Last summer I was interviewed for Digital Theatre about Émile Zola and his novel and play Thérèse Raquin. I see that it's now up on their site. I am looking sweaty and sunburnt but nonetheless, I loosely make some sense. You have to subscribe to Digital Theatre to see the whole thing but there is a preview here:
The theatre producers Rift are holding a 1990s Season at Styx in Tottenham. It includes productions of Sarah Kane's Blasted, Anthony Neilson's Normal, and Caryl Churchill's The Skriker, alongside an adaptation of three episodes of the quintessential 90s sitcom Friends (as Mates) and a wealth of screenings, discussions, rehearsed readings, and club nights.
I'm contributing in a small way by being part of a discussion event about Churchill and The Skriker. My fellow panellists are Jen Harvie and Max Stafford Clark. Jen is currently writing about feminist theatre makers and has been working on Churchill. Max, of course, directed the premieres of several of her most important plays, including Cloud 9, Top Girls and Serious Money. So it should be a good discussion.
The panel is on 29 March after the show and you can get tickets for that and the rest of the season HERE.
At the BBC Audio Drama Awards held on Sunday 29 January 2017, Emile Zola: Blood, Sex & Money won the award for Best Adaptation. I was lead writer on the first and third seasons, was one of the key originators of the project at wrote 7 of the 27 episodes.
The judges for this award were Front Row presenter Kirsty Lang, theatre producer Emma Stenning, and the playwright and screenwriter Nick Warburton. The judges said:
The judges for Best Audio Drama adaptation had a hard job this year. We were divided over our top three but all agreed that the winning adaptation was a gripping psychological thriller set in a pulsating, menacing soundscape that made us want to keep listening. Emile Zola: Blood, Sex & Money is an ambitious, innovative adaptation that captures the world of the Rougon-Macquart novels that incisively dissect the world of 19th century France.
The ceremony was hosted by Lenny Henry and this award was presented by Tom Goodman-Hill (who also appeared in my 2010 play for Radio 3 And So Say All Of Us).
My play Beachy Head, written with Lewis Hetherington and Emma Jowett is being revived in Edinburgh by the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group. It's on this week from Wednesday 30 November to Saturday 3rd February. It's at the Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place, EH8 9SU. You can book tickets here.
We wrote it for Analogue theatre company as their second production and a follow-up to the very successful Mile End. It was quite a bumpy ride as a creative project though the resulting show is very robust and Lewis, Emma and I did some pretty great dramaturging work before drafting and redrafting it in semi-seclusion in a house somewhere (borrowed from someone's uncle I seem to recall). The show is about suicide, neuroscience, documentary, responsibility and loss. And if that doesn't get you into the theatre, what will?
I won't be able to see it, alas, so if you go tell me how it was.
UPDATE: Here's a review by Thom Dibdin and very good it is too: http://www.alledinburghtheatre.com/beachy-head-grads-2016-review/
Our enormous Emile Zola marathon for Radio 4 - all 27 episodes of it - has been nominated for a BBC Audio Drama Award in the Best Adaptation category - and our star Glenda Jackson is up for Best Actress.
This is a lovely bit of recognition of a bold and ambitious bit of drama. I doubt if there is a single radio network in the world other than the BBC that would have said yes to twenty-four hours of adaptations of the novels of Emile Zola. So it's a relief and an honour to see this kind of recognition. I've been to this ceremony once before, for Dead Souls at which, comme d'habitude, we didn't win. Fingers crossed for better this time, but, wouldn't you just know it, it's a very strong shortlist:
- Emile Zola: Blood, Sex and Money adapted by Oliver Emanuel, Martin Jameson, Lavinia Murray & Dan Rebellato, producers Gary Brown, Pauline Harris, Nadia Molinari, Polly Thomas, Kirsty Williams
- Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller, adapted & directed by Howard Davies, producer Chris Wallis
- Miss Julie by Strindberg, adapted & produced by Roger James Elsgood
- Roald Dahl: Going Solo adapted by Lucy Catherine, producer Helen Perry
- The 56, verbatim edited & adapted by Matt Woodhead & Gemma Wilson, producer Toby Swift
- True West by Sam Shepard, adapted by John Peacock, producer Celia de Wolff
- Unmade Movies: Hitchcock’s The Blind Man by Alfred Hitchcock & Ernest Lehman, adapted by Mark Gatiss, producers Laurence Bowen & Peter Ettedgui
The ceremony, hosted by Lenny Henry, is on Sunday 29 January 2017. Full details of nominations in all categories here.
