Musings on creativity from Yorkshire's Gangliest Diabetic Buddhist Theatre Director

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Moving Lights

I will be honest, of all of these plays, I really want to stage this one. Please someone commission me to do it!


The stage is lit. It is empty apart from five moving lights which are fixed to the floor in semi-circle with the open-end to the audience. The lights are referred to here as 1 – 5, with 1 being SR and 5 being SL. There is just enough haze to make the beams of the movers clear when lit.

As the piece starts the house lights slowly fade out and the light on stage goes to a low level (so we can still make out each moving light.) 

The moving lights suddenly snap into sharp angles.

Europe’s The Final Countdown starts. Loud.

During the lead-in the lights turn on, narrow focus and make slow, graceful arcs with their tight beams of white light, across the space. Then when the guitar kicks-in they make bolder direct beams, snapping on and off. This goes on long enough (probably about the time the lyrics start) for us to be impressed and to get the gist of the light-show.

Gradually it becomes apparent that 1 has started to lag behind the others.

This becomes more and more noticeable; the others keep doing the precise and energetic light show until stated otherwise.

1 starts to drift down towards SR, tries to lift up to join the others, but slowly drifts down again.

Finally 1 settles with its beam on 5.

1’s beam softens and slowly turns pink.

1’s beam starts to gently pulse, like a heart beat, slower than the beat of the music.

5’s beam starts to flick down, as if distracted, then tries to keep up with the beat. This happens twice. 

5’s beam finally comes down all the way to focus, open white on 1.

Slowly 2 – 4’s lights also come down and focus on 1. The music stops

1’s suddenly goes to white and scans across 2 – 4. It then snaps up.

2 and 4 drift back up to position.

3’s light, looks at 1, then sharply at 5, then back at 1, it narrows and brightens. Then it snaps become up. The music comes back on.

As before, 1 is in time, then falls out, and quite quickly returns to bouncing a pink late off 5.

5 realises and shines back at him.

3 stops and snaps at 1. The music stops. 2 and 4 come down too and look at 1, then back at 5.

5’s beam on 1 slowly narrows, becomes pink, then starts to pulse with the same beat.

3’s beam widens and goes blood red.

2 and 4 look at 1, then at 3, then slowly look up and meander around the space.

1 starts to move his pulsing pink light over 5.

5 shudders.

5 starts to move her pulsing pink light over 1.

3 looks between them sharply, and becomes an even deeper red.

1 and 5 continue to run their lights over each other. 

3 starts to flick back and forward between them, then starts to vibrate.

Smoke starts to come out of 3.

A pyro behind 3 goes off sending sparks everywhere and 3’s light goes out.

1 and 5’s pink lights grow brighter and start to move off each other to dance together in the space, occasionally the beams caress each other.

2 and 4, still white, accompany as backing dancers.

Debussy’s Claire de Lune plays.

As the music swells 2 and 4 peel off and fade to black.

1 and 5 return to each other, wide pink, pulsing.

Their beams narrow.

The pulse slows.

Their light fades. 







Notification of Death

I actually did some research for this one, in that I read a pamphlet on how to break the news that someone’s loved one has died. It’s a thing I sometimes think about – would I be able to do it? How would I feel receiving the news? We talk about each moment being previous but this is a tangible moment where you measure your life before it, and your life after it, where everything is different. Anyway, this play isn’t about that, really, but that’s where it started in my head.


Notification of Death

The ground floor of a house. The front door is visible SR and it goes straight into an open lounge area – there’s a flight of stairs going up centre stage and then the door to the kitchen SL. The flat is clean and relatively tidy with a few signs of personality; a pink lace cushion, a shelf with Forever Friend ceramic bears on it, etc.

SARAH is passed out on the couch. She is wearing smart business clothes.

The door bell rings. SARAH doesn’t move.

The door bell rings. SARAH suddenly grunts and sits up. She’s bewildered.

The door bell rings again. SARAH realises it’s the door and unsteadily walks towards it.

The door bell rings again. She fumbles the keys, which are on a hook by the door, and then finally manages to open it.

On the other side are AISHA, and TIM, police officers in full uniform.

SARAH is suddenly rigid and wide awake.

AISHA: Hello. Are you Sarah Bolam?


AISHA: Mrs Bolam, may we come in?

ADREA: No. . . What. . . Why?

TIM: Mrs Bolam. I’m Officer Timothy Kent, and this is Officer Aisha Kazi. We need to speak to you. May we come in please?

SARAH stares at TIM then nods and walks away from the door, leaving it open.

AISHA: Thank you Mrs Bolam.

They enter, Aisha shutting the door behind them. They both look around the room as they come into the centre.

SARAH stops and turns to look at them.

AISHA: May we sit?

SARAH nods. AISHA gestures to the sofa.

AISHA: Here?

SARAH nods. They sit on the sofa; AISHA noticing the vodka bottle as she does so. SARAH stays standing.

AISHA: You should sit too, Mrs Bolam.

SARAH sits straight down on the armchair.

AISHA: I’m afraid we have bad news.

SARAH is unmoving. 

TIM: I am very sorry to tell you that Steven Bolam died a little under two hours ago.

SARAH stares at him.

AISHA: Mrs Bolam – would you like me to call you Mrs Bolam or would you prefer me to call you Sarah?

SARAH stares at TIM, and continues to do so throughout:

AISHA: Mrs Bolam, we would like to tell you what we know at present about your husband’s death. We understand that this may upset or disturb you. Please stop me at any time and feel free to interrupt me if there is anything that we say which you do not understand, dislike, or need repeating. You may take notes if you wish. Would you like to do that?

SARAH stares at TIM

At 5pm your husband left work and was driving back here using the ring road. His car was described as driving at high speed, in a manner consistent with brake failure. We believe that, in attempt not to hit an on-coming lorry, he swerved, lost control of the vehicle and struck a tree to the side of the road. The lorry driver pulled over and phoned for an ambulance. Unfortunately, by the time the ambulance arrived Mr Bolam had already passed away; it appears he suffered a fatal head wound on impact, although that will need to be confirmed by the coroner.

