June 25, 2007

Review of Margot's Guinevere

Words like 'fantastic' and 'brilliant' are used all the time in our 'overcelebration of underachievement' culture. When a really high quality production of really demanding material ike this comes along, there are no words left. But anyone who performed in that production will tell you, it was a class act. I loved it. The unreal chemical beauty of Candy, the real beauty of Margot/Guinevere, the eco-warrior spiritual beauty of Elaine in her wasteland, the joy of the real Joy (when she's finally found) were all there. The quiet dignity of Sir Lancelot, the inarticulate but rugged presence of Owain/Arthur (the king of the streets), the tormented magic of Merlay/Merlin, the etherealism of the Lady of the Lake, the fabulous fury of the rioters, the fraught parenting of Jade and West, not to mention the convincing political scheming of the latter in the legend and in the school and of course the old school Headmaster, out of his depth: all were there in bold profusion. And many other performances and touches too numerous to mention here. And a genuine 'company' spirit with everyone putting heart and soul into the ensemble. Why oh why do we only get a first night? It was a terrific first night but by the third night it would have been flying.
If you were in it, or saw it, and read this, let me know what you thought here.

June 10, 2007

Margot's Guinevere

Smithdon School Drama Production

At Princess Theatre, Hunstanton
From 7:00pm
Price: £5.00/£2.50 under 16's
For tickets or further information, please contact the venue directly. The information given on this page is subject to change - please confirm with the venue before travelling.
About a hundred years ago (actually December 1991), I started to write a play with a group of teenagers in King's Lynn. They had just performed my play 'Getting On' as the annual production at King Edward VII High School where I was Head of Drama.  There is nothing like a play. And sometimes you get a big monster smash hit of a play out of nowhere and almost everybody loves you except the caretaker and especially the kids. After all, they are finally getting what education only talks abut: complete focus on them. Under lights. With applause. 'Getting On' was just such a hit. Producing it consumed all my time and energy and was a lot more exciting than marking the register, setting unpleasant homework and telling kids off and of course I wanted it to continue forever. That was how Margot's Guinevere started. Unfortunately it never finished.

This time I wanted it to be about them, now. I also wanted it to be about King Arthur. And I wanted it to reflect the theatrical realities of most school drama - more girls than boys can act. Exactly the reverse of the average playscript. I needed a play with lots of big parts for girls. So gradually I came up with a play about modern teenagers on a modern 'problem' estate ('Corbenic' - the wasteland) whose school is putting on a play about King Arthur, with big parts for Guinevere, Morgan le Fay etc.

Sounds good - but easier said than done. It was so huge it made Ben Hur look like a two hander. There were - as the wardrobe mistress noted waspishly - "twenty three long dresses needed for scene seven alone!"

Well, I ran 53 ninety minute after school rehearsals and eventually put on a 70 cast epic two hour show that ran for five nights and made a lot of money. The audiences were sell outs because of the previous play's success and because the cast was so huge that the relatives alone accounted for half the population of Lynn. The original impetus - to have a schoolgirl transform into Guinevere in front of the audience's eyes through the magic of theatre- did come through. I remember one preview in assembly where suddenly Arthur's knights in full gear rose from their places and became kings and queens. But there was too much complexity and, to cut a long story short (as I couldn't bear to do) I was still rewriting it fifteen years later.

A couple of years after the play's second production, (another school in King's Lynn put it on, rewritten but still unfinished, and directed brilliantly by Joan Evans) I became director of youth theatre at The Princess Theatre, Hunstanton. I rewrote the play continually, in between productions, work-shopping it again with this new smaller and very talented groups of players. One of these players was Vicky Sykes. She is now producing it for what will be its third public production on June 23, 2007. She would have been too young for the Princess junior drama group when I was started writing it with those senior pupils at KES in Lynn. Now she's running the show!

