‘Antony & Cleopatra’

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“Though I make this marriage for my peace ⁄ In the East my pleasure lies”

Surrounded by gossip and scandal, Antony (Ralph Fiennes) has fallen hard for Cleopatra (Sophie Okonedo). Civil war and rebellion is ever-present, alliances are strained, but Antony just can’t quit his Egyptian Queen.

We are poolside at the palace of Cleopatra, where the air is hot with the Egyptian sun, and the alcohol is ever-flowing. This in stark (and stunning) contrast with the cold, pale Rome and its concrete, utilitarian surroundings.

Antony & Cleopatra is one of those plays that could have really done with an editor. At its core, you have this volatile relationship, as passionate as it is deadly, but it’s entirely surrounded by weighty historical context:

Antony is one of three triumvirs, alongside Lepidus and, Antony’s ultimate antagonist, Octavius Caesar. Assigned Rome’s eastern provinces amid the Sicilian revolt, he meets and falls for Cleopatra, and commits the Roman period equivalent of turning off his phone. Chaos ensues.

The only thing that could overcome such detail, then, is the turbulence of this forbidden love. Continue reading

The Playwright’s (unofficial) Guide: Putting It All Together

Every story begins differently.

Sometimes it’s an image. Sometimes you’re led by a character.

Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might already have a plot from start to finish (this is the rarest, so consider it the holographic Charizard of the literary world: not many people have it, and those that do won’t let you look at it bastards).

Home  Truths  |  Character  |  Plot  |  Dialogue Putting It All Together | Workshopping


The moment of truth. The grand finale. The big…thing. You’ve created the talkers, made a world for them to play in, maybe you’ve even taken them out for a spin – whatever your components, it’s now time for the assembly.

Gather supplies.

Hot drinks, booze, both – there are no judges here on your chosen vice, but you’ll definitely need it in bulk form. Putting all of your work together is, arguably, the easy bit. You’ve (maybe) planned everything down to the smallest detail, you’ve (hopefully) gotten to know even the darkest corners of your characters’ minds – all that needs to happen is to follow that damn plan, right? Well, this is that part in the process where all sorts of flaws and loopholes arise – prepare for those hours of frustration with feel-good treats.

Set the (work) scene.

A desk, café, under the covers – whatever you need around you or cast from sight, get it sorted, because once you start, these are the sorts of things that will needlessly distract you. And you will be distracted. Turn the wi-fi off, put your phone on silent and/or in another room, and get your plan and supplies in order – it’s time to work.

Create goals and aim for them.

Notice I say ‘aim’ and not ‘meet’. There are as many methods of getting a script out of a writer as there are writers – where regular targets works for one, another might crank out a play in a day. By aiming for your goals, it changes from a requirement to a guideline – and, y’know, lessens that self-deprecating guilt. Maybe it’s writing for an hour a day, a scene a week, or choosing a deadline for the overall piece. Don’t mold yourself for the goals, make the goals work for you.

Get to the end.

First drafts are never a writer’s best work. If it’s not feeling like the prize-winning masterpiece you’d always dreamed of, it’s because it isn’t. So get over it. And don’t edit as you go. I repeat: do not edit as you go. Editing as you write is like continuously interrupting yourself as you talk – you wind up restarting a sentence ten times before you realise you’ve spoken pure nonsense for a minute straight, and you didn’t even say what you’d planned to. This draft is no exception. Getting to the end, cracks and all, gives you the full picture; a blueprint for draft two. And trust me, draft two will be much better.

Tips of your own?

Share them below!


Disclaimer: I’m a theatremaker and playwright grad, so these tips are a mixture of other people’s advice and my own.

[EIF] ‘Rhinoceros’ & ‘The Divide 1/2’

Eccentric suits. Minimalist set. And everyone keeps turning into rhinos.

Adapted by Zinnie Harris and directed by Murat Daltaban, this co-production between Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre and the DOT Theatre of Istanbul has no sense of its usual French surroundings. Each piece of set, prop, and even down to the last drop of globular paint to simulate a rhino’s hide, was white. Costuming is a clash of colour, texture and patterns, but nothing grounding. A clue from the tech, then: a warm state to the back drop of Turkish guitar, with a brief Trump radio-soundbite to match the show’s promotional blonde and suited rhino (though not specifically cited in the play). A solid maybe.

As for the adaptation of the text, it is laboured rather than updated, and often clunky. It neither added nor detracted from the performance, but left one wondering why the need for an adaptation to begin with – the absurdity of Ionesco’s work holds a deliberate vaguery, making it applicable for the decades that have since followed.

In spite of the ‘adaptation’, the innovation lies instead with the performers and the set within which they play. The ensemble dynamic is close if slightly mismatched, but ultimately overshadowed by the night’s double-act. The camaraderie between the dishevelled Jean and the refined Berenger (Steven McNicoll and Robert Jack) is palpable, relatable, and ultimately heartbreaking with Berenger’s eventual descent into rhinoceros-dom. It is a visceral transformation of paint and grunts (albeit a little too controlled for obvious clean-up reasons). Jean’s realisation of isolation is particularly touching, having watched friend after friend leave him for the herd, his voice echoing out into the void.

Rhinoceros, Lyceum Theatre, EIF

Star-crossed lovers, a century from now, amidst a plague that never existed.

A story intended for publishing rather than production, Alan Ayckbourn’s The Divide debut is top of the International Festival’s bill. Proposed as ‘The Divide Lectures’, the plays are recalled entirely from the characters’ memories, each scene detailing the day’s events from that particular character’s diary entry, creating a play-text dense with past-tense and descriptors. Through these diaries, the audience is invited to experience a society where men and women are segregated – the men vulnerable to an infection women are the carriers of – and same-sex relationships are the norm. Ultimately, this the story of the collapse of the Divide described by the plays’ central character, Soween, catalysed by the joint-suicide of her brother Elihu, and his lover, Giella.

