Category Archives: Play in Focus

Another play completed

A spin-off from the latest play, also titled "The Poems of Edwin Plant"

A spin-off from the latest play, also titled “The Poems of Edwin Plant”

It always feels like ages since I completed a play (in this case, my last one was “For Sale, Baby Shoes, Never Worn“, published in May.) I’ve been working on “The Poems of Edwin Plant” for some time, though it began as two separate plays. The first dealt with a man trying to find his old school bully, though he’s not sure what he’s looking for – does he want to find the man a wreck, or a success? He’s really looking because he couldn’t see him on the regular social media.

The second play was really only a conversation between two people comparing not liking children to not liking cats. (This is a personal thing – I maintain that you can not like children just like you can not like people. Mrs Dim maintains that children as a species are fine, and I should just pull myself together and buck up.)

At some point in the last six months, I saw a piece about a play that had been workshopped over two years, based on a series of poems by someone who was dead. This kind of thing happens a lot, and there doesn’t seem to be any way of stopping it. I wondered if there were any dead people poems I could wangle a play out of, and then I thought of…The Poems of Edwin Plant.

Found in the crawlspace behind the attic room wall of our house during renovations, the poems aren’t brilliant. They aren’t going to set fire to the literary world, but they fit very nicely into a play built from two disparate ideas.

While it’ll take some time for the play to reach publication, the book of poems is available through Amazon right now. I also published a couple of them here on the blog.. and here

Book links:

Play in Focus: The Red Balloon

DSCF3351Prejudice is a terrible thing. It makes you ignore any evidence to the contrary, for one thing. I’m sure my own prejudices are many, but the one that causes me most difficulties is my prejudice about Modern Theatre.

I’m sure there’s an actual definition of that term, but in my own mind I use the term to cover non-representational theatre, or plays that are a little more…challenging than “Blithe Spirit” or “Dial M for Murder”.

It sounds a bit wrong, I know. And let me say, just because I don’t enjoy these types of plays, doesn’t mean I think they are rubbish, or they shouldn’t be written or performed. Hell no, go ahead! Give ’em awards, hand out prizes. Just don’t ask me to go and see one.

My feeling is that theatre is, first and foremost, entertainment. Like all entertainment, that covers a broad spectrum, and there’s room for flat-out fun, for tugging at the heartstrings, for thought-provoking pieces and , yes, for experimentation. But my preference is to come out of the theatre thinking about the performance I’ve just seen, not wondering what the hell it was all about. I’ve never subscribed to the “It’s whatever you take away from it.” school of Art. The Artist should have an intention, if not a message, and the aim should be to communicate that intention to others.

When I began writing plays, I didn’t have a message, as such. I wrote about writing, and I wrote about interesting characters, grouping them together and seeing what happened. But the more I wrote, the more I found I was tempted to push things further, to write something bizarre and avant garde. Exactly why, I’m not sure. I could see how it would go, the nonsensical monologue by a lone character on a bare stage, clutching an unlikely prop. This seemed a promising beginning, so I wrote it down. The Girl was holding a red balloon, and declaiming a rapturous speech about it.

But I didn’t know where to go with this, and the reason I didn’t know was because this was the kind of play I would hate to watch. So I put myself into the audience, and gave a character the guts to stand up and say the very things I would be thinking at such a performance. So it was that The Man takes to the stage to decry the Girl’s ludicrous speech, and she hits back at him by saying this is her big break and she knows it’s all twaddle, but it’s HER twaddle, thank you very much.


From there it was easy enough to have the three characters (The Man’s wife comes along with him) discuss what’s wrong with the Girl’s balloon speech, and demonstrate the kind of performance they were hoping for. At this point I was asking the questions of myself – what kind of play did I actually WANT to write? Was I really just looking for a simple story, and if so, why not watch TV? What did I think theatre gave people that they couldn’t get elsewhere?

