Category Archives: Review

Sorry for the planes

Adler & Gibb – further thinking

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What are we all doing in a theatre? – Karl James

 

I get many emails from unfamiliar email addresses containing links that I am asked to download. I got several of those emails yesterday, and actually downloaded one of them – when I realised it was from one of the directors of Adler & Gibb. I got a personal podcast! Trust this lot to even use our daily communication method in innovative ways. In my personal podcast, Karl James, against a background of airplanes, thanks me for my piece about their piece and talks about why the film.

Now I’m not a proper critic or anything, but I think it’s a good thing for artists to answer reviews and start conversations, and I enjoy imagining Billington also receiving a personal podcast, perhaps with the sound of lobsters growling gently in the background.

So this prolongs my thinking about the piece, and particularly the film. It can’t change my experience of that part of the night, but it can change my mind now, or make me think more now, and the only theatre experiences I like are the ones that I don’t forget about when I leave. Getting stuck on something means I’ve still got some part of the play to work on, it stops the evening stopping at the end of the night. Perhaps theatre is better when there’s a part of it we choke on.

So I got that the film clearly wasn’t the film that Louise made, and I also didn’t forget that Adler & Gibb are not real and theatre is not real and therefore what I’m being shown is not the ‘real’ place but a version of an imagined one.

Nobody’s right, nobody’s wrong, so we wanted to put some images up and make a theatre into a cinema for a few minutes and to ask some more questions about what it is we do when we are sitting watching something together and whether anybody’s version is a valid one or whether anybody’s version is an invalid one. So it’s meant as a provocation I suppose. (Karl James – transcribed from podcast)

If theatre’s default position is authoritative then what Crouch, James and Smith do from the beginning is play with that position. But when the film comes on (it’s only a few minutes long by the way)… in spite of the fact I knew it was a version of an imagined place, the concrete gesture of it seemed to be trying to enforce the ‘reality’ of the imagined place, trying to say, look, you got it right, here it is…it felt like it was there to reward the audience for our hard work up until then, and I didn’t want that reward … it didn’t, at that stage anyway, make me think about versions or the value of rendering images, but it did demonstrate how much better theatre is at those things.

Perhaps I needed something else in the film, to allow me to think about it rather than reject it. Perhaps I needed a glimpse of a child operating a light or a camera in the background. Perhaps I needed to see the script of Adler & Gibb lying around. The film seemed so flat and final, but perhaps that’s part of the point…

Andrew Cowie responded to my piece about the piece and I like the way he saw the film, the journey from the exposing of the mechanics of theatre all the way to the supposed realism of film… funnily enough (or typically) Andrew Cowie justifies/explains the film with more certainty than Karl James – one of those examples of how, once the work is made, it belongs to the audience …. Cowie’s description does make me think differently about it. Makes me think differently but not (retrospectively) feel differently. I think Tim Crouch’s work is often a great collaboration between asking us to think and just letting us respond, in a more unquestioning, childlike way. I get delighted by the work, like a child, I want to be delighted all the way until the end and being interrupted makes me grumpy. What do we value from theatre? Thought provocation or emotional engagement or entertainment? I guess that was Brecht’s question.  … Or all three.

I took the first half of the show to be a critique of ‘realness’; how we’ve constructed an entire actor training industry to teach actors what they already knew as children, how we’ve got used to seeing realistic sets and props when in fact any real object can represent any fictional object when you place it in the theatrical frame, or when you play with it as a child, and how representation has supplanted its source to the extent that even the Margaret Gibb character starts to care about how she’ll look in the film. But having set up film as the enemy of imagination the film itself lingered over all those peripheral details the first half rejected as non-essential; the torn wallpaper, the leaking roof, the empty room and, with no actors, no action and no dialogue, we start to make stories out of it so maybe film doesn’t dull the imagination, it stimulates it differently.

So I saw the film as the continuation of the rest of the show; starting with actors facing the audience with no action or vocal inflection, then progressing through movement and expressive acting to realistic props and a representational stage set and then, via ‘live’ mediated video transmission, as per NTLive, to arrive at the logical conclusion: remove the actors altogether and just show the objects, followed by the last remaining, and utterly fake, live performance left to actors, the awards show. (Andrew Cowie, blog reply)

In my piece about the piece I wax lyrical about the images I could see in my imagination, and how I didn’t want them replacing. In his message to me Karl mentions responses to The Author, that audience members would say ‘how dare you put images in my head’ – even though there were no images on stage. With this I was saying ‘how dare you take images out of my head’, as Karl said, it proves the power of the theatre and of an audience to construct images.

The girl giving the lecture about Adler was trying to guess what her audience wanted and broke her script to ask, and couldn’t believe that getting the tattoo wasn’t enough, that her audience weren’t seeing the value of an unsigned napkin, and were just watching passively rather than applauding her for all her work.

 

Audiences are hard. What the hell do they want?

 

What are we all doing in a theatre?

 

Thinking breathing worrying
(it’s a large plastic lobster)
not watching the telly or checking email
building a sandcastle
watching a child lying in a grave
there’s a little boy just standing there
what’s he doing? He’s looking at us
and the deer disappears.

 

Actually I don’t think audiences are so hard. I agree with Karl & collaborators, that audiences like to work things out, and like to be surprised, and like work that doesn’t explain itself right from the beginning. The only problem at the moment is that a few (‘important’?) critics really don’t like that kind of work and when this kind of work is talked about in a particular way it can put off audiences and that makes theatres cautious about programming it. But it’s important that theatre gets to evolve just like every other artform, and audiences shouldn’t be underestimated.

There are viewers, listeners and readers who use whatever resources of interpretation and intertextual connection they can lay their hands on to create their own, new interpreations and connections. (Theo van Leeuwen, Speech, Music, Sound.)

It was delightful to receive Karl’s thoughts, and in his words, this is ‘a starting point for conversation rather than an end in itself.’

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Adler & Gibb

by Tim Crouch

directed by Tim Crouch, Karl James & Andy Smith

At the Royal Court until 5th July

Amelda Brown as Gibb

Amelda Brown as Gibb. Johan Persson

For me, form is a uniquely contemporary expression. Form talks about “now” – about how we are and how we communicate to each other. It can speak more forcefully than the stories it contains. It is theatre’s loss not to think more rigorously about form. Visual art has moved beyond all recognition in the last 100 years. Theatre is still mired in notions of realism. There’s a great quote from the American scenic designer Robert Edmond Jones: “Realism is something we practice when we aren’t feeling very well. When we don’t feel up to making the extra effort.” The form of realism is about an attempt to capture reality – and it is this acquisitive aspect of realism that I am interested in exploring. Tim Crouch, Aesthetica Magazine

What I love about Tim Crouch and his collaborators’ work is that it knows it’s in a theatre. That doesn’t mean that it’s knowing or pretentious or any other adjective that gets put onto intelligent theatre-makers, it means that it starts from the empty space. There are chairs out there, a stage up here (at the Royal Court at least) and people will be sitting there and people will be speaking up here and what’s the point of ignoring that when it’s so full of potential?

