Where HAVE you been? You simply MUST come in! Look at all my wonderful new twenty-first century stuff! See, I have sorted all my split boxes of juvenilia, I've inherited a pair of shorts, bought a bonsai tree and a boxed set of Steve Reich, trained my feet to face forward by walking with my elbows out and I'm bounding about youtube and iplayer these days like the nimblest of cyber-squirrels. Really I've NO idea how I managed before: Last night I was able to catch "Snog, Marry or Avoid" at three in the morning, which is probably when it would be on anyway but there's all those charming documentaries they're making now about Thatcher and Mary Whitehouse, thank the baby blonde Jesus Derek Jarman's long dead and all his ilk but ANYWAY, you're very lucky to catch me in actually. I was supposed to be in Goodge Street doing a second day of devised work for the RSC with Anthony Neilson.
Only he's, it turns out, a bit shit.
The first day of devising was eye-opening. Shall we rewind? For the purposes of this story it would help if you knew something about Adriano Shaplin. He's a young American playwright. He sounds like this (thanks for teaching me that linking thing, Tom) and he looks like a young Robert Newton and is the writer-in-residence at the RSC. Last Tuesday he got in touch with me out of the blue asking if I'd like to be in this - which I subsequently was - and also if I'd like to be involved in something he and Anthony Neilson had been asked to prepare for the Royal Shakespeare Company's slot at the Latitude Festival. I did. I've always wanted to work with Adriano. He's good. I don't know much about Anthony Neilson but he's supposed to be a famous deviser and if the RSC were asking on board the odder theatricals I wanted in. Also, the pitch that Adriano had put to me sounded awesome: Zombies versus Pilgrims.
Zombies was Anthony's idea (Scratch that! I've just learnt it was Nick the sound czar's idea), Pilgrims was Adriano's - as in the Pilgrim Fathers, with the big buckles on the hats (is it established what those buckles actually tighten?) So I turned up this Monday to the basement of a church on Goodge Street and there was Adriano and actors and a sound designer and producer and all that, but no Anthony Neilson, and we start talking about - well Nick the sound czar talked about how interested he was in rumours at a festival, how news travels, and the producer talked about bringing along the RSC's make-up department to zombify the punters, and Adriano talked about teaching people the rules of being a zombie, the idea being that at midnight we'd put on this play about Pilgrims and at a given signal the recruited zombies would then attack, and we'd play Zombies versus Pilgrims. Of course there were clear and understandable qualms on the part of some of Neilson's invited company concerning the prospect of being physically assaulted by flesh-eating festival-goers, "health and safety" was mentioned (by actors, not producers) but hopefully the ironing out of this structure was what these two days were for. Then Anthony Neilson came in, two hours late, suited, bleary-eyed and with a bead of something that could charitably be indentified as sweat hanging from the scoop of his lower lip. His new idea, which had nothing to do with what Adriano and Nick had been e-mailing each other about all week, was to stick a telly in the tent, bung on a video of Shakespeare and then go and get pissed. This, it transpired as the day wore on, was his favorite idea that anyone had had: "It's basically going to be a Guardian-reading Audience, and this is the last thing people expect of the RSC, which as I understand it is kind of our remit. Also I don't understand what it is that's going to make people want to dress up as zombies. What if no-one turns up? I'm sympathetic to the ethos but I just don't think it will work. And why pilgrims? It doesn't have any significance? Surely the question is, when the zombies attack do the actors stay in character? It doesn't make sense that they would. And what's in it for the audience? (meaning the punters turning up at midnight to sit in the tent and watch, not the festival as a whole... blah blah roll forward five hours)... rather than this kind of gimmicky getting-the-audience-involved trap what if we put on, like, the most boring piece of theatre we can possibly make and then at the end a zombie comes on and kills the actor, or maybe not even a zombie, or we're just all in bed asleep, or it's like some really really bad stand-up. Anyway that as I see it is the third way, and my idea, which is what I propose that we do. So are we all agreed? Hang on I just have to take this call -"
And that's pretty much verbatim. So no, Anthony, not agreed but that's fine. Suddenly it all makes sense, all these long and heated - and as I once thought pointless - debates about a "Crisis in Theatre", because seated here before me, listening attentively and buying me a pint and tired and bored is the Crisis incarnate, the poster boy of maverick theatrical experimentation trussed up as a gormless yuppie. Adriano and I and our fellow actor Cait hung around on Goodge Street while everyone else was in the pub, trying to picture a workable scenario for the following day's "workshop". It was clear to me there wouldn't be one. I mean, if you can't see HOW COOL ZOMBIES VERSUS PILGRIMS ARE HOW CAN YOU PROPERLY CALL YOURSELF AN ARTIST?! HONESTLY, Anthony! My mate Ned's seen some of your stuff. He told me "Neilson spoons out a tosser's bag of ideas after rubbing his anus against the long-shattered remnants of taboos he's claiming to break." I don't know if you can use that, if it fits your remit. It's controversial... Cait's dropped out too now. And Adriano. Cool. I feel great.
So here I lounge today, not sulking but counting my blessings - which is probably why I started this blog in the first place. Because all the work I've done over the past three months, from "Contains Violence" to the Dungeons to the 48-hour film challenge where I talk about glue (oh, here, it's called "Homework") makes so much more sense in the light of my one-night-stand with the RSC. Let's never ever work ever with or for the bored.
Did I really say I'd leave a post every other day? Tt. In this three months' absence my blessings seemed far too obvious to count, and when they stopped there seemed far too much to catch up on. I still hadn't even written about Jonah. Not even that. And it's June... Okay, well, starting from now. And I'm back now. I mean it, darlings. I've got to work on some sketches, but I'm back. I never did write that pilot of course. The more you write the more you write, so you've got to write it all really. Yes! Let us, in the words of the artificially promotable catch-phrase David Mitchell hopes to see shoe-horned into the new series of ThaMitAnWebLook - you just wait - Let us OPEN UP ANOTHER BOTTLE OF WINE AND SEE IF WE CAN GET BACK INTO IT!
Peace (and don't let the wrought-iron panhedron slam you in the ass on your way out):
-Video no longer there again. This definitely isn't it -