A Certain Christmas Carol



zDid you know this website, devoted entirely to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?

It is a real treasure trove: there is the story itself, of course, and essays about it, and articles about Dickens and his works, and Dickens’s own essays on Christmas, and galleries of vintage illustrations, and artwork, and information about many adaptations for the screen and radio, and links…

As I said, a treasure trove if you are a fan of the book.

I am. And while cynical enough to raise an eyebrow at Scrooge’s fright-induced U turn, and to see the element of emotional blackmail, I find – every December – that I don’t mind too much being emotionally blackmailed when it comes to Christmas…

Not Quite Dooooomed


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Ninnoli2In case you wonder, last Saturday wasn’t the unqualified disaster I feared. I won’t say it went well – that would be too much – but it didn’t go all that horribly, either.

Yes, well – when I arrived at the theatre about half past three with a bag of Saint Lucia candy, it was to find that, what with the band’s instruments and loudspeakers, we’d have to play in a sort of corridor, against a background of the ugliest sky blue, with barely room enough for our very scant scenery… All of which sent the director in a passion, and then in a fit of the sulks, and she wouldn’t be talked, reasoned or bullied out of it. And this made the electricians very jittery, and there was a row, and the leading man hadn’t got over his doldrums yet, and we lost so much time bickering that in our allotted stage time we only managed to fix the lights for one of the plays. The other I had to talk through with the head electrician, and pray to the Spirit of the Bard. All the while, the director sulked, and our current stage manager devoured all the candy, and the ingénue – who had recovered just enough of her voice – being a young and biddable thing, was very upset by the general atmosphere, and fit to go into hysterics…

Yes, well.

By ten to nine, when I emerged from backstage and took my place at the lighting board, I was contemplating to give up playwriting in favour of some quieter  career – such as, say, war correspondent…

The electrician patted my shoulder. “Look at it this way,” he said. “In an hour or so, it will be all over.”

True: as we were to open the damn thing, it actually would take a good deal less than an hour for our (my) reputation to go downhill. And this is how cheerfully I set to work when the curtain opened.

Then… What shall I say? Then things sort of patched themselves up, in the way they often do when it comes to theatre. I Ninnoli di Vetro, that is The Glass Baubles is a ten-minute little thing of mime and narrating voices. There was some little panic onstage, but thankfully if was of the quiet, limb-freezing sort – so in the end nothing irretrievable happened. The narrators did a great job, the unrehearsed lights somehow worked, and the thing looked well enough, if a trifle less dynamic than it should have.

Applause. Then it was the turn of the boys’ choir, and then us again. Nin2

Christmas Joy was harder. It’s more complex, it has more people onstage,  more scenery to dance around, and in a moment of unconscionable optimism, I wrote into it a montage-like sequence that proved the tiniest bit harrowing, time- and lighting-wise… And the ingénue panicked, and thank heaven for the quick wits of the leading lady, who covered up so well that it all seemed done on purpose, and the ingénue is no fool, either: it was her first important role, and she went blank, and quickly recovered, and sailed happily through the rest with flying colours…

And, at one point, I noticed something: the little singers, after their performance, had been sent to sit in the first two rows. Forty children between five and fourteen. And, you know, children don’t get bored silently… Well, the first time I stopped to take a breath, I noticed that our choristers sat open-mouthed, round-eyed, barely breathing to see what would happen to Joy and Emma and their Christmas tree…

That was when I knew that, in spite of the ugly stage, of the panic, of the tantrums, of the scant rehearsals, of the rows, of the rickety whole, we weren’t heading to disaster.  Then I relaxed, and nearly gave a stroke to the electrician, by changing the lights of the ending on a whim…

And, once more, applause.

So… was it perfect? Far from it. Was it irksome? In the extreme. Will it kill the company’s reputation? Or mine? I don’t think so. Was it good? Well… In absolute terms, perhaps, not terribly. When gauged against how very ugly it could have been, though… it was good – more than enough.