I don’t think that I can explain why I liked the fact that there were two children on stage and we never knew quite why. I think I enjoyed it because they were living on stage, the theatre space gained a layer of lived-in-ness because they were on it, drawing pictures and making a sandcastle/grave. The fact they occasionally made a mistake gave it an element of school play, or children putting on a performance for family, it reminded us that when people put on a play they are trying. They played with the theatre images, they interfered with the narrative layer by introducing a lobster, or an inflatable hammer. The children couldn’t help not acting, and neither could the little dog that came on before the interval. They interfered with the canvas of the performance and reminded us that this is artifice, in a way that allowed us to see in a different way. Perhaps a contemporary version of Brecht’s distancing. It made the viewer question meaning in the same way Magritte’s Interpretation of Dreams did, taking that human need to make sense and using it to go beyond surface sense and find new meanings. And anyway, it did make a lot of sense in the context of a story about conceptual artists. The subject of the play is fictional, but it’s the only really undisputed layer, and the story that is constructed about these artists and their work is absolutely believable.

Having read a few reviews that say the first half was hard and confusing, I’m trying to think back to my experience of it. I embraced the idea that the children weren’t going to be explained, and that kept me entertained. I got the layered form of schoolgirl (Rachel Redford) giving a lecture, and animated slides on stage, and both layers in relation to Janet Adler, and the fact that the two layers were happening at different times. I got that the woman, Louise (Denise Gough) was (acting) an actor and that Sam (Brian Ferguson) was her coach and I enjoyed the Meisneresque theatre exercises that ask for repetition of words – ‘blue blouse’ to the point at which the words become sounds. Crouch is more storyteller than Dadaist so even when something does lose meaning it turns out to be important and comes back later in a new context. I don’t remember ever being confused by the narrative. Crouch mixes styles of dialogue brilliantly, the character of Margaret Gibb (Amelda Brown) had a totally different rhythm to her speech, her feet planted into the floor while her monologue looped around in short tense sentences – great use of non-naturalistic dialogue to communicate the most believable and human narrative thread.

It’s true that this is not a play about Syria or Nigeria or the EU … but we have enough reactionary reportage plays in England, and they never tell me anything I couldn’t find out outside of a theatre. I hope that the value of art hasn’t fallen to such an extent that it is no longer acceptable to question it in a theatre. I hope it isn’t trivial to ask what we’re all doing there in a theatre and what do we make art for and what makes it art anyway? Even if those questions are too art college-like, there’s also the human story, about ‘holding someone till they fade away’. For a long time theatre has been dominated by reportage-response naturalism. It’d be brilliant if stages like the Royal Court kept the door open for different approaches too.

There were two final layers to the narrative. The first gave us a glimpse of what the film about Adler would be like, with Louise playing Adler and ‘Gibb’ playing Gibb, it’s a slither of cheesy Hollywood, that ends in a ‘real’ kiss. The use of TV screen plus theatre continues the play on levels of artifice. Perhaps this would have been a good ending, but then comes the only layer that I couldn’t buy into. I had Adler and Gibb’s house in my imagination, I had the clutter, I had the window frames and the door, I had the barbed wire fence and overgrown garden, I took the tree/neon drugs sign and used that in my imagination, I could see it all and I could even see a dead body. But then they go and show us this on a film. A huge screen shows all the elements that I’ve been imagining. The cinematography of the film is average, so there’s nothing in it that I hadn’t already constructed in my imagination, and my imagination is better because my imagination is like a memory, I can sense the place, like a dream, like a memory, fragmented and incomplete. So the only layer of this story that I thought didn’t work was the screen, because it erased the layer that I could sense in my imagination. The only other niggle I had was the use of sound at the end, noise crescendo than cut out. It’s been used too many times and artificially amps up the impact of an ending, it didn’t allow me as an audience member to have my own sense of what the ending did. I preferred it when Mario the dog came on at the end of the first half, ignored the command to sit, had a look at us looking at him and wagged his tail.

Adler & Gibb is entertaining, strange, provocative, and a masterclass in theatre. I bought my ticket months ago as I thought it’d sell out, but it hasn’t, so don’t miss it!

 

Tim Crouch writes a good interval…

adler-and-gbb-playtext

 

 

Denise Gough as Louise

Denise Gough as Louise as Adler…skull as Adler

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Seventeen Reviews and a Picture

Stephanie Greer, photo by Eileen Long

Stephanie Greer, photo by Eileen Long

 

We already have a collection of beautiful and personal thoughts about ‘The Disappearance of Sadie Jones’ on my blog, and below are seventeen more recent responses, but first, what one of our audience members – Katherine McDermott-Darley describes as ‘a visual interpretation’ of the work.

by Katherine McDermott-Darley

by Katherine McDermott-Darley

And her comments (from Facebook):

 A unique lyrical, rhythmical script, brittle, unstable, dischopated . . . and Sadie’s dark shadow cast on the side wall of the auditorium – this image inspired by that and her inwardly collapsing world…Something also about the physicality of the play – shamanistic, raw . . . stunning performances by the cast of three.

(If ‘dischopated’ isn’t a word it should be). And she also posted this quote:

During depression the world disappears. Language itself. One has nothing to say. Nothing. No small talk, no anecdotes. Nothing can be risked on the board of talk. Because the inner voice is so urgent in its own discourse: How shall I live? How shall I manage the future? Why should I go on?

(Kate Millett (b. 1934), U.S. feminist theorist, literary critic, essayist, autobiographer, sculptor. The Loony-Bin Trip, pt. 3, Simon and Schuster (1990).)

This visual response seems very appropriate. One of the first things we did when we began working on the play was read it…then respond to it on a bit of paper…and the actors all drew pictures.

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The Tweeters:

@tom_mansfield Really enjoyed Hannah Silva’s Disappearance of Sadie Jones ‪@mac_birmingham this eve. Beautifully written, formally inventive stuff.

