BookLearning: Orphans by Dennis Kelly

I can’t help it – I get horribly ‘retired middle-class’ at Christmas.  I buy the Radio Times, listen to the Archers.  I attempt quizzes of the year in newspapers. I invest time and interest in entire episodes of Midsomer Murders.  The patina of glossy adverts for stairlifts and cruise – ships holds my gaze.  I can’t help it, and I love it.


So I needed some acid to cut through this muzzy, smuggy love in, and it came in the form of Orphans by Dennis Kelly, which was recommended to me to read for a piece of writing that I’m working on.  It reminded me of one thing and taught me another; firstly – reading plays for pleasure can be exhilarating.  I used to work in the bookshop at the National Theatre – my best ever job in retrospect and one that I only appreciate now, at a sorry distance of nearly twenty years.  I used to read plays all the time – it was encouraged for you to be seen reading plays at the counter, on the shop floor, on your breaks.  People would ask for recommendations and I could be learned and suave and theatrical (life goals, basically).  And I could also swan around backstage and pretend to be in stuff.


Now I don’t want to be in stuff anymore, but reading Orphans reminded me that actually reading a play can be more emotionally powerful than seeing it performed, where there’s always the risk that it can be a bit shit or indulgent or forced.  But a well written play plays in my head just as I want it to – and it turns out that I am an incredible director.


No, it’s the play.  And this is the thing that reading Orphans made me realise.  I think that playwriting has changed more than other written form, in terms of what is permissible and how it is expressed.  I couldn’t stop reading Orphans, which I am not going to spoil for you because you should just read it.  But, in brief, it’s the story of a brother and sister and her partner and how they deal with something that the brother has done.  Wow, vague, cool.  But you should read it, because it bites.  It really fucking bites.  And I think back to the plays that I read, including the classics, and I think about how ‘unreal’ they seem in comparison.  They’re polished, but they take a lot of craft from the actor to sound truthful a lot of the time.  With Orphans, you feel as if you are experiencing the dilemma with them, the godawful messiness of the situation, which is not to say it is written ‘off the cuff’.  Because when you’ve got through it and are lying in a sweaty fever dream, you’ll realise that each character had an arc, had something to say. It takes a really brilliant writer to put it together so subtly and effortlessly, so that you don’t see his hand in the writing of it until after you’re done.

So my booklearning is this: reading Orphans has taught me to spend longer on my structure and planning and less time ‘perfecting’ the words.  More at the front end, if you like, as much as it pains me.


And it’s given me a beautiful New Year’s Resolution: Read. More. Plays.

Are you there God? It’s me, Nefny

So, the Daily  Prompt yesterday got me thinking .. what role does faith play in my life?  A gut reaction is it doesn’t.  I don’t really think about it.  The only things that I put my faith in tend to be random uncaring objects and events (if I cross the road before the yellow car passes me, then I’ll get the job).  Am I the only person who does this?   Besides, I don’t even do this so often anymore.  It’s an acting relic, gone but not forgotten.

Anyhow, I think yellow car syndrome belongs to the realm of superstition, hokum, old wives etc etc unless of course they miraculously work, in which case they become ‘a ritual’, like boxers doing their gloves up in a particular way or composers eating a specific brand of mint before they take to the stage.  But this debases ritual, doesn’t it?  Ritual is something mystic, informed perhaps, sacrosanct.  I think people who say they have rituals ‘pre-performance’ actually have ‘habituals’ in the cold light of day.  Bloody luvvies.

But before I disappear up my own behind entirely, let me ponder on my faith or lack of it.  What do I have faith in?  I’m baffled.  It’s not a God.  Okay, I called Him or Her or Them some pretty horrific names when dad died, but in truth I haven’t really done the legwork (churchgoing, meditating, observing) to use the Great Holy as a punching bag.  Christmas is a purely food based event in my house.  

Honestly, I envy people who have faith.  They have a purpose.  Without faith, what’s going on?  I mean, what the hell is in my head all day long?  I imagine that those who have faith carry it around with them like travel scrabble (but more intense and spiritual) in their heads and they can just dip into it when there’s nothing else going on.  That’s why they’re so positive!  So I can see why having faith is beneficial, although I don’t really know what the ‘faithful’ do when they have it.  Suggestions on a postcard, please.


When I think about who or what I have faith in, the answer is more straightforward:  my family.  They never let me down, and I accept the barbed comments and snide looks as the penance I must do to bask in their reflected perfection.  Otherwise, I have faith in the things that I love, but not always my ability to do them.  So I guess that I don’t have a lot of faith in myself, which probably influences my ability to have faith in anything else, which in turn is probably a legacy of my ‘yellow car’ days.  If you don’t believe in your talent to do the job, you have to lean on totems, don’t you?

Undoubtedly, if I had more faith in myself, rather than the travel scrabble in the sky, I would run faster, be published and have better hair.  Because I’d put in the time and effort.  It’s easier to sit on the sofa and think nasty thoughts about people who are doing the work, then do the work.


Do you ever write a post that comes so painfully close to the truth that as you write it, it feels like a hot potato in your throat? This was one.  Back to the drawing board….