His body has been taken to the York City morgue. Once you have hired undertakers they will be able to collect the body there, as the autopsy should be complete by tomorrow.

Mr Bolam’s car was irrevocably damaged and has been taken away for analysis to identify if a fault was responsible for the incident and then it will be destroyed. We have here the case number of the incident for you to use when contacting the insurance company, and here (she proffers a carrier bag) are the personal effects we removed from the vehicle.

SARAH continues to stare at TIM. AISHA slowly places the bag on the sofa next to her.

TIM: Mrs Bolam. It was an accident. A tragic accident. And no one was to blame for it. We are very sorry for your loss.

AISHA looks at him sharply then looks back at SARAH

AISHA: Do you have any questions, Mrs Bolam?

Beat. SARAH suddenly stands.

SARAH: You must be thirsty. I’ll make you tea.

AISHA: No really, Mrs Bolam there’s no. . .

SARAH turns and walks into the kitchen and closes the door behind her. AISHA immediately turns to TIM.

AISHA: Why did you say that?

TIM: What?

AISHA: About no one being to blame?

TIM: Well, what? Nobody is to blame!

AISHA: That’s not up to us to decide – that’s up to the coroner.

TIM: Yeah, but it wasn’t anybody’s fault. Did you see the look on the poor lorry driver’s face? He’d have caved and told us if he’d been going too fast. The shakes on him.

AISHA: Not our call, Tim, stick to your training!

The sound of a kettle boiling off stage.

I do death notifications all the time. This is your first, right?

TIM: Yeah, and I appreciate you letting me come with.

AISHA: Don’t know why you were so keen.

TIM: Got to start using all that training sometime, right?

Pause. AISHA picks up the bottle of vodka. 

AISHA: There’s something not right here. 

SARAH suddenly comes back in.

SARAH: Biscuits?

AISHA: No, thank you.

TIM: No, no, thank you, Mrs Bolam.

SARAH abruptly turns and leaves.

Tim looks at the bottle.

TIM: So? She likes a drink?

AISHA: At 7:20 on a Tuesday evening?

TIM: Maybe she’s got a problem?

AISHA: That’s what’s weird. Does this look like the house of an alcoholic? Place is spotless.

TIM: Is that what they teach you when you become a family liaison officer? How to snoop into the public’s drinking habits?

SARAH comes back in with a tray which she puts on the coffee table. She is now wearing an apron with a large front pocket. She passes AISHA a tea, and then does the same for TIM. He nurses it. SARAH sits.

AISHA: Did you have any questions for us, Mrs Bolam?

SARAH (Pause. Not looking at Aisha:) Will I have to see the body?

AISHA: No. We were able to identify his body from the photo on his driving license so you won’t have to see Steven’s body until he’s been prepared by the undertakers. Or at all, if you’d prefer not to.

SARAH: I see. (Beat.) Do I need to sign anything?

AISHA: Not today, no. There will be paperwork at the morgue but the undertaker’s should be able to complete those on your behalf.


AISHA: I have this letter for you which details how to contact me if you have any further questions, and details when you can expect to hear from the coroner’s and about the inquest, which of course you are free to attend, but are not required to do so unless we inform you otherwise. I also have this leaflet about grief counselling services in the area.

AISHA offers the paperwork to SARAH who does not move, so she places them on the table. As she does so: 

AISHA: Black tea.

TIM: Sorry?

AISHA: Your tea is black. Mine’s got milk in it.

TIM: Yeah, I like mine black – lactose intolerant, you know that.

AISHA: I know that. But how does she?

SARAH: } He said –

TIM: } She asked me –


TIM: Just now.


AISHA: No she didn’t.


AISHA: Mrs Bolam, do you usually drink vodka at this time?


AISHA: Where you at work today?

SARAH: Yes, you can phone the office if you like.

AISHA: Where is the office?

SARAH: Barretts and Johnson, Gillygate.

AISHA: What time did you finish work?

SARAH: Normal time. 5pm. I try and be strict.

AISHA: So you left work, came straight back here and drank most of this bottle of vodka?

SARAH: (Beat.) It had been a tough day.

TIM: Mrs Bolam, you don’t need to answer these questions, you’re not been accused of anything.

SARAH: (Looking at Tim.) Where did you go for lunch, today, Tim? We didn’t see you in the canteen. In fact, we didn’t see you between dropping off that shoplifter at Liddl and then you turned up at the car crash. You got there very quickly too. Almost like you knew it would happen. And the hour or so when I didn’t see you would be enough to go Mr Bolam’s place of work and cut his brake cables, wouldn’t they?

SARAH starts to reach for her radio. TIM reaches over and takes it off her.

TIM: Look Aisha, me and Sarah love each other. We’ve been together for years now but Steven wouldn’t give her a divorce, so –

AISHA: Timothy Kent, you are under arrest. You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

SARAH takes out a large kitchen knife from her apron and lunges at AISHA’s back. 


Five Short Plays About Hope: 5

CONTAINS: Swears, Unreasonable expectations of empathy

(Best to read from the beginning if you haven’t already.)

I love theatre with something to say, which makes me think, gives me new ideas or ways of viewing the world. For example, last year, Rash Dash’s Two Man Show changed how I thought about gender (see it if you can!) However, I’m not in favour of hectoring an audience so I don’t think I would ever want the following piece staged! But as a companion piece to the previous four it throws up some interesting things for me. I’ll see you on the other side.


Half a tube carriage. Half full. Specifically UZMA, LAURA and AMINA are sat on three consecutive seats. AMINA is reading a book, LAURA is on her phone.

UZMA starts to cry.

LAURA notices but goes back to playing on her phone.

UZMA completely breaks down.

LAURA looks at UZMA and then looks around – no one else has noticed. 

LAURA tries to go back to her phone.

LAURA gives up, rummages in her bag and tentatively offers UZMA a tissue.

UZMA takes it with a nod but carries on sobbing. 

LAURA wavers then goes back to her phone.

LAURA looks up again and opens her mouth to speak – but then goes back to her phone.

