State of the Nation

Let’s not break tradition, do let me begin by apologising for gaps between posts. I am beginning to wonder whether a few sentences every other day, and a big, more formal, essay style blog once a month might be a better way to go. That way I could keep up to date, and also choose a big issue I want to address. I just feel a growing guilt the longer I leave between posts, which is why, after very little sleep (combination of trying to get a train from anywhere in Lincolnshire, to anywhere else, and British Summer Time). So yes. I am very tired. I am also still a little hungover. I stayed the night at a friends’ in Loughborough, and when I’m not the one pouring I loose track quite easily. I don’t often do that kind of thing so felt a little embarrassed at the workshop today. Don’t think I lagged too much, just worried that I looked hungover.

The workshop was a TWP and Derby Writes event on State of the Nation plays. Very, very interesting. Lots of different approaches, we talked about top down (David Hare, David Edgar) SotN plays, which address the politicians, and the public face of the state, and bottom up plays (Look Back in Anger, A Raisin in the Sun) which address the people who live in the state, and the private face of a state. There was a lot of basic form/character/subtext work, which is always essential. And also a lot of debate, which I really do love. It was brilliant to be able to get stuck in, and really eke out how I feel and what I want from a SotNP. My first reaction (one of the first questions we were asked) to ‘what is a SotNP?’ was ‘irrelevant in it’s current form, as written by white, middle class (straight?) 70s agitprop men’. Pretty damning, I know, but do forgive me, it was a gut reaction question, and that is how I feel without my academic hat on. (IE I completely acknowledge their contribution and relevance to the state of the 70s and 80s, I just think that the private face of discrimination is what needs dealing with now, rather than policy on its own.). There were also some interesting points made a la every play being essentially a state of the contemporary nation play. Which it is. I agree with that, I think (and said) that the definition of a SotNP comes, instead, when a playwright addresses that play to the state/nation/world/eternal human condition (the latter added to accept Beckett into the fold). And then, if we are using a ‘bottom up’ approach, there are several ways of addressing the macrocosmic scale – such as a character (The Inspector in An Inspector Calls, Trovimov (sp?) in The Cherry Orchard) metaphor and imagery (much of the speech in Anouilh’s Antigone, in the language of fear in Far Away) and in themes (the American Dream in The Death of a Salesman, eternity in Endgame).

It did make me wonder where my (ostensibly political, and definitely addressing themselves to the state/world) plays fit in. The two main pieces I am currently work on are both pieces of speculative theatre – one imagines a virtual world so popular that the founder of it is worried that it is stopping people’s participation in real life (it basically asks a confusing question about the nature of reality) – and the second play imagines the effect of a single child policy on the UK, through a romance between a man and a whore, trafficked to the UK for a higher demand in (now legal) sex workers, and a black market trade in healthy male babies. I hope that they’re slightly less melodramatic than they sound when I write them down. In essence the first is about blurred reality, and the second is a love story. (New question, are all plays a love story?). So yes, lots from the workshop to apply to those ideas, particularly the use of format in exposition (talking about politics in a seduction was one good example). The workshop was run by Noël Greig and Philip Osment who were lovely, very open, very interested in our ideas, and very supportive throughout. They are both also legends in their own right to me as part of

Gay Sweatshop, who along with Monstrous Regiment and Women’s Theatre Group stood up (and rightly so) to the WASP(plus male, middle class and straight) agitprop left of the 70s and said ‘fair enough, revolution, we’re up for that, but how about include us too?’. There is often a problem in the left, or indeed of any radical political movement, of a ‘you’re either with us or against us’ mentality. ‘if you’re not a banana, then you must be an orange’. That kind of thing, I found plenty of that in my research into the Nationalist movement in Egypt which ends up going further back into the worst of the conservative Islamist principles and seriously rescinding women’s rights (NB, principles considered ‘tradition’ and not actually taken from the Koran itself), and in the Nationalist movement of the 1916 Easter uprising in Ireland – women were told that if they were Sinn Fein, they could not align themselves with the suffragettes, because an emancipated Irishwoman, under British rule, was still not free. Am I babbling? Probably, it’s quite late. But basically the workshop was really great, many thanks for TWP, and particularly Bianca, for organising and subsidising it.

And now I thought I would just choose a few extracts from the great deal of writing I did over the couple of days, a sort of flavour for the creative work. Do bear in mind it is all completely unedited stuff, just speed writing most of it, so allow for clumsiness!

Enjoy:

The State of the Nation play… Is dry and past it in its current form and concerns as written by 70s agitprop white middle class men.

The State… Is much maligned and generally demonised and as grey a place you’d ever get making black and white decisions.

The Individual… Is the smallest unit of potential.

Powerlessness is… Being in love.
Power is… Being loved.

“I fainted the first time I fell in love. I fainted. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. It was scary. I was at work in a factory, up a step ladder trying to find a replacement plastic part in a box. I dropped my list. Felt dizzy. I got down in time but I fainted. Powerlessness is being alone. Is the fear that underscores being in love. It hurts. It’s scary. And before then I’d never known – never understood any of it. But what would I do – what would I say to myself, then, as me now? Nothing. I’d say nothing. I wouldn’t even show my face. I’d stand and look though. Watch myself, dizzy, walking across the dusty factory floor to get a sip of water. And I think I’d know that it had to happen. I’d watch it confusing me, scaring me, knowing that all the hurt and tears had to happen so that I could realise the power of being loved, and the powerlessness of loving someone.”