It was a fun thing to experiment with, and I was pleased to discover that the Man and Woman delivered a decent play in the time they had onstage. Then the Woman gets the bit between her teeth and begins to push the process further, further than the Man and Girl want to go. I had known once the process began that I wanted to bring the play full circle, but I thought I was being too ambitious. Once I had finished the first draft I asked my wife to read it through and she made some excellent suggestions that smoothed the path for the play to return to the start point.

That was probably my biggest challenge with this play: I had never had to re-write anything I had done before. My plays were short and produced almost entirely as I wrote them. This time I had to take the suggestions and go back into the script and change things. It was harder than I thought, but very much worthwhile.

This play has proved popular in the time it has been available – many groups have chosen it for the simplicity. There are only three roles, whose ages are not defined, and there is no set. Despite the title, there’s more to the props than the one balloon – at one point the three construct a play scene set in a wartime kitchen that requires at least a table, two chairs and two cups. It’s been performed again and again, in classrooms, colleges, theatres, village halls and at competitions. I’ve been lucky enough to attend a performance, and was delighted with the presentation. I’m willing to apologise for my prejudices, but I’m glad they lead me to produce this play.

Read the full play HERE

The images used in this post were from a production of The Red Balloon by the Mexico Area Community Theatre. Here‘s their Facebook page.

Play focus: Work in Progress

The original production at RAF St Athan – helped along with Photoshop

It’s been a long time since my first play – about twelve years now. Not so long ago I wrote this post, which mentioned a little about how I write. This was especially true for Work in Progress, my first play. I had joined the Theatre Club at RAF St Athan to get out of the house a bit, having spent some time as a houshusband with Eldest Weasel in her early baby days. Mrs Dim said I should socialise with people who could use entire words, so I wandered off one evening and found myself lined up for a part in the pantomime (I was Wishee Washee in Aladdin. One of my finest moments on stage.) When the panto was done, we started looking around for a play to take to the annual one act play competition. Someone pointed out that if we took a play that the group had written, we would have a shot at the award for “Best self-written play” as no one else ever entered for that. The odds seemed good, and then someone pointed out that I was pretending to be a writer (I had just sold an article to “Mother and Baby” and a short story to “Take a Break Fiction Special”) and therefore I should write the play. There are times in your life when “No.” is a perfectly reasonable answer but totally impossible to say. I dashed off a play in an embarrassingly short time and passed it around the group. Everyone seemed to like it and asked if I would direct. I hadn’t directed before, but hey, up until that week, I’d never written a play before. How hard could it be? The secret at the heart of “Work in Progress” is that I had no clue what I was doing. I wrote a play about the things that really happened to me. If you haven’t read it (and it’s available to read HERE), the play is about a struggling author who can’t get the ending of his Detective novel right. While he’s trying to write it, the characters argue with him, and drag him into the action to make him see how wooden and false it all is. By seeing things from their point of view, and seeing them as real people, not cliche cutouts, he’s able to draft a more suitable story. Yes, this is what happened to me. I was trying to write a novel, but the characters wouldn’t do what I wanted. They said unexpected things, pushed the plot in new directions. Sometimes they did dull, tedious things and I could do nothing to move them along.

From the production by Mexico Area Community Theatre (MACT) See more by them on the Gallery page

Writing plays was like being released from a straightjacket. I could forget wrestling with adverbs and the fiddly details of description and get on with the action and the dialogue. No more worries about whether the main character had steel grey hair or steel blue eyes, or cast iron trousers. None of that mattered! I was free and I could write a mile a minute. And anything is possible on stage! I had the three fictional characters dress in black and white, and their section of the stage was all tones of grey. The guy playing the author wore a loud Hawaiian shirt and we shone a coloured light on him too. When the curtain opened on the performance in the competition, there was a gasp from the audience. My happiest moment. The adjudicator raved about the bold nature of the play. He compared it to the work of Pirandello, which was news to me (but go read about him here , unless SOPA has closed Wikipedia) and he said lots of other nice things. I felt like I had got away with a huge con trick, but the play has been performed again and again, and it would be disengenuous to say I don’t believe there’s something to it. It’s not really a good idea to write about being a writer, but I think what this play is about is showing that characters can be real. Just as a reader can feel affection, or friendship or revulsion for a character in a well-loved book, so an author can find his characters being more than words on the page. If you’ve performed in Work in Progress, or have pictures of a production, please do drop me a line in the comments box and we can arrange for your pictures to join the gallery, plus adding in any links to group websites.