AMINA suddenly looks up and says to us:

AMINA: So, you’re probably expecting that this young woman on my right will, eventually ask this other woman, the crying one, what’s up with her. Because this is a play, right? It’s the inciting incident. There’ll be a heart to heart exchange. Possibly a great, emotional speech for the crying woman which will show of the playwright’s talents and tug at your heart strings.

AMINA goes back to her book.

LAURA plays with her phone.

UZMA sobs.

This carries on for a good thirty seconds.

AMINA: (Suddenly looking up again.) Yeah, she won’t. The phone woman won’t. Ask the crying woman what’s up. So, there you go.


I know this because this happened on the tube yesterday and I’m just showing what happened. Phone girl does nothing for like seven stops. Then she gets off.


This isn’t on phone girl either. Like, nobody else does anything. So it’s not just her.

Reads a bit.

Fuck it, I mean I was there and I didn’t do anything either.


Would you have?


I heard a great phrase the other day. ‘We all just need a good listening to.’


It’s good isn’t it? Like ‘seeing to’?


I liked it, a) because it’s smutty but b) because it’s true. Most of the time, we don’t want people to give us the answers. We just want them to be with us. Not try to fix, or solve, or advise, but to just sit us in our pain, and let them know that if we want to talk, they’ll listen.


Fuck it. Let’s try it now.

Steps out of the train carriage, which is plunged into darkness. Lights up on the audience.

Right, find someone near you you don’t know.


I’ll wait.


No, seriously, get on with it.


Right, quieten down. Now label yourselves A and B.


Good, now A I want you to tell B a dream you’ve got. One item on your bucket list, something you’d love to do or achieve before you shuffle off. Yours is the easy job.

B your job is to listen. And maybe, if A starts to dry up, ask some good, open questions. But remember, mainly, your job is to listen. You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason, as the philosophers say. No advice, no thoughts of yours, just listening and questions.

You’ve got three minutes.

3 minutes.

Great. Now swap over.

3 minutes.

Now, go back to the first way around; A – what are you going to have to change to achieve that dream. Like, in your life, maybe your circumstances, but better still in you. What do you have to change about you to achieve that goal. And Bs, no judgement, no advice. Just good questions and some warm nodding. Maybe even repeat what A has said to check you’ve understood.

3 minutes.

Now swap.

3 minutes.

I reckon to change the world we need three things. Courage, wisdom, compassion. And I reckon compassion might be the easiest. But if we care about other people, like the nice girl with the phone earlier did care about crying woman, what good is it if you’ve not got the courage to take any action towards it? I mean, then you need the wisdom to take action in the best way, but that’s the subject of another play. This one’s about compassion and courage.

So, yeah, I didn’t have the courage yesterday. But I’m going to try harder tomorrow. And you’ve just spoken to a stranger now, so how hard can it be, right?

Wanders back to the tube, which lights up, sits.

LAURA turns to UZMA.

LAURA: Hey. Are you okay? Sorry, I mean, you’re obviously not okay. I just. . .  if you want to, you can talk to me about it.


For the record, I still wear massive head phones on public transport and avoid talking to anyone.

Hope has been very much on my mind of late; I was asked by SGI-UK to be Artistic Director of Generaton Hope, an event aimed at inspiring young people with hope in their ability to change the world (you’d be welcome to attend!)

It’s based on this remarkable poem by Daisaku Ikeda:

This is your age

The future rests in your hands

I hope you will make the twenty-first century truly wonderful

Please make it a century in which the life of each individual is cherished and respected to the utmost.

A century without discrimination, without bullying, war or murder.

A century in which no child cries with hunger, in which no mothers or children take their own lives in despair.

A century without environmental destruction.

A century free from academic elitism, greed and materialism.

A century in which human rights are upheld as the most precious treasure.

A century of true democracy, in which the people hold corrupt political leaders to account.

A century in which the people exercise sound judgement and pay no heed to the lies of the mass media.

I hope you will make it a century in which each of your precious dreams come true and your unique individuality blossoms to the fullest.

To realise these goals, it is vital that you achieve victory, that each of you

grow into people of philosophy and compassion, into people who possess

both real ability and the sincerity to understand the hearts of others.

Your victory will be the victory of the twenty-first century.

You are our only hope.

It’s an unprecedented event; thousands of guests meeting simultaneously in Manchester, Bristol and London. It’s the biggest, more bonkers project I’ve ever worked on, either as a Buddhist or a director. In order to make it, everyone working on it has had to dig deeper than ever before to really believe in the potential of the next generation to be able to stand up and clear up the messes of the previous generations. I’ve noticed that many of us have been confronted by the doubts and fears we hold in our hearts in the process of making it; we’ve been shown the things we don’t believe we can change in our own lives and the world. And sometimes, when those things are getting me down I read this poem and it’s terrifying; living up to it’s expectation feels like an impossible responsibility.

But then I dig deeper  than I ever have before, and strive to believe in the infinite potential of myself and every other living being, and I become more confident than ever that we can make the world a better place, that there is still hope if we are prepared to change and grow ourselves, and take action based on that spiritual growth. Then we can have a human revolution.

Thank you for reading Five Short Plays About Hope! Normal fortnightly service will now resume.

Five Short Plays About Hope: 4

CONTAINS: Implied torture.

(To follow this do read from the start!)

We have a quote in the SGI, ‘A great human revolution in just a single individual will help achieve a change in the destiny of a nation, and, further, will enable a change in the destiny of all humankind,’ Daisaku Ikeda, The Human Revolution, Volume 1. 

The catch is that the single individual is you. It has to be you who changes. We can’t wait for someone else to change the world for us, sadly. But can I be that person? Can I stand up and change the world? Or will I run and hide?


ADRIAN is brought in to an interrogation room by two large guards. He has blood on his shirt from a punch to the nose. He is barely standing. They place him in a metal chair, which is screwed into the floor, and attach restraints to his hands and legs.

Opposite him, sits SARAH who has not looked up and is calmly scrolling through a file on her laptop.



SARAH: Adrian Scarcroft.

Pause. She looks up to eye Adrian.

ADRIAN: (With effort) Yes.

She looks back at the screen.

SARAH: Of 14 Wentworth Place.


