE
Do you do a lot of these?

RICE
These in particular or just generally?

HOPE
Generally.

RICE
This year so far I’ve done a hundred and seven.

Pause.

HOPE
I don’t know whether or not that’s a lot or not. I’ll come back to you.

RICE
Thanks.

HOPE
You’re welcome.

RICE
Don’t think about it too much.

HOPE
You’re ever so nice.

RICE
Well, there’s no point being horrible about it, doesn’t help it get done.

HOPE
Yeah but I voted for it, I thought you’d have a hood and a hairy chest and stuff, and a, an axe the size of a person, but it turns out you’re lovely! I ran over a kid and, and you haven’t judged me once the whole time I’ve been here, I think that’s awesome. That’s quality impartiality.
(snip)
Even now, with the, the tendon…
(snip)
They could give you earplugs.
(snip)
If they can pump me up with painkillers and happy then I don’t see why a couple of earplugs would go amiss.

RICE
The drugs are mainly to protect me, not you. In case you take exception. Plus what what you learn if you were out cold all the way through?
(snip)
Also, you wouldn’t have heard my favourite joke.

HOPE
And I thought today would really suck.

RICE
Nah, that’s supposed to be/

HOPE
/the rest of my life, I know.

RICE
Sorry, I just have to, um…

HOPE
Yeah, yeah, do what you like.

A series of squelchy, cracking noises as RICE levers into the bones of HOPE’s wrist.

HOPE
Doesn’t want to go, does it?

RICE
They never do.

HOPE
Do you think it knows what’s it going to miss out on?

RICE doesn’t reply.

Pop.

RICE
There we are. All done.

HOPE
Great. That’s great. I mean, it’s not like a weight was lifted or anything, it’s… it’s still there, I still feel like a prick, but… yeah, feels real. Good stuff.
(pause)
Do I get to keep it? Or do you need it for your records?

RICE
Um.

HOPE
That was a joke. Sure there’s a procedure or something.
(pause)
Can I ask a weird question?

RICE
There are no weird questions.

HOPE
Was I being filmed? Just then? Have you got a camera on you, hidden somewhere?

RICE
What made you think of that?

HOPE
The thing is, you go to all the trouble of coming out here to my house, making me feel comfortable. I’ve had a great… an experience, but… there doesn’t seem a lot of point if it’s just you and me see it happen. You know? I mean, the family’s got to get something, not just the knowledge, the knowledge means fuck all, they need to feel you’ve gone out on a limb (pause – short nervous laugh) on a limb for them too. Right? That’s what I always thought would happen. That’s what I thought should happen. Isn’t that what they need?
(pause)
Have you met them, do you/

RICE
/no, no, that’s another one, that’s someone else. Different teams. Different skills.
(pause)
I just need to bandage you up now.

RICE bandages HOPE’s hand under the cloth.

RICE
Nurse’ll be in in a bit. Clear up, give you all your jabs. Nice clean one that, you did well.

HOPE
Oh fuck…

Pause.

HOPE
I’m sorry. I’m so so sorry.
(pause)
If… if I do something else, something that’s as bad, does it go on? Until I’m… I’m just a lump?

RICE
I’ve never done it on the same person twice. Not that I know. I’m not exactly sure what the procedure is. To be honest, I imagine you’d probably go to prison – wouldn’t be much fun with… yeah.

HOPE
Can I keep it? Serious question now.

Pause.

RICE
Once it’s… off, it’s not legally a part of your body any more. It’s an output. There are processes of verification we need to do – to confirm it’s yours. And then, yes, yes, I suppose you can write- you can request to have it back, like Freedom of Information. I can’t see why that would be a problem.

Pause.

HOPE
Thanks. Handy.

Pause.

RICE
Well, you take care now. Nurse’ll be in to tidy up.

RICE exits. Slow fade on HOPE.

[Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this play and would like to stage it yourself, please do drop me a line – it would just be nice to know.]

A Ghost Story for Christmas

The thing is… I never saw it. The ghost. Everyone expected it to be haunted coz it was a big old school, but that wasn’t how it was. Dad bought it to do it up, sell off the flats. It was when his company was just starting out so we all moved into a bit of it. It saved money, probably.