My play Static is being revived by students at the University of Staffordshire, directed by Ian Smith. The show will be performed in town at the Exchange, Stoke on Trent, on 12 December, and then the Performance Centre, Stoke on Trent, 16 & 17 (matinee and evening). Tickets available here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk
So I have a stage premiere this month in Madrid. Intelligence is being given a short run by a fringe company at the Instituto Lope de Vega 11-13 November. It's in a double-bill called Spies along with a new play by Victor Gibson called Surveillance. Victor is also directing the double bill.
It's a stage premiere, but not exactly a premiere. It's a staging of my 2013 radio play, Here part of my Negative Signs of Progress trilogy. They've apparently restored some passages that we cut for the radio version. It struck me at the time that the play would probably work well as a stage play; it's two actors, one room, real time and relies on psychological twists and tensions. So I guess the Spanish English-speaking community are going to be the first to find out whether that's true.
To encourage student groups, there's an education pack, which you can read here.
And the National Theatre have put up the first half of their two-part introduction to the work of Terence Rattigan. I was interviewed for it back in late June (weirdly, straight after the Sarah Kane interview), but there are some great interviews with Lindsay Posner, Paul Miller, Philip Franks, and Angus Jackson who have all directed fantastic productions of Rattigan plays. This one covers French Without Tears, The Winslow Boy, and The Browning Version. You can watch it by clicking the link above.
To coincide with the beginning of the third and final Zola season, the BBC have put up a brief interview with me on their website. It was conducted by Polly Thomas at the end of our recording of Crash (episode 3.1) and it covers our approach to the books, the nature of Zola's ideas and how we tried to convey them and also the impact of the books in our adaptation.
So I co-organised a conference (alongside Élisabeth Angel-Perez and Aloysia Rousseau of the Sorbonne and Liliane Campos of the Sorbonne-Nouvelle) about British theatre in the 21st century. And I'm pleased to say it was a real success.
The standard of the papers was very high, higher than usual, I'd say, for a conference like this. I think lots of things are to do with that: the conference being in Paris at the Sorbonne meant that I think all we British academics felt we needed to raise our game a little, but also it really just confirmed that the field of British theatre studies is very, very strong right now.
There were papers from Martin Middeke, Vicky Angelaki, Trish Reid, Mike Pearson, Donna Soto-Morettini, David Overend, Marilena Zaroulia, Louise Owen, Marissia Fragkou, Nicholas Holden, Helen Freshwater, Clara Escoda Agusti, Déborah Prudhon, Tom Cornford, Kirsty Sedgman, Mark Smith, Sarah-Jane Dickenson, Clare Wallace, Adam Ledger, Mark Robson, Jen Harvie, Lynette Goddard, Damien Giraud, Ramona Mosse, Anna Street, Séverine Ruset, Seda Ilter, Ben Fowler, Chris Megson, Jerri Daboo, Clare Finburgh, Liz Tomlin and Catherine Love. They covered a huge range of writers and theatre makers from the very established (Caryl Churchill, Forced Entertainment, David Greig) to the newly emerging (James Graham, Alistair McDowall, Kieran Hurley, Alice Birch) and on themes as diverse as belief, war, aural theatre, new writing, immigration, audiences, community and crisis. The theme of Brexit was a constant presence. And there were keynote presentations from David Greig, Tim Crouch and Katie Mitchell.
It was a joy to see so many scholars working on British theatre from right across Europe.