SARAH: Date of birth, 3rd  of the 4th 1988.


SARAH: Did you on the 17th of May, 2019, post a link to a petition by terrorist-organisation Avaaz on Facebook, calling for civil disobedience against this government?

ADRIAN: You know that I did.

SARAH: So, you plead guilty to treason?

ADRIAN: Wait, what?

SARAH: The crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill or overthrow the His Majesty’s democratically elected government.

ADRIAN: Signing a petition is treason now?

SARAH: Not just signing the petition, but also ‘Inciting others, publically or privately, to actively support or passively condone the overthrow of His Majesty’s democratically elected government,’ which, since the passing of the Protection of Democracy Bill on February of this year, has been part of British law – (genuine frustration) sorry, English law. I keep forgetting that.

ADRIAN: It’s easily done.

SARAH: You may only speak to answer a direct question. (Beat.) Do you understand Mr Scarcroft?


SARAH: The correct way to address a female representative of the His Majesty’s Government is ‘Ma’am.’

ADRIAN: I understand, Ma’am.

SARAH: Good. And since the Dissolution of the Judiciary for Undemocratic Actions Bill, the sentencing of such crimes has been passed to me.

ADRIAN: Sentencing – but I haven’t been tried yet. . .

SARAH: Did I ask you a question Mr Scarcroft?

ADRIAN: No, Ma’am.

SARAH: The right to trial by jury was suspended in the Emergency Measures Bill passed unanimously by Parliament last week. I find it very disturbing that someone who does not take the time to keep himself abreast of current affairs feels qualified to encourage his ‘Facebook Friends’ to treason and insurrection.


The sentencing of treason is life-imprisonment in solitary confinement. Did you know that even as little as one week of solitary confinement has been proven to cause lasting psychological damage? I should also mention, as I’ve wandered off into trivia, that Parliament will debate a new act next week reintroducing the death penalty for select crimes, including treason, and there has just been added a fascinating amendment tabled allowing for this punishment to be awarded retrospectively, superseding the original sentencing. Do you understand everything I’m telling you Mr Scarcroft?

ADRIAN: Yes, Ma’am.

SARAH: I hear that your wife is outside. She is quite distressed. We had to point out that her distress was rapidly approaching the level of sedition. She’s quietened down somewhat but your youngest is still crying.


You’re the bread winner in your family, are you not?

ADRIAN: Yes, Ma’am.

SARAH: And you have three young children. And, I note, that you failed to pay off your mortgage before the housing crash, so your family finances must be hanging on a thread.

ADRIAN opens his mouth to speak.

SARAH: That wasn’t a question.


You are, by your own admission, and the extensive digital evidence I have in front of me, guilty. You now understand the sentence I am authorised to give and how it will affect you and your family?


That was a question.

ADRIAN: I understand, Ma’am.

SARAH: However, I am empowered to offer leniency when I think it serves His Majesty’s Government’s interests. Obviously, we have access to the details of everyone who ‘liked’ your post, shared it, or clicked on the link to sign, and we are already bringing them in to have similar conversations, so there’s little you can offer us in terms of names or information. However, I might be prepared to suspend your sentence, indefinitely, if you were to publically retract your previous post, and strongly encourage your ‘Friends’ to do the same. We will, from time to time, send you other petitions, articles, opinions, we would like you to endorse and espouse, privately and publically. As you are probably, well aware, your every communication, like that of every other citizen in our fine country, and partner countries, is under constant surveillance, whether in the digital realm or the physical, via your personal devices or other devices we may have installed in your home, car, or office. If you failed to meet the required levels of enthusiasm you would find your sentence immediately invoked. Do you understand?

ADRIAN: Yes, Ma’am.

SARAH: And so, Mr Scarcroft, we come to my final question. Is your life and the well-being of your family, worth an ill-thought through Facebook post?


Five Short Plays About Hope: 3

CONTAINS: Swearing, Misplaced optimism.

(For this to make sense you may wish to read parts 1 and 2.)

I still didn’t have any of the answers, but I did have a desire. I desperately wanted someone to follow, someone to give me hope. I wanted:


The research room at a news radio station – lots of desks with computers and phones. Upstage is a sound booth, with glass walls to us, with interview and interviewee chairs and mics. There’s the background sound of talk radio coming over some speakers. Haseena comes in to the room – the attendants staff cheer and applaud her.

JESSICA: You did it! Ladies and gentleman – every radio station, television channel, newspaper, magazine, blog, fuck it, every single person on the street from here to Gretna Green wants to talk to one person. And who has our remarkable new Prime Minister said that she will give her first interview too? An exclusive, no less? Only fucking Haseena Ahad of LRC!

More whooping and cheers.

HASEENA: (Presidentially) Thank you, thank you, well, I couldn’t have done it without – seriously you flapping great bunch of twats we’ve got ten minutes until she’s here – stop whooping like pop heads and get to work!

Everyone rushes into action.

JESSICA: Seriously, Has, how did you pull this one off?

HASEENA: I’m not sure I did – she phoned me. She’s driving herself here now and she phoned on hands free. Apparently, she gave her own security the slip.

JESSICA: Shouldn’t she be heading direct to Number 10 or something?

HASEENA: Who knows? All I know is she’s coming here to see me. Right, 8 minutes to prep.

Goes through into the booth, leaving the door open behind her and puts on the headphones. Mun Yi goes over to the control panel on this sound, turns the radio chatter down and brings up the mic in the booth.

HASEENA: Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3

MUN YI: All good, boss.

HASEENA: (Over the speakers) Hey, one of you shits, come in here and spit-ball with me!

A gang of five staff barge in.

HASEENA: Alright, fuck it, line up we can take it in turns.

ELOISE sits first.

HASEENA: Prime Minister, thank you so much for joining us today.

ELOISE: (Posh) My pleasure.

SHARON: She doesn’t speak like that! That’s what’s ace about her!

HASEENA: Yup, sorry El, too posh, fuck off. Right, Shaz, you’re up.

SHARON sits in seat. 

HASEENA: Thank you for being here today, Prime Minister.


