Adrian Mole

Hello! This is my first blog for Write By Numbers. I have worked on various projects with the company since their first ever Cold Writing festival in Brixton Market in 2009. After last year’s run of Blueprint at the Bike Shed last year I came on board as Associate Artist which has been brilliant and there are lots of exciting things on the horizon!

My first blog post is my personal tribute to my favourite character Adrian Mole. I was deeply saddened to hear of Sue Townsend’s death last week as her writing has been something I’ve come back to throughout my life and really affected the way I viewed the world and shaped my humour.

I first read ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾’ at the age of 8. I picked it up on one of my weekly trips to Hammocks. All book purchases were based on how snazzy I deemed the cover and this method of selection led to the discovery of literary gems! Post purchase my Mum would take a quick look and make sure I had picked up something decent. Sweet Valley High was scorned and a Point Horror ended up in the bin with ketchup on it. This may sound harsh but I quickly discovered the difference between trashy reading and contentious subject matter. .  Adrian Mole and his yearnings for Pandora,  were A-Okay!  Just because the protagonist talked a lot about nipples, did not necessarily mean the book was trashy.

If only my Year 4 teacher at my uber conservative primary school agreed.

I had written (and illustrated) a review of ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole’. After listening to other Year 4 classmates read aloud their reviews of The Famous Five and stories about girls doing ballet, I stood up and started my review with a direct quote about Adrian being interrupted by the postman whilst measuring his ‘thing’ in the privacy of his bedroom. The experience of surviving and dismissing the disapproving silence that followed has served me well. Like Adrian, I assumed they were all morons who didn’t get it.

Thanks to Adrian, I learned:

–          What wanton means

–          That Germaine Greer wrote an important book called The Female Eunuch. Sure I thought a Eunuch was a unicorn, but I was 8.

–          You fail, everyone fails…and you carry on, Adrian always had one more ‘Waiting for the Giro’ or “The Tap” to pluck from his brain, however often his writing got rejected.

–          There is a Norwegian leather industry

–          Your parents are separate beings and will do what they want

–          What the Falklands War was

–          What the Giro was

–          Popular public perception of Margaret Thatcher. “She has got eyes like a psychotic killer, but a voice like a gentle person. It is a bit confusing”

–          What the Communist Party was

–          Never to sniff glue

–          That to be an intellectual is aspirational

–          That when a teenager, it would be okay to want to wear rags and paint my room black

–          That no matter how special you think you are there is always a Barry Kent who infuriatingly bulldozes over you.

Throughout marriages, divorces, demeaning jobs, bankruptcy, arson and a tussle with a troublesome group of endangered newts, he never stopped questioning the world or his place in it. He never stopped dreaming or imagining, no matter how many times he was left disappointed.

As well as Adrian Mole, Sue also wrote the first play I ever read, Bazaar and Rummage. She introduced me to what I love the most in books, theatre, movies : the greatness and profundity in people’s small personal stories.

Regeneration Blogs: Doing Things That Scare You

A few weeks ago, when I was still bumbling through pages of research for Regeneration, I sent Charlie an email. It had one sentence in it:


There weren’t any more words because, as soon as I wrote that sentence, I had to breathe into a paper bag for a little bit.

(NB: I’ve googled to try and find a good concise definition of ‘state of the nation play’ but it seems everyone expects you to understand the term implicitly. There are longer explorations, should you wish to tread there, here and here.)

It probably shouldn’t have come as as much of a shock as it did. Unlike the other plays I’ve created text for for WBN this one didn’t come out of an initial character idea. It came out of a subject.

Or rather, at first it came out of a process.

Since we saw Architecting in the Barbican Pit back in 2010, Charlie and I have wanted to make a play like the TEAM make a play. We wanted to do a huge research process and have multiple writers and an epic scope and history and literature and music and now, now, now. Only, where the TEAM make theatre about the USA, we wanted it to be about England.

