Trojan Horse

‘Have you ever felt as if your soul leaves your body to look down on you? Sees all this mad creation around us? This desecrated earth. What we have done to our garden. Only it’s a picture of peace. No struggle. No brutality. It returns to the body. Feels the sensations of life. The two vibrate. Body and soul. You begin to shake. There is a beautiful feeling that helps you trust yourself. You know what it means, to be alive’. The Forest.

The smallest things, the simplest things, can be enjoyed as unencumbered. They console with their apparent attachment to the way things really are. They speak only of themselves as they present themselves. You can see them clearly. They have clarity.

I’m a writer and I appreciate the simple things, I really do. Yet I will insist on speculating.

It’s possible to go so deep in a few moments that you reach a place of utter stillness and calm. This could be the self, who you really are, and it can be nothing at all. It can be an empty space, and you may not get to go there very often. If you can you are doing very well. When you come out of it the world of phenomena expresses itself, what is apparent to you on returning from that empty space is ineffable on occasion. You can’t be blamed for thinking something you don’t have access to is at work, and if it makes you feel safe, well that’s not to be taken lightly.

Trying to get back to empty space (we do not exist) cannot be achieved without letting go of meaning. So much of what we encounter in our day to day life doesn’t seem real. So we bestow meaning on many things. Meaning is the best we can manage when we can’t get to the empty space. It’s what we give ourselves to help it all matter.

A whiskey with a friend can be a simple pleasantry, yet take a turn, and the whiskey becomes a trojan horse. It resonates, it contains within it an entire array of competing histories. Perhaps mourning comes to mind, betrayal, seduction, a whiskey can mean so much. Or nothing at all, and the nothing is only a forgetting. When a whiskey means nothing you have let the trojan horse into the gates. It’ll come at you later if you ever manage to sleep. There will be a lot of remembering rampaging through your neatly arranged mind whether you like it or not. You should never get involved with whiskey if you can’t answer what it asks of you.

A question is a trojan horse. Should it be answered truthfully or not at all? How many times do we give answers honestly? Dishonestly? Sometimes a question is not so simply answered – it is this or it is this or it is nothing at all. That’s when you have a drama.

It may sound exhausting to think of everything as a trojan horse but see how many more questions come out of it. Account for as many as you can, and maintain the sanctity of your Troy, meantime you can get into a complicated drama. We have to mean something before we can face the final truth of what must happen. Which is to die. We all hope before we get there we can have made a difference. We can have made our mark. We can mean something. We all find the empty space in the end. That is what we earn. Some get to go there a few times before the big nothing. So your drama can be how to answer the questions embedded in the things you do, the relationships you encounter, the life you make. So enjoy your whiskey responsibly, whatever it means. Write the resolution sober and you’ve probably done the job.

Be A Wise Man

I went to a reading of a play of mine this week. I had been warned by several friends that the people running it would tear the play to shreds.

Some friends were suggesting not to the rock the boat as these people are ‘industry’ and to experience the evening for what it is. Some went so far to say my career would be ‘over’ if I didn’t eat the shit sandwich.

The reading itself was useful, but I had deep reservations about the whole thing – which essentially was a takedown. When you are treated with contempt for simply paying for the experience of having your play read you do wonder if you’d ever countenance being in a room with that person again. The evening was a kind of narcissistic feed for that chap. He hated me. Christ, he went after me.

I have to say they had done their homework, they recontextualised info about me and my work that is available on the internet. They stole identities, denigrated the work of the fringe (it’ll never get off the fringe they said. I happen to love the fringe.) They trashed the play before suggesting its only hope lay in Dedicated Black Theatre Only. Talawa can have it that’s certain, I’d be delighted – Pat Crumper gave me one of the best notes I’ve ever had in my life when she was there and I made a little radio piece with them.

In a really surreal moment of contrived bullshit, they suggested my play (which has Faith as a theme) had ‘no place’ (topos – yes it does, it really does) – I have to say the guy’s take on an angry innkeeper as I optimistically tried to take my little play to the Bethlehem of their hearts wasn’t the best moment of my career. He was trying to put me in a manger. I can tell you unequivocally he can’t tell a wise man from an ass.

But for all of that, as I listened to my recording of the play and the feedback afterwards, I have to say it was a brilliant experience. Sorrow has been said to instruct the spirit and sometimes a bit of argy-bargy and a bit of bracing criticism puts hairs on your chest. Christ, I was so happy to discover people want to bring me down. Now I know I’m doing something worth your time.