My bedroom was on the first floor, it was, it was the deputy headmaster’s office. In the summer holidays I’d be in my room, about three o’clock, doing, I dunno, playing SNES, and then the swing door outside at the end of the corridor would go, and usually that wasn’t weird because the workmen were there or my family or whoever. Only sometimes there weren’t any footsteps, nothing coming down the corridor. I’d just stop in the middle of MarioKart and go over to the door, it had frosted glass in the top half so the deputy head could see who was outside. I’d go over to the door and listen for who was coming down, I could tell people by how they walked on the floor, the workmen always had these massive boots, but I couldn’t hear anything. But… then I could hear these little tiny steps. Dragging.

It wasn’t anyone in my family, not even my sister. It was… it was a kid. This kid coming really slowly down the corridor towards my room.

And just, just before he got to the door he stopped, the footsteps stopped, like, a foot or two from the door.
And I went to put my head out and there was this… this little boy’s tired little sigh. And I looked out and there was nothing there. Just nothing.

It’d be like once or twice a month. Always I felt… I, I knew him, I knew this kid somehow, he was this sad little boy who kept getting in trouble and sent to the deputy head’s office. And he’d died, I dunno when or how but he’d died some time and this was, this was what his life had been, mainly… poor little kid.

I wasn’t, I didn’t feel scared for some reason, so I never mentioned him at first. And then, this one day I just mentioned him during dinner, someone was talking about something else and I just thought it was relevant. And everyone was staring at me, my sister was giggling and my mum had just gone white and my dad said ‘well… that’s very unusual – we might have to talk about this again at some point’. But we didn’t.

My dad got this guy in, Mr Akindolie, and he was a priest. And they’d… they’d just wander around the house, him and my dad. And they were looking for this kid, obviously, finding out where he hung around and… I knew they were going to get rid of him. Mr Akindolie was, he was lovely he was smiley and sweet and he played little games with my sister and he told these stories during dinner and… and all the time he and my dad were thinking ‘right, how we can we do something about this’. Coz… coz my dad wanted to do the place up and then sell it and he knew that if it’s haunted and he knows and he doesn’t tell anyone then then then, I dunno, the estate agents kick up a fuss because that can affect the value of the house, so he had, he had to at least be seen to be doing something about it. By getting rid of him.

We, um, we had a kind of, I dunno, party or something the night they, Mr Akindolie, the night he was going to do the exorcism. My sister did a little painting and I… I made him, the kid… I wrote something. Just a letter saying I hope that he goes somewhere nice and… where he’s not in trouble all the time.

We, that’s my mum and me and my sister, we all stayed downstairs while Mr Akindolie and my dad, they went upstairs to outside my room to, to get rid of him. And, and we played board games and we had crisps and sweets, and not all of the board games worked because we needed four players and there were only three of us and my sister never, but we were staying up late, you know, shit-hot.

And then, then after about, I dunno an hour or so there was this massive, fucking massive crash like a cupboard had fallen over and I ran out, my mum was frantic but she didn’t move, looking after my sister, and I ran out and up the stairs and I just crash right into my dad at the top and he grabs me and says ‘it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s all okay, just back down now’…

And past him, down the corridor, outside my room, there’s Mr Akindolie, wearing, what’s it, called, the purple scarf, on his knees, I can see his lips moving, his eyes are closed… and there’s nothing else there, nothing else there at all, except, well, except this little black wispy thing in the air just for a second. And I’m trying to look past my dad at what’s going on when this noise goes through my head, this ‘nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn’ just like after there’s been an explosion and my ears start to hurt and I feel really sick then I’m screaming in pain but no sound’s coming out and my dad’s carrying me downstairs and…

I woke up in the front room. Dad’s there and Mum and… and he’s stroking my hair and telling me it’s alright and they’re really happy that I’m okay… and then he says it’s alright again, everything’s sorted out.