HASEEN: Yup, that’s pretty good. Prime Minister, it’s been a remarkable few months. 2017 started as an absolute shi. . . pwreck of a year. For us it looked not just the country, but America, the EU and the world stood on the brink of an irrevocable descent into division, hatred and out-right fascism.

SHARON: Yeah, Has, and I was an ordinary housewife in Hulme.

HASEENA: Not so ordinary – look at everything you’ve achieved in seven short months. . .

SHARON: Yeah, but that’s the point isn’t it? That’s why she’s fucking amazing. She is just ordinary.

HASEENA: Bzzzzz! You’re supposed to be her, not talking about her, Shaz you’re fired. Next!

SHANIA takes the chair.

HASEENA: What was it that made you get up on the police car and make that amazing speech back in March?

SHANIA: I just wanted to speak out, yeah? Just had to speak the truth to power, didn’t I?

HASEENA: And you certainly did that. Your words galvanised a movement behind you. When I heard you – no, sorry – when some people heard you on the march they said that it changed them. That march had been made up of hundreds of different groups, all agreed that they weren’t happy with the way the country, and indeed the world was going, but all with their own individual fears and beliefs about how to make it better. And you – you were able to unite them into a common voice – in the same way as some other politicians had –

SHANIA: – united the people in hate, yeah. Well, I reckon that at heart, British people are good. Like, we fought a war against fascism, didn’t we? Seems a bit rich to just let it in by the back door. And we created the welfare state. We fought together, and then together we built a better country. But some people want to take that away. They want to take our openness, and our trust, and our belief in the inherent good in people. And I don’t want to lose that. I want us to grow our openness, grow our heart, be there for each other, and for the rest of the world. And I don’t see why we can’t.

HASEENA: Very good!

SHANIA: Yeah, and that’s why I wanted to come and talk to you first, because it’s about the people, isn’t it? And I hear there’s a boss girl working here called Shania, with this great hair –

HASEEN: Yup, you blew it! Next –

Karen sits

HASEENA: But it’s one thing to bring together a march and quite enough to form a political party from scratch, use that party to form a progressive coalition and then force the government to call a general election and then to win that election. How did all that happen?

KAREN: Well, Ms Khan, thank you for asking me that.

HASEENA: Na, that’s too politico for her.

KAREN: Oh right. Do I get another go?

Haseena thinks for a moment then nods.

KAREN: Ay, cheers for that, Has. Well, I read in this book once, that a great change in the heart of one person can change the world. Like, you know, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, and that other bloke. That sometimes, it just takes one person to stand up and challenge their own fear and weakness, and then that can cause a hundred others to stand up, a thousand, ten thousand. And that ten thousand can change the world. And I thought, well, fuck it, why not me? Why don’t I be that person? So I did. But it could have been anyone.

HASEENA: But it wasn’t anyone, Prime Minister – it was you –

MUN YI: She’s here!

Everyone scatters and takes up their positions.

HASEENA: Right, you bunch of malodourous bell ends, the woman who changed the world is coming to talk to her world through us so we better get this right!

All turn to face the door to the studio, expectant.









Five Short Plays About Hope: 2

CONTAINS: Fanfic, Spoilers for Season Seven of the Greatest Television Series of All Time.

A variation on a theme, this one. The answer to the question ‘What would you do to stop Hitler,’ tends to be the glib one of ‘Go shoot him.’ Is that the answer? It begs another question, one I ask myself in times of deep distress:




We are in an alley-way. It’s dark.

BUFFY, petite woman in her 30s, tired, enters from one end of the alley. She’s wearing yoga clothing with a backpack and a knee-length coat. We can hear the chanting sounds of a political rally or parade in the distance. As BUFFY draws nearer to the sound she twists her wrist slightly and a four-inch wooden stake drops from her sleeve into her hand.

Behind her, by a dumpster, appears GILES, a late middle-aged English man with glasses and a three-piece suit.

BUFFY stops without turning around.

BUFFY: I can hear you.


BUFFY: You’re not really here.

GILES:  Well that makes no sense.

BUFFY: (Still not turning round.) It makes complete sense. I hear you in my mind but you are not really here. Because you’re dead.

GILES:  You know better than anyone that being dead doesn’t mean I’m not here. You hang out with dead people all the time.

BUFFY: Un-dead people. And I don’t see that much of Spike at the moment. Trying to cut down on blood suckers in my life. (Beat.)  You’re different.

GILES:  In what way?

BUFFY: Because you’re properly dead. Rotting in a British cemetery. You’re not walking the earth, you’re just hanging around in my brain. I’m making you hang around in my brain.

GILES:  And why would you do that?

BUFFY: Because sometimes I get a yearning for good British manners?


BUFFY: Because part of my brain is trying to tell the rest of me something.

GILES:  And what are you trying to tell yourself this time?

BUFFY: (Turning.) I don’t know, Giles, what am I telling myself?

GILES:  You could be telling yourself that what you are about to do is not the answer.

BUFFY: Yes, that’s why I know you’re not real. Because the real Giles taught me how to use this thing (flourishes the stake) and that I am the chosen one – chosen to use Mr Pointy here to make the world a better place.

GILES:  I also taught you to use your brain. And you far exceeded me. You changed the whole game. Not one slayer any more, but hundreds.

BUFFY: But I’m the original one. It’s on me. It’s always been on me. To save the world. And that’s what I’m going to do.

GILES:  Like this? Maybe there are some problems you can’t solve with Mr Pointy in a dark alley.

BUFFY: I’m not going to do it in an alley. Three minutes, his car will come past, he’ll be waving with that ridiculous grin of his. A couple of summersaults and a quick staking and it will all be over.

GILES:  But he’s not a vampire.

BUFFY: Isn’t he? Doesn’t he suck the life blood out of everything that’s good in my world?

GILES:  Clever word play won’t make this right. He’s not a vampire.

BUFFY: But I’m sure a stake to the hurt will kill him anyway.

GILES:  And won’t his security team then kill you? There’ll be a lot of guns out there.

BUFFY: I expected they will.

GILES:  And what about little baby Joyce?

