Sunday, 27 April 2014

Paul Vates' playwriting experiences, and Margaret Graham

The Words for the Wounded team have been hustling and bustling about; judging the writing prize, sorting out an additional prize for November, and getting in a tizz about our skydive with skydivelondon on 3rd May (weather permitting). Sadly, my tizz has come to nought as an old injury has surfaced and I'm forbidden; the docs won't sign the form. Arghh. Talk about distraught. Couldn't kick the cat - poor creature, and Dick kept dodging, so I have just had to get a grip, and smile as the others, Jan Speedie, Penny Deacon, Rob Percy and my youngest daughter, now titled Granny Annie, get thoroughly over excited.  Thank you Annie for taking my place! We're really grateful.

The three real grannies are having a pre-jump lunch at The Wellington on the Strand on Friday to try out the new menu and new look.

We've had fantastic and far reaching support for the jump, from the very young (my grands are organising a cheerleading group which, and I whisper this, includes 'moi', complete with pom poms though I refused a ra-ra skirt), to donations from people like Bel Mooney of the Daily Mail - thank you, thank you, and to Frost Magazine who have blazoned us in their pages, and thank you to everyone for your wonderful donations to the cause.

As you know, we at W4W, are all volunteers, with the website run by Dick, 'he who must be disobeyed', so every penny goes to the cause except for about £30 annually for the printing of flyers.  Rest assured the sky dive is paid for by each person participating, and therefore, thanks a million to Lee Read, an ex-para, who has been very generous with his sponsorship in that direction.

We are already planning next year's event and think it will be white water rafting.

As for the judging. The standard of entries has been exceptionally high again, which makes it difficult so  we rely on each of us coming up with the same decision - which we have. We will be making the announcement on 6th June, on the website, and Writers' Forum will be publishing the winners in due course.

The thrilling news is that we are launching the brand new Independent Author's Book Award in November, for self-published books; fiction or autobiography published within the last 5 years, to run alongside the 400 word prize. We're all very excited about this, but more about that nearer the time.


Now, Paul Vates is not only an actor, but a fantastic writer of prose and plays, and although he is funny, he is always empathetic, and imbues his work with an essential poignancy. It is this that makes his work memorable.

He is a member of The Chesham Writers and Scribblers and I was lucky enough to be invited to The King's Head Theatre Pub some months ago, in Islington with his friends at the Chesham group (and others). My old school friend, and new W4W team member, Jan Speedie, and I had lunch at the pub which has a fascinating history and oozes character, and worth a visit purely to see posters of the pop groups that have performed there. Because I am an old trout I can't remember them all, but I'm pretty sure Madness 'woz  there'.  We then hot-footed it upstairs to the intimate theatre to have a nose about and meet Paul and the actors. They all looked about 12, but then people do these days.

The Kings Head Pub has a great reputation for showcasing new talent, which frequently moves on to greater things  and we both loved the play, in fact everyone did. It was my first time at such an event and was expecting the actors to stand and read, but certainly not. They invested emotionally, and acted the play. It was funny of course, but given the 1 World War setting, how could it not be moving? We were to give our opinions afterwards but Jan and I had to nip off which was a great shame but I did manage a quick word to put in my twopennyworth, and the only thing I would have cut was the duck, which I didn't understand and which I thought slowed things up momentarily. Paul probably thinks, daft old bat. I suspect he feels that rather a lot around me,  but let the lovely Paul Vates tell you about his experiences himself...  Do let us have your comments on our blogs.

Paul Vates with actor Tom Knight
at The Kings Head Theatre
A few months ago, as part of The King’sHead Theatre’s Without D├ęcor programme, our favoured actors were gathered together once more, for a rehearsed reading of my play Voltemand And Cornelius Are Joyfully Returned in front of a packed audience at The HopeTheatre in Islington, London.

This is how it came about: a play almost thirty years in the making.

 ‘Voltemand and Cornelius. They are joyfully returned’ is a line from Hamlet. Years ago – many years ago! – during the course of my ‘A’ Level Theatre Studies, we looked at Hamlet, Waiting For Godot and Rosencrantz And Guildernstern Are Dead. Ever since those days full of Shakespeare, Beckett and Stoppard, these two men, Voltemand (the stupid one) and Cornelius (the other stupid one) have toyed with my mind. Bound together as they travelled to Norway on Claudius’ demand. But the ‘joyfully returned’ quote. I know it should be read as ‘thank goodness they’re back’, but my mind romantically loved the idea of these two men bringing joy, being joyful.

Over the decades I have tried to write their story a few times, failing in each attempt because, although clear on the who I was always unsure about the when and the where.

Yet last summer, chatting to a friend (Professor Peter Doyle) and expert of WW1, my two Shakespearean colleagues were loosened from their shackles by the merlot I was consuming. Their world became incredibly clear the more my vision blurred. Lost in a wilderness, searching for home, I never knew where they actually were. It was Peter who placed the final piece of their jigsaw into my subconscious mind. Within hours I knew their world was The Somme, the trenches, no-man’s land. Then the parallels with Hamlet began to tumble out: madness, killing, love, being lost in place and purpose. The similarities kept flowing until the first draft was completed with surprising speed.

Meeting Sharon Burrell of To The Moon was the next stroke of luck. I presented the opening ten minutes of the play to her as a Short for a season of new writing – she had produced a short play of mine a few months earlier. I flippantly mentioned it wasn’t a complete entity, more of an opening scene. She demanded to see the whole thing and optioned it soon after.

Since then, Voltemand And Cornelius Are Joyfully Returned has been read and discussed by The Script Readers at Theatre Royal, Stratford East; workshopped by The Old Vic’s New Voices LAB; and had the first twenty-minutes performed as part of The Young Vic’s Freshworks initiative.

Paul Foulds, (narrator)
Toby Manley (voltemand)
Andrew Mudie (Cornelius)
Leading, in just a few months, to The Hope Theatre rehearsed-reading. These are standard affairs in the world of playwriting. A way of gaining information about the piece that would otherwise remain hidden: the actors ask important questions, the producer and director give their vision, the audience supplying the final honest truth about the piece. All these differing opinions are then carefully considered.

As the play changes with each initiative and programme, I feel the whole project is gaining strength and an identity of its own. Soon, I hope, Voltemand and Cornelius will be set free from my mind and be allowed to wallow elsewhere.

Joyfully, of course.

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