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9 ways to improve your Google Plus profile Apr 28

1. Delete it
2. Delete it
3. Delete it
4. Delete it
5. Delete it
6. Delete it
7. Delete it
8. Pretty pictures
9. Delete it

I may have miscounted.

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Dark Shadows: The Enemy Within Jul 30

Dark Shadows: The Enemy Within cover

“Cyrus, I haven’t been completely honest with you…”

Cyrus Longworth has a secret. On the outside, he’s the quiet handyman helping out with odd jobs. But his neighbours don’t know about the voice inside his head.

Sabrina Jennings has a secret. She’s just moved in across the street, here to teach at the local school. But her new husband is nowhere to be seen.

They could live happily ever after. But the dark secrets of Collinsport cast long shadows…

So, nearly a year ago I pitched a treatment to the producers of Big Finish‘s Dark Shadows audiobooks. It was for a story called The Enemy Within featuring the characters of Cyrus Longworth and Sabrina Jennings. It was commissioned at the beginning of this year, the script written in the winter and the actors recorded in the spring, in both the UK and America. All those performances were edited together, atmospheric music was added, a lovely cover was designed and today the final hour-long drama is released to the world.

Most people in the UK who have heard of Dark Shadows will know it from the Johnny Depp film, but the original show was a soap opera that ran on American television from 1966 to 1971 – though sadly never broadcast on terrestrial TV over here. Unlike other soaps, it took a distinctly supernatural turn and over its run of more than 1,200 episodes featured vampires, werewolves, witches, warlocks, time travel… all produced at a rate of five episodes a week, with the added challenge in the early years of recording as live. It was a brave, innovative and brilliantly mad show and one of the many cult series that Big Finish has brought back to life on audio.

The good news is that you don’t need to be familiar with hundreds of episodes of the TV show to follow the plot of The Enemy Within. We learn about the main characters as they learn about each other, so although they have back stories, you can enjoy the drama (and, dare I say, the comedy) even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show. And if you do know the show… well, there are what I hope are a few treats scattered through the story.

I’m really pleased with the finished play. The cast are great and I’m particularly chuffed to be bringing back Lisa Richards’ Sabrina and Chris Pennock’s Cyrus for the first time since 1970. (Although not exactly this Cyrus – on TV we only met a Parallel Time version. Yes, they did parallel universe plots too!)

Thank you to all involved in bringing this to life, and in particular producers David Darlington and Joseph Lidster for commissioning the story, and to them and script editor Alan Flanagan for their excellent script notes. The play is available on CD for £9.99 and as an immediate download for £7.99, so do go and buy it!

The ongoing adventures of my Coke Zero friends Jul 04

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Significant Others May 24

I’ve not written anything on here about theatre. I can tell because in creating this post, I’ve just had to add a “Theatre” category. And yet in the last few years I’ve been to more shows than I can remember, made friends of numerous lovely and talented actors, directors and writers, and had a number of short plays of my own staged. I’ve written enough now that I’ve added a list of it to a new page – partly because there is nothing I like more than making lists and partly because if I don’t write it down somewhere, I’ll forget myself.

I think I’ve almost reached the point where I don’t feel self-aggrandising to call myself “a writer”. Almost.

The latest project I’ve been involved in was quite a different beast. My first four short plays were submitted to various short play nights and staged because the producers liked them. The Pensive Federation’s Significant Other Festival works differently: they picked writers, directors and actors and tasked us with producing ten-minute plays from scratch in just ten days – five for writing and five for staging.

That’s exciting – but also much more daunting that I expected. To have someone say, after a pretty rigorous selection process, “We want you,” is a great feeling. They’re committing to put whatever you choose to write on stage – they’ve put their faith in you that you’ll turn out something good. One way to respond to that is to free yourself of all constraints, knowing you can finally write whatever you want and it will still make it into production; the other is to worry about whether what you come up with in a compressed period of time will live up to the expectations of the people who selected you. That was me – and add to that an expectant director and two talented actors, all of whom deserve a good script to work with, and the stress builds up…

Fortunately, it’s worked out brilliantly.

I had a few starting points from which to build the story. The plays would all be two-handers and the writers were asked to bear in mind Pensive’s ideas of “the magic in the mundane” and “the extraordinary in the everyday”. The theme of the festival is significant others so some kind of relationship should be at the heart of the play. I knew my actors were in their twenties, one male and one female. There were ten props I could use as I pleased: a fedora, an umbrella, a torch, an old book, an Action Man, a tin can, an iceberg lettuce, a length of electrical cable, a wrench and a wallet. And I was allocated one of the ten genres: noir.

The plays weren’t required to be set within their genres; rather, we could mine the genre for tropes, themes, and style. I took mine to heart, devouring the Wikipedia article on Film noir. I used the genre to dictate the structure of the play and also the behaviour of one of the protagonists. There was another concept I wanted to weave into the story (spoilers!) and from the two ideas, the characters and plot evolved.

Which makes it sound simple when it actually involved brain-racking, panic, self-doubt, and conversations with writer and director friends about whether my slightly risky idea was really viable for a play only ten minutes long. It’s difficult to get any distance from what you’re writing when there’s such a tight deadline so it was a massive relief to hear from the producers – the people who’d given me ten minutes of stage time on trust – that they were happy with the final script.

When I arrived uncharacteristically late for the first rehearsal on Saturday, director Cat was already drilling the cast in a climactic moment from the play – and they hadn’t even got inside the rehearsal room yet. It was fascinating watching the characters develop as actors Caitlin and Dom connected with them. What can be more fun than watching your play, barely dry on the paper, come to life over three hours? Especially when, as the writer, you can just sit and watch and don’t actually have to do anything. While I was able to explain my thinking behind parts of the script, at this point in the process it’s really down to the cast and director to bring their own interpretation, which is the beauty of collaboration. Unexpected things happen, different approaches are tried out and the characters come to life. It became our play, not mine.

The show opened at the new Park Theatre in Finsbury on Tuesday and I got to see it Wednesday night. I hadn’t known until then that our play was the first on. As the Significant Other Festival is the first show in the Park Theatre’s Morris Space, that means I wrote the first play ever performed in that space. Which is pretty cool.

More importantly, the play works really well. Cat, Caitlin and Dom have achieved everything with it that I wanted when I came up with the idea. I’d be very happy if it was a play I’d written months ago; as a piece produced from nothing in ten days, I’m delighted.

Programme entry

Ten plays. Ten minutes each. Ten pounds. You can see them for yourself until Saturday 25th.

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