Of Plays and Things

Some time ago I conceived the idea of writing a play about the last few weeks in the life of Robert Burns. He was sent to a sort of “poor man’s spa” at The Brow Well, down on the Solway where his doctors advised him to try seabathing. The man was dying, but struggled to walk through the shallow waters to the point where they reached his waist. It seemed a dramatic and curiously neglected time of his life. I drafted out the play, but felt that it was a horrible mish mash of too many ideas. I kept shelving it, going back to it and shelving it all over again.

Then, last year, I had a play accepted for David McLennan’s inspired “A Play, a Pie and a Pint” season of lunchtime dramas at the Oran Mor centre in Glasgow’s West End. The Price of a Fish Supper was a dramatic monologue, about – among many other things – the state of the Scottish fishing industry, as seen through the eyes of an ex fisherman. It was beautifully directed by Gerda Stevenson and brilliantly performed by Paul Morrow in a tour de force of memory and interpretation: 45 minutes on stage, no breaks, a moving and magical performance. I counted my blessings because theatre is such a collaborative effort and I sometimes think that the writing is the least of it! It went down well with audiences, and the reviews were good. Enthused all over again about theatre, I thought about writing another play.

During November and December last year, as respite from another project which is proving a bit of a struggle (of which more, much more, in a later blog) , I got out my meandering Burns on the Solway, and had a look at it again. This time, though, I came to it knowing that I had to cut characters, knowing that I had to write within definite time and space and budget constraints. It suddenly struck me what the play was really about - the relationship between Burns and Jean as perceived through the eyes of a dying man, and the wife who has soldiered on with him through thick and thin. I began to cut away all the rubbish – and found that I had a viable play on my hands. It’s scheduled for the new Oran Mor season, some time in February, it goes into production soon, and I’ll let you know what happens next. But I write this mostly to point out that essential constraints can be amazingly liberating. Sometimes too much time and space can be a curse. Sometimes, the need to write to a particular brief can be more rewarding than you would ever have anticipated.