Hello to Farewells

“A Time for Farewells” performed by FEATS

Kicking off the New Year, I had to resist the urge to write about resolutions, or latest projects, or review the failures/successes of 2011. Well, if not those, what? By far the most popular viewing on this site is the gallery of pictures for “A Time for Farewells“. Not my first play, maybe not even my favourite play, it’s nonetheless very popular around the world.

“A Time for Farewells” produced by Titirangi Theatre in New Zealand

Before getting into WHY it may be so popular, let’s have a brief summary of the plot for those who haven’t read it (and if you want to read it, you can find it HERE).

Alex is a batchelor lad until he meets Sarah. She’s not looking for love, she’s looking for a mechanic to fix her car. The play features episodes from Alex and Sarah’s life, interspersed with the couple themselves discussing their relationship. It’s clear there’s some sort of ending here, that this isn’t a loving nostalgia session, but an autopsy on a finished relationship. The play covers high and lows of their life together before bringing the audience up to date and letting them in on the event that Alex and Sarah are preparing for.

The original production, at RAF Halton, with Mark Blackman and Sue Fox as Alex and Sarah.

I like to think it’s a positive play, that the underlying message is hopeful. But I don’t think that’s what brings people to perform the play. There are some very practical reasons why this is a good one to pick, particularly for One Act Play Competitions.

Firstly, the set is simple. In the original set we had three stage blocks on the left hand side of the stage that could be rearranged to represent whatever location was needed. On the right hand side of the stage we had a bedroom set – actually, just the bed. The right hand side is where Alex and Sarah are when the play opens, that’s “now”. Everything that takes place in the past occurs on the left hand side. We had a doorway between the two, but I don’t believe that’s really necessary. So the set is simple, and doesn’t require any special effects or furniture moving during blackouts.

The cast is small. Aside from Alex and Sarah, there are only two other characters, and they really only appear in cameo. It’s essentially a two-handed play, and those two actors get to really stretch their acting muscles as they run through the life this pair have had together.

There’s comedy. I think that’s inevitable in the plays I write, since there’s very little I can take seriously, but in this case it’s important. Alex and Sarah make each other laugh, and the play is about recognising the valuable parts of their history together and holding on to them – the laughter and the tears.

Finally, it’s about people. The proof that this play is universal came with the success of Alan Leung’s production in Hong Kong. Though we had to have lengthy email conversations to sort out the peculiarities of English idiom (Alan was translating into Chinese, an unenviable task. Apparently the Chinese don’t have an equivalent for the phrase “Under the thumb” when it comes to henpecked husbands…) The Hong Kong production did so well in the competition that it was restaged later on, a tremendous complement.

One of the posters for the Hong Kong production

And after all the positive things, what about the flip side? Is there anything I would like to change? Well the one thing I hadn’t considered when I was writing the play was costume. Alex gets by well enough in a variety of shirtsleeves, but poor Sarah has to go from “stranded business woman” to “bride” to “holidaymaker by the pool” and so on. Most groups have found their own ways around my lack of vision there – in the original production Sue Fox managed to find herself a simple business-style dress that unbuttoned quickly, and went for and equally easy to don wedding dress. There have been other, equally inventive solutions, as the pictures show.

The relationship between Alex and Sarah seems to be one that people can believe in. Perhaps it’s also one they can relate to. Of course, I’m delighted that the play is so popular, and hope there are many more performances of it around the world. If you have a production planned, or if you’ve taken part in one, please let me have some photos to add to the gallery pages.

If you have any questions about “A Time for Farewells”, either about the writing or the staging of the play, feel free to drop me a line at You can read “A Time for Farewells” and all my other published plays at