I’m currently rewriting and reformatting another play I wrote just after I’d finished Henry Barstow at the start of the year. Having done a short bar play I decided to launch full force into a full length one, using something that wouldn’t require that many stage changes. If the play was easy to put on then it’s more likely to find an easier time getting a venue to do it. There are no guarantees that Carlisle Green Room will want another play after Barstow finishes its run in September so I thought I’d have to look further afield with whatever I came up with next.
As detailed before, I usually write the first five minutes of a play or script without planning what’s coming next. If I like it then I’ll do all the work towards the story line. I was reading the sports pages in my Sunday newspaper one day last year and, at the end of an article about football’s transfer window closing for the season, there was a quote from an agent saying ‘The final hours of the transfer window are the stage play waiting to be written’. Taking him up on that I attempted to put together the story of a young player facing the choice of staying with the smaller team for which his late father was a legendary player or moving on to riches in the Premier League. The whole thing was going to take place in a hotel as the clocks ticked towards midnight and he found himself embroiled in conversations with his agent/manager. There would be this massive decision to make at the end that would effect his entire career.
Once I’d written the first few pages though I came to a sudden realisation, it wasn’t going anywhere. What I had written only really amounted to three characters having an argument in a hotel. Whilst it may have appealed to football fans who knew the ‘lingo’ and were aware of what a transfer window means it was difficult to make it palatable to anybody else. It’s something I’ve always liked about Nick Hornby’s book ‘Fever Pitch’. Whilst the book was about Arsenal and supporting the club it jumped the boundaries of one football team and gained readers from other clubs and those that followed different sports entirely. Deep down it was a story about masculine obsession and modern day tribalism. It’s a book so well written it forces its way out of any pigeonhole it might have been pushed into. My story meanwhile, was heading towards being something more about human greed at near farcical levels. It was utter crap and I ditched it one night after realising it just wasn’t going to flow in its current form.
A flash of inspiration came afterwards when I caught a BBC4 documentary on the life of the late comedian and gameshow host Bob Monkhouse. When the programme detailed the man’s career in TV they examined an period of time when he was sacked from his job fronting The Golden Shot because of allegations of taking bribes from the show’s sponsors, an accusation he always denied. Not only did Bob return to stand up after losing his job but he was also forced to do his last episodes knowing that he was being shown the exit door and the identity of his replacement. It’s fantastically uncomfortable viewing, he goes from being a wonderful host to the contestants to snapping and being offhand with everybody else around him. There’s a wonderful tension during the show.
Via the magic of Youtube I’ve managed to find the programme in question.
Whilst not wanting to do a play based on the life of Bob Monkhouse (because I don’t think I’d be able to do the man justice) I became very interested in the idea of a sudden turn in a man’s career, where he’d came from and what he was going to do afterwards. I also became a little bit obsessed with gameshows from the 1980’s and the attitudes on display. In one fantastic piece of footage from Bullseye, presenter Jim Bowen asks a black contestant where he’s from. Upon hearing the response of ‘Birmingham’ he then questions the guy as to where his parents are from. Not one person in the audience bats an eyelid at a line of questioning that would be deemed deeply racist and offensive if used today. I found it something of an eye opener that this kind of thing was broadcast on TV within my lifetime. It seems strange to think but back in the 80’s we used to get Russ Abbot prancing around on national TV on a Saturday night dressed like this…
So I have a play set on a game show set in the 1980’s and I’m attempting to come up with jokes that a 2012 audience might find a little uncomfortable. I’m also trying to include some of the politics of the time but this is proving one of the main problems with it so far. The political aspect seems wedged in by force and only there as a short hand way of getting across different character’s attitudes. My main character, the soon to be ex-host of the game in question, is a man who has risen from the dark club circuit and is now determined to keep as much of his money as he can. He comes across as a little bit intolerant of minorities and a failed womaniser but this isn’t to suggest he does this with any great intent, it’s just that he doesn’t know any different. It’s a difficult balancing act to keep him likeable whilst doing all that.
I’ve left Draft One alone for a couple of months now. Without any deadline hanging over it that’s a luxury I can afford. Now begins the process of pulling everything together from a few fragments and finally formatting the thing afterwards so it actually looks like a play rather than a film in one location. Once that’s over we release it into the wild.