Friday, 25 October 2013

November's going to be busy

I think I may have to sleep through most of December. I'll need to after the November that looks likely...

Firstly and most excitingly, I have another play on. It's a 10-minute cheerful short called "Lost Things" and it's part of Play Pieces Shorts festival of new writing. It's the last show of the evening on the first of the two days (14 - 15 Nov) and the organiser was kind enough to say she scheduled it there to send the audience off happy at the end of the evening. And yes, it is a optimistic play with no murderers or anything horror within. Rather unusual - though I do enjoy writing a bit of comedy. With the help of some brilliant Inverness College drama students we've cast the roles this week, and rehearsals start next week. I'm directing, which I'm looking forward to, and it's going to be performed in a large open plan vintage shop in Inverness - The Village. It sounds like it's going to be a really interesting couple of evenings with a varied bill.

And as if that wasn't enough to keep me busy, I'm also going to do NaNoWriMo again - writing 50K words of a novel in the 30 days of November. That's just under 2000 words per day. I managed last year with a week off to have eye surgery, so I hope it'll be achievable again this year. I have a basic plan: I'm going for a claustrophobic horror, with an unsettling feel. Back to horror, yeah! I have a support group this year: several of the Eden Court Novel Writing group are also NaNo-ing, and it'll be good to have the company for write-ins and some gentle nagging about word count.

And work is going to be getting manic as data pours in from all 6 countries for me to analyse, and I am of course popping down to London for a bit. I may have to start drinking this coffee thing that people rave about...

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Scottish theatre: B-Roads

At the weekend I went to Inverness' once-a-month Play Pieces lunchtime theatre to see a play called "B-Roads" by Morna Young and David Rankine. Now, my opinion of the previous plays I've seen in this series has varied hugely – some have been distinctly dull – but I'd met Morna on the Scottish Book Trust's brilliant Playwriting Lab in Glasgow last month and she seemed to be a pretty impressive and creative person, so I was hoping for good things. And that's what we got. B-Roads is a psychological drama set in the aftermath of a car crash, following the relationship between the couple involved. It captured that feeling I love – and have tried to invoke in several of my own published stories (Dr Henderson's Thursday is a good example) – an unsettling, 'something’s not right, but I don’t know quite what' mood. You watch, form guesses, suspicions, which then seem more or less likely as the play progresses. And then at the end, all becomes clear. Love it. It's exactly the sort of thing I enjoy both writing and watching. And Morna and David, who also acted the piece, did it very well. Good use is made of the set, which gradually changes throughout. I really don't want to say much more about the play and inadvertently give anything away, but it is funny, intriguing, sad and horrifying from moment to moment. Powerful stuff.

Play Pieces is a one-time, catch it or it’s gone affair, but the play is on again in Lossiemouth on the 10th and 11th of October, and is well worth a look if you know where Lossiemouth is. In fact, if you don't, I'd recommend you look it up or borrow a satnav. Go see it! And you never know: my fingers are crossed that it gets a wider tour. I would go and see it again, because it's one of those plays that I've been looking back on and thinking about and seeing more in each scene in retrospect than I appreciated at the time. And I don't say that about many plays. 

Friday, 28 June 2013

Theatre Week

I'm probably not going on a holiday this year, so I've decided to have a week off in London and go to see a whole lot of theatre instead. A theatre week.

I'm going to see Shakespeare, Gorky, Victorian Music Hall Farces, Pinter, Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppets, various new writing and the Ustinov revival. And probably other stuff too. A definite variety. Will I overdose on theatre? It's possible, but as an entertainment I've loved since childhood, I think I'll survive. I'm trying to pack in as much as possible, and also visit theatres I've not been to before. Matinees, evenings, promenade performances. Did I mention sock puppets? It's going to be a busy week. I may even attempt to review some of the shows. But if I don't review them all, it's not necessarily because I hated them - perhaps I'm just grabbing sleep rather than writing. Or I'm at the theatre. Or I'm in Japan, which is splitting my theatre week into two parts. Or maybe I did hate them.

So if you see a stray redhead sat on her own in a theatre, possibly scribbling in a notebook during the interval, feel free to come over and say hello and recommend a play. I still have a few gaps in the schedule to fill...

First Date - or The Amazing Goat Gun

My play "First Date (It Ends Badly)" was staged as part of an evening called "Voices" at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. There were seven ten-minute plays on the bill, all written by the playwriting group connected to the theatre and performed by the DramaLab actors. Mine was a short-sharp-shock horror adapted from a short story that was first published ten years ago (hard to believe, it doesn't seem that long...) The other plays were quite a mixture, from tales of disillusionment and abuse to medieval monks and broken paving slabs. So there was something for most people in the friendly audience that filled the studio... and the lights went down.

First Date involved four actors, and the one who had been very quiet during rehearsals spoke up loud and clear - what a star! My main psychopath took a moment to get into the role, but then transformed into the uneven, unstable character, disappointed by the results of his search for love... until maybe the right woman does turn up - but will she like him? Well, I don't think she hit him in the head quite as hard as she did in rehearsals (me: "don't worry, actual blood will just look all the more authentic") so perhaps he grew on her...