@jonathanapemrys Such a great launch night ‪@capitalplays with ‪@finkennedy talking ‘In Battalions’ and ‪@HannahSilvaUK ‘s The Disappearance of Sadie Jones!

Mark Wallace‪@southfields ‘The Disappearance of Sadie Jones’: affecting, innovative theatre. We’re lucky to be seeing this calibre of work in Devon.

sarah chapman ‏‪@MsSnails Wonderful performance tonight. Visually beautiful. Acoustically delightful. Highly recommend ‪#TheDisappearanceofSadieJones

Jayne Stanton‪@stantonjayne‪@NeilMay1 ‪@UpstairsWestern ‪@NineArchesPress ‪@Joanne_Hartley I liked having space to interpret characters/plot myself.

Neil May ‏‪@NeilMay1Enjoyed ‪#TheDisappearanceofSadieJones by ‪@HannahSilvaUK ‪@UpstairsWestern last night, a cohesive fusion of naturalism & physical theatre!

Nine Arches Press ‏‪@NineArchesPress Entrancing & charged performance ‪@UpstairsWestern tonight, thoroughly recommend ‪@HannahSilvaUK‘s The Disappearance of Sadie Jones

Joanne Hartley ‏‪@Joanne_Hartley Really enjoyed workshop and performance of ‘The Disappearance of Sadie Jones’ with & by ‪@HannahSilvaUK . Inspiring, refreshing, exciting.

The Wild Writers ‏‪@WildWriters ‪@Seven_Arts ‪@UpstairsWestern ‪@LTLiv Dead good this. The dialogue was poetic.

Alexa Tewkesbury‪@AlexaTewkesbury Do grab the chance to see ‘The Disappearance of Sadie Jones’ from ‪@HannahSilvaUK . Beautiful & stunningly performed 

More Facebook responses:

‘It was visceral in every sense of the word’

‘wow, a brave and subtle, dynamic piece of theatre. We both enjoyed the play and had lively discussion afterwards. Great actors too – especially the actor playing Sadie.’

‘I went to see Hannah Silva’s play The Disappearance of Sadie Jones in Plymouth last night. It didn’t disappoint. Daring, original, and lyrical it is poetry in motion. The acting is superb and the words stick, get under your skin and demand your attention. Interactive in the best sense of the word.’

‘It was startling and memorable to experience such a direct and compelling dramatisation of mental illness.’

‘Last night – experienced The Disappearance of Sadie Jones, by Hannah Silva at Peninsula Arts. AMAZING piece of theatre. Weird start, crunchy middle, verbal onslaught after verbal onslaught on the mind, and silence at blackout. Then the applause. A must see performance.’

‘Great writing, and lovely performances: a tense word net that holds us in suspense knowing the worst and knowing nothing at the same time …’

‘It was so refreshing to hear from a writer with similar approach to myself and to learn that I’m not alone in my experience of feeling frustrated and deflated by dominant paradigms in playwriting. I’m so pleased you pursued your instincts.’

Me too.

Thank you for your generous responses,

we shall be disappearing in London next week and are looking forward to it.

A5 Flyer-1

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Where are the South West Theatre Critics?

When I tell people I live in Plymouth they often suggest that I enjoy the whole ‘big fish in a small pond’ phenomenon. Actually I feel like I’m a tadpole without a pond at all. Drying out before I’ve had a chance to grow into a …fish…? Hmmm.

So @Nom_de_strip (‘a journal of arts and culture in the South West of England’) are asking…. “Why DON’T people write about theatre in the South West?”

And as I have a tendency to get the wrong end of the stick whenever a wrong end is available, I have clarified with them that this refers to both the lack of reviews of South West work and the lack of reviewers/writers on theatre based in the South West.

They have asked me to write something about my experiences of this.

There are a few SW reviewers and writers… Belinda Dillon has reviewed for Devon Life for a while, and she now reviews for the brilliant brilliant Exeunt magazine.

I check out these blogs now and then: Angela Street, Annette Chown, … Wide Awake Devon, are good at provoking debates and Theatre Writing South West has just started a blog. Action Hero ask good questions, and I think in Bristol in general there’s loads going on. But sometimes Bristol doesn’t feel like the ‘South West’ for us Plymouthian Devonians.

Martin Freeman at the Plymouth Herald is pretty open to mini features on arty-stuff. Devon Life profiled my writing project ‘Writing in the City’ last year as part of the British Art Show (that was also Belinda Dillon).  Jo Loosemore who works at BBC Radio Devon used to have a brilliant art review show that featured a site specific piece I did ‘Boat on the Water’ a few years ago, and now she’s on every afternoon, ‘Shep and Jo ’, and is up for squeezing in minimini profiles of theatre/art in the region.

Lyn Gardner regularly gets down the Drum Theatre Royal in Plymouth for the Guardian. But the Drum Theatre Royal in Plymouth very rarely programmes local work. Elizabeth Mahoney has been reviewing lots of stuff for the Guardian in the Northern part of the region (and Wales)…and gives a very high proportion of 4 & 5 star reviews!

I invited everyone I could think of in the region and outside of it to the premiere/preview of Opposition at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth. It was sold out, but only those outside of Plymouth who already knew my work came and there were no reviews. (Funnily enough, Sarah Ellis came down from London for it, and Claire Morgan from Newcastle (bless them both) but no one from Bristol or Cornwall made it) When it was at the Bike Shed theatre for the Exeter Fringe Belinda Dillon came and wrote a lovely review for Devon Life. That was my first proper review of my work in the region.

So because I couldn’t get any national critics to come to see Opposition in the region, or any producers or representatives from other theatres either, going to Edinburgh Fringe (with the Barbican Theatre) seemed like it’d provide that opportunity. I got great reviews in Edinburgh, including five stars from What’s on Stage and four stars from Exeunt and Fringe Review and others. Those reviews really helped me to book a tour since. However the nationals didn’t make it. It was a little frustrating to see the Guardian reviewing work that had already been on in London or was going to be in London in the following weeks, but not managing to come to mine – when the future of my show kind of depended on getting those reviews…. A couple of the other people I invited did make it (and booked it) but most didn’t. Edinburgh Fringe is a nightmare and way too big to stand out if you’re not known and don’t have a known producer/theatre behind you. & we just did the last two weeks, which was a mistake, looking back. One of the people who did manage to come was Phil Hindson from the Arts Council (funny that I had to go all the way to Edinburgh to get my local relationships manager to see my work, but it worked out). Following Edinburgh I managed to get a second small G4A fund to re-develop the show.

