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a writer's life Autobiographical Blowing my own trumpet Fiction Short Stories Theatre

Doctor Spotlight

I don’t know exactly where I first heard the term ‘Doctor Spotlight’ to describe the way that being in the spotlight can momentarily conceal, for example, the terrible hangover or malaise you might be experiencing.

In the early nineties I was knocked off my bicycle one morning cycling down Chiswick High Road, and sustained quite a nasty injury to my hand. I stood in shock and dripping blood. I wandered over to a policeman who said, ‘you’ll live’. He was right.

After being stitched up in Charing Cross Hospital, I made off to my evening engagement. I was doing a poetry reading at the Commonwealth Institute in support of a mental health charity. The star was Spike Milligan who had generously asked for some local poets to be involved in the reading. Of these was a young Mario Petrucci (who second to the great Spike rather stole the show), Rosemary Norman, and I was one of two or three other poets Rosemary had called on.

I arrived early, and made straight for the bar to add booze to the shock, adrenaline and anaesthetic cocktail I was running on. The show opened with Rosemary, Mario and the other poets reading before Spike Milligan. He asked not to be last, so someone was needed someone to finish off. Weirdly, this was me. Sat behind the curtain, in the order of reading, I wound up next to Spike for a couple of hours. He was lovely, but distracted and clearly did not want to talk much.

As the audience, in the hundreds, filed in the PA began playing an interview the great comedian had given the BBC about his depression. After five minutes of this, he leant over to me and asked who it was speaking. I said, ‘It’s you Spike,’ which seemed to surprise him.

Every now and then he tried to escape. He sprang up and wandered distractedly into Kensington High Road, followed by a panicking stage manager, who would shepherd him back.

As the evening wore on, I was left with Spike alone. To me he seemed too distracted and ill to even walk to centre stage, and absolutely not able to perform. Perhaps it was just nerves, I thought, but I was seriously worried about him. But as his name was introduced, he got up, straightened out and strode onstage. Suddenly he was the wonderful entertainer and comedy genius the audience had come to see. He delivered a dazzling performance. For me watching that instantaneous transformation was unforgettable.

Anyhow… This is a roundabout way of saying I have a short story on the Horla website, called Doctor Spotlight, which draws on my experience of seeing the magic the spotlight can do. Hope you like it!

I really have to thank again here, the wonderful short fiction writer Matthew G. Rees, who edits Horla, but also was responsible for kick starting my return to writing short stories.

READ Doctor Spotlight by Peter Kenny here.

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A Glass of Nothing Actors Theatre

‘A Glass of Nothing’ still half full

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Beth finds somewhere quiet to apply makeup in the Surgeons’ Hall

So… Edinburgh. Blimey, it was an exhausting. In fact so exhausting, it has taken me two weeks to get around to writing about it… Edinburgh utterly dwarfs the  Brighton Festival, and the competition for bums (on seats) is ferocious. Nothing beats first hand experience of publicising and flying for your play, sticking together as a unit and delivering great performances to all kinds of audiences. Not to mention getting into the rhythm of gulping  post-performance beers and discovering late night Edinburgh delicacies such as the macaroni pie.

We learned lots. Next time we take on Edinburgh we’ll do things a little differently. My biggest learning was that putting a short run play on at the beginning of the festival is disadvantageous when seeking reviews. Luckily we had some corkers from the Brighton Festival, so we did okay. We had a couple of quiet nights but luckily this improved towards the end of the run. I’m always surprised at how different audiences can react so differently to the same play. Lots of laughter on one night, a serious absorption into the dark side of the play on the other. While one night, we were all surprised how everyone took against Kitty’s character to side with Beth.

We all made time to see some other shows of course, but I found it hard to see as many as I’d have liked. Shows had tiny audiences were often excellent too.  We took in several women comedians, and I particularly liked Jane Postlethwaite whose work was full of imagination as well as being extremely funny.

