I have 'played' at writing over the years. In 2003 I offered to produce a script for one of our annual murder-mystery plays at Grangewood Residents Club in East Hunsbury, Northampton. I don't think that any of the scripts that have used have been by 'recognised' playwrights. They are broadly written to meet a fixed structure: a first act in which someone either dies or is discovered dead, a second act in which investigative procedures are acted out, and a third (mercifully short) act that is the reveal. I think it is fair to say that literary or theatrical expectations are relatively low, but entertainment value is paramount.
On this basis, I felt confident in being able to meet the requirements of the task. I wrote and directed A Farcical Murder, and I think I achieved the 'entertainment' objective in reasonable measure; at least, people laughed (mostly in the right places), and cast and audience seemed to have enjoyed themselves. Over subsequent years I produced a few comedy sketches and suchlike, and also took my hand to editing and augmenting the odd panto script to suit our particular means.
However, after venturing into creative writing as part of my English degree with the Open University, which I completed in 2011, I became particularly interested in writing for stage. So much so that I enrolled for a two-year, part time masters degree with Kingston University, and in 2013 gained an MA Playwriting. Much of the work I have talked about below has either been produced during or as a result of that MA.
A murder, mystery in three acts
Written early 2015, for production at Grangewood in November 2015
In 2014, a brilliant team managed to turn a somewhat lacklustre off-the-shelf script into a highly successful production. Enthused by the cast's enthusiasm and commitment on this occasion, I elected to write a script for this year that would be taylor made for the same cast members (minus me).
My primary objective was to write what I regarded to be in the first instance 'a play', and in the second, a murder mystery. So, I kept to the same basic formulae, but took a slightly different approach to plot and story, with a greater focus on character and dialogue.
I hope that I achieved this.Tickets for the Friday and Saturday sold out in 13 minutes and we performed to full houses all three nights. The cast certainly rose to the challenge, they bought into the project completely and performed perfectly, and the audiences seemed to thoroughly enjoy it.
Tony Croft took some great rehearsal photos, a couple of which are here, with the whole set at on his Smug account. CLICK HERE for this.
A comedy in two acts
This was largely written during my time at Kingston University, and was in fact the principal component of my dissertation piece. It therefore benefitted greatly from the guidance and feedback from our course leader Alex Mermikedes, as well as from a number of playwrights and theatre practitioners who were our coaches and mentors.
However, before I handed it over to director Philip Welsh for production at The Playhouse Theatre (Clare Street, Northampton), I made numerous further edits that were in large part informed by two script readings. One was a full reading undertaken by a cast of friends, with stage directions being read by my chosen director Philip. The other was a partial reading by professional actors as part of Kingston University's MA Showcase at the Kings Head pub theatre in Islington.
Relative Confusion was performed over five nights at The Playhouse in May 2015, with good audiences and encouraging feedback.
I am now offering Relative Confusion for performance under license by other groups across the UK (or elsewhere).
Rehearsals for the profession 'Showcase' reading in Islington.
In this scene, John is preparing to literally frighten Uncle Arthur to death.
John's sister Alice, is not yet onstage, although our actress seems to be anticipating the chaos that will soon ensue.
Two dress rehearsal shots from The Playhouse production: John (Jem Clack) and Alice (Sue Marlow) trying to get a body up to their car; the brother and sister have, without deliberate intention, disrobed Geraldine (Liz Allan).
Scooch Them Up
A one-act comedy
This was written specifically for the 2013 Camden Fringe Festival, and was performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre in Covent Garden.
Scooch Them Up was inspired by a set of six paintings by London born artist William Hogarth (1697 - 1764) titled Marriage A-La-Mode. The paintings, which were models for a series of engravings, take the upper echelons of society as a subject, and chronicle a fictional story: an arranged marriage that ends in triple tragedy. I saw the paintings hanging in the National Gallery in London in 2012, was captivated by them, and was determined that at some as yet undetermined point I would write a play in which they, or the story they depict, would feature.
One of the Marriage A-La-Mode series of paintings that inspired Scooch Them Up.
This one is The Bagnio. Bagnio was originally a word used to describe coffee houses that offered Turkish baths, but by 1740 it signified a place where rooms could be provided for the night with no questions asked).
A one-act play
Like Film Noir (below), Siblings was an exercise, but not in the same way. It had a longer-term purpose, and it did in the end serve that purpose.
I like to write backstories for my characters: at the very least, my principal characters. They usually take the form of a page or so of plain prose, often written very quickly, almost a free-write. On this occasion I decided to write what I termed a 'dramatised back story', scripting an event in these characters' past.