And I went out, I needed the loo, I went out and… and Mr Akindolie is sitting on the stairs… and I catch his eye. He looks so tired, so tired and old, he’s not happy and funny any more, it’s all gone. He looks at me and says, I don’t know if he can even tell it’s me, but he looks at me…

‘We did a bad thing’, he says. ‘A bad thing we did. Because he was scared and lonely, that’s all he was… sad little boy. He didn’t want to go. He did no harm. And now… oh God, boy’, and he just grabs me then, he grabs me and he holds me into his chest, he smells of sweat and, and… and just quivering, his belly’s wobbling like he’s ill.

‘Oh God’, he says, ‘he was screaming in fear, his face, it was like a demon, a demon in front of me, his face splitting with fear,

I, I can’t do this properly, we just kicked him out and…’ and he grabs my face in his hands and pulls me up to look in his face and his eyes are veiny and yellow, they’re like, they’re like bad apples,

‘Hell is a real place’, he says, ‘Hell is a real, real place and we’ and I’m not thinking, I just say, ‘no, you did’.

‘You did’.

Then I, pulled away from him and went for a piss.

Mr Akindolie, he… he never came back. He sent us cards at Christmas. But never to us, he never put our names in, he just said ‘to you all’. And then they stopped after a few years so i guess he’d died.

And I, I sat there in my room for a few days afterwards, just with the computer off and listening. And the door didn’t go, and no one was in the corridor, and nobody sighed.
You know, if you’ve ever put your head down a drain you can just feel it cold and wet and there’s just

 

 

 

nothing

(Duncan Gates, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doctorin’ the Class War

This time next year there will be a new Doctor Who, and there is (rightly) a lot of support for the new Doctor being something other than:

  • Male
  • White
  • Both

Proper intersectional diversity goes a lot further than this, though, and the thing I’d like to talk about right now is class.

British people fucking love class because it’s intangible, and also fucking hate it because it’s intangible. Your class can change without you realising or intending, and like any form of social grouping, if you benefit from it, you can become absolutely convinced it doesn’t exist, and that the world is a meritocracy or some shit.

With all this in mind, you might perhaps expect a white, male, British cultural icon whose species has the word ‘Lord’ in its name to embody class quite strongly, but I did some research and it got interesting.

Out of 13 Doctors thus far:

9 seem to have had no post-school higher education at all before drama school, if at all.

2 went to further ed/uni before drama school (Ecclestone at Salford Tech, Smith at UEA).

2 (Hurt and Capaldi) went to art school.

Now this isn’t that unusual considering that uni attendance wasn’t a given before, say, the 90s, and of course it’s a blunt instrument. It’s probably also worth noting that Jon Pertwee got kicked out of RADA for exactly the sort of hilarious jerk activity you’d want someone to get kicked of RADA for.

However, the Doctors’ secondary education makes it doubly interesting:

Comprehensive – 4

Grammar – 4

Independent – 2 (Pertwee, notching several pre-RADA expulsions, and Colin Baker, who then trained as a solicitor, which I find weirdly unsurprising)

Boarding school – 2 (Troughton and Tom Baker, whose boarding school experience as a working-class Scouse kid was so amazing he went off to be a monk)

None – 1 (Hartnell, who by the standards of any era, had it tough)

Now, I’m not impartial, but this kinda says to me that the average Doctor actor is a middle or working class people operating in a world of greater wealth/privilege/etc than they are accustomed to. Even when definitively upper-class, or in receipt of these sorts of advantages, they tend to reject them. They carry around the idea that they need to be accessible, which you only truly appreciate if you’ve experienced the sort of arbitrary inaccessibility that class throws up.

And of course this makes total sense, because Time Lords are a powerful, deeply-class-entrenched group, who eschew intervention to preserve an idea of ‘balance’ that only exists for those who fear their privilege might come under threat – all of which the Doctor defines themself by openly defying. It’s an act of class war, one that culturally defines the character more profoundly than any outward appearance.

The end of the white dude is, of course, sorely overdue. But whatever happens, it mustn’t affect the Doctor’s status as Time’s greatest Class Warrior.

 

A conversation with the 2016 George Devine Award

The George Devine Award is a £15,000 prize for writing stage plays. It doesn’t really have much in the way of entry criteria, except for this year, when this happened:

Screenshot_502

This is how I imagine the conversation leading up to that caveat went:

-You know what’s just THE WORST?

