Herd, Land of our Fathers, and my own
Another long gap between my last post and this - work has been utterly manic. Does one need to use utterly alongside manic? I feel I need to emphasise just how manic! And it's Sunday afternoon, with rain lashing onto the skylights of this coffee shop in Mortlake. And I'm trying to focus more on the play I began in the summer. It's had enough time for its first rough draft to become a little more defamiliar - enough for me to try and tackle second draft. So I began reading it through, thinking, what am I missing here? And the most basic and most important question had not been asked - how do / does my main character(s) change or transform through the conflicts? So I've begun to answer that, which should open it up enough to develop.
I've also been deep into family tree research. Ireland really has some amazing records - one benefit of the churches - including petty sessions records, featuring raps on knuckles for having unleashed and dangerous dogs, and unlicensed. And trespassing cattle. And between the cold figures of birth, marriage, and death dates, tragedy reveals itself over and over again. My great grandfather Edward Webb (1837-1902) was married three or four times. His first son, Alfred (1886-1957), my grandfather, lost his Mum Margaret nee Higgins (1863-1887) at just a year old or thereabouts. And then when I look up James Higgins, my great great grandfather, a Farmer from Cashel in Mayo - father to Margaret - in the years following his daughter's death, he seems to go on a dog licensing spree! Why all the dogs? My Dad's Mum seems to have been constantly pregnant! Aunts and Uncles who didn't make it to late childhood include Edward, Catherine, Kathleen... I have told my siblings that they'll be getting a family tree for Christmas - I cannot bear the prospect of yet another mid-December weekend rushing round for pointless presents. It needs to be personal this year, I've decided.
This past week I went to see Land of our Fathers, a Theatre 503 production at the Latimer in Battersea. The setting in this tiny theatre was first class; the black mine and six South Wales miners, stuck underground. It had earned five and four stars from critics. I'd have given it a three. I felt it was a tad long and intense - don't get me wrong I love intense - and it was great to hear the South Welsh accent (isn't it but...) as well as some of the Welsh language - but because it's only in one tiny setting it felt like I too was trapped in the mine. That was the aim, yes, but the seats and legroom left a lot to be desired.
Also went to the Bush Theatre to watch Herd, actor Rory Kinnear's debut play as a writer. The acting was superb, but quite in that middle-class sitcom type of way. In the first ten minutes me and Arabella (friend) kept looking at each other pulling faves whenever the audience laughed knowingly at inane observations made by the characters. But then it becomes clear this covers a whole raft of hurt on the part of the stage family. It's about an invisible twenty-one year old son who has had to spend the past several years in a care home - but his Mum - whose acting was frantic - has never given up control - especially not from her ex-husband, who suddenly turns up having been off the radar for five years. It's very sad, funny in parts, and by and large well written, particularly the parts of the grandparents; the grandmother is scathing! I like Rory Kinnear; his Hamlet at the National Theatre was nothing short of astonishing - as was his Iago in Othello - and this writerly debut demonstrates his versatility. Not sure what to book next. Arnold Wesker's Roots at the Donmar is sold out and am not sure if want to queue for day tickets - the same for Lesley Manville in Ghosts. There's also Routes at the Royal Court, and Billy the Girl at Soho Theatre. What is absolutely clear is that London theatre seems to never have been in ruder health. And so there has to be a space for my play. When I finish it.