My brief opening remarks focused on Brexit and suggested ways of seeing that prefigured in British theatre. If you like, you can read those remarks here:
Meanwhile, Kirsty Sedgman tweeted the whole of the conference for the Society for Theatre Research and those tweets have been storified here:
So Dario Fo has died. He is one of the giants of European theatre in the twentieth century, a standing counter to any of the boring arguments that political theatre is worthily dull and just preaches to the converted. Dario Fo reached an absolutely vast popular audience with his extraordinary mixture of farce, mime, comedy, and revolutionary politics. He played sports arena; he got an audience of 20 million on TV; he was excoriated by the Vatican, undermined by the right-wing secret police, adored by millions; he shocked Italy's stuffy literary culture all over again in 1997 by winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was a performer and a playwright and the two were indissociable; he wrote his best plays by performing them.
I was asked to go on Radio 4's Last Word to talk about him. Me and Griff Rhys-Jones (who starred in Trumpets and Raspberries (1984) [Clacson, trombette e pernacchi, 1981]. It came out quite well, except please ignore my fumbled suggestion that Fo did not want to put himself in the tradition of Molière. Of course he did. But anywayyou can listen to it here.
And if that whets your appetite, click the video at the top to watch the first half of his fantastic performance, 'Pope Boniface VIII'. It's in Italian, but you'll understand it. Boniface was a thirteent-century pope, viciously corrupt and violent, hated by many, including Dante who in Inferno put him in hell before he'd even died. In this scene, Boniface is getting dressed in his papal regalia, bullying his altar boys. In the second half of the scene, Christ returns, and Boniface quickly but feebly tries to divest himself of his finery to curry favour with him.
I've written an article on the many shows that Tim Crouch has made that are for or involve children. It's here:
Rebellato, Dan. 'Nobody Really Wants To Be Here: Tim Crouch's Work for Children.' In Tim Crouch ou la scène émancipée, edited by Élisabeth Angel-Perez, et al. Coup de Théâtre. Paris: RADAC, 2016, pp. 89-108.
The essay talks about the way that his work for children is every bit as experimental as his work for adults and that, in some ways, he debuts some of his more radical ideas with children before he tries them out on adults.
There's a very good piece by the tremendous Charlotte Higgins responding the the Arts Council's recent suggestion that they will start to use 'quality metrics' in their evaluation of the work they fund. That is, they will use quantitative methods to judge the artistic success of all the poetry, music, theatre, and more than is a recipient of arts funding.
I have a small dog in this fight, in that I have been working with the British Theatre Consortium and UKTheatre/SOLT in generating a lot of quantitative data about British theatre (reports here and here), in part for the Arts Council. It's very revealing about the work being done with arts funding. But nowhere does it say anything about artistic quality. I don't think it means that a show is good just because it had a huge box office or lots of people went to see it. I doesn't mean a show is bad or good if it was written by a writer from a particular democratic.
This is because facts do not entail values. In other words, I don't think you can logically deduce a statement of value from a statement (or a series of statements) of fact. For instance, 'Harold Shipman killed more than 200 people' does not, of itself, entail 'Harold Shipman was a bad man'. You need some other value premise to come in between ('killing people is wrong' for example). And that's a value statement.
A judgment of aesthetic quality is another kind of value statement. No matter how many statements of fact you generate about a piece of theatre, it will not tell you whether it's good or not. Even if you believe that there are 'rules' about what makes a good play (which I sort of don't), those rules will only ever be necessary; they won't be sufficient. In other words, let's say, for the sake of argument, that a good play must be a complete representation of the arc of a single action (as Aristotle suggests), with a beginning, middle and end, the three parts connected by strict necessity; if that's true that means a good play cannot be written which does not conform to that rule; but it does not mean that if the play conforms to that rule, it will definitely be good. It's crucial that it has that aspect, but it is not enough.
And we know this because, obviously, if everyone knew how to guarantee a good piece of theatre, they'd do it all the time, but we've all been to see terrible theatre so it can't just be a matter of rules. And - even more obvious - no one agrees what those rules are.
