The University of Lincoln's School of Fine and Performing Arts run an international conference every year or two, each one on a different playwright. So far there have been conferences on Caryl Churchill, Sarah Kane, David Greig, and debbie tucker green. This year it was the wonderful Dennis Kelly's turn to get all the attention and the conference took place on Saturday, 18 November, organised by the excellent Jacqueline Bolton and Nicholas Holden.
It was a great day with some terrific papers from people like Chris Megson, Aloysia Rousseau, Deborah Prudhon, Basil Chiasson, Catriona Fallow, Lucy Tyler, Marissia Fragkou, Trish Reid and many more. I gave a paper discussing the way in which Kelly's characters speak, sometimes to a kind of excess. It is a follow-on, in a way, from a comment I made in an essay a few years ago where I described the way characters in plays by Simon Stephens, Duncan Macmillan, Mike Bartlett and others offer abundant and affirmative statements, apparently without nuance or subtext. I called it 'radical naivety' and at the time suggested it was part of a deliberate withdrawal from authorial textual presence.
The idea has been picked up a few times and I've wanted to return to it for a while and this seemed like a good opportunity because while this happens in Dennis Kelly's work, it does so in a way that's very different from the way it manifests in Stephens' writing. My paper was an attempt to refine further the definition of 'radical naivety', using the work of philosopher Paul Grice and in doing so show the variations in the form. From there I offer a suggestion of the way it models two different attitudes to the relationship between the individual and society, a certain kind of response to the complicated political times we find ourselves in. What I like about Paul Grice's attempt to model ordinary conversation is that it allows us to pay close attention to language and the subtleties of how it produces meaning without getting lost in purely textual scholarship or lit. crit. Not that there's anything wrong with lit. crit. as such but literary-critical analyses of plays often forget that they are to be performed as speaking speed and many of the tools that are appropriate to the novel, say, or certain kinds of poetry just don't apply here. The paper is called 'On Radical Naivety: Dennis Kelly and Verbal Style'.
Also Dennis Kelly came to the conference and I interviewed him, which was, of course, a great pleasure (see picture). Dennis is a wonderfully witty, irreverent, thoughtful and precise speaker about his work and the interview was a very enjoyable session, with many memorable asides adorning the serious reflections on writing, theatre and violence.