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Monday, 6 June 2011

One Immodest Whisper

I am allowing myself this one immodest whisper and it will close the academic aspect of this project. The cheesy grin pictured opposite records the fact that I seem to have got a first in my degree. As yet this is only a provisional mark but there is sufficient leeway in my various grades to make the outcome all but certain. I am accordingly a happy old man. This puts right the indignity of my 'A' level result from 1978. I may have taken my sweet bloody time about it but I got there in the end.

We shall never speak of this again.

Shortly I will continue the VB project - after a brief interlude of riotous celebration.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Letting Go

Today was assignment deadline day so my submission (beautifully bound and printed) was handed in this morning. I am incurably vain so I will report on the mark I get only if it is a good one.

In truth I feel a little sad at letting it out of my custody which is a pretty damned silly way to feel about a play.

This though will not be the end. I intend to continue the project for my own entertainment, particularly now that William Shakespeare has let me have my desk back, although you are never, of course, truly free of Shakespeare. Nor should you want to be.

I am re-reading Black Mischief at the moment. For the bien pensant this is the most problematic Waugh novel I suspect. Is it racist? Well possibly but it is nonetheless bloody funny. Nor should we ignore the fact that the irredeemable Basil Seal is quite unquestionably white. A couple of good lines have caught my eye in the context of VB (the first one) and my Shakespeare essay (the second) which is about constitutional law.
One of the young men said: 'Could you lend me a fiver? I've a date at the Cafe de Paris.' ... 'No, you'd better ask Sonia.' ... 'But it's so boring. I'm always borrowing money from her.
... we've got a much easier job now than we should have had fifty years ago. If we'd had to modernize a country then it would have meant constitutional monarchy, bi-cameral legislature, proportional representation, women's suffrage, independent judicature, freedom of the press, referendums ...'  .....  'What is all that?' asked the Emperor.  .....  'Just a few ideas that have ceased to be modern.'  
I was going to say 'quite' but then you might think I was being serious and my cred would be banished from the street completely as opposed to now when my daughters allow me to take it for a very quick walk early on a Sunday morning when nobody else is up.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Notes For Producers

With apologies for the formatting (lost in translation) here is the draft of the 'Notes for Producers' as it stands.



The play, an adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel, is in three acts. The novel comprises a swift sequence of set pieces which ostensibly suggest a filmic treatment. However this stage adaptation attempts a distillation of the text’s bleakly comic tone and is written with a view to a staging which can proceed successfully without elaborate period scenery or costume. A cast of eight actors is required, four male, four female. Two actors (playing the lovers, Adam and Nina) remain in character throughout and make their entrances from off-stage in orthodox manner. The remaining players cover multiple parts as listed below. Each character other than Adam and Nina is distinguished by an individual prop or item of costume and generally changes are made upstage as indicated in stage directions and in plain view of the audience. Each actor should wear a plain black base costume.

There should preferably be provision for the projection of images onto the back wall of the stage. Suggested stage layouts and sample images for projection are attached to these notes. These notes anticipate a proscenium staging. A curtain is not required.


ACTOR 1 will play
ADAM FENWICK-SYMES: the actor remains in character throughout. He is as close as the play comes to a hero. Good looking in a rather unexceptional way, he is suave, educated and semi-detached.

ACTOR 2 will play
NINA BLOUNT; also in character throughout. Adam’s occasional fiancĂ©e. Ultimately soulless. Pretty in the emaciated style.

ACTOR 3 will play
LORD VANBURGH: (carries a notebook and pencil in his top hat) a young aristocrat with the bearing of his birth but none of its certainties. A gossip columnist for The Daily Beast who finds some final fulfilment as a war correspondent (at which point his notebook is replaced by a cine camera and his topper by a tin helmet inscribed ‘Press’); and
THE KING OF RURITANIA: (sports a naval full set and a monocle) a dispossessed and defeated monarch living in Shepheard’s, a London hotel; and
A JUDGE: (in judge’s wig) another habituĂ© of Shepheard’s; and
LORD METROLAND: (in tail coat) industrialist peer, bewildered by the young but tolerant of them; and
COLONEL BLOUNT: (a distressed tweed jacket) eccentric and reclusive father of Nina.

ACTOR 4 will play
LOTTIE CRUMP: (a wide full length skirt) proprietress of Shepheard’s Hotel. A happy reminder of the splendours of the Edwardian era; and
MARY MOUSE: (classic flapper hat) the daughter of industrial new money and a sponsor of the party scene; and
MRS BROWN: (a pinafore) the wife of this week’s Prime Minister; and
FIRST CONSERVATIVE LADY: (a ludicrously stately hat) active in local association affairs.

ACTOR 5 will play
FATHER ROTHSCHILD: (clerical collar) peripatetic Jesuit; and
THE HON MILES MALPRACTICE: (Red Indian head-dress) problematic aristocratic second son. Homosexual; and
AN UNNAMED AMERICAN: (thick rimmed glasses) a guest at Shepheard’s; and
FIRST POLICEMAN: (a helmet) called to investigate an incident at Shepheard’s; and
LORD MONOMARK: (carries a silver topped cane) proprietor of The Daily Excess.