A speech as head of state that had to include several unconnected words (Black, Winter, Alaska, Fire, English, Children, Dignity, God, Milk, Soup, Teeth, Bone, Dreaming, Mother, Eyes, Love, Nothing, Children, Pain, Justice, Song, Dog, Father)

“It would be wrong of me to stand here in front of you and not admit that there are dark days ahead of us. Black clouds gathering over previous governments are beginning to blot out the sun. I know there is a lot of fear. Nor will I diminish the fact that you feel that, however I will say that we will face the economic trials of today with dignity and consideration. Too long we have taken and taken, come to expect, neglected the environment, neglect our selves. But we will get through this Winter, Spring will come again. ‘Green shoots’ is what the economists say.

The media takes pleasure in the so-called failures of the state. I will say this now, in front of cameras and microphones and reporters: They must not be allowed to become the new god of our times, pulling strings and dictating a warped moral philosophy. Trying to affect the soup of prejudice and manipulated headlines that bubbles away each day has become the main job of politicians. This should not be so. I do not dismiss the media, but feel that their calls for accountability should be applied to them too.

We are a strong nation, teeth and bone and sinew. We are also small. And have made ourselves strong through dreaming of a bigger world, driven by the fire – and I do say fire- of the workers of this nation; the nurses, teachers and health workers that care for us.

The environment is also a keen and ongoing concern. The recent pipeline exploration in Alaska has highlighted a decision that we all, mothers sons and daughters need to make about our future. Will we look our children in the eyes and tell them that we would rather choose lifestyle over their future?”

An Issue piece in the style of Antigone rebelling against her brother (top down):
NB. I wrote this in response to a combination of guidelines that were issued to senior management at Lincolnshire County Council and to female employees of the Bank of England

A: I think you know why you’re here
B: I know you think you do
A: Now come on, we just wanted to instill equal rules for everyone
B: I know you think you did
A: We have. And your childish attempt to ridicule what were carefully considered, tested and-
B: I objected. I lodged an official objection.
A: And it was officially considered and – look, do you not agree that some certain standards of dress should be adhered to in the Bank of England?
B: I do
A: You would expect a certain standard of attire from a male colleague, yes? A suit, a tie, smart shoes?
B: Certainly
A: So why do you feel the need to undermine –
B: I am not undermining.
A: I don’t understand why we have a problem, a week ago you wore make-up, a week ago you had smart shoes and-
B: I wore heels you mean
A: Look-
B: No you look. Last week I was not required to wear make-up. Last week I was not required to wear at least a 2 inch but no more than a 3 inch heel
A: There are male guidelines too
B: ‘women should not show their midriff’. how about all the fat bellies that you can see peeking out from under badly fitted shirts?
A: This went to peer review
B: Most of our peers are men! Look. I don’t object to reasonable standards of office dress. What I do object to is cynical excuses for men to comment on womens’ appearance. Whether or not I wear make-up, heels, or ‘bangles’ is not a reflection of how well I do my job. this is my body. That you feel you have the right to suggest not decorating it in the ‘right’ manner renders it inappropriate is not OK.
A: I see. You’re a Feminist are you?
B: I am a human being. Not a doll.
A: I see that nothing is going to come of my approaching you in a reasonable way.
B: No. not a tack I have ever seen you try.

And finally, a piece developed from notes written on idle conversation with an added ‘world stage’ political context. (Subtext and bottom up).

A: It’s a lovely cottage isn’t it
B: Yes, lovely
A: lovely
(Pause)
I love that red- that red brickwork – you know, industrial
B: I prefer Roman personally
A: What?
B: Roman architecture. I prefer Roman architecture.
A: Ah yes, but your house is cream – like cream stone isn’t it
B: (absentmindedly) It was, yeas. Cream.
(Beat)
I’ve always liked copper on a building.
A: Copper?
B: Copper – like that over there.
A: Goes green doesn’t it?
(Pause)
That’s a very yellow car.
(Nothing)
Very yellow.
(Pause)
B: Very yellow
A: Pardon?
B: Nothing.
(Pause)
A: I used to have a metro. A metro in this soft yellow. Soft yellow it was.
B: Soft? Like that?
A: No, no, much softer than that
B: Like the colour of that crane?
A: No, not like that.
B: Or that building – that building with the orange sign there
A: No it wasn’t orange.
B: I mean the building – the colour of the building.
(Pause)
A: No.
(Pause)
It was a good car. A good little metro. You’ve always had your Minis though haven’t you? Never have just one Mini, Mini drivers. How’s the gold one?
B: What?
A: The gold Mini
B: Had to sell it.
(Pause)
A: It’s strange seeing that – the crane and scaffolding. You see that a lot these days. They never seem to be actually building. Just put the scaffolding up and-
B: Because they’ve run out of money.
A: Sorry?
B: It’s because they’ve run out of money
(Silence)
A: Oh. Right.
(Pause)
Right.
(Pause)
B: Empty half built buildings. Broken against the sky.

There you go, all done! Too tired to read this back for typos, apologise if there are any/many. I will post again soon with details of academic things hopefully, my thoughts on my PhD proposal etc. Thanks for reading!

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