Being Deeply Offensive

It is a peril of writing that you are going to at points deeply offend people, and very possibly yourself.

Often, when searching for a response to something deeply offensive I find myself laying out that offensive and repugnant thing. Sometimes it stays on the page for a very long time indeed. Burning away at me. Whilst it’s there burning me up, and enraging me, my response to it becomes deeper and my conception of what is to be done about it becomes crystallised.

Of course, some offensive things can be dismissed by your core ethics without any stretch at all, but they persist in the world around you. To be aware of this is important. It’s a peril as well, a dangerous thing, you can imbue that thing with more credence than it deserves, that is the peril. Creon takes on a very persuasive countenance if the chorus is made up of orphaned children, and life is complicated. That’s why we have a theatre.

On the other hand, you can also go deeper into why you are offended. Why do certain tropes repeatedly play out and go around and around? They may not exclusively be your own beliefs, and yet you face them either first hand or second hand continually. It gets the point where you start to have to examine these beliefs and you have to examine your own poetics. Then you have to decide what action to take. I’m a writer and that’s how I take action. I also vote. Yet I am at a place now where this is not enough, for me, and I am considering how to take further action.

When you are called a racist in a notes meeting you can simply dismiss it with ‘no I’m anti’. But yes, you see the note has been given for a reason. If you dismiss a black woman in your play with the words ‘it’s not made for you’ you are indeed treading a thin line between critique and perpetuating. I explicitly trust the people who gave me this note, I consider them to be watchdogs. If I am being slippery, or vacillating, they are there to call me out. Good, that’s what we need.We all need somebody to call us out if we are failing.

And yet time and time again when we play out the same arguments, we satisfy ourselves with picking a side and consoling ourselves with our liberal and enlightened point of view. We all want to sleep well at night, safe in the knowledge we have done no harm.

And those arguments play out time and time again. It is not enough to say ‘I don’t subscribe’ because we can to try to show a better world. You can do this by showing the love, or you can do it by showing what happens when the love is missing – or a combination. You often see plays described as being about what is missing – what is missing is just as pertinent as what is shown.

As I said I’m anti – so it would be incorrect to simply starkly delineate the problem and leave it to be represented in that way, without the counter.

I have always considered the theatre to be a very clear distillation of the world. What I see on a stage has in the past, and shall continue, to inspire me to take up a position on the themes it surveys.

That is why I asked in the notes session for the dramaturg to consider where the character in question ends up – and it was here I knew the answer would be ‘you must decide’. I am asking the audience to decide on the destination, it’s an open ending full of the possibility of a better world.

It is within our power to grant freedoms to each other, it is within our power to bestow kindness on each other, we are all capable of releasing each other from the concerns of our egos. A place we trap other people like insects in resin, fixed, and incapable of changing.

We have the ability to bestow freedom on other people, to grant them the freedom they deserve. Perhaps we should consider this an important responsibility and bestow it on ourselves. There are of course many reasons to be afraid to do so, and being labelled racist is one of them. But I am hopeful of change, for the better, and for us all.


I’m sat at my desk, going through the large number of notes I have accumulated on a play I am writing.

I’m absolutely humbled and touched, I really feel the amount of thought that has gone into the feedback. At the risk of sounding sentimental, there was a time I didn’t have this. A time I had to go through the whole process without the level of support I have now.

It was a very taxing time and many projects withered to nothing. A lot of work stayed locked away. Now, that was a fortifying time, which gave me some endurance and insight. But it cost a lot, it cost a lot of pleasure, and it was a stinging and bruising time.

That time is in stark contradistinction to the generosity and abundance of thought that people have shown me today, and actually for a while now.

What that teaches you is to pass it on, and my advice to you is to find those people. They are out there, and they are genuine. The differences can be bracing, but you are all the better for it. The recognition is transforming.

Don’t give up.

Don’t I Get Your Belief?

Core beliefs and ethics are crucial to actors – they have to interrogate these in order to gauge how far or near their character they are in playable terms. In some instances, they have to find a way to play core beliefs that are not remotely their own. As you are no doubt aware, you can’t play something you humanly don’t understand.

So what are beliefs?

here’s a simple answer:

  • a feeling of being sure that someone or something exists or that something is true

  • a feeling that something is good, right, or valuable

  • a feeling of trust in the worth or ability of someone

But that doesn’t really cover the complexity of ‘belief’ because beliefs are often things that compel behaviour, and it is here that it causes great good and great damage. You see we all have different ideas about what we believe, and certainly different ideas about what we should do in the name of those beliefs.

Among Americans, 81 percent say they have always believed in God, compared to just 37 percent in Great Britain, 25 percent in Japan and 13 percent in former East Germany.

There are some statistics for you to think on, beliefs vary, and they cause conflict when one set of people try to foist them on another. That’s why people have evolved ideas along the lines of utilitarianism. A lot of people believe in live and let live, and go about your business freely as long as you let other people go about theirs. Sadly, any cursory glance at current affairs tells you this is not true in practice, but we like to believe it is.

Here’s another set of statistics

What do you believe those mean? A set of laws don’t guarantee we believe in those laws – and nor should they in all instances (21 it seems is not an option). Can you ‘believe’ women in the UK can be criminalised for an abortion in 2016?

Beliefs are tricky things, and fertile ground for a dramatist. I favour opposition to beliefs because I have been taught to write dialectically  – in the hope that out of applying pressure to received wisdom we might find something beyond the ordinary reach of what we believe, in order to progress a little more down the line of being human. What matters in storytelling, I think, isn’t always what we believe, or the way things are. We can reach for the way things could be, and we can find ways to represent them to each other.

If you can believe in that, you can believe in my plays.

Where Am I?

I had a good question come at me the other day, about some work of mine.

‘Where are you in this work?’
It was a good question, to which my answer was: the complication. I had spent time in the complication, at times setting it up, at times stepping into it. I had really turned it over and felt it.

People will tell you character is decision under pressure – that’s where the complication arises. I’m right next to the characters when they make mistakes, side by side when they try to put it right. The complication is the story as much as the outcome.

And the outcome? I’m not putting out a statement I’m raising a question. I’ve been told that’s the best way to do it and I agree.

I’m handing over the work now to a director and a cast to organise a rehearsed reading. I’m looking forward to it very much, and I hope the play brings them the same fun, complicated fun, it has brought me. I look forward to finding out where I am when its out of my hands.