Friday, 29 March 2013


Every year I surprise myself at wanting to write about how significant this week is in the liturgical calendar. Five years since distancing myself from The Church, I still find an immense resonance in the narrative of the Passion of Christ.  Our need to understand the myth of redemption, pitted against the struggles of our broken world, and the massive dramatic impact of the story continue to move me.

Last year, I used the ‘Fettenear Banner’ in the Museum of Scotland to reflect upon my reaction to Christ’s suffering. His heavily-flagellated flesh reminds me of the Isenheim alterpiece by Grünewald; the pliars tell the grim reality of the nails that pinned those crucified to whatever cross-shaped frame the Romans used. I spoke, in my poem, of the ‘spitting Jew’ – a gruesome depiction of how crowd-mentality can turn on someone and inflict inordinate suffering – often to assuage their own complicity or guilt.

These days we have tabloid journalists spitting vitriol; radio and television interviewers publicly humiliating people; and those who sit in judgement in our Law Courts applying the same demotic scourge that sells the papers, or, at least, makes headlines. There is, inevitably, hypocrisy within hierarchical Institutions.  All public figures whether priests, poets or politicians, teachers, actors or musicians are ripe for a whipping, stoning, or shitting-on from high.

Yet who may throw the first stone?  The 'one without sin' is what the Gospel tells us. Sticks and stones, spitting and hitting, slander and libel are all in the Bible, but I ask you: what right has a BBC journalist to call someone a ‘nasty piece of work’ – no matter what you think of the man in question?

We like to see the mighty fallen.  Even the words ascribed to the Mother of Jesus sung at the Annunciation tell us how God has (or will?) “Put down the mighty from their seat.” (Luke, 1) This – and the complex issue of who, or what, is God – may be open to interpretation, but the popular expression ‘playing God’ has some weight.  Who has the right to assume such a High Position?  St Luke, again, reminds us: “He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”

There is a beautiful prayer (I prefer to say ‘poem’) in Church of England liturgy which says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”  We all fail, of course.  It is part of our human condition.  But it is how we attempt to make sense of this failure, whether through faith in God, interpretation of the Gospel story, or belief in ourselves that gives us strength to continue.

Tomorrow, on Holy Saturday, my monologue Malchus Hears will form part of an Easter Play, CrossWords, being performed in Princes Street Gardens. It is about Peter who, we are told, chopped off the ear of one of the servants, as Jesus was about to be arrested.  In my ‘reading’ of this episode, Malchus hears the words of Thomas Traherne as they take Christ away.

I will not by the noise of bloody wars and the dethroning of kings
advance you to glory: but by the gentle ways of peace and love.

Thomas Traherne, Centuries of Meditation – I; 4.

We all know that Peter, when the cock crew, was devastated, and wept bitterly.  Not only had he denied his friend, he had deceived himself.  He may have felt humiliated, but Christ – who lifts up the humble – loved him still.  Richard Holloway tells this story better than I can.

Can we forgive ourselves? I hope so.
Could Peter?  I think so.
Will ‘Society’ ever forgive?  I doubt it.  

And that is why this world remains broken, in spite of Christ’s suffering.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Three Colours Blue

When I was a child (not wishing to give my age away, two days before my birthday) a song, or rather, chant was sung in the playgrounds, on the terraces, or on the TV and the radio.  It went something like this…

Blue is the colour,
Football is the game;
We’re all together
And winning is our name.

I’ll come right out with it: I hated that chant so much it sickens me that I know which football team it was about.  I hate football.  I despise the aggressive competitiveness it harbours; not to mention the sectarian attitude it engenders.  And the game itself bores me to nausea.

However, there are plenty more associations with the colour ‘blue’ – the theme for this year’s poem-cycle – that create a reaction in me, whether in my intellect, my emotions, or my guts.

And that’s what this month’s ‘Canto’ is all about.

Twelve Tones of Blue

Canto III:   Threes; colours of blue, and character-centres: heart, brain, guts.

Canto III

            Tripartite: pale and deep and little-boy baby
            Collar, stocking, about-to-set-sail navy
            Royal, Oxbridge, Tory

            Camberwell Beauty, bottle or bell
            Bird or berry, whale or jell
            A print, report or censorial pencil

            Jarmon, Kieslowski, or pornographic flick
            Darling of the moment, cheese or microchip -
            All of these: the brain and heart and guts of it.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013


All decent writers will say that to write, you need to read.  Lots.  A decent playwright, therefore, ought to go and see lots of plays.  

And if one is yet emerging as a writer, attending any performances, readings, workshops, discussions and read-throughs is equally vital. To a fledgling, aspiring writer, the main drawback in this is money. 

During August in Edinburgh we are swamped with so many opportunities to see theatre, comedy, cabaret, spoken-word, dance and drama, it is overwhelming.  If you are a struggling artist, Festivals can fleece you.  

But ignore them at your peril!

When I first moved to Edinburgh, the Festival Season gave me the buzz I needed to get me through the remaining eleven months.  How mistaken I was!  Edinburgh is The Festival City for eleven months of the year (I can’t include January: most of us harbour a cold and stubborn hangover for that grim month) In February, however, it all kicks in again.

In the past few weeks, I have been to plenty of plays, at all sorts of times of day.  The lunchtime Play, Pie & Pint season is in full swing at the Traverse (I went to 3 Seconds by Lesley Hart.) I saw a matinee performance of a new play, Too Long The Heart by David Hutchison, produced by Siege Perilous, which had a similar bungled-abduction plot to Gregory Burke’s Gagarin Way, staged recently by Black Dingo.

Both of these were in Leith: a place where community theatre and grass-roots collaborations seem to be constantly bubbling up.  The Village Pub Theatre is another emerging Institution which allows new writers the chance to have material presented in the now well-established format of ‘rehearsed readings.’ The atmosphere, in a back room of a back-street pub, is one of immense support and enthusiasm.

I could add to this the eclectic world of spoken-word, cabaret-style and storytelling mix that is the Speakeasy, or Rally & Broad, Illicit Ink, Inky Fingers, 10Red, Blind Poetics, Shore Poets, Caesura and many others that I’ve yet to discover.  The point about all these is that they support each other, and value one another for their contribution to The Arts.

My part in this, as a writer, performer, and above all, partaker, is to offer whatever I can. So I have got a handful of writers from the Traverse Fifty to come together next Monday and share some of their recent writing – work in progress – and let actors read the words, allow folk to give feedback, and encourage people to mix, make new contacts, have a blether. 

If you have read this, and like what I say, invite people.  

Invite them to visit this blog; invite them to tweet, share, like and attend; invite them to get involved; invite them to engage in the magical, transformative, and life-changing phenomenon that is Theatre.

And invite them to this: