“Be thoroughly prepared as far as the work is concerned, so you can handle the madness.” – Author Michael Mears discusses Fringe success and This Evil Thing

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“The absolutists were as their name suggests, absolutely opposed to doing anything at all that could even remotely be construed as helping the war effort.”

In 1916, at the height of the First World War, Henry Asquith, Britain’s beleaguered Liberal Prime Minister, “begged leave to introduce a bill with respect to military service.” Little did he know just how strong the opposition to it would be. Although he had ensured, as a result of vigorous campaigning both inside and outside Parliament, that one of the exemptions contained in the bill would be, “on the ground of having a conscientious objection to bearing arms,” in practice it proved extremely difficult to obtain this exemption.

Arrests soon followed. C.O.s would be forcibly escorted to barracks and there ordered to put on a uniform, and do drill – which they politely refused to do. This civil disobedience would result in punishments, bread and water diets, solitary confinement, and worse. At least they couldn’t face the ultimate threat – execution – as they were not in the war-zone, and therefore not deemed to be on active service. Unless, of course the Army started sending C.O.s across the Channel to France…

Michael Mears – actor, playwright, long-distance walker – has enjoyed a rich and varied career in theatre, television, radio and film. His on stage work includes seasons with the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the Peter Hall Company, portraying many classical and Shakespearean roles.

On television, Michael’s roles include Rifleman Cooper in Sharpe, two series of The Lenny Henry Show, and appearances in Parades End, The Colour of Magic, My Family, and Birds of a Feather. On film Michael is most delighted to have been the hotel barman who brings Hugh Grant and Andie McDowell together in Four Weddings And A Funeral.

This Evil Thing was published in April 2017 by 49Knights. To find out more click here.


Why WWI conscientious objectors?

As a playwright, I was looking for a subject as the First World War 100 year commemorations were approaching. There I was, a pacifist, but I didn’t appreciate what my subject matter had to be until I casually picked up and read, the way you do, a book I’d been given for Christmas – Robert Graves’ autobiography, Goodbye To All That – in the course of which he describes his experiences in WW1, including his meeting and friendship with Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon, known for his superb war (anti-war?) poetry – served loyally and courageously as a Lieutenant in the trenches, before having a Damascene conversion and realizing the horror and utter futility of it all – and becoming, in effect, a conscientious objector.

Oh yes, I now thought, who were the conscientious objectors exactly? Within days I was discovering all kinds of books, articles, you name it, about the subject – an utterly fascinating, riveting and rarely told part of the history of the First War. I felt compelled to make my own dramatic contribution, inspired by the stories I read, feeling I wanted to play my part in helping give their courageous stand against war and conscription more oxygen and daylight.

This Evil Thing is a play for one actor yet there are dozens of characters represented. What was your process to ensure that each has an individual voice?

michael-mears-in-this-evil-thing-2-999x450Myself and Rosamunde Hutt, my director, made sure that the smallest character, even an army sergeant who has just a couple of lines in the piece, say, had a name, a motivation and their own integrity. We ascertained what their background would be, how they might sound (through playful exploration) and similarly explored how they would move, what physical gestures/tics/mannerisms they might have. Obviously this work would be more in-depth when looking at the more substantial characters. We strenuously tried to avoid any kind of caricature – although occasionally a cartoon-like style might be briefly employed where appropriate.

You’ve enjoyed considerable success at the Fringe both with This Evil Thing and previous productions. What are the best and worst things a new company can do during August in Edinburgh?

Best things you can do – are to be thoroughly prepared as far as the work is concerned, so you can handle the madness of whirlwind get-ins and get-outs, as show follows show follows show. Be as charming and polite as possible to those you are given to work with in the venue, and your venue managers, publicity people etc. Whatever the frustrations, (and there are oh so many) try not to let these affect the way you are in public, and way you deal with people in public. And yes, unless you get that early 5-star review and then sell-out pronto, do hand out flyers and spread the word about your show on a daily basis, but as charmingly as possible – while being fully accepting of the many brush-offs and rejections of your leaflets that you will encounter. Tall order, I know.

Worst things – to get so inebriated, wrecked, spaced-out, whatever, that you can’t deliver brilliantly what you are here for in the first place. To quote some old playwright of yore – ‘The play’s the thing…’ (or the show, the stand-up act, the musical – substitute as necessary…) We all need a good moan. But try not to moan ad infintum. Edinburgh can be incredibly frustrating, but you’re there, you’re performing for better or worse in this huge arts festival, the city is beautiful and it’s an extraordinary place at Festival time, so relish being there, get out and see loads of stuff, especially the amazing stuff that comes from abroad, and let it feed your own work, your own imagination.

You’re an alumnus of the TV series Sharpe (in which Sean Bean plays the titular blood and guts Napoleonic war hero). Here you are writing a play about a different kind of heroism. Are the two types, soldiering and refusing to fight, antithetical?

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My instinct is to say yes, and yet, as I highlight right at the end of This Evil Thing, there are different ways to be a hero, to be courageous. The very best soldiers are absolutely willing to sacrifice their lives for what they believe in – and it is exactly the same for the conscientious objectors. They were willing to face death if necessary, to face execution, rather than betray their belief that no man, no government, should be able to force another man to kill against his will.

And many COs, while imprisoned in barracks and guard-rooms, met soldiers who though they said they didn’t agree with the COs’ beliefs, nevertheless had great respect for them and their willingness to suffer in order not to betray those beliefs.

Did you ever mention that you might be a pacifist while playing Rifleman Cooper?

Warfare in those days, the days of Napoleon and Wellington, was a very different thing to warfare just a hundred years later. You got very close to your enemy, often saw the whites of their eyes, often grappled in hand to hand combat…somehow it seemed more honest, if that makes sense – unlike warfare now where generally it’s a question of dropping bombs from a great height or distance – without those doing the bombing ever having any contact with those to whom they are bringing such damage and devastation. The early 1800s was a fascinating period to research and though I was never truly comfortable holding and firing my rifle and taking part in those imagined battles, the characters were so vivid and rich and colourful – most of them survivors from the gutter, finding a home and purpose in the army. And at the time of filming Sharpe, in the early 1990s, I wasn’t consciously calling myself a pacifist. The job of being part of Sharpe was an acting challenge to me, first and foremost – to portray a hard-bitten soldier living on his wits and the camaraderie of his fellows, even though I would never have dreamt of joining the army in real life; much as to play Macbeth, you don’t actually have to have been a murderer (though I imagine it would help a bit).

Many of the absolutist COs came from a nonconformist background. Most Quakers, Methodists, etc accepted non-combat roles (such as front line stretcher bearing). What made the absolutists different, and how were they treated by their own congregational communities after WWI?

The absolutists were as their name suggests, absolutely opposed to doing anything at all that could even remotely be construed as helping the war effort. They were utterly opposed to this war, and in most cases, all war. There were 1,300 of them, and they endured tough prison sentences, with repeated stints of solitary confinement on bread and water diets, and enduring what was a Rule Of Silence for all prisoners in prison at that time. Many developed health problems as a result of their treatment.

After the war the responses the COs encountered on release varied – but in some communities there was a feeling that they had been shirkers, had had an easy war and didn’t deserve any kind of special treatment or status now. Finding work could prove very difficult, with many ads in the papers specifying that ‘COs need not apply’ ; and the vote was denied to COs for 5 years. But there were communities, such as in Huddersfield with its radical background and history, who were far more understanding of what the COs stood for and had endured.

Bert Brocklesby, the protagonist in my play, and who had been an absolutist, was ultimately spurned by his Methodist congregation in south Yorkshire. It wasn’t long before Bert joined the Quakers, understandably.

Do you see a difference between refusing wartime service between 1914-18 and 1939-45?

An early choice of title for my play was ‘What About Hitler?’ Sort of says it all, really – in terms of this question. The most passionate pacifists, and I consider myself one, are nevertheless brought up short when confronted with the ghastly phenomenon of AH. War is an appalling way to resolve international disputes, but when someone like Hitler appears on the scene – what do you do? But there were COs in WW2, a lot more in fact than in WW1, and because of those early trailblazers and the way in which they had in fact helped to reshape public opinion to a considerable extent, COs in WW2 generally had a far more sympathetic hearing.

Although This Evil Thing is a play for one actor you’ve been directed, stage managed, designed and produced. How does a solo player successfully pick a team?

There are all kinds of elements that go into picking a team – experience (the older you get, the more people you work with and thus gain an excellent knowledge of people’s abilities or particular skills); word of mouth; getting out there and seeing (in my case) other directors’ solo work (partly how I found Ros Hutt – I saw a splendid solo piece she had directed a year earlier); chance meetings; serendipity; and of course, calling on people you’ve worked with well before – like Mark Friend my set designer, who had designed a previous solo play of mine. I came across my sound designer Mark Noble, when I was in a play sat Salisbury that he had designed sound and video for – and I thought, ‘Gosh, he’s good. And he’s very young. So maybe he won’t be too expensive – yet!’

30477-6715What’s next for This Evil Thing?

A 600 seat tent, 3 Quaker school halls, the studio of Hull Truck theatre, London’s only surviving Elizabethan Church in Stoke Newington, a small wine bar in Wanstead, East London – all these with their differing shapes, sizes and acoustics, and many more, will be hosting the play this August, and through the autumn. Check out michaelmears.org for more details.

I’m also looking for possible American openings – no, not Hollywood, but the Quakers in Philadelphia perhaps…

What should be playing on the stereo when we’re reading This Evil Thing?

Ideally nothing. But if you do want something on in the background…then almost certainly something by Vaughan-Williams – his ‘Pastoral Symphony’ – which captures the sense of loss and sadness connected with the First World War… or his ‘The Lark Ascending.’

Or a haunting and beautiful piece of acapella music called ‘Unmarked Graves’ by Helen Chadwick, from her album ‘AMAR’ – she recorded other beautiful acapella material for the production of This Evil Thing.


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EQ: Dance! (Various, until 14 June ’17)

“A real treat”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Quartet are one of our favourite live music acts here at Edinburgh49, and while normally it’s my colleague Charles we defer to for his superior knowledge of classical music, I was interested to see how a collaboration with Youth Dance Scotland would work, and what unexpected gems might be uncovered when combining classical music with contemporary dance.

The evening commences with a traditional musical performance by the quartet, followed by three dance/music collaborations: all original compositions for the quartet, and with original choreography from Marc Brew.

The first of these, For Sonny captures a very childlike and playful feel, with the dancers darting in and around the musicians (who are positioned centre-stage), seeming to make the rules up as the go along. There’s an element of give and take to the piece as the dancers respond directly to strokes from the quartet in the quieter elements, and to movements from each other – as if playing a rather bizarre version of “follow the leader” throughout. It’s fascinating to see such a close relationship between the dancers and the musicians, even though the danger of collisions sometimes causes the heart-rate to rise somewhat!

The quartet move to the side of the stage for the final two pieces, yet still feel integrated within the performance as the dancers watch and respond to them throughout. The second piece feels just slightly more grown up as the dancers adopt a more uniform and unison approach to their movement, though they become more animalistic – like a set of production line workers in rebellion against the formality of the everyday. Different dancers take turns to break out from the group, using more and more of the space, until they surround the quartet at the end, as if waiting for their next direction or inspiration.

Silent Shores has a significantly more ensemble feel, and combines the best of both of the previous two pieces, with some daring lifts and tableaux in direct response to the music, following its stops and starts with playfulness and control. Reflecting the nature of the isle of Arran, it’s a complex interrelationship as the different aspects of the piece – contrasting stillness and frantic movement – bring about a sense of ongoing time and flow, like the changing of the seasons.

Overall what’s most pleasing about the whole setup is the relationship between the dance and live music, which is cleverly structured and choreographed to integrate the two. At times the movements did lack a little polish and finesse – but perhaps given that the piece is touring across different venues in Scotland for just one night at a time, it can be expected that the dancers will have to adapt to the size and shape of their performance spaces each time, not allowing them to fully relax into each performance.

Something for both dance and classical music aficionados, a real treat. It’s a shame that, at just shy of an hour, the performance is so short.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 June)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Lyceum Variety Nights (Lyceum: 4th June ’17)

“Resident host Sian Bevan never fails to amuse”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Ding ding, it’s round three of the Lyceum Variety Nights, and the last in the current season.

This latest outing had a very contemporary and slightly alternative feel, and it’s good to see curator Jenny Lindsay flexing her little-black-book muscles to bring a more diverse line-up of music, theatre, poetry and dance to proceedings.