The desire to do this is something we’ve come back to, with varying degrees of scale. We considered writers we’d like in the room, how to get a balance of styles, how we might structure a very long research process, how we might collectively decide what the subject was going to be. Then, a couple of years ago, an AD invited us to pitch some ideas to him for work we’d like to develop and (along with the play which would eventually become Blueprint, about which you’ll be hearing more than you ever probably wanted to in the coming months) we pitched the idea of us undertaking this R&D process. We didn’t provide a subject matter for it – just that we wanted to do this process. As is the way, nothing came out of that initial meeting – other than a stay in touch, but it got us thinking about maybe, actually doing this thing. The same AD invited us to submit a proper proposal to him six months or so later, and another London theatre was doing an open call out for proposals at the time, so we did some further thinking and this further thinking led us to conclude that we’d probably better propose a subject matter. And, undoubtedly influenced by our own experiences working in Brixton and Walthamstow, simultaneously Charlie and I came up with: regeneration. Then we got excited because, for the first time, it felt we had a subject matter to match our process.

Then, we pitched and got a polite no thank you. Which actually turned out to be a Good Thing, because we ended up making Beneath the Albion Sky instead and thus all is history. It also convinced us that no one was going to buy into the process, because there was – and we’d been honest about this – the possibility it might end in total utter failure. So, as is the way with WBN, we thought about how we might make it come about ourselves. And, as Charlie and I were so enthused by writing about regeneration (and we didn’t know if other writers we knew would be to the extent that we were) we thought we’d go ahead and co-write it. And, if we weren’t going to go all out on the writing process, then we were on the play itself. And, off of the back of Albion, we got a chance to do a paid scratch of 15 minutes of text at Salisbury Arts Centre last November. From which we all concluded: yes, we did have a play here.

Now, with Rich Mix providing development support, we’re probably a third of the way through the first proper stage of development for Regeneration. And, there is probably no way to describe the text currently other than: big. It’s got three major plot strands which, between them, run from 1903 to 2015. We see London grow from 1980 to the present day, but we also visit Berlin and New York and Newfoundland and, crucially, Yorkshire. People fall in (and out) of love, there are riots, a birth, a house which moves across place and time. There’s even some Spike Lee and Boris Johnson in there. There’s quite a lot of Lego too.

There are also times where the play gets proper, full-on angry. It’s the first time I’ve made a play which, even momentarily, does this (though admitedly I doubt anyone could see Reasons for Listing and come out being unclear as to my position on the importance of libraries). Somehow, the scope of Regeneration seems to have opened up the space for us to do this and it feels okay for us to include some of our anger. It’s also got space for us to be playful and funny and bemused and tell stories and make myths. But it’s maybe the fact that it can hold all of this – including the anger – that makes it the scarily official sounding ‘state of the nation’ (even when its form might suggest it is anything but).

I guess this blog post is therefore a dollop of writerly confession as we attempt to get the play up on its feet in the coming weeks. In Regeneration we’re making something that scares me. And that’s exciting.

2013 and Everything After

For the first time since March in 2013 we’ve had a six weeks where we’ve not been either making a new show or touring an existing one. This break finished last week – there was a re-draft of Blueprint which basically involved me, a white board, a marker pen and the frantic look of someone who is attempting to make a play which is composed of fifty individual one minute plays work (seriously, who thought that was a good idea?). This third draft of Blueprint is nicknamed the “jenga draft” for very good reason. Today Charlie and I had our first proper text meeting for Regeneration which we’re developing with support from Rich Mix, having scratched 15 minutes of it in November at Salisbury Arts Centre’s Practice. And soon Estelle will be back in the rehearsal room with Reasons for Listing. And then more Albion in the spring. And Blueprint in the early summer. And onwards, (hopefully) onwards.

