Get thee to Southwark......
I had to make the link sooner or later; the one between old Shakey and me. So, here goes and make of it what you will. The thing is that a short play I wrote, 'The Summons', is to be performed at Southwark Playhouse on the 29th of this month as part of a one-night only production called 'The Faces of One Day'. It's my first play to be professionally performed and I am both delighted and surprised in equal measure that it was selected from the nationwide call-out. I'm equally delighted to be working with the talented actors Simon Bass and Ella Womersley, and director Deirdre Daly. They're the ones doing all the hard work really.
As part of the process at first rehearsal, Deirdre asked me about the play's inspiration, and I think I was able to explain how I came to write it. The most interesting thing to me is that it is a play with a gestation period of about 20 years. I don't think this is unusual for writers, actually. Germs of ideas, half-lost snippets of lines or plots once abandoned, form the life-blood of many authors in a metaphorical and perhaps literal sense. Those fragments, buried deep in the neural pathways, linger and fade or bubble back to the surface when inspiration is needed.
So it is with 'The Summons', a darkly-comic duologue, as the critics will no doubt sum it up (I wish). The two main characters cropped up in a drama exercise I responded to on a script-writing diploma I did back in the mid '90s. They were flawed individuals - bureaucratic, limited, railing at the dying of the light, and you wouldn't have had to reach far along the bookshelf for the Kafka, Pinter or Beckett influences.
They have since emerged again in slightly different guises each time, in a couple of short plays I've written to accompany student textbooks. And now, in 'The Summons' they have taken on new roles as sort of enforcement officers, sent to deliver a notice to attend court to an unseen protagonist guilty of an unspecified crime. See, I told you Kafka was in there somewhere. Our unseen protagonist (for the whole play) does not have a name but if he/she did, it might be Josef K.
What's the Shakespeare connection, I don't hear you ask? You're getting the answer anyway. What type of writer would I be if I couldn't give you the ending you feel you deserve for reading through the rest of these ramblings?
Well, Shakespeare probably spent time living in Southwark around 1599, when the Chamberlain's Men moved south of the river. I have no other connection with Southwark, except that of my short play being performed in the same parish. Perhaps more pertinent is the fact that the teams for 'The Faces of One Day' - all eleven, featuring writer, actors and directors, met for a first rehearsal in Bow Bell's House, a corporate block next to St Mary le Bow church, that of the legendary bells which denote whether one can be called a cockney by dint of your place of birth within their range.
I was born in the borough of St Pancras, in University College Hospital. My mother has always claimed that they were in range of the said bells, though that is difficult to believe when you hear the drilling for new buildings, bus brakes and general cacophony of the city. But I will defer to her wisdom.
My father, to complete the London connection, was brought up in Stepney, not so far from where we rehearsed.
Perhaps the message of this, if there is one, is that writing for the stage is a sort of coming home. It has always felt the most comfortable medium for me even if I have made my living writing in prose, and for education rather than entertainment.
I have not lived in London since the age of four, but perhaps like Shakespeare, it will pull me back as it did him in 1599 from his comfortable life in Stratford, with the lure of face paint and the boos and cheers of an audience. I will try not to let the huge success of this moment go to my head, but I can't promise I will succeed, darling.