All in all, however, it was a hugely positive experience. We left Edinburgh proud of ourselves. And I was bursting with pride in how brilliantly everyone had done. Beth was magnificent, pouting and flirting with the audience.  Kitty and Matt were sensational, and delivered excellent performances every night.  And a big shout out to Amy who did our tech, and for my wife Lorraine who was our bedrock (plus stagehand). We all lived together in a top of a tenement flat in Leith too, like a thespian Walton family. Maybe next year? Hmm…. Now there’s an idea.

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Amy Freeman on tech

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Matt Colborne, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons August 2017, Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh

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A Glass of Nothing Brighton Blonde Productions Theatre Uncategorized

Final preparations for Edinburgh

So we’re taking A Glass of Nothing to Edinburgh. Exciting, yes of course, but the truth has dirtier fingernails. Our previous shows have all been close at hand, so organising a run in another country is harder.

Only one final rehearsal to go now down in Brighton. Beth and Kitty now imperious in their roles. And our new man Matt, has worked his socks off to get his part down. We’re proud of him. Due to our slot timings, we have had to trim the play by five minutes. I made the cuts a couple of months ago, of course. In this week’s rehearsal, however, we did a full and fluent run through. Argh! Still five minutes over! It is mystifying. Beth and I did some extra last-minute trimming, not easy on something already greyhound lean. Then the next run-through squeaked in under the desired 50-minute mark. Whew. When you think of how even Shakespeare gets cut and refashioned, there is absolutely no room for writerly flouncing about this sort of thing. But how you can cut loads out of a play only for it to stay the same duration is a bit weird.

So it’s up with the sparrows next Thursday. We are training up to Edinburgh from Brighton, laden with a cases and a few props and some costumes via Kings Cross. No mean feat in itself, especially as we’re off to my stepson’s wedding in Leeds immediately after we’re done in Edinburgh, so we’ll be carrying wedding clothes too.

We aim to hit the ground running in Edinburgh. There are props to be bought, a tech run at The Surgeons’ Hall shortly after we arrive (meeting old friend Amy who will do our tech for us), the press office to visit, flyers and posters to collect (I have bought outside and online  advertising, sent out dozens of press releases etc.) and do other bits.

We have rented a house twenty minutes away from the centre, where Beth, Kitty Matt, Amy, Lorraine and I will be a Theatrical Walton family for a week. The next day, Friday, we have our open dress rehearsal, where folks can come in at a reduced rate. The Saturday is our Preview, the following week our run.

Worst fear? Playing to an empty house. In Brighton, where we know people, we sold out a 70 seater three nights in a row. Playing to one person and a dog would be a challenge. Greatest hope? That we all come home having learned lots, and made audiences laugh and think — and that this isn’t the end of the road for the play we’ve worked so hard on.

So wish us luck! And should you find yourself in Edinburgh, do come along.

Here’s a short monologue from the play performed by Beth…

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A Glass of Nothing Brighton Blonde Productions Theatre Uncategorized

A dark comedy for the selfie generation

My play A Glass of Nothing starts with Beth Symons, below, searching for likes online. Other than that, what else can a lonely twenty-something woman with no money, poor housing, and dismal prospects do? She has to stay at home and gulp a glass of nothing, that’s what.

A Glass of Nothing is built around a classic three wish structure. Beth wishes for beauty, the perfect partner, and a great career — having decided that ‘nothing is more real than advertising’.

Here’s a wee trailer… click here to book a seat at the show.

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A Glass of Nothing Brighton Blonde Productions Theatre

‘A Glass of Nothing’ theSpace@Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh 4-5 & 7-10 August

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Tickets available here

I’ve always liked collaborations. Brighton Blonde Productions, the theatre production company I put together with my stepdaughter Beth Symons has been a particularly excellent one. Our Edinburgh trip will be our third run as Brighton Blonde Productions.

It is good to write with an actor in mind, instead of starting with a blank sheet. For A Glass of Nothing, Beth and I drank beers and discussed the pressing concerns of a woman  woman in her twenties (beyond the next round of course). When writing it, all I had to do was consult my inner Beth and ask myself if she would say those lines. Beth’s influence means that the play deals with social media, and the pressure to conform to expectations of beauty and so on. It has turned out to be a dark comedy for the selfie generation.