But with this (slight) down time we’ve done some thinking and planning and (even) some not-working. So, possibly falling beyond even the category of being “fashionably late”, here’s our look back – and forward – of WBN…

Andy @ Residency Celebration Favourite WBN work related thing of 2013: Taking Beneath the Albion Sky back to Exeter’s Bike Shed Theatre in October. Albion had already appeared in two incarnations at the Bike Shed, once at a scratch night the previous November, and then for Exeter’s Ignite Festival in June. When we showed up again in October, Albion had just done two weeks in very different spaces in Hackney and Bristol. It was great to perform it again in that lovely, bare cavernous space, which suits the mood of the piece perfectly.

Favourite WBN non-worked related thing of 2013: It’s Thursday Night. It’s Scarborough. You’re cold. You need a drink. It’s time for MECCA BINGO, people!

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: Rehearsing at the WBN office at the Albany is normally a pleasure. Charlie and I would sit with a coffee while he patiently waited for my brain to start working, then we’d lay out our chapter titles for each section of the show on a little trail of A4 sheets, and then we’d absorb ourselves in our work, serenely focused on our own little creation without any distraction from the outside world. Unless it’s a Wednesday afternoon and the market is on just outside our window. Some of those market traders like music. Doing the quietest, saddest, smallest piece of the play while the finale from Les Miserables is blaring in through the closed windows was difficult, but oddly moving.

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: The next Christmas social, in which an even greater variety of alcohols will be consumed, and I will hopefully have another religious experience while watching It’s A Wonderful Life.

Charlie @ Residency Celebration Favourite WBN work related thing of 2013: The opening night of Albion at Ignite Festival in Exeter in June. The feeling that all the work had been done (finally!) and people really liked the show and maybe I sort of knew a little about what I was doing. That I wasn’t entirely deluded about writing and directing!

Favourite WBN non-worked related thing of 2013: Running manically across Salisbury in order to catch the last train back to London after Salisbury Arts Centre’s Practice (with Corinne being ridiculous and not being able to breathe from the running), making the train, having a great creative chat on the way home and then eating a nice burrito from Waterloo Station.

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: Working TEN days in a row at Spektrix in order to make up for all the time I’d taken off for WBN.

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Still being alive come Christmas and not being a hollowed out husk of a human being. Oh, and hopefully finding an excuse to turn up at Ignite Festival.

Corinne @ Residency CelebrationFavourite WBN work related happening of 2013: All of Ignite Festival with its glorious sunshine, theatre for a pound, talking into the early hours of the morning about the meaning of life, meeting other awesome theatre makers, falling in love with the Bike Shed, Albion being better received than I could have imagined in my wildest dreams and the feeling – the one you can’t put into words – sitting in the audience of the first night performance and just knowing. When I look back on that week I want myself to know that I’m not hopelessly romanticising – it really was that brilliant. However, notable other mentions have to go to performing Reasons in its first library in Scarborough (which felt like the play coming home) and the post-show talk on Reasons which Andy, Estelle and I did with a group at Headway South East in June which resulted in the best, most insightful discussion I’ve ever had as a writer with audience members. Oh – and, and! – multiple audience members asking me if I was a physicist after seeing Blueprint.

Favourite WBN non-work related happening of 2013: Board Game Mania which descended on us during our residency at the Bike Shed, which resulted in a trawl through all the best (and worst) board games of the 1980’s and included a raft of new rules for the more mundane ones (largely involving shots of vodka). And dancing in The Yard’s empty bar with the rest of WBN to “I’ve had the time of my life” at midnight, with the bar staff letting us finish before they closed.

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: The balance between producing the work and actually being creative with your head in the rehearsal room, I think we’re all still working on how we manage this (or if, indeed, it is possible to do this). Also, Andy and I losing in the final of the Dawlish Warren table hockey tournament to Estelle and Charlie.

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Finishing Blueprint (looks like it’ll be three years from initial idea to finished staging) and doing at least one project during the year that I couldn’t predict doing at this moment.

