Monday, April 11, 2011

A-Z challenge:is also for Influences.

Influences is the cheeky one for today. It has everything and nothing to do with Gef the mongoose.

The big influence on my writing is Harold Pinter. Imitations of his penstrokes are everywhere in my writing: the marked pauses and silences, the lyrical turn of phrase, my attempts to convey the unspoken behind the spoken. Thematically, Pinter and I don't share a lot in common. Which isn't as disappointing as I first thought- Pinter 's plays to one degree or another revolve around characters manipulating and jockeying for power of various kinds (see the recent film version of Sleuth for a fine example). I find the this fascinating, but it's a concept totally foreign to my headspace.

The biggest lesson that Pinter taught me was to trust the script. I learnt this in a directing paper at university when I directed his "A Kind of Alaska". Me and another student had just over two 2 weeks to cast, plan, rehearse and run the show for 4 performances. Added fun was that we were first up and when our shows ran they were at the end of the first 3 weeks of the course before we'd really learnt a thing. 

I had a half hour timeslot to run the play and no matter how many times I read it, it was always running nearer 50 minutes. So I began making cuts to a photocopy using a big black marker (I think of this now and I shake my head) and it hurt. It hurt the play everytime I ran a black line over words. I began muttering 'sorry Mr Pinter' everytime I brought my hand to the page. I got through, looked at the cuts I though might possibly worked, read it, timed it. 40 minutes. Looked for more cuts. Questioned my integrity.

In the end, I said to my tutor something along the lines of "Time be damned. I can't cut anything without hurting the play."

I learnt two things, one about Pinter and one about playwrighting.

The thing I learnt about Pinter, is that he knows what he is doing. Nothing is in the script my chance. Nothing is there unnecessarily. I watched the actors take the script and it was beautiful. I discovered my job as the director was to make suggestions like "perhaps on this line move downstage" and "I can't hear you" and "You guys rock". Generally, just get out of the way of the play. Everything that I needed as a director was in the script. Everything important. In fact my one regret was that I left a specified window off the set. I look at the performance and it was fantastic, but I always think "Why did I leave it out?"

And this was what I learnt about playwrighting: everything essential needs to be in the script, and everything in the script is essential (whether meant as such or not).

It did take another year for that lesson to sink in. I had a play produced and while it was good, I wished that I had put more clarity into the script I'd written. I'd had visions of the director taking the script and using it as a launch pad for their vision, but because I'd not written it to be used like that and the director was wonderfully literal I got exactly what I'd written, only not what I'd wanted.


  1. I love that you went back and analyzed your influences. I've never really done that. Maybe I should.

    I'm a novelist, not a playwright. I think your job sounds harder.

  2. Having been trying my hand at a novel recently, I find the play a little more forgiving. I'm looking at the same blank white page, but I'm able to visualise the limits of the stage a lot easier. The connective tissue in a novel is simply not present in a play.

  3. Just thinking more about plays and novels. The novel for me is formidable because the words go straight from my head to the page to the reader's head. A play has more collaborative imput before it becomes a finished product, it's a blueprint for others to follow.