It’s nice for us as a family. The ever supportive Lorraine (my wife, Beth’s mother) is listed as our official stage hand for the show. I’ve been to the Edinburgh festival as a punter was great fun. Taking a play to Edinburgh will, fingers crossed, be at least as much fun — mixed with dread and horror, obviously.

I am also mightily relieved that the fabulous and multitalented Kitty Underhill will join us in Edinburgh too. Kitty is a top comedy actress, and her enthusiasm, poise and hilarious ad libs have contributed enormously to the show. For the Edinburgh run we’ve recruited actor and model Matt Colborne to play the male roles. Beth and I have started intensively rehearsing with him, and I’m already excited about the new character dimensions Matt can bring to the show.

Turns out everyone in the show is an actor/model. I also have a tiny cameo in the show — but it will come as no surprise that I am not an actor/model at all. Though the cast are all busy on other work, somehow, we’re pulling it altogether. So if you find yourself in Edinburgh at the beginning of August. Come along!

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Brighton Blonde Productions Poetry Telltale Press Theatre

Precious time

I’ve spent the last couple of months with little time. I’ve been commuting to London to work in an advertising agency every day (a four hour round trip). The Gods of Freelance then added in more work for me to do on the train, and in the evenings and weekends and through holidays. By chance this coincided with one of my worst-ever bouts of depression. I rarely get depressed. Glum, sure, but that’s usually over in a few days. But being down for weeks on end was unusual for me, and my respect for people who keep on keeping on, despite dealing with repeated depression, is more acute now.

Now, having thawed from that glacier, I feel myself again. Being depressed for me means having myself at the centre of all my thoughts. And you can take it from me, it is a tedious place. Now I can laugh about myself again,  I can’t wait to get stuck into being creative on my own projects. The enforced ‘downtime’ has given me unexpected benefits. I am suddenly much clearer about two of my projects. Time is often the best editor. I could have done without pouring tea into my laptop the other day, however, but that’s a different story.

* * *

I attended the recent Telltale Press reading in Lewes, which featured Siegfried Baber, mining his love of Americana to enormous effect, Marion Tracey whose poems have an Apollonian dreamlike clarity.  Sarah Barnsley read particularly well I thought. One of her poems, called The Fugitive, I loved. It reminded me of C.P. Cavafy’s wonderful concreteness. I think Sarah’s work is fantastic. Sarah introduced her friend Katrina Naomi who also read excellently, despite being interrupted by the Telltale Stand collapsing dramatically as if some poltergeist had given it a good shake. Katrina’s work seems effortless, both accessible and deep. Everyone lapped up her reading.

I snapped two rather poor photos on the night. One of Sarah Barnsley, and the other of Katrina Naomi. The room was packed, although it doesn’t look like it.

* * *

Meanwhile two of my poetry chums are on the cusp of new publications, and I’m delighted for both of them.

By old pal Richard Fleming is just about to publish Stone Witness, a new collection with the Guernsey-oriented Blue Ormer Publishing. Richard’s box of books has just arrived and his blog captures the moment. It is going to be launched during the Guernsey Literary Festival, and I am really looking to seeing him soon, and owning a copy.

Meanwhile Robin Houghton has had a pamphlet accepted by Cinnamon, called All The Relevant Gods, to be published next year. Robin has an inspiring blog post about the journey to acceptance here. For all kinds of reasons, even for an exceptional poet like Robin, making progress can be tough. But it means getting the breakthrough is even sweeter.

* * *

Beth Symons and I are beginning to sort out our Edinburgh Fringe run. We all have somewhere to stay, which is a start. We are just about to start auditioning for a male actor (preferably Brighton based, or within striking distance) to join the ensemble. So if you happen to be male, in your twenties, and an actor with comedy chops, then please get in touch with me through this site.

My play, A Glass of Nothing, which is directed by and stars Beth Symons, and features Kitty Underhill will be on at  The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall, Theatre 2, 9.10pm on 5/8/17, (free preview) 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th August 17 (4-night run).  Naturally I hope to be blah-blahing about this more ere long.

