Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Circle of Chalk

In 2004, ten years ago, I was a scrawny, heavily spotty teenager crossing over from secondary school to the world of College.  I had never really listened to music, been to a gig or thought much about politics beyond racism=bad.  By the time I left in 2006, and took my gap year I had fallen in love with punk and ska, dropped my religion due to A level Philosophy, fallen in love with political art due to Ken Loach in Film Studies and had a taste of left-wing politics in Modern History.

I also performed in a number of Youth Theatre plays as a member of York Youth Theatre.  I made friends (hopefully) for life, and performing The Trail on the Main Stage will stay with me as a defining factor in life.  The poster is still on my wall.

So it is such an honour that, 10 years later, I was commissioned by York Theatre Royal to write a play for their Youth Theatre.  A few years back, I wrote Gargoyles of York for their 5-8s which, though being about the secret fun gremlins of the city, was also a defence of the important buildings we have.
I was asked to adapt the old story of the chalk circle for one of their 16+ groups, which as roots in Brecht, Chinese crime drama and the Judgement of Solomon.  I managed to see the play last night, and was so incredibly proud of the cast for their hardwork and beautiful story-telling, and thanks to their directors Julian and Lizzie for bringing the best out of the cast.

But the best element was coming out and debating and discussing the themes of the play, the styles used and the fantastic performances with my mates.  Also shout-out to the other 16+ group, who created a visceral and visual madcap performance of Mr Puntila & His Man Matti.

They’re on again tonight, 6.30 and 8.30, make sure you get down to York Theatre Royal!

I wrote The Circle of Chalk in the summer of 2014 whilst politicians and voters debated the pros and cons of Scottish Independence.  This year we’ve seen more conflict in the Ukraine and Palestine.  In the streets of the UK, the EDL and Britain First have sworn No Surrender singing “I’m England till I die” and Clacton put its support being the United Kingdom Independence Party.

Brecht wrote his adaptation of this ancient story in 1944, after fleeing his homeland of Germany to escape the rise of the Nazi party, a group infamous for their belief in the power of nation, country and family ‘purity’.  His version is also written from the perspective of Soviet Russia asking its citizens to redefine how the land should be used.

The Circle of Chalk is a story of duty, parenthood and the failings of the legal system.  It’s a play about love and surviving through strife. 

What makes a nation: is it the patrolled borders, the historical lines on a map or the cultural melting pot of its people and places?  Who decides what is home-grown or alien, who defines who belongs?

It is the next generation who will also redefine these lines.  The future is unwritten, the past can be rewritten and in the present day, Youth Theatre casts deserve rich texts to explore these deep ideas of politics & the personal.

Saturday, 8 November 2014


I really wanted to write a blog about the slam myself and Stu Freestone put on last week immediately after the excitant of the gig itself, but one thing led to another and it’s taken me a while to get round to it.

Essentially, I’ve always found York a very literature and page-poetry heavy city.  That’s in no way a criticism of that style or genre of writing, I have the utmost respect for the nights which cater for poets who like to casually share their thoughts.  The positives are obvious, a safe, pleasant space.

But as someone more interested in the performance side to poetry, I wanted to run a slam for some time.  Teaming up with fellow poet Stu Freestone, we decided to go for Say Owt Slam.  The core idea is, it will be regular enough to be on people’s radars, but not too regular that it becomes stale and samey.  It will try and feature guest poets, and I hope these will represent the LBGTQ+ community, as well as female and poets-of-colour, and also bring poets to York who would not necessarily gig.  But importantly, the idea was it would be an exciting, dynamic and fun-fuelled space for noise and commotion.

We weren’t disappointed.  The crowd brought their energy and spirit making it a lively night, but more importantly each poet was absolutely top form.  Brilliant comedy poems, brilliant political poems and brilliant performances.  I was seriously blown away by such energy.

Here’s a review

Here’s the next one