So no matter how many facts you amass about a show, you won't know how good it is. And that means that quality metrics are bound to fail as an evaluative method in itself.
Charlotte Higgins's piece is a lovely overview of these argument with some good points of its own. I was briefly phone interviewed about this and I have a comment towards the end, though, in truth, my view is better summed up in the words of Tim Etchells right at the top. Quality metrics is 'horseshit'.
After going to see Simon Stephens and Michael Longhurst's Carmen Disruption at the Almeida last year, my friends Louise LePage and Billy Smart got talking about the show. Billy's enthusiasm for Simon's work seems to have paled somewhat and he let fly with a very acute and thoughtful shopping list of stuff that always seems to happen in a Simon Stephens play and concluded that he's stopped engaging truthfully with the world but instead only with theatrical form.
Louise had the interesting idea of getting some British theatre scholars to respond to Billy's provocation on video and then Louise would edit the video into a film about Simon's work. The other people to take the bait were Chris Megson and Aleks Sierz - and of course Louise herself.
Louise also requested that we 'think about how you locate yourself visually in your film? Obviously the form we are working with here - individuals reflecting upon these plays via technological means, crucially atomised and yet rendered individual by means of place - is intended to give a nod towards Simon Stephens' own dramaturgy. So please give some thought to how you frame yourself.' I mention this in case you wonder why the hell I'm standing by a tower block.
But I think it's a very interesting film. I particularly liked Chris Megson's thoughts about the here-and-now in Simon's work, the way it signals how the contemporary smoothed-out global world erases memory, and how those memories are now replaced by commodities. There's a nice bit where he described googling Helmut Lang dresses and the dresses indeed do pour onto the screen.
You can watch the video and read the provocation here:
I reviewed Kirsten Shepherd-Barr's Theatre and Evolution from Ibsen to Beckett (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015) for Contemporary Theatre Review and the review is here. The book surveys the influences of Darwinian and post-Darwinian debates on theatre since Ibsen and I think it's rather fascinating. There are some really interesting discussions of Eleanora Duse's reputed ability to blush at will and what is meant by the complicated debates around the representation of childbirth and breastfeeding on stage. The book also manages to say something new about Ibsen and Beckett, for which there should be some sort of cash prize.
Anyway, I recommend it, if you're interested in the intersection of science and theatre.
Animals, my first episode of season one of Zola: Blood Sex & Money, has been nominated for the Radio Academy's ARIA Award. These are the replacement for the Sonys and they are, I guess, the most prestigious radio awards in the UK. The ceremony is in Leeds on 19 October and I probably won't be able to go, which is probably a good thing, since the only other time I didn't turn up to an award ceremony I won something. Not that I'm holding out much hope. I got nominated twice for Sony awards and came away with nothing (despite odds of 3/2).
It's a very strong shortlist...
- Zola: Blood Sex & Money Season 1 - Animals (written by Dan Rebellato, produced by Pauline Harris, sound design Steve Brooke) BBC Radio Drama North for Radio 4
- Cuttin' It (written by Charlene James, produced by Jessica Brown) BBC Radio Drama London for Radio 4
- Lament (written by debbie tucker green, produced by Mary Peate) BBC Radio Drama London for Radio 4
- Merseyside Blitz (written by Frank Cottrell Boyce, Roger McGough, et al.) BBC Radio Merseyside
- The Sky is Wider (by Linda Marshall Griffiths, produced by Nadia Molinari, sound design Steve Brooke) BBC Radio Drama North for Radio 4
The Emily Rising company have made Emily puppets of various sizes for various points in the play. But they've also made a much much larger one, this one for the Hackney Carnival today. Here are some pictures of it from the Little Angel's Twitter feed.
For the production of Emily Rising at the Little Angel, they've done video interviews with the creative team, aimed at children, mainly. I did one and it's weirdly bleached out and the sound's not great and I look a nightmare, but here it is anyway.