BUFFY: She’s why I’m doing this, Giles! I’ve stopped hellmouths from opening and spewing forth evil, but he opens his hell mouth and all the evil that’s been hiding in men’s hearts across this country come pouring out, all the dark, petty hatreds they’ve been hiding for decades come bumbling up. Everyone who’s a little bit different, different colour, different language, different chromosomes, suddenly has to run and hide. If I let him win, then what was it all for? What did I save the world for? No, this way is better. I might not be around to see it but little Joyce will grow up in a better world, Xander and Dawn and Willow will raise her right.

GILES:  And what will she know of her mother? What she sees on Fox Documentaries? The woman who killed a President with a pointy piece of wood? And will she learn the same lesson, that there’s nothing that she can’t solve with some four inches of sharpened birch and some kick-boxing sessions? Is that how you want her to live her life?

BUFFY: Then what do you want me to do Giles? You were my Watcher, guide me!

GILES:  You already know.

BUFFY: No I don’t! Otherwise I wouldn’t be here, preparing to go all Lee Harvey Oswald.

GILES:  You did it before. You shared your power.

BUFFY: I can’t make any more Slayers. That was a one-time deal!

GILES:  No, but you can lead. You can inspire. You can empower. You can still be the Chosen one. But you’ll need to fight a different kind of war. In a different kind of way.

BUFFY: (Looking at Mr Pointy.) But this is all I know.

GILES:  There was a time when you didn’t even know that. But you learnt.

BUFFY: You taught me. You’re not here any more.

GILES:  There’s no manual any more, Buffy. You have to teach yourself. And you’ll fail. And you’ll pick yourself up, and learn to let others help you, and you’ll stand with them, and you’ll march, and you’ll save the world, again.

BUFFY: I’m scared.

GILES:  I know. We all are.

GILES melts into the shadow.


BUFFY throws the stake down. And slowly walks back into the alley.

Five Short Plays About Hope: 1

CONTIANS: Swears, British and American politics, depression.

February 2017 was quite a fun time for me, I was taking part in 28 Plays Later, I was directing Handbagged, a play I loved with a great cast. I had a cold and was contending with the tube every morning (as we were rehearsing in London – a city I haven’t lived in for 7 years – oh how quickly one forgets what it’s like)  but otherwise my life was good. But, like many I know, I was also in shock at what 2016 had revealed about the world; the rising to the surface of the hatred which I now must acknowledge was always there, but which I was protected from seeing by my privilege.

After my country had an ill-advised referendum, I spent every waking moment, when I wasn’t working, on social media, reading articles, trying to understand how the basis of my reality had shifted so suddenly. Then The Man Whose Name Has Meant I Have To Find New Words For The Card Which Beats Other Cards In Card Games was elected, and I realised that I was in danger of making myself seriously ill. So, I deleted Facebook and Twitter from my phone, I stopped visiting news sites. For two months I stayed news free. Ignorance, it turned out, really was bliss. I could get through my day without facing the growing panic of the world I lived in.

Eventually though, I heard some words by Robert Harrap, General Director of SGI-UK, where he said words to the effect of, ‘I want to read about the world as it is, so I can see how our spiritual practice needs to change it.’ So I upped the amount of Buddhist chanting and study I was doing and started buying the Week. If you’ve never tried it, it’s a very soothing experience – it has a neutral tone and reports what different papers are saying. For example, one might read; ‘Yesterday one thousand people died of plague in the UK. The Guardian thinks this could have been avoided by reversing the under-funding of the NHS while the Daily Mail points out that some of those who died were asylum seekers, so it’s not all bad.’ You see? Much easier to stay calm reading that.

As I started to feel bolder my mind started to turn to what could I actual do to make a difference. This preoccupation bubbled up repeatedly throughout the plays I wrote, so this week, to shake things up, I’m going to publish one of those plays a day, as Five Short Blogs About Hope


Lights up on an extremely lanky Yorkshireman in jeans, blue shirt, and a crumpled jacket. He looks up at the audience slightly startled.

ME: So, there’s this thing I’ve been thinking about. I’ve not fully got my head around it yet, but I thought I might as well share it with you and see where it goes. You find you’ve gone back in time to Germany, 1932. Hitler’s a big deal but he’s not yet Chancellor. Oh, and you can speak German. You’ve met up with some of your new friends, nice, well-meaning, middle class, vaguely artistic types. Not full-on Weimar republic hedonists, but still, pretty open. Not the sort to go smashing Jewish people’s windows. And they say to each other, and you, ‘Oh, I don’t know what to do! I’m scared. Scared for me, scared for my country, scared for my family, scared for people who are different from me, but who will suffer under what might come. I’m so scared I can’t really function, I’m struggling to work properly, I can’t concentrate, I’m getting depressed. I’m not really present, (except they wouldn’t say that, as that’s a late 20th Century thing at best, but for now, go with it, you get the gist), I’m not really present in my work, or with my family. I’m barely present here now. I’ve got all this worry, not sleeping at night, but I don’t know what to do. I’ve been on some polite marches, signed some petitions, I’m voting for other parties, I’ve even put their posters in my window, so, you know, I’ve stuck my neck out. But I know it’s not enough. So, do I not worry about it? Do I go back to focusing on being the best employee, family member, friend I can be, and block all the rest out? Or do I go all out and try and stop this evil? And what would that even look like?’ And you know, that in a few short months, Hitler will be Chancellor, then there’ll be a fire, and – boom – within a month, no more democracy. Nazis’ are the only party. And for millions of people it’s too late – a highly efficient system of killing will be developed – they are fucked. And the fate of the planet has changed, dragging in France, Britain, Russia, Japan. Bombs are developed, bombs are dropped. And you know all of this is coming. You know it all in detail, from books and endless documentaries and Oscar-bait films. And your new friends turn to you and say, ‘What should we do?’ They want to be good people, and if they can’t be good, they want to be happy, but now they’re just miserable and impotent. And what do you say to them? ‘Do something?’, ‘Do Everything?’ ‘Do Nothing?’

Because we know. Like they did, in their hearts of hearts, those nice well-meaning Germans of 1932. They know what’s coming. And we know what’s coming. So I’m asking you, as a nice, well-meaning man in the UK in 2017. What the fuck should I do?