ACTOR 6 will play
AGATHA RUNCIBLE: (Hawaiian garland and head-band) the BYT par excellence. Fashionably androgynous. Doomed; and
DEAD SHOWGIRL: (a diamante fascinator) in unfortunate collision with a chandelier at Shepheard’s; and
SOCIAL EDITRESS: (a fox fur and dark glasses) of The Daily Excess.

ACTOR 7 will play
EARL BALCAIRN: (a white silk scarf, notebook and silver pencil) Vanburgh’s rival columnist, writing for The Daily Excess. Aristocratic, defeated, tragic; and
MR BROWN: (a proletarian moustache and an ill-fitting frock coat) this week’s Prime Minister; and
THE DRUNK MAJOR: (a moustache of regimental magnificence and a uniform dress cap) a drunken old buffer, residue of the last war who will find purpose only in the next; and
‘GINGER’ LITTLEJOHN: (a ginger wig and moustache) childhood friend of Nina. Rich, eligible and newly returned from Ceylon, and
ARCHIE SCHWERTZ: (a white dinner jacket) dissolute, rootless, penniless, parasitic. An essential but entirely disposable BYT; and
SECOND POLICEMAN: (another helmet) assisting investigations at Shepheard’s.

ACTOR 8 will play
JANE BROWN: (a simple headband) daughter of this week’s Prime Minister, would be BYT; and
LADY METROLAND: (masses of pearls and a cigarette holder of improbable length) disgraceful and undignified socialite. Too old to be a BYT but mentally attuned to that generation; and
SECOND SHOWGIRL: (a diamante fascinator) at a party at Shepheard’s; and
SECOND CONSERVATIVE LADY; (another ludicrous hat); and
MILES’ CATAMITE: (leather helmet and motor goggles) a beautiful young racing driver.


The play does not mimic the linear narrative of the novel. Its Prologue takes an incident from the book’s pre-penultimate chapter and the Epilogue follows the novel’s ironically titled final chapter Happy Ending. The intervening three acts are divided thematically with each accorded a sub-title borrowed from other Waugh novels. Act I (Unconditional Surrender) considers the parties of the Bright Young Things; Act II (Officers and Gentlemen) is centred on hotels and restaurants and stresses itineracy; in Act III (Men at Arms) death and destruction intervene on a metaphorical battlefield, preparing the way for the literal battlefield of the Epilogue.

If the scenes were to be acted chronologically their order would be: 2.1, 1.1, 2.2, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 2.3, 2.4, 1.5, 1.6, 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, Prologue, 3.4, Epilogue.

There is a footnote to the original which explains that the cross-gender casting of Actor 8 is quite deliberate, just in case you thought I didn't know what a catamite was. I have read Earthly Powers you know - best opening sentence in the modern novel?

Spending Time With The Bard

fellow grammar school boy
 and playwright - similar hairline
After a good blast at the script over a couple of weeks, I took a break last week to work on the other looming academic assignment - my essay on Shakespeare's Roman plays. Which brings me back to something I have commented on before but which has to be said again. Bloody hell, the boy Shakespeare was good. No wonder some sceptics struggle to believe this grammar school boy could have written all those plays. Well we grammar school boys do like to lug spanners into works whenever we can. Bloody marvellous. The context in which I previously mentioned the Bard was Antony and Cleopatra and I happen to have read that again over the weekend in the throes of my essay. It's quite literally and magnificently all over the place (A&C, not my essay hopefully). Which goes to prove that if the words are good enough you can ignore all the rules. So what's my excuse then? Haven't got a truly convincing one other than that my thematic dismemberment of the book's chronology feels right for the stage and brings something new to the text. And neither of those contentions is one that I can really be qualified to judge myself. Anyway, too late to be having second thoughts now.

Resumed work on VB today, knocking together the components I will submit for assessment. These will be: an Introductory Note justifying my choices; the Notes for Producers including the casting notes and some illustrations for scenery/props; the entire Stage Outline showing how I have rationalised the plot; entire script of these scenes - prologue (Adam 'sells' Nina to Ginger); 1.1-1.3 (the Schwertz party and on to Downing Street); epilogue (Happy Ending).

I may pluck up the courage to post the Notes to Producers once finally knocked into shape.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Prometheus Unbound ... Writer Unblocked

A bit of a grand title for today's blog but what the hell. It's starting to come together. I have had a really productive weekend working on the script and associated notes.

Had a predictably uplifting meeting with DR last Thursday. I had sent him the Outline of the whole play (see Mind-Dump and Other Jargon, 1 April) and he was kind enough about it, even my bizarre and repetitive misspelling of 'no one' - how long have I been doing that I wonder? Encouraged by that I had ploughed on with Act I, my vague short-term plan being to hand in for assessment (the first but not sole objective) Act I scene 1, along with, probably, the Prologue and Epilogue, the Outline and some Casting/Production Notes I have been working on. I was a little concerned that I would bang my head on the 7000 word assignment ceiling but DR is reasonably relaxed about this so I have not been subject to any unduly artificial constraints. The faults will be all mine.