The premise is promising, with plenty of scope to discuss gender politics, sexuality, and societal morals through a not-too-alien concept. These discussions are primarily left in the hands of Erin Doherty’s Soween, who handles the archaic and colloquial blend of language with ease, carrying the weight of the text and plot on Soween’s personality alone. Truly, Soween is the only person worth caring about because she is the most developed character of them all. And as the play unfolds, so too does the logic of the world and, indeed, the play itself, leaving large loopholes in its wake.

That everyone takes to heterosexuality so quickly, or the fact that the plague is a medically induced procedure being completely glossed over in less than ten seconds of stage time, the biggest takeaway from either production is the question ‘why?’. Why was this production – a production that was never meant to happen – given the green light? Why was it not ok to use a recorded soundtrack, but fine to place a live choir and band behind a screen for the duration of the productions? Only time will tell with the revised drafts to come as it makes its way back home to London.

‘The Divide Part 1/Part 2‘, King’s Theatre, EIF

The Playwright’s (unofficial) Guide: Plot

Every story begins differently.

Sometimes it’s an image. Sometimes you’re led by a character.
Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might already have a plot from start to finish (this is the rarest, so consider it the holographic Charizard of the literary world: not many people have it, and those that do won’t let you look at it bastards).

Home  Truths  |  Character Plot  |  Dialogue  |  Putting It All Together | Workshopping


You’ve returned! So, do you have a story that is dying to get out of you? Or perhaps, like the large swathes of writers out there, your plot-making skills are a bit…shoddy. Not to worry, because:

Everyone has a weak spot.

I said it last week and I’ll say it again! Feeling like a failure as a writer is more common than feeling like a success. So own it. Knowing your weak points better informs your practice, your story, and ultimately sets you above the rest. Why? Because it takes a lot to admit you’re not good at everything.

Identify the drive of the scene/play, then take it away from your players.

Sometimes a story’s theme is the same as the characters’ motivation, and other times it’s entirely different for one particular scene. I’ll come back to this in the final post, but be very clear on what drives each scene and the overall play. Say you have a character who is desperate for fame, and you have several ideas for situations where this could be achieved. Put them in one, and dangle that prospect in front of them. What are they willing to do to get it? Now that you know, take that goal away from them. What do they do? As a former tutor loved to reminding us, this giving and taking away is conflict, and conflict is what drives a story. If everything is easy, that’s not a story, that’s a documentary.

Plan it out in full.

First, the set up. Where in the world is it (or isn’t it) set? What are the rules of this world?
Next, the big three. How does the story open, what is the big ‘aha!’ moment, and how does the story end?
Finally, chart your character(s) development in full. How do they change from the beginning to the end? What/who are their obstacles, and how can they be overcome?
You can do this process scene by scene, event by event, or in big chunks: beginning, middle and end.
It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does have to make sense to you.

Sing it with me: follow the plan.

Stuck on how to approach a scene? Follow the plan. Not sure why a character is behaving a certain way? Reread and then follow the plan. Gone off piste with 3 more love scenes and an unscheduled dance number? Go back to the plan. Were any of those things in there? Of course they weren’t – stick to the plan! It sounds easier than it is, but think of the plan as an encyclopedia about your specific play. Anything you can’t answer should be in there, that way you can’t go wrong – and if you do? Hey, it’s your plan. If you don’t like it, change it. Just bloody stick to it, ok?

Tips of your own?

Share them below!


Disclaimer: I’m a theatremaker and playwright grad, so these tips are a mixture of other people’s advice and my own.

The Playwright’s (unofficial) Guide: Character

Every story begins differently.

Sometimes it’s an image. Sometimes you’re led by a character.
Sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you might already have a plot from start to finish (this is the rarest, so consider it the holographic Charizard of the literary world: not many people have it, and those that do won’t let you look at it bastards).

Home  Truths  |  Character  Plot  |  Dialogue  |  Putting It All Together | Workshopping


So you’re back! Either a character has taken you by the proverbials, or you’ve realised, actually, they’re your a weak spot.
The thing about that last bit:

Everyone has a weak spot.

People are oddly united in their flaws, and with the written word being the more self-deprecating of practices, feeling like a failure is more common than feeling like a success. So own it. Knowing your weak points better informs your practice, your story, and ultimately sets you above the rest. Why? Because it takes a lot to admit you’re not good at everything.

Question everything.

Whether you know them from top to bottom, or the bare minimum, one of the most useful strategies I’ve found is to profile the shit out of your characters. What makes them tick, what do they fear, name one thing they’ve never shared with anyone – there are endless ways to get the most out of your players and turn them into living, breathing characters because you can customise your profile with whatever questions you want the answers to. The more you ask, the more you know!
Try these on for size, and see what happens: a fear, a want, a secret, their antagonist, and a location they feel safe in.

Take them out for a spin.

Now you have more information than you know what to do with, but, if your profile has been thorough enough, it will often conjure up situations or interesting circumstances that you may otherwise have never thought of. Because my work is often led by a character, I explore as many of these scenarios as I can until…well, I can’t. By getting them out of your system, while you may wind up deciding that none of these scenarios are worth incorporating into the eventual piece, what you end up with are fully rounded characters that you know in infinite detail, ready for whatever you throw at them!

Tips of your own?

Share them below!


Disclaimer: I’m a theatremaker and playwright grad, so these tips are a mixture of other people’s advice and my own. This all began because of this post over at CoolBeans4 (and then promptly forgot again until this post last week), so if you don’t like it, blame them (please don’t).