Estelle & BingoFavourite WBN work related happening of 2013: Part of ‘Walking Stories’, our outreach project at the Bike Shed: hearing Ryan’s stories first hand and then seeing his monologue performed by three different actors and his story being interpreted on stage with images. All with him in the audience enjoying his moment of fame.

Favourite WBN non-work related happening of 2013: Fun with dabbers on my first ever bingo experience at Mecca Bingo in Scarborough!

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: Navigating to our cottage in the dark in Exeter – deeply stressful, writing our application to become a Community Interest Company (drafting and redrafting our aims) but really worthwhile. Preparing the curtain-raisers for ‘Walking Stories’ in only one day!

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Bringing Reasons to a larger audience (and redirecting it with a different Joseph).

Lucy @ Residency CelebrationFavourite WBN work related happening of 2013: Watching the penultimate performance of Beneath the Albion Sky at the Bike Shed Residency. It had been preceded by a curtain raiser performance of ‘Walking Stories’ which was created using stories collected from members of the local Headway group. It was wonderful to see the stage as an equal playing field for people of all backgrounds and experiences to have their stories told. The mix of producing work with theatre professionals as well as with local communities is my ideal way of working! So, when WBN asked me to be an Associate Artist of theirs directly after this show I rather gushingly and over enthusiastically accepted! And that is my favourite WBN work moment of 2013.

Favourite WBN non-work related happening of 2013: Arriving at the official WBN cottage in Exeter in the pitch black. Then waking up at 7am the next morning and discovering we were surrounded by green fields and hills. And then going out in my pyjamas to frolic with the local dogs and horses….much to the dismay of other WBN members who I woke with my squealing.

Something that was hard or difficult in 2013: As an actor / freelancer it is always the bits in between acting work that are the most genuinely difficult. It means though that you flipping love when your real work comes along and difficulties within that theatre / acting work are just exciting challenges to be creative with!

Something you’re looking forward to in 2014: Work in progress performance of Regeneration at Rich Mix. And also working on my own writing ideas.

Estelle’s second blog: (extension of first blog as it’s been a busy few weeks since we got back) Highlights of the last few weeks.

So its just over two weeks since WBN returned from just over two weeks in Exeter for our residency at the lovely BikeShed Theatre. We may have expected a rest after returning from Devon but NO, we have staved off the post-show blues by being very busy.

Here’s my view about what’s been going on. In no particular order…

Acting in a WBN show (I shall blog separately about this). OK, so I was a zombie that looked like Myles and tried to snog Andy (sorry Andy) in the shop in Wood Street Market for a morning in 2012, and I fell in love through some glass for the National Theatre of Scotland five minute theatre on film around the same time, but none of those were quite the same as doing an actual Scratch in Salisbury (whoop).

Finding out, whilst rehearsing for said scratch, that we have a performance platform for the piece in April 2014 (gulp).

Having a board meeting where our lovely board pointed out some really obvious things that we couldn’t see ourselves (this, I remind myself, is the reason we have a board).

Spending a whole day evaluating the residency with the glorious Charlie and Corinne (we concluded that it was mostly brilliant).

Meeting the #Bluecrew (otherwise known as the cast of ‘Blueprint’) for a debrief and sneaky drink.

Being creative enough to spend whole days discussing project ideas that we really really want to deliver but still need to actually write the funding application for.

Actually having the thought, for the very first time ever, that there might, I mean there just MIGHT be a way that we could make this work for us as a living (albeit a meagre one)

Highlights (and the occassional lowlight) of the WBN Residency

The good ship Write By Numbers returned from a two-week residency in Exeter at the wonderful (and very welcoming) BikeShed Theatre just over two weeks ago. Whilst in Exeter, we performed our show ‘Beneath the Albion Sky’, developed and shared a new show ‘Blueprint’ and did an outreach project collecting ‘Walking Stories’ from the good people of Exeter which we then put together as a series of curtain-raisers. We drank too much coffee, experienced stress and sleep-deprivation but we did it! Here is my list of memorable moments:

Actually making theatre for two weeks straight. That has got to be a bonus.