Today has been the best day yet. Well, good for me , perhaps not so good for the boy Waugh who may very well be revolving in his proverbial as we speak.  My characters have today grown into themselves with a right old vengeance and keep speaking lines entirely of my invention without any prompting from old Evelyn. This, I discover, is an inevitable by-product of adaptation, even, ironically, of reduction. By paring down the events I portray and the cast of characters enacting them, I have to put the characters in unexplored places. When they arrive at these new venues they can say the strangest things. For example I start at the Schwertz party and I want to get the cast from there to the uproarious Downing Street denouement (via, of course, a death at Shepheard's) with as little clunkiness and scenery-shifting as possible. But what would these people talk about in the taxis as they tour London in search of drink? I think I now know. In fact I have known it twice because I had a backing-up incident earlier today (user error) which meant this deathless prose had two incarnations. Work that one out.

Some of the fun I've been having: Mary Mouse has emerged as a minor Machiavel who may just be in love with Jane Brown; Miles has more self-knowledge than Vanburgh; I sneaked a bit of Macbeth in there (gratuitous I know but it's my bloody play and I like that sort of thing); I think I can get away with a reference to The Macallan 1926 (last reported trading at £30000 a bottle) even though it wouldn't have been drinkable then; because I now envisage some projected images on the rear stage wall I have been having fun looking out some possible pictures - these adorn today's blog.

Today I have also discovered the music of Philip Glass - not all of it course but enough to keep me typing happily. Sometimes, just sometimes mind, the unblocked writer's life is good.     

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Power Of Good Writing

I have been titivating the Schwertz party scene today (the first full scene in my order) and there were a couple of passages in chapter 4 of VB which caught my eye,
The real aristocracy, the younger members of those two or three great brewing families which rule London, had done nothing about it [wearing fancy dress]. They had come on from a dance and stood in a little group by themselves, aloof, amused but not amusing. (VB p44)
Those two sentences do so much with such economy that one feels guilty about consigning them to the cutting room floor. I have found a place elsewhere for the brewing aristocracy jibe but the rest has to go.
There were about a dozen people left at the party; that hard kernel of gaiety that never breaks. It was about three o'clock. (VB p46)
I must remember that 'hard kernel of gaiety that never breaks' line the next time the clock strikes three at the rugby club and we are down to what likes to think of itself as the hard core. The lads will be so impressed.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Rules. Where Would We Be Without Them?

In Al Murray's rhetorical rant, the answer to this question is - France. I am slightly concerned that my play may be straying into France.

Premise - 'Every sensible invention must have a purpose, every planned sprint a destination ... Yet, fantastic as it seems, this simple necessity has not made itself felt to any extent in the theater (sic). Reams of paper bear miles of writing - all of it with no point at all. There is much feverish activity, a great deal of get-up-and-go but no one seems to know where he is going.' (Egri, p1) All well and good although it is tempting to ask what exactly the premise of Waiting for Godot might be. For Vile Bodies I might borrow one of the stock premises listed by Egri (p8), dissipation leads to self-destruction.

Egri (p92 et seq) contends that Character is the most interesting phenomenon and that it shapes Plot rather than vice versa. This is particularly so in VB, wherein the events spin around the cast rather than those events shaping the characters. If anything had shaped the BYT's it was the preceding Great War, never referred to in the novel, although there is a heavy and unspoken presentiment of a war to come. An interesting question - is there a single laudable character in VB? Not Adam, not Nina, not Rothschild. So the novel lacks a moral centre, in fact has a distinctly amoral core. Arguably this must unbalance my adaptation but, a point I made in my presentation, the bleakness is all and the temptation to insinuate a happy ending (such as Fry's in the film version) has to be resisted. On balance I have to concede the plot of VB is weak, but the characters, albeit they are unvaryingly dissipated, give the text its compensating substance.

Egri (p110 et seq) posits a need for a Pivotal Character. Adam answers the basic need but does not answer Egri's prescriptions for a successful pivot: 'A pivotal character must not merely desire something. He must want it so badly that he will destroy or be destroyed in the effort to attain his goal.' This puts me squarely back in France. The BYT's do not in truth know what they want. That is the whole point. And this leads me onto an important liberty I will take with the text. Waugh's ironically titled 'Happy Ending' is the aspect of the book which most motivated  me when I made my proposal of this project a year ago and I am now going to mould it a little to suit my own prejudices. My reasoning is that war acts as a bizarre redemption for the BYT generation rather in the manner later encapsulated in the early pages of Men at War. My liberty is to give Vanburgh some dignity in his final role as war correspondent in contrast to the book's conclusion where he is, by Nina'a account in her letter, a fabricating propagandist. This can be a legitimate function of adaptation, 'Sometimes, like biological adaptation, cultural adaptation involves migration to favorable conditions: stories travel to different cultures and different media. In short, stories adapt just as they are adapted.' (Hutcheon, p31) 

Mamet nails down the intended effect, 'Myth, religion and tragedy approach our insecurity somewhat differently. They awaken awe. They do not deny our powerlessness, but through its avowal they free us of the burden of its repression.' (Mamet, p14)

On reflection, Vive La France ... Peut Etre.