The two protagonists in Siblings (John and Alice) are the brother and sister who appear in Relative Confusion in the same roles. In Relative Confusion, John has come back from an eleven-year, self-imposed exile in France, meeting up with his sister for the first time in over a decade.
I have therefore never sought for Siblings to be performed.
BIB (Boy in Box)
A one-act comedy
BiB was written to meet a deadline and a casting dictate. It was to be one of four plays being produced as part of the KUDOS (Kingston University) programme for the 2012 Camden Fringe. The constraints were the Etcetera Theatre's delightful but small performance space, the necessity to squeeze in two plays in each on-hour slot, and an instruction to, as far as possible, write for a young (early twenties) predominantly female cast.
Bib was produced by the wonderful EVE Theatre Company, and had a fantastic and cast of enthusiastic and talented undergraduates. Jack, who played Logan, had to rise from a large cardboard box to the apparent surprise of most of the other characters, and to the genuine amazement of the audience. It was a boiling hot day, in a non air-conditioned theatre, and he had to be in there before we let the audience in. This took at least ten minutes, and Logan did not appear in the script until around one-third in. Luckily he was not wearing too much.
Cinderella at the Circus Ball
A full-length pantomime
My day job until March 2015 was a sort of technical author for a civil engineering company, Clancy Docwra. Although employing around 2,000 people across the country, it is still a true family company, with family-based values. Every couple of years they host a large social event for staff and families, with previous events including huge firework displays and bar-b-cues in their own grounds, and hotel-based balls. On an impulse, I suggested that we should produce our own pantomime.
Twelve months later we put it on for four nights during the week leading up to Christmas 2011, performing to around 400 people, including a free night for three local schools, and we raised about £5,000 for a local charity from staff tickets.
A very short script
Similarly to Siblings, Film Noir was an exercise. However, this was truly something written for the sake of writing it. As always, I visualised the scenes in my mind as I wrote them, but I never visualised it being performed. Why would you want to?
Nevertheless I have included it here as an example of something different for me at that time. Something out of my comfort zone. I wanted to play with exposition (or the lack of it), and with time. My scene setting stage directions are deliberately sparse, and deliberately leave out time. If you can read it and just about work out the chronology (and therefore possibly the story), then maybe I achieved what I set out to do.
A one-act play
I wrote Pond Life in 2011. It sprung, fairly naturally, out of a speed writing exercise. The phrase, 'I watched him come up the hill' had embedded itself into my mind from somewhere, and I just shoved things down on paper without too much thought, and from the mess on the paper, Pond Life emerged.
It was around a year later that EVE Theatre broached the idea of producing an evening of my work. They had already produced BiB for the 2012 Camden Fringe, and we had worked well together. I had showed them the script for Dinner Date, currently in 'radio' format and they wanted to produce that for the stage and needed two short pieces to go with it to give them a programme of around an hour. I suggested Pond Life, along with Delayed Exit.
A one-act play written to a radio format
Dinner Date was originally written as a radio play. This was a mechanism through which I could create a short play that had numerous changes of scene and location, using sound to facilitate the changes. It also meant that we could put it on with minimal rehearsal and without the need for the actors to learn the lines by rote. Nevertheless, we still took care to present it as a visual entertainment for the audience.
For its first performance at the Grangewood Residents Club in Northampton in 2011 (top photo), where it was presented as part of a dinner evening, the cast all wore evening dress, and I gave a short introductory talk, explaining my motivation and the love of radio born many decades ago when listening as a home-alone child.
It was subsequently performed later that year in a radio format as part of a The Playhouse open evening.
In 2012, Eve Theatre Company performed it as a stage play (we worked on some appropriate changes together) as part of the Three-in-One presentation, together with Pond Life and Delayed Exit. (Bottom)
In 2015, it had a reprise as a radio play at The Playhouse, as a non-entry, fill-in production to support the performances stage of their one-act play event.
A Farcical Murder
A three-act murder mystery play
A Farcical Murder was a very early work for me. I wrote it in 2003, specifically to be performed at the Grangewood Residents Club in Northampton. It was written to fit a specific requirement. We had produced murder mystery evenings for three or four years, and I knew we would need a script for the following year. I figured that if I put my hand up for writing the script it would tie me down to a deadline, which was just what I needed to get me going on actually writing something. I had the luxury of writing for a predetermined cast (13), and so I was able to create characters that I knew everyone could play well.
Two years later I was very pleased when a society in Hinckley picked up on it and asked if they could produce it. I saw it as their invited guest and had a thoroughly good evening seeing their treatment of my script.