Confusion and unintended comedy arose when the director manning the sound effects boards hit the wrong button. Instead of a gunshot, we heard a goat bleat (used in the play about medieval monks). Odd, thought the audience and we continued. But when we came to the next gunshot, the goat came over loud and clear again... I guess the audience assumed it was some kind of symbolism or statement rather than a mistake. And then we came to the final gunshot - it actually was the right sound effect this time - but too early. However, the quick thinking actress went with it, and it blended in near-seamlessly. So... it wasn't perfect, and I think we had better overall performances in rehearsals, but I guess we can say it was all right on the night. Perhaps death by goat provided an added dimension of mystery.

It has been a really interesting and useful process: attending rehearsals and seeing how my script has evolved due to issues about physical space available, props, and the actors themselves. I now have a much better idea what I need to be aware of when writing, what to consider and what practically can be achieved. Immense thanks are due to John Batty and the DramaLab actors for a brilliant experience. Now it's over, I'll miss them all ...

Monday, 17 June 2013

Actually writing

I've not done so well in terms of actually getting some writing done recently. I have plenty of excuses, of course. I've been travelling back and forth between London and Scotland. I've been reading books about writing. I've been busy, I've been thinking about stories, I've been tired. Huh.

But yesterday I sat down and plotted out a short play I've been thinking about for a while (working title of Goldilocks because it's about a girl visiting her grandma and finding an unexpected visitor). I wrote an outline, then wrote the first draft. It's ragged round the edges and needs a lot of work, but it's words on paper (well, on screen). Good. Now do more of that.

However, I also need to do some rewriting. My novel Identity is waiting, as is my play Possession, and as for the other shorter plays, well, they're waiting their turn too. But new stuff is more attractive of course. I have to convince myself to redraft, that it is worthwhile. I mean, what's the point in having a whole load of not-quite-right drafts lying around? Right. This weekend, then. It's a date.

It's also my last weekend before travel takes over my life again for a few weeks. I'm off to Japan. That's scary (I don't speak or read the language!) and very cool (I mean: Japan!) at the same time.

Needing to pack will not be accepted as an excuse for not writing though...

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Website redesign

I've finally got round to revamping my website, and it's now online. Hopefully it's all working and looking good - well, a tad more professional, anyhow. I've tried to make this blog match the new design as well and I think I've made a reasonable job of it.
I'll be making more of an effort to keep the website up to date, and also write more often on this blog. Well, these good intentions are paving my path... With more outings planned, I'll be able to write new reviews soon, so I have no excuse... except if I'm writing other things! (deadlines, deadlines...)

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Quick review: Siro-A

Billed as the Japanese take on the Blue Man Group, Siro-A were an unknown quantity to me... Being described as "technodelic" also didn't tell me much and the pre-show warm-up of a man with a tall white cigarette-like tube hat interacting with the bemused audience similarly didn't provide any clues, but I did get a cute photo from his polaroid camera. What Siro-A actually do involves dancing and miming to thumping music - but it's also so much more than that. Images are projected onto them and onto props such as boxes that they have to hold at just the right place to catch the picture and take it on voyages around the stage. It's a clever idea and the troupe of four dancers, a DJ and visual controller perform admirably and with energy, hitting their marks an impressive ~99% of the time. The various set pieces that form the show - including the barcode men, which will have you questioning what is real and what is projected - last about an hour in all, a reasonable length - though I would happily have watched them for longer. That does also make the standard ticket prices rather dear in my opinion, but there are some discount offers around and the show is definitely entertaining. Leave expectations behind and enjoy the fun...
Siro-a are at the Leicester Square Theatre until April.

Quick review: The Vortex

Noel Coward's The Vortex is currently playing at Rose Theatre, Kingston, London. It's an intimate off-West End theatre with a stage jutting out into the audience, and a 'pit' where viewers can bring their own cushion and get up close to the action. 
The Vortex set is sparse and colourful, as are the characters that waft through it. The plot is simple enough: Florence is dallying with a young man of her son's age, wilfully refusing to grow up and take on motherly and wifely responsibilities. When Nicky, her son, returns from studying in Paris with a cocaine habit and a fiancée in tow, the situation comes to a head, sparked off by the unexpected reunion between Florence's and Nicky's lovers, who were once a couple themselves.

Kerry Fox is unrepentant as the spoilt Florence, desperate to hang on to her youth; Rebecca Johnson shines as as Helen, her confidante and the voice of reason throughout; James Dreyfus gets the wittiest lines as the acerbic socialite queen; and William Chubb as the neglected husband and father exudes a quiet dignity that really brings the character to life. His short scenes with Nicky are gentle and heartbreaking. But it is David Dawson as Nicky who steals the show, an utterly compelling presence who conveys as much by what he doesn't say as with the sharp spiky script. His timing and delivery are spot on and his unfocussed stares into the middle distance are revealing, drawing you in to his inner turmoil. Nicky is confused and twitchy, brittle and near-hysteric in his search for parental love and stability, and the inevitable final conflict between him and his mother, where he lays bare both her flaws and his own, is terrible in its intensity.  I am in awe of these two actors who can summon such sincere seeming emotions night after night - I don't know how they can bear it. The Vortex offers an emotionally draining but worthwhile experience and I don't hesitate to recommend it.