Overall the night was a pleasing mix of more established artists sharing some of their fondest work from yesteryear, performing alongside some red hot and right now acts, sharing pieces from their latest collections. Among the red hot and right now were dancer Jack Webb, whose inclusion as the first dance act of the programme I was really excited about. He performed an emotive and powerful contemporary-style piece to a discordant soundscape, which, while not the most accessible of pieces, certainly brought some zing to proceedings. Musical acts The Miss’s and Maud the Moth were also bang up to date and on the pulse, sharing genre bending tunes and stunning vocals that just left me breathless.

It was nice too, to have the quieter moments, perhaps most finely shared by Caroline Bird, whose rather more introverted stage presence created a lovely balance between a lot of the madness and noise of some of the other acts. Her poetry was awash with splendid imagery and moments to cherish, that really left me longing for more. Mairi Campbell, accompanied by viola, brought a touch of the traditional to the night, and even had us all singing along with her folk-style music at the end of her set – delightful.

Yet while the variety of the performers was wider than in previous instalments, thus making it feel a little more niche, for me it’s the quality of all the acts which is key to the night’s success. Each night’s line-up never fails to include award winners, experienced practitioners and well-regarded artists from across the spectrum, and though they may not all appeal to individual tastes, those with a wider appreciation for the arts should be able to at least enjoy the overall skill on display. A special shout-out too to resident host Sian Bevan who never fails to amuse with her witty and sometimes humorously irreverent compering!

I have to say that this was not my personal favourite evening of the programme, but that’s variety for you – you can’t win ‘em all! I very much hope another season of these nights is programmed for next year, and I look forward to attending them all.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 June)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

War in America (Former Royal High School/King’s Theatre: 24-27 May ’17)

Connor McLeod as Mr Slype. Photo by Greg Macvean

“Some fine performances from the young cast”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

War in America’s revival in the build-up to the current UK General Election is very apt – and almost feels as if it is written especially for this moment, though it is now over 20 years old. The narrative sees the rise of a female political leader (known only as “She”), who hides behind a variety of lies, disguises and games in order to get to the top. Meanwhile, in a pleasingly Orwellian set-up, our little man Mr Slype (a rather spineless MP) is bullied by rival parties to vote for a law he neither wants nor doesn’t want, and some rather underhand tactics see him inadvertently give his vote to She, handing her the reins of the country. What happens after gets a little confusing.

Given the setup and opening few scenes where the main characters and topics are introduced, the first fifteen minutes of this production really makes it feel like a cutting-edge, gripping political drama – not too dissimilar from Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, which I reviewed last year. Jo Clifford’s dialogue is cutting, intelligent and witty, Susan Worsfold’s direction is slick, and there’s palpable tension between rival factions to keep us on our toes. The production loses its way somewhat in the second half, however, and tries to cram in too much with too many characters and melodramatic revelations, that it becomes more of a slog to sit through.

That being said, there are some fine performances from the young cast, most notably Andrew Cameron as the cunningly-named and deftly acted Mr Fox, who is very charismatic and convincing and throughout. Scenes with him and his assistant Alfred (Mark O’Neill) were among the most compelling of the performance, and I could easily picture them on a bigger stage receiving great acclaim. Connor McLeod is also strong as Mr Slype, with great variation in swagger and guilt from scene to scene.

It is, however in the more dramatic scenes where the tension and integrity of the piece slips. She’s relationship with her estranged daughter fails to ring true throughout the piece – distinctly missing the deep emotional connection needed to be convincing, and its climactic resolution is very sloppy compared to the polish evident in other areas. Indeed, many aspects of the show like this come across as rather rushed, when a more considered approach would be more powerful. While in general it’s a gutsy effort from the young cast (and great for them to be getting involved with works on important subjects like this), I think in some cases it would have been beneficial to have some more experienced actors to give the brutal narrative the necessary punch it needs.

And the “too controversial” content, which led the show’s initial production being cancelled 20 years ago? For me that must have been a lot of fuss over very little, as the more overt elements were perfectly pitched within the overall mood of the piece, never seeming gratuitous or unnecessary. Indeed, the scenes with sexual content were handled and incorporated very well, and while spawning a few titters, were powerful insights and metaphors into the darker side of politics. If anything, I think these elements could be pushed further.

Overall this is a show with fantastic potential, and with some more development could be very special indeed.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 26 May)

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Glory on Earth (Lyceum: 20 May – 10 June ’17)

(L-R) Christina Gordon, Rona Morison, Kirsty Eila McIntyre
Photos: Drew Farrell

“Evocative, imaginative drama”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

You’re 18 and you don’t know the 2nd Psalm. Well, that’s you written off. You do know a good few dance moves but that doesn’t cut it. Your stock is worthless, you’re ignorant; best go home little girl.