I was wrong, see? We weren’t as badly doooooomed as I thought, and I believe that most hitches will be smoothed as we do it again – but, ye gods, this time… this time it was a close thing.


Shakespeare On Demand


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GPDid you know you can now view Globe productions on demand on the Globe Player?

You can choose your play, read an introduction and a cast list, watch a preview and browse viewers’ comments. If you like what you see, you can either rent or buy the video for a very reasonable charge – or even send it as a gift, which is a nice thought for this time of the year.

You can also choose from a wide selection of foreign productions: Shakespeare in a rainbow of languages, under Globe To Globe.

And there is some free content as well, such as Muse of Fire, a series of interviews with Shakespearean actors and directors, about the relevance of the Bard in today’s world. And the bizarre but fascinating Sonnet Project NYC, a collection of small movies – one for each sonnet, filmed in New York to combine Shakespeare’s works with the city’s “urban poetry”.

A treasure trove for all of us who live far, far, far away from London and its theatres.

Saint Lucia


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santaluciaThe Baby Jesus – yes, and Santa Claus – yes, but in my corner of the world, the gift-bringer, the one children write to, and wait for is the old (or young) lady with the donkey: Saint Lucia.

I’m well past childhood but, being the youngest – and indeed, the only young-ish – member of my family, I still get Saint Lucia. In the morning of the thirteenth, I wake up to find my little coloured parcels, and a sinful plate of candy…

This year, together with an elephant-shaped mug and a lovely glass ornament for the Christmas tree, Saint Lucia has left for me two historicals by Rosemary Sutcliff who, in spite of being a children’s author, is a writer right up my alley – or so I’m told. Sutcliff

That she writes tales from British history and was inspired by Kipling’s works seems very promising. From the hastiest perusal of her extensive bibliography, Kipling’s influence is clear. Just have a look at title and synopses: they have Puck of Pook’s Hill written all over…

I also like what Sally Hawkins writes here about Sutcliff’s novels, and how they sparked off her love of history, and her lack of condescension towards younger readers… As I said, it’s all very promising. Then again, Saint Lucia is seldom wrong. So, no matter how the show goes tonight, I can anticipate coming home to a pleasant few hours of reading one of my new Sutcliffs.

Thank you, Saint Lucia.

We are doooooomed


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keep-calm-but-we-re-all-doomedEverything – but everything – is going wrong.

When offered the chance for a one-off performance at a locally important-ish Christmas event, The Other Company* jumped at it. The venue is good, and the event usually well attended, and they had on the back burner these two small Christmas things of mine: a ten-minute-two-people thing, and a small one-act play… And there was plenty of time to work on them.

So they eagerly accepted, full of confidence that, hey, what could possibly go wrong?

And indeed, I couldn’t point out the moment when everything started to go pear-shaped, but blimey!

Just imagine: our leading lady has been missing rehearsal after rehearsal, our leading man entered his tantrum-throwing phase on Wednesday, our ingénue caught a monster cold, and has no voice left, we can’t have a dress rehearsal at the theatre on Friday – and we are to play Saturday night.

If all of this weren’t enough, yesterday we should have had our make-shift not-quite-dress rehearsal. We were scheduled for half past six in the afternoon, then delayed an hour, then we had to wait while the local kindergarten children were persuaded to relinquish the stage after their Christmas pantomime, then we were informed that we could not have the stage after all, but a rehearsal room was at our disposal – provided we were quick about it, as others would need it later. So we hauled our (thankfully minimal) scenery and props to the Arctic-cold rehearsal room, and worked in a very jittery fashion for, perhaps, an hour and a half, before the local boys’ choir evicted us – because they had to rehearse, didn’t we know, and the children couldn’t be kept waiting**…

It seems we have landed smack in the middle of some feud or other inside the Town Council – a feud we have no part in or knowledge of – and forty  hours away from curtain-up, whenever I think of Saturday, I want to hyperventilate. we are all doomed anyway

What’s more, the leading lady is currently out of town, and supposed to catch a late train home at some time tomorrow evening. If, for some reason, she shouldn’t manage, she’ll be caught in the quagmire of a railways strike… Which means no one knows at what time we can expect her back Friday night.

