I find myself wanting to rewrite things.
Plays, especially. Plays that were staged with good success – one even published…
But now I want to rewrite them, because seeing them staged made me aware of rough edges, mistakes, things great and small that need some more work. And because years have passed and I have learnt a few things since.
Somnium Hannibalis is a stage adaptation of my novel of the same name.* Hannibal Barca, the Second Punic War, the price of all-consuming dreams… An intense little thing – if I say so myself. It had several runs over four years, it played well, and I loved it very much, but now… I want to write it again, to change things, to shift the characters around Hannibal, to have things happen onstage more. It’s not that I have grown to dislike it, but I know how to make it so much better.
Of Men and Poets is a play on Virgil – or rather, on the fate of the Aeneid after Virgil’s death. It was a commission, and it opened rather grandly, back in the day, to the presence of Seamus and Marie Heaney, Peter Fallon, the Gotha of Europe’s Virgil scholars… Then it had a good run and was published. And it wasn’t bad – but I was so green to the craft when I wrote it, and it shows in a hundred little ways. There are many things I know now, and wish I had known back then…
And of course I couldn’t know, because a good deal of it I learnt by sitting backstage or in the audience through show after show, and getting a feeling for what works and what doesn’t, and discussing things with directors and actors… So many lessons that I can and do use in writing new plays – but those old things, they were stories I loved (even though I panicked at first when I was commissioned a play on the damn Aeneid), and it seems a pity to leave them like that. They feel unfinished, and I want to work on them some more.
After the first run of Men&Poets, I told a friend I’d have to do something with it, sooner or later. He stared at me because, he said, he had trouble imagining that a published play could be regarded as unfinished.
“It is on paper, you know…”
Well, it wasn’t unfinished when I delivered it to the company and the publisher – oh, it felt finished enough. It was only later, that it grew unfinished again. And I have a notion that, the more I learn about playwriting, the more unfinished my old plays will become.
And also that, even after I rewrite them, sooner or later they will grow unfinished again, because this is how it works. If I’ll go on rewriting again and again, or what will be worth rewriting… well, this I’ll decide – or learn – as I go. As I rewrite.
* And yes, the Latin title was one of those mistakes…