Ah, but where’s home? And who are you calling cheap?

Ans: Mary Stuart, born Linlithgow, brought up in France from the age of 5; Queen of Scots and actually in Scotland from 1561 to 1568, forced to abdicate, kept ‘safe’ under house arrest in England for 19 years and then beheaded, aged 44, in February 1587. Mother, via the union of the crowns, of James VI and I.

So much for dates and titles – but that’s not to dismiss their grip, far from it – it’s just that Linda McLean’s new play creates evocative, imaginative drama from the baleful encounters of the young, attractive queen with the almighty John Knox. He’s there from the off, in front of the curtain, in clerical black and giving new definition to the reproving stare. God’s word, you understand very, very quickly, is “non-negotiable”.

At least Mary has the support of her ‘Marys’, six of them in this telling, who attend her, dance freakpop with her (… really liked that!), and review her suitors in a modern, OMG/ “Awkward”, kind of way. There’s a disciplined choric role in there too, in whispers, gesture, and half lines, as well as the harmonious choral interludes, mostly in French. In other, opposed, parts the Marys are privy councillors and reformers. Queen Mary’s life is here, opened and closed by the executioner’s block, but the tawdry and the sensational (& the melodramatic) are absent: no Darnley, no Rizzio, no Bothwell – just her searching and bold question to Knox, “Do you see a bad person, Sir?”

(L-R) Jamie Sives, Shannon Swan, Christie Gowans, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Christina Gordon, Fiona Wood, Kirsty McIntyre, & Rona Morison

James Sives, as Knox, is too cool to rise to the question. And he’s damnably clever, in or out of his pulpit in St Giles. Hear Sives and hear the preacher’s ‘History of the Reformation’, righteous and utterly fearless. He walks on stage and kills the dancing stone dead. An unexpected and rather wishful soundtrack of France’s finest minstrels: Piaf, Francoise Hardy, Christine and the Queens (sic), cannot stand. However, Brel’s ‘La chanson des vieux amants’ probably does touch him, as he grieves for the loss of his first wife, but then Brel was Belgian.

Rona Morison, as Mary, has the sympathetic part, the level gaze (female) and the appealing voice. More principled and upright than pliant or weak, and so much younger, this Mary is an important addition to the historical strumpet/martyr and – should you browse Netflix – an invaluable corrective to the endless episodes of CBS’s  ‘Reign’.

David Greig directs with a clear eye on what mattered then and should still matter now. Knox won and Mary failed. The austere and the severe are there in the steel blue lighting and the greys of an uncluttered set and in Knox’s strict delivery. Where there’s a wide and colourful tapestry, there’s dancing and short-lived levity. Elizabeth I, speaking through a mask, is both laughable and ominous and maybe the scheming Scottish nobility could have used the same distancing device. The disrobing of the queen at the end has its own proper and tragic significance.

‘Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.’    From Psalm 2.

You won’t fall to your knees but Glory on Earth will make you give thanks for new writing and live theatre.
.

outstanding

StarStarStar

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 23 May)

Glory on Earth is at the Lyceum

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“If this question is sarcastic, see my answer to Question Five.” – Author David Damant discusses The Luck of the Devil

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“I can imagine that Sullivan’s music for the Devil would have been excellent, and Gilbert would have loved the plot.”

Vienna, May 1931. The Baron Bretzenny is a worried man. His banking house is bust. It seems nothing can prevent the Bank Bretzenny from becoming just another casualty, lost amid the global wreckage of the Wall Street Crash. As one of Vienna’s foremost public atheists, the Baron literally hasn’t got a prayer. Then a mysterious visitor offers the Baron a way out of his troubles… but at what price?

The Luck of the Devil is the coruscating debut comedy of financial guru turned scribbler, David Damant. Damant is at once both a respected elder statesman in the realm of finance, a pioneer of Modern Portfolio Theory in Europe, and also a keen observer of his fellow creatures, their vanities and profanities.

