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16 March 2010 Entry: "Life, death and the drinks in-between"

We’ve been gathering together our group for Cain and Abel, the Durham Mystery play scheduled for the end of May. We’ve been holding exciting rehearsals with Fred teaching them how to rap the lines, and a fantastic Bad Taste Cru doing the choreography. BTC are break dance champions from Northern Ireland, now based at Dance City, and when the beats, the raps and the dance steps all come together I get a tingle down my neck.
Sometimes it’s a bit like a Marx Brothers film, with Fiona MacPherson the director, me, Fred and two lads from BTC: Connor and Darren, each trying to give instructions. (Most of the time I’m just operating the on/off switch on the cd player, and try to keep out of it.) We’ve got a female Satan, who is a sympathetic character as opposed to the patriarchal Old Testament God, and a group of about thirty young people ranging from 11 to 25 year olds. We’re going to make use of this by having lots of Cains and lots of Abels, who will ‘grow’ in size through the performance, as we start with their birth (Eve the first mother) through to the first murder and death, when Cain, in a fit of jealousy and passion, stabs Abel. We’ve got a great Graffiti artist from Leeds designing our Cain ‘tag’, a son of a friend.
I remember when our boys were in the early teenage years, we’d be phoning each other up, worrying, sharing the latest ‘bad boy’ stories and supporting each other when we’d had to visit police stations and were waiting for court hearings. Now, here they are, turning their youthful experiences into current cultural capital. Bad Taste Cru brothers Darren and Connor have similar stories of their young lives in Northern Ireland - nobody thought break dancing was a legitimate activity, and certainly not one to make a living at. They are now in demand world-wide, workshopping and dancing in Brazil and the USA. This is really the story at the heart of our Cain and Abel; if a boy gets off to a bad start, makes a mistake, even a terrible one like murder, is he going to be marked for the rest of his life, never given a chance to change or redeem himself?
The theatre are building a huge outdoor stage, and anticipating an audience, picnic style seating on the grass, of around 3,000! Anyone interested in the Mysteries, play dates 27, 28, 29th May 2010, there is a website. www.durhammysteries.co.uk

Tim Dalling and I did our music and poetry show ‘Life, death and the drinks in between’ at the Cumberland on Thursday 4th March. I hunted out the old Blue Room tablecloths and we had tea lights and themed sweeties: jelly bones, hearts, eggs and letters. I really enjoyed performing with Tim, and I think we got the right balance between laughs and seriousness; we started with my poem Breath, about birth and worked out way through to Death, and ended with Tim’s setting of Sean O’Brien’s poem Absent Friends, which I absolutely love. We got the audience to write their own epitaphs, which we read out - one of my favourites was ‘At last, I’ve started my diet’ and we also got each table to see if they could make words out of their sweetie letters. Kincy Baps was my favourite of these. We made enough on the door, and by selling CDs and books, to cover our expenses and have a bit in our pockets too. We’ll not get rich, but it was a good tryout, for a show we could sell further afield. We just need to get our publicity sorted.

I’ve been running some writing workshops for Beginners, thanks to New Writing North. I tell people that a writer is someone who finishes something. Everyone has drafts of poems, or half written stories in their files - the trick is the graft, the determination to bring it to completion. So I am trying to take my own advice: I’ve given myself a deadline of the summer to bring my novel for young people to a finished first draft. I’m trying writing in different settings, to get away from my desk (and emails) - I’ve been into Heaton Perc, one of my local cafes, and the city library, or even my front room. Off I go.

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