It’s possible that if I’d had a review from one of those nationals, I’d have managed to book Opposition for a run at a London theatre by now. Someone recently said –if you’d had a load of four star reviews from Edinburgh it would have been programmed in London – which made me go Arrrggh but I did!!  – Just not from the Guardian. So I’ve now put all the stars in a more prominent position on my blog. (See to the right!)

At the recent ‘Getting it out there’ symposium, Lyn Gardner said that theatre makers should stop worrying about the mainstream press and instead pursue a dialogue with bloggers etc. I like the point, and I think in London where there is plenty of opportunity to connect with great bloggers and online websites and other theatre makers it makes total sense. But we can’t expect them to travel this far without funding, and in the South West we don’t have that kind of a community. We need to start building one.

@Nom_de_Strip also asked me to write about my experience of writing about theatre in the SW.

I’m not a critic, or reviewer, or anything. I realised a while ago that it wasn’t sensible for me to attempt to review work – because I’m an artist too, and we’re colleagues in a way, and I can be mega blunt and I rarely like stuff : ) So I made a little rule – I’ll only write about companies that are established, so what I write has no impact on them, or, I’ll just write about the work that I think needs shouting about.

So I saw Blok/Eko by Howard Barker at the Northcott Theatre in Exeter. I didn’t go intending to write about it, not at all. But when I got home and looked it up there were no reviews. So I wrote my kind of a response and a lot of people have read it. Actually the comments are more interesting than my post, and I’m happy that my blog provided a space for people to discuss the work. I don’t know why there were no ‘proper’ reviews of Blok/Eko.

I have got some great national opportunities at the moment and have actually made some kind of a ‘living’ from my writing and theatre for the last few months and I’m possibly sorted for the next few. But other than a bit of teaching, none of that is coming from the region or supported by the region (so far anyway). I don’t even get shortlisted for jobs that I apply for in the area, and they often go to people outside of the SW who then struggle with the commute. It must be human nature – we never go to that great café next door until we’re about to move, we assume that if someone is local they are not any good. I think it happens everywhere. I’m currently working on a commission for Hull City Council and getting nice bookings in Liverpool and Manchester.

And the last opportunity to see (and review) Opposition is next week at the New Wolsey Theatre, Pulse Festival in Ipswich on the 8th June, 7pm.

[edit: Yeah! I’ve finally got a London run for Opposition! – Ovalhouse 6-17th November 2012]

What’s on Stage gave it five stars and said: Go to listen, marvel, participate, go to be amazed, just go.’ – Honest!

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Filed under Edinburgh Fringe, Exeter Fringe, Opposition, Playwriting, political theate, Review, Theatre

Three Kingdoms: Simon Stephens and Sebastian Nübling

Three Kingdoms at the Lyric Hammersmith

Not considered suitable for under 16s or British mainstream theatre critics

I found Three Kingdoms a bit of a joyride. Sit forward on your seat in the first half, enjoy the laughs, then have a drink in the interval and just go with the second half. I’m not sure if I’ll manage to add to what is already out there in blogs, so I’m mostly going to quote them here in case it makes one more person see the work. There are only three nights left. Get a ticket!

On the work:

On the way this work makes you feel, the reactions it provokes, I identify with this: Matt Trueman, Carousel of Fantasies:

About halfway through the first half of Three Kingdoms on Tuesday night, probably an hour and fifteen minutes in or so, I scrawled the following in my notebook:

“Stop everything. Storm the National Theatre. Tear down the Donmar Warehouse. Torch the Royal Court. Redact the entire history of the RSC and fetch me Trevor Nunn’s head on a plate.”

In retrospect, this was probably an over-reaction born in the heat of the moment. Not because it over-praises, but because it does the great work at those theatres a disservice. Let’s blame the adrenaline flooding my bloodstream. Let’s blame the breathlessness and the dizziness; the disbelief and the sheer fucking thrill. I was putty. I was windswept. I was in love. (Matt Trueman)

On the coming together of theatrical cultures. The collaboration between the writing and the direction, the way the staging adds meaning, depth, humour and detail to the writing:

Dan Rebellato, playwright, Spilled Ink:

First, the play was written for Sebastian Nübling. Simon Stephens has been developing a writing style that leaves space for the director. The published text is large, generous, sprawling; it asks to be intervened in, to be selected from, to be cut. It reminds me of Howard Barker’s The Ecstatic Bible, a play that would probably take 12 hours to perform and has never been performed in its entirety. But even in more conventional theatre, J B Priestley always deliberately overwrote his plays, on the understanding that a particular production would find its own path through the material, its own emphasis, its own interests and could therefore cut it accordingly. Hamlet is enormously long in its fullest textual variant and is almost always cut, without demur.

Second, and following from the previous thought, if Simon’s intention is to offer a text to be cut about, interpreted, selected from and collaborated with, Nübling has been doing to good old-fashioned British thing of respecting the playwright’s intentions.

Third, the production’s imagery is entirely drawn from the text….(Dan Rebellato)

I am extremely interested in this approach to writing that leaves room for collaboration, writing with space for the director. I think it might be the key to bringing theatre and playwriting into a new era.

On the problem of the representation of women….

Three Kingdoms

…I wonder if the reviewers, and viewers who dismiss the work on the grounds that it titillates and doesn’t question degradation of women  are actually trying to find a way of criticising the work that avoids mentioning what really made them uncomfortable – the orgy scene, the naked men…You can buy dildos, strap ons and lubrication on the high street (I think).  A 60yr old man can pick up a 20yr old girl in a London club. And that’s even before getting into the underground scene. But we can’t see it on a stage in our country? Are we so distanced from these things? Perhaps that’s one of the points. The girl trafficked in Estonia is the older British man’s young wife.

But interwoven with this criticism is the only reservation I have about the work –  the lack of strong female characters…. to make theatre richer, to add poetry, to add power, to play against the male voices, to talk back. The muting of the female voice inside the deer mask was perhaps louder than if she were to suddenly speak, perhaps…. Or perhaps, within this non-naturalistic, non-realistic world, there is room for the other voice. But I didn’t find any female nudity gratuitous or any of those scenes titillating, there was little actual showing of female abuse, it was under the surface, perhaps that’s what made it more disturbing.