Categories
A Glass of Nothing a writer's life Brighton Blonde Productions Painters, Poetry Theatre Writing

A mixed bag

I have been working hard on my children’s story The Second Kind of Darkness in the last two months. The end is in sight. Putting the story aside for a few years has really helped. Time is a great editor.

I’ve also been filling in gaps in my reading of good children’s books, including Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman, and a book that is going down brilliantly with under 11s at the moment, Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I even went as far back as Peter and Wendy, by J.M.Barrie, which I found to be fresher than I expected, and genuinely strange in parts.

Having run earlier drafts of my story past schoolchildren in schools, I have two teacher friends, specialists in the age group I am writing for and in English, lined up to read it, not to mention my wife, who is a headteacher. Bracing myself for feedback soon

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Dates have now firmed up for my play A Glass of Nothing which will have a preview in the Surgeon’s Hall Theatre 2 in Edinburgh on 5th August, and then a short run Monday-Thursday 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th of the following week. As before, it will be a Brighton Blonde Productions performance, and star Beth Symons in the central role.

***

Two deaths in the last few weeks. One in the family, which I won’t write about here, the other of Andy Wilson, a former art director of mine.

I flew down to the funeral in Cornwall, with two other fellow advertising writers Pat and Barney who knew him well too. You get to know your partner inside out when you are working in a creative team, although Andy and I were partners only for about a year and a half, I knew him as a truly gentle soul, who was one of the most original and creative people I have ever met in any walk of life. Sadly his last few years were blighted by demons of addiction. This, as Andy’s death serves to remind me yet again, is a terrible illness that people pretend is a flaw of character.

One memory. When Andy and I were working late, Andy told me out of the blue that to make a party a success (I was thinking of having a party that weekend) I had to get a bucket. He emptied one of the metal bins under the desk, and laughed hollowly into it in a crazy Jack Nicholson style. He invited me to follow suit, and we passed the bucket back and forth until we were crying with laughter at nothing.

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I once met the Nobel Prize winning Derek Walcott,  who died on 17th March. I admired him as a poet greatly, as I am especially interested in poets from islands (in his case St. Lucia).

With a group of other young poets, I attended a seminar with him back in the 80s in the South Bank.  I found myself standing next to him, and when we were all settling in and in confusion about chairs, I made some joke about sitting on his lap. He looked at me very stonily, clearly deciding I was an idiot from that moment. We were all asked to chuck a poem into the middle. And Derek picked one out at random. The whole session was taken up with his close reading and commenting on this first poem, leaving me at least feeling a bit short changed. At least I got him to sign my copy of The Fortunate Traveller.

***

Got around to reading Jacob Polley’s Jackself eventually. I think it is a worthy winner of the T.S.Eliot award this year. The poems feel very solid and realised, there is a meaty, chewable quality about the language. I want to reread it already. There is an excellent review here from the guardian.

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Been haunting the National Gallery in London lately. This picture by Joseph Wright of Derby , which I had never looked at before, has begun to obsess me. It is An experiment on a bird in an Air Pump, a picture which becomes stranger the more I look at it. A white cockatoo, presumably the family pet judging by the cage in the corner, is being suffocated to demonstrate the nature of a vacuum. The two girls are naturally appalled, while the scientist with his wild hair and red clothes looks out at us as if to ask us if the air should be allowed back in to revive the poor creature.

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Categories
Reviews Theatre

Madagascar in Eastbourne

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I snuck into the final dress rehearsal for Madagascar last night, in the final run through by The RHT Community Production at the Royal Hippodrome Theatre, Eastbourne which starts its run today. This is just the kind of initiative I love – seeing such vibrant community theatre gladdens the heart.

This production of the show Madagascar, A Musical Adventure was based on the Madagascar movie, is a high energy, all singing and dancing romp, really well directed and full of fine performances and strong voices. Even the sets were great, while the costumes were extraordinary.  Tickets have sold like hot cakes over the last few days and extra performances have been added. And after last night, I know that for kids on half term holidays at the moment (not to mention their parents) there’s no better way to spend a February afternoon. This show is just enormous amounts of fun.