-Uh… the Zika virus?

-No silly, reading plays written by strangers.

-It’s not THAT bad though, is it?

-Dude, when you run a playwriting competition it’s pretty much the worst thing that can possibly happen.

-Surely it comes with the territory, as it were.

-Yeah but the problem is that although obviously some of them are quite good, some of them are also really shit.

-Isn’t that what makes the running of an industry award varied and exciting?

-Well, sort-of, but I’d find it a lot more varied and exciting if we actually got sent *less* plays that were *better*.

-Okay. How are you defining ‘better’?

-Well obviously it’s quite subjective, but I’d say anyone who’s already either won a different industry prize, or had a play produced by a well-known theatre.

-That doesn’t sound like very many people…

-No, but it means that the UK theatre industry, which as we all know is the closest mankind has come to a pure meritocracy, will have done the hard work already. Let’s face it, all the best plays get put on, and the ones that don’t get put on must obviously not be very good.

-That makes no sense whatsoever.

-It does if you *believe* it does.

-But if that were true, then no new writing would ever be discovered. There’s always a stage in a writer’s life when their work hasn’t yet been performed and they’re not well-known, that’s how artistic development works. And that also pre-supposes that society has LITERALLY NO STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS AT ALL which would distort the level playing field that everybody notionally starts from. Isn’t this fundamentally just an ‘Oz-the-Great-and-Powerful’-style smokescreen to encourage reverence and awe amongst the stupid?

[PAUSE]

-It does if you *believe* it d/

-[SIGH] Oh well it’s your playwriting award I guess, you can restrict the entrants to whoever you like.

-/oh not at all! We won’t STOP anyone from entering. We’re not idiots. Like you say, that would mean we’d get so few plays the award would lose credibility, and we’d look exactly like one of the structural problems that UK theatre doesn’t have.

-So… what are you going to do?

-We’ll just put an FYI on the entry information that anyone is welcome to take part, but that unless you’ve already been recognised by the industry in some way then really it’d be a bit of a waste of your time. And, more importantly, ours.

-Oh yeah, I see what you mean, like the warnings they give minor-league teams entering the FA Cup, or athletes trying to qualify for the Olympics? ‘Before you try to establish a reputation or career, think of how annoying you’ll be for the gatekeepers?’

-Exactly!

-Yeah, they don’t actually do that. God knows the FA and the IOC have their own problems, but at least they recognise that inclusivity and ‘taking part’ are hugely important in building a grassroots culture of sustainability and respect.

-That sounds like so much effort though…

-It probably is, but that’s why people like sport more than theatre. And it sounds like you can’t even make the effort to specifically ‘not care’ about it. That kind of attitude would make me think twice about submitting anything to you.

-I’d be fine with that – unless you were already known in the industry, and then it’d be a bit embarrassing and I’d make it very clear that you were welcome.

-Although… actually… if I, a mere nobody, sent an entry, you’d have to spend at least a *little* bit of time looking at it, wouldn’t you?

-Officially, yes.

-So if I was feeling vindictive (and, mind you, still acting within the entry guidelines) the most annoying thing I could do (as per the very start of this conversation) would be to refuse to be intimidated, and keep sending you my ‘probably-dogshit’ plays anyway? If only because winning an award and £15 grand would be pretty sweet?

-I might think a little less of you.

-Yeah but who cares what you think of my work? You’re obviously a bit of a wanker, right?

– Right!

[HIGH-FIVE]

-Also, when you’re putting your little ‘caveat’ on, do try to write the sentence properly, no need for you to look like more of a dickhead than is absolutely necessary. And happy 50th birthday.

The Art of Killing

**spoilers ahoy**

 

So, Face the Raven happened, and the general consensus seems to be that it was quite good even if you didn’t like Clara. To be honest, I think that Clara ended up doing pretty okay a lot of the time for someone who started literally as a plot device, but even if you disagree, her death worked.