Chris Goode comenting on this subject on Andrew Haydon’s blog:

I think you’re right that a major problem is that there are too few women in the company and their roles are feebly underdeveloped; the requirements of the production are anyway not easily distinguished from the requirements of the men in the play who (bountifully) hate women. So in the end I guess my problem is that I have nothing left to work with, in extending to Stephens and Nübling some benefit of the doubt, other than whatever degree of cultural proximity permits me to assume that they are not themselves amused and titillated by the emotional and physical abuse of women by men. There is a problem with such assumptions, which is that they are wrong about a lot of people. What ultimately I find ticklish, to say the least, is this: if Three Kingdoms had been made by out-and-out misogynists, in what ways would it look or feel any different? (Chris Goode)

You know, I’m not sure if I can formulate it yet, but I think the work would look and feel very different if it had been made by misogynists. There was something about the porno scenes that were just… playful, irreverent, just a little bit real too. A little like Lars von Trier’s film The Idiots.  But still, the main contribution to the work made by the women was their sparkly dresses doubling up as stage lights. All I can say is that as a woman I didn’t feel at all uncomfortable, the women on stage, while they had weak roles and little voice, they did have intelligent glints in their eyes, they did seem in control of their physicality.  In contrast, I felt very uncomfortable and angry at the way Simon McBurney had his actor playing Margarita running naked, vacant, drunk in emotional ecstasy within a sea of clothed men for an extended section of Complicite’s The Master and the Margarita. That was far more disturbing, and yet Billington described it like this: ‘Sinéad Matthews’s Margarita, bravely naked for much of the second half, also conveys the inherent goodness of the devoted muse’

To reduce this work to its story is to reduce this work – and too often that is what reviews do. Andrew Haydon on meaning and making sense:

When a play takes this sort of jump outside the realms of the possible, it suddenly seems to become much more difficult to talk about. “What does that mean?” suggests itself as a question. Or even simply “What just happened there?” Are we meant to reconstruct our ideas of what happened through this new development? Is this sudden transformation intended as A Big Metaphor that we’re meant to Get? It is disorienting in all these ways. Being willing to allow that disorientation to be a part of the whole experience of the play feels crucial.

I suspect, in part, this might be what other critics have objected to: the fact that, on one level, the play does stop “making sense” altogether – although I would argue that this precise moment actually generates a lot new *senses*. But it’s not immediately pin-downable. And if someone believed their job was to pin down and explain, then this sort of thing is inevitably going to get on their wick.

I think what is most impacting about the work is to do with form, theatrical languages, and ways of making theatre: The colliding and collaboration of three different theatre making cultures, the British naturalism, ‘text-based’ writing and meaty acting, the German approach to directing work, Sebastian Nubling’s direction that pushes Stephen’s writing, plays against it, riffs with it, adds layers to it, the detail and precision in the direction, the craft, the physicality of the Estonian actors, the irreverence towards nudity, sex, pornography. The detail in the delivery of text, the range of acting styles and actors was fantastic, the character Steffen Dresner towering above the others, and the use of different languages on stage, the play with translation, the pop culture references and the humour was exhilarating. It was such a rich experience, the kind of theatre experience that doesn’t require intellectualisation, that it is hard to remember or describe some of the most fantastic moments. But I remember at one point, out of this crazy physicality, out of the chaos, emerged poetry. Not in the sense of poetic visual imagery (there was lots of that too), but literally… spoken, meaningful poetry…words that suddenly got to the heart.

I went to the theatre most nights while I was in Berlin for a few months, and I lived in Amsterdam for a couple of years so I saw a lot there – most of it nowhere near this level of craft, direction and writing. But still, I haven’t seen enough work outside of this country to know whether writing, performance and direction this strong and entertaining has come together before. My sense is that while the elements within this work have been around in the theatre for years, because of its collision of different theatre making and writing cultures, the work truly is ground-breaking.

‘I’ve never thought of myself as avant-garde. If you run around a race-track and are a full circuit behind everyone else, then you are alone and appear to be first. Maybe that is what happened to me…’ Tatsumi Hijikata

It got me thinking about Butoh, a post-war Japanese avant-garde movement. – the character of the ‘Trickster’ particularly reminded me of images like these:

Michio Ito, Dancer, 1916

Tatsumi Hijikata (1950s)

Tatsumi Hijikata

Risto Kübar, who played the ‘Trickster’ is an astonishing actor  who can go from the performance of failure seen in performers from Forced Entertainment as he struggles to sing, embarrassed as he realises he is being watched…to a strange all knowing mystical Shakesperian fool,  travelling between worlds, with the physicality, flexibility, technique and detail of a supreme dancer, morphing into a cross dressing prostitute (with little dress and pull up white socks), evocative of butoh dancers Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno… and finally, at the end of the evening, which, by the way, is not a second too long….he creates one of the most poetic moments I’ve ever seen.

The mainstream theatre critics have put audiences off seeing this work, that is a serious crime against theatre and they should all be hung. (out to dry, I mean, of course)

Product and Furniture designer Ana-Maria Pasescu Stewart has constructed a light source that isn’t so traditional.

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Filed under Playwriting, Poetry, Review, Theatre

From Plymouth to the Bush Theatre

Which way?

A meandering diary-entry-like account that includes a long bus journey, the tribulations of being an artist in Plymouth, ‘Encounters’ at the Bush Theatre and the post show discussion with Madani Younis and Omar Elerian, developing new writing, solo writers/performers, being a female solo writer/performer…There will be many tangents. I was on a bus all night and wrote this on that bus and haven’t had time to write less. And I also want to post this before something about the Jerwood Charitable Foundation and my new projects. I will probably write something more concise with similar ideas in it soon for the Capital Theatre Festival debate ‘New Writing Vs New Work’. So this is only for the committed procrastinator. I’ll put some headings and pictures in it. See, even the disclaimer was too long.

Encounters at The Bush

Opening emails from Sabrina Mafouz and from the Bush Theatre a few days ago: Look at this double bill at the Bush!  Sabrina Mahfouz and Caroline Horton are associate artists. This is quite something. And Friday was ‘writers’ night’ with a discussion about making innovative theatre and the challenges that female solo writers/performers face in the industry. I want to go.

Public Transport

I want to go. I won’t let this living-in-Plymouth thing get in my way. But I can’t afford the train – over £100 if you don’t book it ages in advance… but how about the bus? There and back in 24 hours for £35. £50 in total with the Encounters ticket. And that’s OK, that’s the price I pay for living here. My rent is cheaper.  And I’m going so that I don’t feel trapped by this geography, to be part of a conversation.