Categories
a writer's life Novels Poetry Prose Theatre

Stick or bust?

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Skelton Yawngrave, by Margaret Hamlin

When is it sensible to give up? Persistence we are told is a characteristic of success. Against this idea, I always think about sunk costs. An agency pal once explained to me there’s no sense pouring money into a project because you’ve already poured lots of money into it. Likewise, there comes a moment to cut your losses on an artistic project, and not pour any more time into it.

I have been writing a novel aimed at a 10-12 year old readership for almost ten years. Having set it aside for four years, I recently had a moment of clarity about how I could fix the problems that had previously stumped me. While I have felt that this story contains my best writing, it also didn’t all hang together. But at the beginning of the year, I bought myself some time and have decided to try again. Because I believe in the project, there can only be one answer – once more unto the breach it is then.

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Grace Brown, by Margaret Hamlin

This time, at least, I’ve a new weapon: the writing software Scrivener. My friend Catherine Pope told me about its ages ago, and I finally got around to buying it. It has been a revelation.  And thanks to Scrivener, moving blocks of text, reordering chapters, keeping tabs on the story flow, characters and so on, in a 60k text is all far, far easier. Something that would have taken me hours to sort out, can now be done in seconds. And the new (eighth) draft of the novel (now called The second kind of darkness) is becoming streamlined into something that seems to me to be much improved.

When I first started working on this, almost ten years ago now, I asked my mother Margaret Hamlin to quickly visualise some of the characters I’d created. One of them, Skelton Yawngrave, is above, and the girl is Grace Brown, the story’s heroine, is the smaller image. It’s nice to be back in their company.

* * *

Since attending the T.S.Eliot awards I sent off for several shortlisted books. The first one I received was Rachael Boast’s Void Studies and I have enjoyed dipping into her delicate, dreamlike work. Often the poem’s meanings are tantalisingly out of reach, but like dreams, convey a strange significance.  Coincidentally, while reading landscape-1448893172-trumpsleep Void Studies I’ve been going through one of those phases where I remember my dreams on waking. I’ve noticed again how dreams touch on things I’ve tried to sweep under the carpet. Reading Void Studies during the unfolding catastrophe of Donald Trump’s presidency, makes me think about Donald Trump’s dreamlife. Is all that gold compensating for slate grey dreams? What monsters must live there.

What is the relevance of a book like Void Studies in Trump world? None. But that is the exactly the point. A subtle and delicate work like Void Studies is an example of a culture that must be protected from the jackboot of ignorance that figures like Trump represent.

* * *

And while I’m on the subconscious, having decided to relentlessly focus on prose I found myself writing a series of 13 short poems this week. On Thursday morning I wrote eight eight-line poems in an hour. I have never written eight poems in a week before, let alone eight in an hour. It seems there’s nothing like deciding that under no circumstances will you think about something to make the opposite happen.

* * *

All being well, my play A Glass of Nothing will be having a five-night run in the Surgeons Hall during the Edinburgh Festival, in August. More about that later in the year.

Categories
Performance Theatre

A golden moment

There is a section of A Glass of Nothing where Beth is transformed into the world’s most beautiful woman and goes into the audience, requests a phone and takes a selfie. I just love this pic taken last night at the Marlborough Theatre.

Our wee two-day run of We Three Kings and A Glass of Nothing is over. Brighton Blonde Productions will be back in the new year, not least with taking A Glass of Nothing to Edinburgh. Running A Glass of Nothing again, in a slightly trimmed version for me was a proof of concept. With Beth shining at its centre, this is a piece I am truly proud of.

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Beth Symons in ‘A Glass of Nothing’

The cast of We Three Kings a few minutes before the start of the show. Left to right, James Kuszewski, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons, and Dylan Corbett-Bader. We Three Kings is a half an hour twisted nativity play with hope in its heart, and these are the people who made its hope shine.

 

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James Kuszewski, Kitty Underhill, Beth Symons, Dylan Corbett-Bader in ‘We Three Kings’