Me, talking about Buddhism on the radio.

Oh look – here’s me on BCB radio, talking about making theatre, SGI Buddhism, and saying ‘Urm’ a staggering amount. I’m at 11’20”.



Week Twelve: Recovering a Sense of Self

[I’m putting this up nearly two and a half years later. I wrote it at the time, but for some reason never posted it. So, finally – here you go!]

Faith? Well that seems appropriate.

Late again. Well, it’s been 24weeks rather than 12 but I’ve finally finished.

And what a final few weeks. I’m still digesting it all.

We had a very wonderful Buddhist course at a castle/Anglican nunnery (who knew those existed?) in Whitby. I wish I hadn’t read the chapter where Dracula arrives at Whitby, in a storm as a great savage dog, as the place was a little bit creepy; there was a lot of weather and there genuinely was a great big barky dog.

There were also lots of wonderful Buddhists from all over the North East and some very inspiring experiences of people’s faith in action. I broke my normal habit of staying tee-total on courses and discovered that lots of chanting followed by booze makes for quite a spinny-head.

A theme of the course was Joy. In Buddhism we talk about conditional and unconditional happiness, that it’s fine to enjoy pleasures coming from our environment, and even to use the desire for them to fuel our spiritual development, but the journey teaches us that there is a real, deep, and enduring happiness which can be found within, regardless of our circumstances. This joy comes through faith; faith in our own limitless potential, and our ability to overcome any obstacle. By changing our inner life we can change any circumstance, so why view any event as bad? It’s just another opportunity to grow.

There are some echoes with this weeks’ chapter:

‘Mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote, ‘Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.’ It is the inner commitment to be true to ourselves and follow our dreams that triggers the support of the universe.’

I followed that by meeting up with a guy I know who’s from Bradford. We went out for beers and he brought me up to speed on the city’s political and cultural situation, along with, vitally, where to get the best curry. We then had one of those glorious free-wheeling conversations migrating from socialism to Sufism, where we discovered great similarities between our different beliefs, and the sense of working for a common cause. Plus, did I mention there was beer?

I closed the Artist’s Way with a very intense five days. The first five were spent studying with Philippe Gaulier, the legendary clown master. This is “clown” as in a rigorous form of performance involving stepping out in front of an audience prepared to be totally open and vulnerable, playful and responsive, with no preconceived ideas of what you might do. There might be red noses and clown shoes, but there might not. There certainly isn’t an exploding car or a cannon that shoots you into a vat of custard. And clowning in this way is tough; you have to be imaginative and playful but also simple, honest, and open. It is a tightrope (if you’ll forgive me using a circus metaphor while trying to make it clear this isn’t the sort of clowning you find in a circus); lean too much on the side of trying too hard and forcing things to happen and you become fake and fall off. But lean in the direction of doing nothing at all and you will bore your audience and so, also, fall off. And once you’re off in front of an audience it’s almost impossible to climb back on again.

This particular course was a week on Buffon, a technique/approach/style (I still don’t know how to refer to it) which Gaulier developed with Jaques Lecoq, before evolving it in his own, distinctive way. He is short, pot bellied, with a gnomish grey beard, red glasses, multi-coloured waistcoat and beret. He has a very thick accent and a love of puns. ‘You need to wake up of tea. Way-cup of tea. You see? In France this is very funny joke.’ He lives in his Buffon character in such a way that he can give very harsh feedback playfully; ‘You are boring. Boring like a primary school teacher. Whose husband has died.’

The format was simple; we would play some games (with much humiliation of the losers, often, due to recent surgery on my foot, me), learn some skills, but mostly we would be up in front of the maestro, either being rewarded (with chuckles) or mocked for being boring. Be too boring too long and we’re off the stage.

He made me think a lot about gurus in theatre. I had taken a very strict anti-guru position in my work till now. As soon as we foster the idea that there is one person who is the fount of all knowledge it leads to a huge imbalance of power, and with any imbalance in power comes the potential for abuse. And I have seen in many rehearsals (and in even more actor-training lessons) the desire to create this unequal relationship on both sides: actors who want to believe that their director/teacher is omniscient, because it frees them from the burden of choice, and pleasing the leader becomes a satisfyingly clear goal, uncluttered with complexities of, say, ‘improving as an actor,’ or ‘giving the best possible performance.’ This does not apply to all actors by any means, but there are some for whom it becomes almost masochistic. Similarly, there are certainly directors and teachers who seek out those roles, not for the creative fulfillment it brings, or the joy of supporting someone else to be better, but for the adulation and power that come with it.

[Note from Future Tom – Phelim McDermott of Improbable wrote this beautiful letter to all such directors, exploring the impact it has on the whole industry.]

On the other hand, a certain amount of trust and humility are necessary to learn any new skill from someone who has mastered it.

I could feel similar forces at work in the room; I’ve known many people who have gone to France to study with Gaulier for a year or more, pretty much every day, clowning for him with him acting as the sole arbiter of what is good or not. In the room this week there were those who got it, who could walk the tightrope perfectly – obviously they were praised. There were those who kept falling off and kept climbing back up as the week went on, still not getting the subtlety Gaulier is looking for, and so trying too hard, and so falling back off. Their desperation increased to painful lengths by the Friday. And there were others, myself included, who got on the rope for long enough to know what it felt like to be balancing to hover between forced and empty, alive and alert and vulnerable. But we didn’t know how to stay there, and eventually fell.

By the Wednesday I had come to see and appreciate the magical quality Gaulier is looking for; it is mesmerizing and joyous, and terrifying to watch, a great quality for any performer to be able to access. His approach definitely worked for some people, hindered others. By the end of the week I’d realized I’d stopped volunteering to go in front of the maestro. Why was that? I knew what he was looking for, I knew I could do it, at least for ten seconds at a time, before falling. Looking back, I just think I didn’t want to please him enough. Although, I do think he would approve of this Julia quote: ‘Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That, and surprise. . . As creative channels, we need to trust the darkness. We need to learn to gently mull instead of churning away like a little engine on a straight-ahead path.’