As my daughter would say, it's all basically kicking off. I'll be there in the second row, mouthing the lines I've worked over for half my career along. If the cast falter, I could probably take over so it's a good job they won't. Ex Head of English John Davies, who will be with me, will no doubt shout down any audience inattention. He usually does.

Break a legend everybody.

June 01, 2007

Forty Years Ago Today

Forty Years Ago TodayThe Beatles' Pepper-hot summer of love soundtrack album came out on June 1 1967. As a tribute to a band who curiously write so often for 'all the lonely people' (why did loneliness preoccupy such in-crowd guys?) , here's an excerpt from my Beatle novel/play/poem/whatever...

How did you do what you did to my rebel big sister in the summer of love? If I knew how you did it to her-

- If you can remember it, man, you weren’t there.

Tch. I wasn’t. I was eleven. I “had to go to bed early”. It would take me until 1973 to grow a moustache. The only acid I experimented with was in chemistry practicals. And my only bad trips were the bus rides to Grammar School. I wanted to go all the way down to Strawberry Fields instead - and then all the way up Penny Lane. As always with the Fabs, you got a lot more for your pocket money. I had to rely on the radio of course, not having the largesse of my podgy friend Timothy, but by time you got there, a haunting elegy is making you as happy as a fool on a hill. And then you turn around at Penny Lane for a big yellow iced lolly of joy. And all the better for that hint of acid in every lick!

Meanwhile, in the grown up world, The Times is calling Sergeant Pepper “a decisive moment in the history of Western civilisation.” The BBC is banning it. Tim Uptheroad’s Dad is saying the Beatles are young boys with more money than sense and that they dress like women. My big sister says his Dad’s idea of a man is a killer in khaki and that she prefers the peace uniforms the Beatles are wearing against Nam on ‘Pepper’. Mam snaps back that the summer of love is a fancy phrase for living in sin and that my sister has let her knickers down, whatever that means .

- Follow that, Mick.

Well, the Stones usually do. Which isn’t a put down - originality isn’t everything. Stones’ records seldom start less than brilliantly. They really kick. And then they get stuck in a groove. But the Beatles were never predictable like that. And in 1967, having rewritten the groove in 1963, they rewrote the groove again so completely that for once the Stones – with the possible exception of Brian Jones - couldn’t find it. Meanwhile, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band led a whole generation up a completely different garden path. Past tangerine trees and flowers that grew incredibly high. Follow that, Mick

- Come on, Mick!

Nobody could though. Not even the Beach Boys whose mind-bending harmonies helped to inspire the change. And certainly not the arse-wriggling Stones. The Stones weren’t going to start evolving now. They had peacock-and fannied into the aristocracy of the English class system in their Beatle haircuts sooner than you could say St John’s Wood while Our John was still agonising about childminders. They’d followed the Fabs to the top of the English-free zone that used to be the US charts and we called it the British Invasion. But before I Want To Hold Your Hand any British Invasion was about as likely as the “Coronation Street” theme panning over Manhattan skyline. And the un-cute, unoriginal – though undoubtedly rocking – 1960s Stones never got invited up to Buckingham Palace either where naturally our Mopheads of the British Empire shared a pre-MBE joint in the naughty boys’ room. And when some debutante asked John if he was “the funny one” he said, “No, I’m the one with the big dick.” “The Beatles want to hold your hand but the Stones want to burn down your town,” wrote Tom Woolf. But it was the Beatles who burned it down.

I read a PG Wodehouse public school novel recently where all the angst is solved in the last chapter. The chaps who doubted the chap who couldn’t rat on a chap (even though that chap, rather than he, was a bounder). But in the last chapter it all comes out and the chaps organise it so the hero gets to score the winning try as the house team he’d been sacked in disgrace from wins the Cup. And as I put the book down, I suddenly found myself saying aloud about my life and career, “It hasn’t been like that- it’s all gone wrong for me.” And I cried like a child for what I’ve never had. And it’s that feeling – that glimpse of Eden from outside – that the Beatles music always captures for me.

George, what’s the most important thing in life?

- Love.