What’s even more, the already far-from-well ingénue, caught some more cold tonight, and went home with a very sore throat, and an aching ear…

And I don’t want to go imagining what else could go wrong, but I’m sure plenty more can. And will, if these last days are anything to go by.

So, while I know that this onslaught of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster is the natural condition of theatre… well, I am frankly terrified. This time I have very little faith that everything will turn out well. This time we are marching towards unqualified disaster. This time we are all dooooomed.

Unless, perhaps… Who knows, the leading lady might be stranded out of town. Or the poor ingénue might develop a temperature… We have no understudy for either, and we’d be forced to excuse ourselves.

See? We are doooomed. Frankly, how bad must it be that either the strike, or the flu, or both, right now look so very much like the only road to salvation?


* Still the bunch with the Centipede, although the Centipede is long gone.

** And I could point out that for the children the did turn on the heating.


Music in a different language?

MusicNotesVarD-500x500I’m not terribly surprised to learn that the brain will process music and language in similar ways… Intuitively, I’ve always had this notion that both work by structure, pattern, rhythm, repetition, juxtaposition, combination of sounds, expression and codification of meaning…

This very interesting article by George Tsoulas for Conversation, offers a clear explanation and an overview of the current studies on the subjects – together with a few good links.

So it would seem that, after all, music is a different language. Or perhaps every language is a different music?


Sonnets and Birds Descend


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LMNAt times, poetry just happens.

It arrives at the right moment – whether it is when you need it, or in a way that just won’t be forgotten. If I didn’t know better, I’d be tempted tempted to think that poetry, as reading material, works under its own brand of (higly theatrical) serendipity.

Louis MacNeice happened to me one rainy evening, a few years ago, in the form of The Sunlight on the Garden – that was written in 1938, when war was looming, and all was about to change forever:

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

Oh, the sheer feel of autumn coming, of loss, of irretrievability… I cannot read this poem without feeling the chill of that hardening sunlight.

Later I discovered that MacNeice had also been a playwright, translator and radio-drama author, and I went on to read more of his work. And yet, to me he will always  be the poet of sunlight hardening on the brink of darkness, who happened to me on that one rainy night, a few years ago.



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j2You know the jig, the lively dance that, back in the day, used to end all performances, no matter how gory or tragic? Well, I’m writing a meta-Shakespearean play so I can put a final jig into it.

No, actually it’s not quite as unhinged as it may sound. This is for the Other Company – the one of the Centipede. They asked for some Shakespeare of their own – just not quite Shakespeare, if you see what I mean.

So I’m writing them this theatre-within-theatre thing, and putting in a jig – because I’ve always wanted a jig, and this time I’m having one, so sue me.

And just so you won’t think I’m badly deranged, here you can see what it is all about, and here is an article on the subject.

And of course, there is no way I’m going to have anything even near this Globe-y perfection – but still, it’s well worth writing a play for the sake of it, don’t you think?

Much Ado About the Folio


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ffA First Folio – of all things!

Just imagine – you are dusting off old tomes, you start work on a supposedly dull XVIII Century manuscript, and… First Folio.

How very breath-taking. Quite the stuff dreams are made of…

Ah well.

Here are a few links to see what the press has to say on the matter.

BBC News first, then the New York Times, and the Independent, and France 24 – after all, they found it – all of them understandably awestruck. And then, interestingly, there is the Times Literary Supplement, rather wondering what all the fuss is about.

And yes, I’ll admit that everthing Michael Caines says is true enough – but one cannot help suspecting he is playing contrarian. Never mind how many other First Folios are already in our possession, or how many are still out there, misplaced and waiting to be found – I, for one, find it very hard to resist the combination of Shakespeare’s name, treasure-hunt and fairy-tale feel…

Once upon a time, there was a book. Coated in the dust of centuries, it slept in the little library of an old town by the sea…

It may not be a true holy grail, but it makes for a damned good story, don’t you think?



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