The Artist’s Way, for all I’ve stretched it out, has been really central to my experience of the last few months. When I started, both my internal creativity and the external opportunities seemed to realize that creativity seemed very far away. Now I feel possibilities bubble up, within and without. It has certainly been a major turning point in my life. But, even though the course has ended, there’s not a neat finish to this story; I’ve changed direction but I’m still on the journey. If I had to summarise the one big change, it is that now I feel like the journey itself could be a source of joy and creativity.

‘Life is meant to be an artist date. That’s why we were created.’

[And so, two and a half years later – how did life turn out? I was right back then, the Artist’s Way did mark a huge turning point. But that should probably wait till another blog . . . ]

Week Ten: Recovering a Sense of Self-Protection

I started this week with a Buddhist course for the young men of Northern England. These things are always powerful, but for me this one was especially so, as I had been given the responsibility for running the thing. It was humbling watching so many young men from all over the planet, from so many social and ethnic backgrounds, coming together to encourage each other to believe in the limitless potential of all people. We arrived, it seemed to me, struggling with our environment (car break-downs, bosses hitting people with a deadline while they are trying to leave the office, ill relatives, or literally not having enough money to afford the fare), or with ourselves (why am I bothering? I should have planned for that, I’ve failed already, everyone is practising stronger than me. . .) Some didn’t make it at all, some did but then left, but those who stayed the course slowly, in some cases with great difficulty, worked through all of it, together.

It’s in the middle of such courses, as I am mentally juggling three dozen problems, that I learn something about myself. Normally, that I am more capable than I give myself credit for. Often, that I place an impossibly high bar for myself.

The discoveries on this particular course will continue to reverberate for weeks and months to come.

This week Julia talks about the blocks we throw up in front of our creativity.

‘We begin to sense our real potential and the wide range of possibilities open to us. That scares us. So we all reach for blocks to slow our growth. . .

Blocking is essentially an issue of faith. Rather than trust our intuition, our talent, our skill, our desire, we fear where our creator is taking us with this creativity. . . Blocked we know who and what we are: unhappy people. Unblocked, we may be something much more threatening – happy. For most of us, happy is terrifying, unfamiliar, out of control, too risky!’

Which sounds very like the Buddhist course, and our collective struggle to believe in the immense power and wisdom contained in all our lives.

Julia goes on to outline some of the things we can use to block this creative energy; work,  love, sex, drugs, alcohol, food. All of these things can be positives (apart from, you know, drugs, cus drugs are bad –ed.) but we can turn all of them into self-destructive blocks.

She then focuses in detail on the first of these blocks: workaholism.

‘If people are too busy to write morning pages, or too busy to take an artist’s date, they are probably too busy to hear the voice of authentic creative urges.’


I have taken recently to being very strict about my hours, partially in response to previous employers who thought that paying a living wage equalled owning your entire waking life. I long ago learnt, the very hard way, that I do my best creative work when I’m rested, fed, and have clean clothes to wear. But also it takes more than that. There are many studies about the need for quiet reflective space, about the way in which problems, creative or otherwise, can get resolved when the conscious mind is given space to think of other things. When I’m working on a text now, I study it over and over before the rehearsal period starts. But once rehearsals begin, I leave my copy in the rehearsal room each day. I work better with the actors in the room when I don’t allow myself to work outside it.

Both of my current employers are very supportive of my attempts to keep work limited to work-time. I now keep time-sheets not to protect me from them, but to protect me from myself. But if I factor in the other commitments I sign myself up for, then, yes, I struggle to fit in the pages, the writing, the reflecting. I’m at some sort of rehearsal, meeting, show every night this week, and for many weeks before and after.

I may need to work on not working.

Of course, those directors who careers have far-out stripped mine, give the impression of never sleeping for their constant, driven, work. But that would be a comparison, wouldn’t it?

‘You pick up a magazine – or even your alumni news – and somebody, somebody you know, has gone further, faster, toward your dream. Instead of saying, ‘That proves it can be done, ‘ your fear will say, ‘He or she will succeed instead of me. . .

As artists, we cannot afford to think about who is getting ahead of us and how they don’t deserve it. The desire to be better than can choke off the simple desire to be.

I had several breakthroughs this week. One was in updating my professional website ( I haven’t done this properly for three years. In that time I have done some of the work of which I am most proud, the most courageous, exhilarating, detailed, work. But because I made that work with young people in a Midlands town I had a hard time celebrating it. My website is really just that, the place where I honour the work so far with a paragraph and a few photos for each project. Working on the website brings up so many of those feelings for me. But I broke through that this week and, bar some tech glitches that I need to iron out, it’s up to date. A new beginning.

I also allowed myself a couple of artist’s dates. One was a silent walk led by sound artist Phil Harding around Bradford. A small group of us follow behind him, in silence, leaving enough distance between us so that we can’t hear the footsteps of the person in front. No phones, no recording equipment, just our ears and the people and environs of Bradford. Delegating all thought of trying to get somewhere, just contentedly following, my range of hearing opened up. The quality of sound deadened as we walked past wooden fencing, echoed as we went under a bridge, stilled and grew on the end of a railway platform, surrounded by trees. People’s voices were the best. My favourite, ‘What the fuck are they doing, walking in a lines like zombies?’

I also went for a stroll (with another bonus – the company camera!) along Ravenscar, between Scarborough and Whitby.

En route, by chance, I passed Cober Hill, where I spent two very significant holidays as a teenager with Youth Theatre Yorkshire. We would build characters on the first day and then stay in role for most of the next two days. The first year I was crotchety oligarch on a distant planet, facing a worker’s rebellion. The next I was a Tiger Priest who united the tribes of his forest against loggers. Born leader you see.

And here’s a closing thought to carry me on to the penultimate week:

‘The need to win – now! – is a need to win approval from others. As an antidote, we must learn to approve of ourselves. Showing up for the work is the win that matters.’

P.S. My back is doing much better now as Artist’s Way is now out on Kindle, thus saving a lot of lugging a large book around in an already over-filled bag! (Does mean there are no page number references this week, though.)