New Writing – for me or not for me

The last time I went to The Bush I saw The Kitchen Sink – which I enjoyed in the way I enjoy good TV drama. I sat in the new bar/library area for an hour afterwards, waiting to catch my night train back to Plymouth. And I felt so apart from that world. And seeing that play – I thought, it’s silly for me to feel bad about this theatre rejecting my plays – that is the work they put on and my work is in a completely different world. There’s no point sending my stuff to them. It’s like sending….I don’t know I’m too tired for analogies…like sending somebody something they haven’t asked for and have no idea what to do with….It’s like sending me one of those German ‘Herman’ bread things. I had the same realisation after seeing Bartlett’s Love love love (about my plays not Herman).

no thanks

But now, new directors, new directions…

So I booked tickets. I know Sabrina Mafouz through the spoken word world and I should have seen Dry Ice at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. But I didn’t because it was on late and the bones in my knees felt like they were rotting from the inside and it was all I could do to get through my flyering-performing-flyering schedule for two weeks. But I should have gone anyway and I’ve regretted it ever since. So this was my last chance.

On the bus

Mine twas not ‘rapide’ but this, my friends, is Plymouth

I was feeling quite chirpy. I suspected it wouldn’t last. But I was fine. Feeling quite inspired by my impressive reading material, left Marie Claire at home and took Caryl Churchill, Václav Havel and Jan Kott – never come across his writing before and it was a revelation, ideas that’ll keep me writing for life. It reminded me of what I want to write about, of what I really know about. (Love, by the way, the body, the erotic) That’ll keep the googlers busy.

But then an accident on the road, a diversion….and we were an hour delayed by the time we were at Heathrow, and then another 40 mins delayed in traffic from there to Victoria. And you know, we practically went past Shephard’s Bush and I asked the driver if he could let me out and he said no that wasn’t possible…I should have pretended to need to puke. By that point I was avoiding watching the clock in the bus. Wasn’t willing to accept that I was going to miss it.

I’d left a bit over an hour contingency. Optimistic. But earlier buses were more expensive. Last time I got the bus to see something at the National we were delayed and I missed the first half. This time it took seven and a half hours – Plymouth to London. I think it felt worse because I was half expecting it. I knew I’d be lucky to get there in time. But then, being let down when you are half expecting to be let down….it was worse. My optimism suddenly gone…because it had been proved to me again – I can’t live in Plymouth.

So I arrived at the Bush 15mins too late for Dry Ice. I had a pint at the bar.

Enter: Madani Younis and Omar Elerian

Madani Younis

Omar Elerian

Wrapped in their own integrity and Madani with a rucksack. I’ve always liked people with rucksacks –  carrying their homes on their backs. My first image of my husband was seeing this huge green rucksack, retreating down the stairs at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam. Short, stocky, dark – Mexican – a little pack horse, a snail. When we met he was a director. He would have walked up to those two men and introduced himself and impressed them. They probably would have wanted to produce his next production there and then. He had/has that knack. He went to Eugenio Barba in Denmark, went into his office, talked – and on the spot was invited to spend time with the Odin Teatret whenever he wanted. I don’t have that knack. Maybe I’m just socially awkward.

First impressions

I was at a networking meeting a while ago with an important person I know from a theatre. I introduced a female playwright to him. He also briefly met a young male director. After the meeting he joked that the female playwright probably wasn’t any good, and also mentioned the young male director in a positive light. It is often assumed that women don’t know what they are doing and that men do. Women have to overturn assumptions and men just have to not disprove them.

Anyway, that’s something I struggle with – a lack of confidence in talking to people on first meetings. A lack of confidence in presenting who I am when someone knows nothing about me. Too much of an awareness of all the other people in the same situation who in fact don’t know what they are doing. So I finished my pint.

You’re not like other girls Chrissy by Caroline Horton. Directed by Omar Elerian

Caroline Horton in ‘You’re not like other girls Chrissy’

Although I was gutted that I missed Sabrina’s I could still watch Caroline’s in the second half. This isn’t any kind of a review because that would involve structuring my ideas and perhaps mentioning what it is about. But just want to say a few things including – what a beautiful piece of work.

You know those annoying audiences who laugh at stuff that isn’t funny? Sometimes they do it because the work is so tedious they are so desperate for respite they laugh out of a need to laugh. Sometimes they do it because they suddenly have a collective shite sense of humour. I don’t know. Well normally I don’t laugh when the audience around me laughs. The last thing I saw was Ontroerend Goed’s A History of Everything. It really was the most soul-numbing bit of work I’ve seen for ages. The actors were just going through the motions, the theatre had buggered off leaving a bare idea of a performance struggling to survive in a dead space.

So this, Chrissy character – so full of life, so embodied, it was like soul food or something, to be laughing, naturally, spontaneously. And of course to be reminded of how simple it is, really, to engage an audience completely. How beautiful it is to be engaged, entertained, drawn in, by just one character and some suitcases. This was craft I was seeing – the acting and the writing coming together so that there was no distance between ‘actor’ and character. She was Chrissy. And whenever she was looking at the audience on the other side I was a bit jealous.

I loved the use of language – the use of English from a French woman’s perspective, ‘hot cat on a roof’. I love that, when the context is given for word play, I loved the way she was tasting these English words, revelling in the newness of them. That distance from the language, not taking it for granted…

Submission policies & You’re not like other girls Chrissy cont.

And one other thing. Well, Vicky Featherstone is at the Royal Court now, so maybe this will change. But the other day I came across the Royal Court submissions policy, or maybe it was via a High Tide Symposium tweet – saying they were looking for work that is about our times…contemporary, relevant…(London presumably)…? I think, what a silly thing fixate on. There’s the risk of just making work about things that are in the UK news. As if that is a good reflection of today anyway. And there’s the fact that if you are trying to make current work then by the time it’s on it’s not current anymore. You don’t want to be looking for work that is current and relevant Now – you want work that is current and relevant Always…surely? (And now and then putting on work that is ahead of its time wouldn’t hurt either)

Well on that note, a funny thing about this play (set in France in the forties so unlikely to have made it through the Royal Court’s submissions policy) – it opened with a little scene about queuing. ‘The English wouldn’t stand for this’ – in a queue at a train station for over an hour. It was hilarious of course because of the Heathrow debacle. But that couldn’t be planned. Serendipity aside, it was a timeless piece that will always be relevant. Don’t take history away from writers, we have a hard enough job as it is.

