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Friday, March 05, 2004

I went to the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich last night to see "Neville's Island", a play written by Tim Firth when he was 28. Or so I thought. A newspaper cutting on the wall in the foyer claimed he was actually only 26 when he started writing it. Which I hope isn't true, otherwise I may have to kill him. I felt better a few minutes later though, when the girl entering the auditorium in front of me said to the usherette "Do you know who wrote this play?". I was mentally chuckling about the fact that someone would pay fifteen quid to go and see a play without knowing who wrote it, when the usherette almost made me choke on my polo mint by replying "I've absolutely no idea". So there you go. You can be one of the country's top playwrights and TV writers, and have scripted an internationally acclaimed movie, but even people working in a theatre surrounded by huge posters bearing your name in big orange letters haven't got a clue who you are. That's what happens when you don't have your own website.

Anyhoo, the play was mostly very good. The set was without doubt the finest I've ever seen. They'd chopped down half of Rendlesham Forest to create it, and the actors arrived on stage by swimming in from the wings. It was very impressive.

Much like 'Art', a play which proved to me that you don't have to write a single funny line in order to get an audience laughing, I was encouraged by the fact that a theatre full of middle aged couples will seemingly laugh at anything. Particularly an amusing facial expression. I really should write a few more of those into my plays. Less encouraging was the fact that some of the genuinely clever and witty lines seemed to be entirely missed by 99% of the audience, who were too busy waiting for the next pratfall.

But the play itself was well written, dashing my hopes that perhaps I'd have my ego boosted by finding that Tim Firth was churning out rubbish at my age. Sadly it wasn't the case. My theatre-going companion (who shall remain nameless, mainly because I'm too embarrassed to admit that it was my mother) claimed that as good as the play was, it wasn't up to the standard of my latest effort. But then she's genetically programmed to say that. If I wrote a shopping list, she'd declare it a work of genius.

Following the play was an 'after-show talk', which was half the appeal for me, making it all the more puzzling why the class of 6th form drama students in the front row all chose to leave before the talk started. Presumeably they felt they had nothing more to learn. And they probably had to be up for college at 2pm this afternoon. But anyway, the 'talk' consisted of the director, Peter Rowe, and the four cast members sitting on the stage and saying "Are there any questions?". Fortunately there were. Mostly from the two teenage members of Ipswich Youth Theatre who clearly saw their chance to be noticed by a theatre director, and kept the questions rolling in.

Amusingly, an entire row of people then identified themselves as Chelpin Players, the Chelmondiston amateur dramatics group who are putting on this same play next month, and who (as discussed in this blog on 30th January) have no idea who Tim Firth is either. They spent most of their time asking if they could have the trees from the set when the play closes in two weeks time. I also enjoyed the moment when Peter Rowe asked why they were so interested, and they proudly declared "We're Chelpin Players!", then paused for effect, waiting for some immediate recognition, whereupon a stage full of people looked back at them blankly. It was soon after that, that the words "I think we'll close this talk now" were heard.