This is the last week of Candlesticks at The White Bear, and once again, my thanks to Jenny Eastop, of Mercurius Theatre Company, and the cast, Mary Tillett, Sophie McMahon, Kathryn Worth and James Duddy, and to Michael Kingsbury, Artistic Director of The White Bear.
Monday night we went to see `Ravenscourt,` at Hampstead Theatre, by Georgina Burns, and were stunned by its urgency, fluency, intensity, and above all truth-telling. Strongly recommended, though if you would kindly pop in to to see Candlesticks first – well, two very different plays, and you could legitimately enjoy both of them, I hope! And no need to compare, either.
Jeff read the programme to me just now, recording how the talented Georgina Burns got into a young group of promising playwrights at Hampstead, and was encouraged and supported throughout the creative journey of this play.
This gave me flashbacks. To 1979, (ish) when I was invited to a workshop at Soho Poly Theatre for promising playwrights. And to 1987 when an early draft of a play that never succeeded, Mrs Faust, had a rehearsed reading there. And to another occasion, in 1990, when Mrs Faust, which I think of as my ‘still-born play’ was workshopped by Bristol Express Theatre Company.
Between 1979 and 1993, when I hit a possible peak of success, with the award of an Arts Council of England Theatre Writing Bursary, for three plays – Candlesticks, The Song of Deborah, and Xanthippe – our sons grew up. Jeff worked, day and often night as a paediatrician at Tameside General Hospital, spending no time whatsoever either in private practice, or on some mythical golf-course. Just working, morning till night, with regular, and exhausting on-calls…I was at home, and yes, I made it my business, (I have not confessed this publicly before) to run our home, even as our sons left it one by one – but kept returning….Yes, more or less every day of the week I made sure there was a home-made and healthy meal for Jeff to eat when he came home.
And also – between 1988 and 1993, in a wonderful 5 year break from M E – I did other things. I rented a room down the road and saw private clients for counselling, or (I sometimes dared to call it) psychodynamic counselling. One day a week. I embarked on an M Sc in Psychiatric Social Work at Manchester University, which comprised a feasibility study. The community care of the mentally ill in the orthodox Jewish communities of North Manchester and Salford. Oh, and yes, I became a Social Studies teacher at Princess Christian College – for the training of nannies. Put together a Social Studies programme, I seem to recall. And in those same years, I wrote the three plays.
In 1993, I was taken out to lunch by Charles Hart of the Arts Council, who bought me an apple and stilton cheese sandwich, told me the panel of readers thought my three plays were wonderful, and advised me as follows. All you need to do now, he said, is go home and set up your own theatre company. Then, because of this award, the Arts Council is bound to look favourably on funding full productions of all of them.
Well – the above, along with my personality I suppose, and the fact that I had a degree in Philosophy with Economics, no previous contact with actors, directors, or producers, meant that I was completely incapable of setting up my own theatre company. Where on earth, when, and how would I start?
Just reminiscing, that`s all. Last night Candlesticks got a strong audience, and I didn`t know any of them. Well – two people, but neither of them well. And now I`m making notes for a new play. It feels a bit like planting something in a garden when you`re not the world`s best gardener. A simple question of waiting, to see if it grows.