When I was a kid I used to love to replay films in my head, I could do it with strange accuracy and I used to write, in my head, different endings for novels. When the work is so real, it takes you over, involves you, lives within you. That happened with You’re not like other girls Chrissy. In my delirious state of tiredness on the delightful seven hour bus journey back to Plymouth I sometimes had Chrissy with me, I could hear her. I have that character now, to entertain me in my imagination. What a beautiful thing this theatre can be.

Theatre can do many things. My experience of Caroline’s piece is one of those things but I wouldn’t write an artistic policy based on that work. Caroline’s, for me was all about character and a voice.…another show might be about ideas, might be about what my imagination does while I’m watching……to search for work that does a particular thing…is homogenising…deadening…

Solo writers/performers

Sabrina Mafouz

When you perform your work as well as write it, there is no division between writer and performer. The process of writing takes place in a studio, the writer in you is involved in a strange kind of internal collaboration with the performer in you. It is still writing – and Sabrina and Caroline are fantastic writers. And (‘and’ not ‘but’) it is a different way of writing. It often doesn’t happen on the paper, alone, it happens in the studio, often with others. With recent plays I’ve seen – Shivered by Philip Ridley for instance, and I’m a huge fan of his writing….the actors were very good, but I could see them as actors….acting the characters….doing a job…. With a writer/performer, the really good ones that is, it’s not like that. Partly of course because the writer/performer is so invested in making their own work, they rehearse it for longer, develop it for longer, the responsibility of making it a success is entirely down to them. No pressure (shit loads of pressure).

Post show discussion

Madani Younis said he wants to engage with a new generation of writers…he might have said theatre makers….he might have said artists….I think he did say writers…different processes of writing…the point is…a new generation of ways of writing and making work.

This new-writing-London-centric-theatre-world has been closing its doors to the writers who write differently…and now there’s a possibility the doors will open. And these directors are coming from different trainings, theatrical backgrounds, approaches to making work, with different taste, different perspectives. I think it’s really exciting that Omar Elerian is there as associate director. His background in theatre outside of this country, training in Lecoq, and interest in visual story telling could prove…well just imagine it – Complicite with a decent script.

Neither Sabrina or Caroline were ‘found’ through script submissions…Sabrina said her script had been rejected many times as the readers/directors didn’t know what to do with it…so I asked whether a script submission policy still works? Will they have a different way of finding artists?

Watch this space was the answer I think. Or,  this one. And they will try to see lots of stuff.

I wonder about a different way of submitting…I wonder about submitting ideas, working methods, past work as evidence…more like putting together an application for a new project…I wonder if that’s a possibility. I really think the writer in their cave…the script meetings….the rehearsed readings….the three week rehearsal period….needs a re-think. Alex Chisholm on a similar topic.

Central female characters

Sarah Lund

Very interesting – Madani and Omar said they read many script submissions prior to programming their first season….they said there was a 50/50 male female split in the submissions. But none of the work they read had a female character at its centre.

I recently blogged about the brilliance of strong female characters in Scandinavian drama. I think we are really un-used to…un-programmed to seeing female central characters in British contemporary theatre and TV. Are writers emulating what they are watching?

Female writer/performer again

Hannah Silva in Opposition (photo Eileen Long)

On the topic of difficulties that face female solo performers/writers Sabrina and Caroline both seem to have found that they have not experienced challenges because of being women, and that being the writer and performer gives you control over the work. Sabrina said she has found it much harder in the other areas she has worked in – spoken word and scriptwriting….

Have I found it hard as a female solo writer/performer? First answer is yes. Don’t know how much it has to do with being female, how much it has to do with living in Plymouth, how much it has to do with writing non-naturalistic plays and making work that gets described as ‘avant-garde’ and how much it’s just that – no one ever said it was gonna be easy. Yes. It is bloody hard. I’m feeling quite good right now as I have two amazing opportunities and I’m going to survive from my writing for the next few months. But those are not South West things, I don’t even get shortlisted for the rare opportunities that come up here. It’s my location not my gender that’s the challenge. It’s the bloody transport system.

It was lovely to have a chat with Sabrina afterwards, and also to meet Caroline, both of them are very generous to other artists, male and female, which is part of it. I think some women feel that there are only a few slots available for us in the theatre world, and that we must compete for them. In fact a victory for one opens doors for others.

Taking Risks

Madani and Omar said they had a tricky time convincing whoever it was they had to convince, to programme this double bill. They weren’t expecting it to do so well. It was only programmed for a week but actually could have run for longer. That’s fascinating too. The unremitting timidity of programming. The relentless underestimating of audiences….A theatre like The Bush has a  developed core audience and a high profile; if the work is good, it is going to sell. If a theatre like that can’t take a chance with their programming, who can? The point is, there is an audience in London for this work. It’s good work. As the youngster with the cool t-shirt in the audience said – our mates would like it.

On the bus again

So my slumbering bus journey back to Plymouth was a pretty happy one. Things are changing. A few weeks ago I decided not to try anymore, decided that I need to build a home for my plays myself. Now, I have hope again, I think it’s worth trying. New writing might become ‘new’ again. There was a half moon. A man got trapped by his seatbelt. I had strange dreams of theatre. Got back at 5:40am. Had a little sleep.

Then wrote a crazy long blog. Has anyone actually read it? All of it? 

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The No Rules Handbook for Writers

(know the rules so you can break them)
by Lisa Goldman

I have designed this book to appeal to a new and hungry kind of writer – the original storyteller, who writes for more than one medium. (Lisa Goldman)

I write for more than one medium, but am I a storyteller? It depends what we mean by telling stories. I’d quite like to be able to see myself as a storyteller, but I need to re-define the idea first. There’s an assumption that all writers (other than poets?) are at their core – storytellers. I hope this rule is one of the ones that the book explores, overturns, and looks at differently.

The book is also designed for teachers of writing, and I do a lot of that. I’ve read a lot of books on how to write screenplays, novels, plays and poetry. Some of them were excellent, some of them were prescriptive and taught writing by numbers – particularly the ones on writing screenplays. I’ve taken quite a few writing workshops and courses, ones with David Lane in Bristol and the Soho Theatre’s Sarah Dickenson have been great. I’ve spent some years understanding the ‘rules’, finding ways of teaching them clearly, producing my own handouts, explanations, tips, examples…now I’m looking for a book that says the opposite.

Does a rule breaking writer need a guide on breaking rules? No. We do it instinctively. But I’d like to read writers talking about their experiences, their writing processes, approaches, and I would like to expand my vocabulary for talking about work that breaks rules.