At his London club David has, in addition to the world premier of The Luck of the Devil, arranged for a performance of the melodrama Maria Martin and the Red Barn, as well as more than a dozen operas or parts of operas, each directed by the celebrated Jamie Hayes. These have included Dido and Aeneas (starring Jean Rigby), the second act of Tosca (Sue Bullock & Robert Hayward), the essential scenes from Don Giovanni (Robert Hayward again), and no less than four performances of Offenbach’s Not In Front Of The Waiter.

A browse of his social media profile reveals that David’s interests include food, wine, opera, history, and conversation – he has even, on suitably rare occasions, been known to allow his interlocutors to get a word in… although never the last one.

The Luck of the Devil was published in March 2017 by 49Knights. To find out more click here.


Why the Devil? Why an Austrian banker? Why the interwar years?

I had been revolving in my mind for some time the idea of a Faustian contract in which, unusually, the Devil has to ask for help. After the stock exchange crash in New York in 1929 the trigger for the serious depression on this side of the Atlantic was the failure of the Viennese bank the Creditanstalt in May 1931, so I thought that an Austrian banker in trouble at about that time would need money and would provide the basis for the plot.

I then added the idea that the Roman Church was about to issue an Encyclical saying that the Devil was no more than a psychological construct – something that the Devil would not like at all – and he needed human help to stop the Encyclical – the name of which Ad Deliramentum Expellendum was crafted for me by an expert in Papal Latin. I have portrayed the Devil in an fairly honourable light (accepting his standpoint as the Father of Evil).

LOD 3You’ve been involved in dozens of productions down the years. How did those experiences shape The Luck of the Devil?

Except for one play before this one, all the productions I have been involved with since 1987 have been operas in whole or in part. But operas are drama so I suppose that I learnt a bit from those productions. A greater influence was P G Wodehouse, who used to construct his novels as though they were plays, with the scenes balancing each other in the sense of what happens in each, and the various characters given balanced appearances – one cannot introduce a big character and then drop that character half way through. So I followed that rule in my play.

You’ve not written a play before, but you have written on financial matters, history, music etc. How have your previous endeavours informed this one?

Writing so much taught me to write clearly……in any case a lot of what I wrote in the financial world had to be translated, or anyway read by those who were not native English speakers – so I had to be clear. A lot of writing these days is not transparently easy to follow, My aim is always to have the reader (or the listener to the play) able to concentrate on the ideas which I (or a character) is expressing, and not have to work out from the language what the point might be.

When I thought of writing the play I read quite a lot of other plays to get the structure in my mind, and was pretty dismayed by the sordid or unhappy nature of the plots – failed marriages, hopeless careers, children and parents at loggerheads etc etc.

The drama centres on a banker who has run out of money and needs bailing out. Where did you get such an incredible notion from?

See the answer to Question One. If this question is sarcastic, see my answer to Question Five.

Your own background is in banking and the city. Bankers aren’t massively popular at present. What can they do to improve their public image, and what should us non-bankers always bear in mind about the sector?

The general view of bankers is completely unbalanced. The main reason for their unpopularity is the financial crash, which was caused not by them but by the Central Banks keeping interest rates too low, by the Regulators not checking on balance sheets, and by the Chancellor (Gordon Brown) stating frequently that he had abolished downturns. What does one expect bankers to do in such an environment? Sit on their hands with all that cheap money and refuse mortgages?

Of course bankers have behaved badly in specific areas, but one does not attack the game of football because FIFA was corrupt, or attack athletics because many athletes take drugs, The financial system is a tremendous asset to this country – we have a great talent in that area – but I cannot see the image improving much. Most people do not understand the enormous value of efficient capital markets in using everyone’s savings more efficiently, and of attracting vast amounts of business to this country…… another difficulty is that the salaries seem so high. I see that several football managers earn more than £10 million a year. But people understand football.

LOD 2Do you believe in the Devil? Is he abroad in the world of men?

I believe that the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna in my play was right (originally). The Devil is no more than a psychological construction in the mind of the human race, but has even so some importance as part of the human psyche. Jung said that if the Christian religion was not true, it had to be psychologically valid, since otherwise it would not have succeeded, and the Devil is part of that analysis. Incidentally, the real Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna in 1931 was Cardinal Pifl……..

What makes for good theatre?

This is a matter beyond my sphere of expertise. Chekhov stands out, and is of great interest in any attempt to answer your question.Often very little happens in a Chekhov play until the middle of the second act, when they all meet and decide not to go to Moscow. Yet his plays stand out as an amazing analysis of the human predicament. Note that the plot is merely the skeleton on which the real drama is hung. That is why so many films of great novels miss the point. They can tell the story, maybe a good one, but miss the dimension which make the whole thing a great work of art.