 

Inasmuch as she’s had a consistent character (and god knows she hasn’t), her decision that she could deus-ex-machina the shit of a life-or-death situation fits very well. Plus, if you’ve always hated her  as someone often operating outside of narratives instead of as a character within them, then it makes even more sense. It’s like Clara always knew she was created from a Big Bang of crappy dramatism, so that’s what she generally brought to the stories, even if it didn’t really work. Imagine the last time you were in a large conversation and realised with horror that everyone had insight to contribute apart from you, so you said what seemed like the most relevant thing and everyone just stared. Much of the time that was Clara’s ‘companion-life’, and we were the ones staring, feeling bad for her but also wishing she’d go away so we could stop feeling bad for her, because it’s effort and we wanted to have a good time.

 

Yeah, she’s the 21st century Adric.

 

It’s probably best to follow the link if you don’t know about Adric and want further details, but suffice to say he was generally felt to exist on a spectrum from ‘unengaging’ to ‘piss-clown’. And then he died. Nobody specifically travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor had died since the 60s (Katarina and Sara Kingdom), and even then their tenure was so short that the established show mythology sort of stumbles apologetically over them, so when you first watch his swansong episode it hits you like a pickaxe. However, once you watch Earthshock with that knowledge,  it changes from a hokey, plot-holey mess held together by cobwebs and unicorn dreams to a bunch of silly action serving a higher purpose – to basically sum up this poor guy that everyone just wants rid of, and give them, with sobriety and dramatic consistency, what they want.

 

In the link above, an unpopular companion goes to their death with their eyes open, knowing it’s a potentially awful idea, but totally reliant on their own talent and brilliance to save themselves – sound familiar?

 

The point of the comparison is that THIS, dramatists, is how you kill characters. They’ve got to die in a way that makes sense. It’s why colossal bodycounts or supporting characters created entirely to be tragic aren’t very moving. They’re the most basic representation of ‘how artists elicit sympathy’, with the hilarious consequence that it appears either cynically manipulative or the viewer disengages entirely and ends up enjoying it on a visceral level.

 

Earthshock and Face the Raven avoid this because they actually think about how the character is most likely to bring about their own downfall, and much as we might claim to enjoy watching this, we don’t. We don’t really enjoy watching another person destroyed by their personality, because that’s probably how we’re going to go out as well, and the only way to avoid/delay it is to properly examine ourselves and learn from mistakes and change, and that’s hard. Even if we succeed, fate might be capricious and grotesque, or we might end up so very stuck in the cleft stick of a world bigger than us that we simply don’t have the power to choose how we die. And then we’ll never know if we were right. Or brave.

Make Plays More Interesting With This One Simple Trick…

I’ve decided that at the start of every script I write, I’m going to insert the instruction below:

The names of characters and locations used in this play are reflective of nothing more than my own cultural experience. They should not be held as an integral or inviolable part of the work, and can be changed according to whatever context the play is being performed in, and whoever is performing it. All possessive pronouns can be adjusted accordingly. Please enjoy yourselves.

This is why:

  • I’m white, male, straight, middle-class, cis and able-bodied. However aware of this I am, it’s almost certainly going to reflect in my writing, in the way my characters interact with the world I create. This needs counteracting because it’s one of the more pernicious reasons why so much of the industry looks the same.
  • I don’t think the onus should always be on the writer to create meaning. It’s how we got to the current stage of over-reverence towards ‘the text as written’, aka the best-known way to be a boring dramatist. It reduces the ability of directors, producers, etc to look at the name ‘John’ and make assumptions
  • …because in my particular case, character names don’t really have any meaning. They’re placeholders, a way of distinguishing one emotionally-complex human from another. In real life, first names and surnames are essentially arbitrary, and throwing them around like every day is a new establishing scene sounds utterly bizarre. Give it a go, it’s easier to follow than you might think.
  • I don’t want anyone to pick up a play of mine and go ‘bloody hell, we can’t do this, it’s too [SEE MY DEMOGRAPHIC ABOVE]’. I can’t do anything about how I am. I was raised in Worcestershire by parents born in Kent and Berkshire. I couldn’t be more powerfully Middle-England if I was bitten by a radioactive conservatory. I don’t know why anyone else should feel self-conscious about what they are, and I don’t want them to feel like that. I want them to feel like the world will acknowledge them and make them feel part of it.
  • It’s theatre – it’s important to enjoy yourself.