It’s worth noting that my play genuinely didn’t appeal to some of the audience (in case you hadn’t gleaned that yet) – all I can say is thank you for being bothered to be there. Being bothered to try something keeps the world spinning round. I hope they continue to take a chance on plays, and I hope they get some pleasant surprises.

Also, I would like to thank the people who left feedback. Some of it was very invigorating and you can’t help feel something akin to happiness when you get a sense of connection. That’s what story is for – connecting and sharing and getting the hang of being in the world with other people.

So thank you to the director and the cast – the cast especially who came in at such short notice and committed to the play in the time that they had. It was beautiful watching them grapple with the play, and I know that when I begin work on the next draft they will have given me a bit of clarity and help.



How to find out what you mean…

Today I sat down and I tried to think about what people would say about my personality (I’m thinking mostly of people who don’t know me) if all they had to go on was my work?

Now there is a very handy tool called Watson IBM Personality Insights – which basically gives you a psych profile based on the words you use. When I run my plays through this it comes back with a series of insights, and I find myself interested in what it has to say. Sometimes it is surprising ‘does not consider art to be important at all’. That struck me and got me thinking. I was perturbed. What if I am actually a complete nihilist engaged in an occupation for which I have no interest at all? I spent 20 minutes staring into Klein’s The Void and it was one of the most moving experiences I have had in a gallery. Surely the computer is wrong? But what if it isn’t?

I don’t know how the tool generates these insights, but I’m pretty certain there is some science behind it. I’m going to try and find out a little more about it after this blog, and will then update based on what I discover.

You can get a trial of this before you have to purchase a full copy and it is fascinating to put your words through the process. The question I have is – given a play is ‘wrought’ and I’m writing from different points of view, which is necessary to create a drama, does the tool discern between something like a piece of journalism and a piece of fiction? Should it have to?

Try it and see what it delivers…

Here is my Twiter insight:


You are confident, social and unpretentious.

You are confident: you are hard to embarrass and are self-confident most of the time. You are mild-tempered: it takes a lot to get you angry. And you are excitement-seeking: you are excited by taking risks and feel bored without lots of action going on.

Your choices are driven by a desire for well-being.

You are relatively unconcerned with both independence and achieving success. You welcome when others direct your activities for you. And you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

I have to say on first sight of the above I am pretty impressed with what it has to say, but it cannot be the whole of me. None the less it is worth thinking about… I like what it is asking of me.

Here are the insights for a play I have written:


You are social, somewhat dependent and can be perceived as shortsighted.

You are respectful of authority: you prefer following with tradition in order to maintain a sense of stability. You are assertive: you tend to speak up and take charge of situations, and you are comfortable leading groups. And you are cheerful: you are a joyful person and share that joy with the world.

Your choices are driven by a desire for well-being.

You consider helping others to guide a large part of what you do: you think it is important to take care of the people around you. You are relatively unconcerned with achieving success: you make decisions with little regard for how they show off your talents.

You are likely to______

Reply on social media

Buy eco-friendly

Take financial risks

You are unlikely to______

Click on an ad

Follow on social media

Buy healthy foods

You should give this a go yourselves, you can be pretty certain that if you are a student at a University you will have been put through this process, and you should know how people are approaching your work and yourself. Most importantly it offers insights that are useful for your own thinking about yourself and your work. A useful, provoking tool.


I don’t think I’ll ever get over it

I turned in a play for a competition recently. I have to say, I put some thought into it.

Having turned it in I found myself with a pocket of time with which to stay away from the pens, notepads, and keyboard. I failed mostly but I had a go.

I went out and read a few stories, people clapped, they really seemed to enjoy it. I was happy, genuinely, and I think they were too.

I wassailed with some friends, and met some people and had long drunken conversations. I hadn’t done that for a long time. It was fun, and I can see why people like it.

But most extraordinarily of all I saw a scratch performance of a draft of a scene from the play I turned in. The writing was ‘old’ I had changed it for the turn in. What got me was how well acted and directed it was in a short space of time and how the actors really tried to make it what I must confess I am afraid it is – deeply unsettling and weird and conflicted and unfair and humorous and dark and disturbed and disturbing.

They really did it well. And the audience clapped.

I don’t think I’ll ever get over that.

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.


Devotion a film by Dan Horrigan

Screened nationally and internationally, award-winning short film.

A room in a house that’s a mausoleum. A husband and wife who have forgotten each other. A game they should not play.

As the anniversary of their daughter’s death approaches a couple must try to find a way to forgive and start over.

Written and directed by Dan Horrigan

DoP Fraser Watson

Sound Gideon Kahan

Soundtrack Franc Cinelli

Post by Foliage Films / Sky or the Bird

Augustina Seymour

Tim Daish

Marni Garfunkel