Going to see Thor: Dark World on a rare night off & Marvel-ing (get it) at the parallels with ‘Beneath the Albion Sky’ & ‘Blueprint’. They’re in there if you look hard enough.

Programming lights (twice – long story) with the wonderful talented Dermot O’Brien (seriously guys, Dermot is da bomb – any Southwest peops who want a contact drop me a line – we are willing to share him).

Sleeping in a cottage surrounded by horses & dogs (and spiders and other creepy crawlies).

Our last night at quayside saying goodbye to Exeter (I might have fallen a little bit in love).

Meeting the good people of Headway Devon & hearing their stories. The most performed of these was ‘Legend’ which was a verbatim piece performed by 3 separate actors on different days!

Being welcomed by the good people of Exeter wherever we went and hearing their feedback on our work.

Coffee at Boston Tea Party (and the occasional cake).

Board games, in general.

The cast of ‘Blueprint’ reducing Charlie and I to tears in rehearsal. In a good way.

The easiest (because the performers were so good) workshop I have ever delivered with Razzamataz Exeter.

The amusements at Dawlish Warren, scarily addictive.

Singing ‘Where everybody knows your name’ in the UK’s most welcoming theatre The BikeShed Theatre.

Old Maps

This is a ley line:

The St Michael's ley line

This particular one is the St Michael’s ley line. It’s an imaginary dot-to-dot across southern Britain, connecting various pre-historic and medieval monuments,.

Ley lines were first proposed in 1921 as an archaeological theory. Albert Watkins suggested that in an earlier age, when this country was covered in forest, there were a few straight tracks that crossed the island from coast to coast. Important sites of pilgrimage were therefore built close to the tracks. His idea did not catch on with other archaeologists. They pointed out that, given the large number of historical landmarks littering the map of Britain, almost any straight line you draw across it is bound to hit a few.

Nevertheless, since the 60s a New Age mythology has been built up around the lines. Writers have claimed ley lines are natural sources of ‘vital energy’, that they having healing properties, that they are somehow linked with feng shui, ancient astronomy, or the Nazca lines of the ancient Peruvians.

Here’s an article on ley lines as part of an ‘earth matrix’. There’s a lot of information in that article and I wouldn’t beat yourself up if some of it didn’t make sense to you. But while we might all enjoy a smug laugh at the mystics, I can’t deny that there’s something seductive about looking at a map and seeing, buried underneath the motorways and rivers and other lines carving up our island, evidence of an ancient order totally different to our own.

Well, recently I found something that gives me that feeling. This is the Atlas of true names. It shows the original names of towns and cities, translated from old English, Gaelic and Danish. These names evoke images of what familiar places may have looked like a thousand or so years ago- when Hampshire was an ‘enclosed settlement’, and Scotland the ‘land of darkness’.

Take a good look at this map, and you start to picture a densely wooded island filled with separate peoples living in fortress communities named after their leaders- the Red One, the Short one, the Hasty one- it might help you to translate those town names if you bear in mind that in Old English ‘ing’ meant something like ‘the people of’. Also, good to know there was a whole town of people living ‘on the edge’. So they weren’t so different from us alter all.

And there’s so many mysteries in those names. How much more tattooed were our ancestors than their neighbours? Just what went on at the sinister-sounding ‘Important Place on the Remote Farms’? At what point did London change from being unfordable to unaffordable?

It’s refreshing to look at this island of concrete and gardens and see a wilderness. It is a world that has now been entirely abolished, and even in the remotest corners of Britain you can only catch a glimpse of what that world might have been like. But it’s good to remind yourself how recently, in fact, this land was cleared and tarmacked over. On the scale of human history, it was not so long ago that we moved from farms and fortresses to subways and skyscrapers. We’re still using the names of Saxon chieftains to guide us from one service station to the next. There is a long and rich history to this island, and you’re living in a particularly strange and tumultuous part of it.