The book is written in a refreshing no nonsense style:

‘If you write to pander to existing taste…..it is likely to be crap and unlikely to sell’ (Goldman)

and is divided into sections which are broken down into ‘rules’.

It is very British playwriting biased, and within that, biased towards playwrights Lisa Goldman (former artistic director of the Soho Theatre) has worked with, so she’s following one rule herself ‘write what you know’. But that’s OK because she has worked with some brilliant writers. The quotes from Philip Ridley and Anthony Neilson are particularly interesting and inspiring. I’d love to read a book by either of them on their writing processes.

‘You don’t discover anything if you have a map. You’ve got to sail into the night and risk shipwrecks to find an island no one’s seen before.’  (Philip Ridley)

It is very ambitious, not only is it covering a huge number of rules, (the paradox is that the ‘no rules’ handbook has more rules in it than any writing book I’ve read!), it also aims to encompass novel writing, screenplays, and TV drama as well as plays. The non play-based references are very light, and personally I think the book might have been stronger if it wasn’t aiming to apply to novels and screenplays too.

The other tricky thing in the format is that not only is the book looking at breaking the rules, but it also first addresses what the rules really mean, busting myths around them, unpacking them, and discussing how to work with them. Some parts of the book are balanced between ‘Rule’ and ‘Rule Breaker’, other parts get buried in an explanation of the rule itself, leaving no room for a discussion on breaking them – sometimes the rule buster is just a postscript.

I’ve read great non-prescriptive guides to writing. Noel Greig’s Playwriting is a classic, Rib Davis’ book on writing dialogue is brilliant. I don’t need to read another one, even if it’s a good one. I’m looking for something different, and in many places, this book delivers.

For instance the sections focused on the industry are very interesting. There is a discussion of pitching to theatres and how pitch driven commissioning can weed out innovation and go against the writer’s instinctive approach. Philip Ridley therefore rarely writes to commission. As he says ‘the journey your imagination chooses is the way’.

I’ve attempted pitching ideas a few times, and always felt the light going out of me as I tried to make sense of an initial ghost of a feeling about a play out loud….so I found this section useful. There are some suggestions on how to deal with the system. Rather than rules, these are pointers on how to approach the problem and are followed by the statement that sometimes you have to have the courage to say ‘I don’t write like that’ and hope you don’t lose the job.

‘No one can play to order’ (Goldman)

One for my notice board.

& this is possibly my favourite statement in the book:

‘Who needs outlines, when the world is working for you?’ (Goldman)

–  In reference to that magical (but apparently it’s neuroscience) experience that once you’re working on a topic, you start to notice things around you that feed into it. I experienced this in the extreme when working on novels, it’s very odd. In a different section is a note ‘Don’t go mad’. Also useful!

It’s an inspiring, thought provoking and open first section, with nice chunky quotes from writers and really lacking in rules – a few self help style statements: ‘Trust your inner truth and be brave enough to stand up to it’  but hey, sometimes we need clichés: ‘ Taking risks in life can boost your confidence and creativity in writing too.’  (Goldman)

So, am I a storyteller? I’m excited to get to the next section: Principles or Prescriptions? Structure, Character, Dialogue.

But it seems story-narrative-character-structure are just too solidified, too heavy to overturn within the structure of this book. Instead of subverting it, looking at writers who go against these principles the topic is unpacked, explained, bullet-pointed again.

This section mostly deals with how to follow the rules and not how to overturn them, or what they really mean, or how to articulate them when looking at non-story based work. There is only brief comment on how fixed structures can be damaging for a writer. ‘Use the sequences of change that best expresses your story’. Leaving the word ‘story’  to be used in the rest of the book without having been interrogated.

I wish there had been an assumption here that we already knew the traditional definition of ‘story’ – there are plenty of good books on it already. But I suppose defining, ‘knowing’ the rules is part of what the book promises to deliver. The statement on the front ‘know the rules so you can break them’ does point to this. Perhaps I was looking for sometimes more along the lines of: ‘you know the rules, now let’s break them’.

This section also suffers from having fewer quotes from writers in it. I missed discussion here of the big rule breakers of story, narrative and structure – of Padgett Powell’s and the Oulipo’s novels, Kathy Acker’s cut up method, Martin Crimp, Mac Wellman, Sarah Kane – writers throwing traditional concept of story – hero journey – out the window.

I’d have loved an exploration of plays without characters in them, is such a thing possible? What is character? Can you write a novel without one? Where is the character in Padgett Powell’s The Interrogative Mood? How can the protagonist of Crimp’s Attempts on her life have a journey through the play when her very existence is questionable? Can you have a play in which the role of character is fulfilled by the audience’s existence? I didn’t need another list of questions to use when creating character – not that I don’t find this method useful sometimes, particularly when teaching, it’s just Noel Greig and others have already presented this method very effectively.

When it comes to work that breaks these story principles we don’t lack the examples, but we still lack the vocabulary. I was really hoping this book would help me to articulate my experience…

It would have been useful to have a distinction made between story and narrative, and perhaps a discussion of form rather than structure, as I found parts of the definition of structure confusing:

‘I read the way I dream. A sense of time and place is crucial to this’ (Goldman)

My current play is dream-like, so I’d love someone to read it in the way they dream…but there isn’t a fixed sense of time or place…in my dreams the sense of time and place is displaced, unfixed and strange…I’m also unconvinced by the idea that the reader can change the structure of a novel by reading a chapter twice.

The ideas on structure became clearer to me when approached through the idea of metaphor and Ridley’s experience of ‘image architecture’. The discussion of the ways structure in writing is changing with new technologies is also interesting.

The book is clearly written and laid out and has many inspiring moments. As my recent rant on ‘rules’  and script submission processes suggests, it is also much needed. But in spite of the many great statements throughout on rule breaking, those central discussions of story and character left me disappointed – not in a sceptical observer-reviewer sense but as a sincere writer-reader. I was looking for a new approach to the language of writing. There’s a great quote by Hattie Naylor on the use of cliché, I would have loved more of this, more on writers’ playfulness and exploration of language, and a sense of the joy of writing against conventions. I loved the quotes from writers, and the discussions around the industry in the first and final sections of the book are fascinating. But overall this is more a book I will dip into when exploring the ‘rules’ in my teaching– rather than one I will look to for inspiration during darker moments of my own writing.

The No Rules Handbook for Writers felt a little suffocated by its own fixed structure, its own narrative. A book about breaking the rules should break some itself, and in the end I felt that the format of the book was trapping some of the thoughts within it.

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