Wuthering Heights is the extreme example. Shakespeare is in a different league from everyone else – one can only be astonished at his genius. Incidentally, it seems clear to me that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare. It is impossible to imagine that he could have been in and around the London theatre scene for so long without anyone noticing the difference between his plays and his mind in conversation, not to mention having to wait whilst he rushed off the get input from Bacon or Lord Oxford. Also the comments by Ben Jonson and others.

What has been the response to The Luck of the Devil thus far?

The response is enthusiastic by those who have read it, but not many have read it outside my circle. Those in my circle are probably amazed that I have written a play at all. All profits from the first printing of the first edition went to a Charitable Trust.

LOD 1What’s next for The Luck of the Devil?

I have sent it to the BBC as it is perfect for radio. As regards a second play – Wodehouse when talking of novels always said that the second one was the real test of a writer, and no doubt the same is true of plays – I have started on a plot dealing with the incompetent bureaucracy of Heaven, where Stalin on arrival is not recognised (he uses his real name Josef Vissarionovitch Dzhugasvili) and is given the wrong papers, so that he is very nearly through the Pearly Gates, much to the delight of Satan.

What should be playing on the stereo when we’re reading The Luck of the Devil?

This is not an easy question. Any reference to the Devil brings to mind the Charles Williams piece The Devil’s Gallop, which the more ancient of your readers may remember as the theme for Dick Barton, Special Agent on the BBC, which was succeeded by the Archers (the Archers have never been the same since Squire Lawson-Hope sold the village). But the Gallop is for a melodramatic Devil, and for my play we need something more sophisticated. Handel’s Zadok the Priest would do, since the long and restrained build up is full of tension, relieved by the triumphant ending.

If the play were to be made into an opera, I think that Gilbert and Sullivan would have done it rather well. I can imagine that Sullivan’s music for the Devil would have been excellent, and Gilbert would have loved the plot. Or even better Offenbach – we have put on his Not in Front of the Waiter four times at my club. His humorous wit is sophisticated and some of his music might also do for background music when reading the play.


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For The Love of Cousins (Various: 13 May-24 June ’17)

Jack Elliot, Taylar Donaldson and Christie Russell Brown

“A very commendable effort”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

Funerals are often melting pots where far-flung family members are reunited for the first time since the last significant event, and in For The Love of Cousins, we see seven semi-friendly cousins meet just before the funeral of their mutual and much-loved grandmother. They are a mixed-bag of characters, with different stories and relationships with each other, and as the piece unravels, we learn more about each one – their secrets, their prejudices, and vulnerabilities.

While there is no compelling narrative overall, where Blazing Hyena’s production really succeeds is in the overall feel of the piece and the clear sense of family the company really creates – the use of repetitive jokes, the ganging up and snipping at each other all feel very genuine. Truths come out and perspectives change over the course of the action, all of which are presented humanely and sensitively.

For a play that centres around family members about to attend a funeral, it is packed full with jokes, and while the cast weren’t afraid to go for the laughs, sometimes the focus on the comedy aspect detracts from the realness of the situation, which some cast members are more guilty of than others. For me it is Jack Elliot as David, Rosie Milne as Dayna and Gillian Goupillot as Ronnie who are most impressive in maintaining the integrity of their characters throughout (while still being funny) and deliver fine performances.

Jack Elliot’s script, while commendable in its weaving of different characters and perspectives, is structurally a little rough around the edges – comings and goings of each character could be have more significance, while the closely intertwined nature of the dialogue sometimes makes it difficult to follow specific streams of narrative and relationships. A few tweaks here and there could make it very special indeed.

Catherine Exposito’s direction capably keeps the action slick, with respect to the light and shade required to keep the piece engaging throughout. Sometimes the staging and specific actions seem rather forced (I lost count of how many times a tablecloth was unnecessarily rearranged as a time-filler), so I would have liked to see the company use more creative ways to explore the natural “low” moments in order to maintain authenticity.

Overall, it’s a very commendable effort from this young company – especially given the adaptability they have to perform in different venues each night as part of this, an extensive Scottish tour. Do try and catch it on one of their future dates if you can. Full details here.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 May)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED