I started writing this blog as a way of chronicling my journey as a writer. Considering the last few years have contained several big beats in that story, I’ve been a little remiss in updating it so let me correct this now.
Today is the press night for An Adventure, the biggest piece of work I’ve created in my life.
Am I still allowed to say that? At what point in what I know is a fairly blessed career does it come off as indulgence or dishonest? I tell myself that it would be worse if you weren’t scared and that if you ever find a point where you’re casual about it then you’ve probably lost some care for the work. But that doesn’t stop you wishing you weren’t.
I’ve had my issues with critics in the past, though I think they’re usually passionate about the job and they have the potential to be useful for a range of perspectives on the same piece. It’s not them that makes me scared, exactly. They like what they like and in that regard, as I said to actors yesterday, every night is press night. I suppose what really terrifies me is that now is the point where you have to own the big decisions you’ve made with such cockiness when everything was still a hypothetical. Previews are done, the show you’ve got now is the show that people see over the next five and a half (!) weeks. There are no more excuses.
So I want to reflect a little on the process that ended up with this show. The origins of it go way back to me being on my MA and wanting to write about Mau Mau Kenya, and particularly the interaction between Asian and black Kenyans during that time. What has found its way to the Bush is a much “messier” version of the play I would’ve written straight after finishing my MA. I learned an absolute tonne about how to write on the course, what a well-made play looks like but since then I’ve learned a lot about my tastes too. I love a dramatically taut piece of writing, with twists and and secrets and reversals and huge events and it’s a skillset that’s served me well in television. But with both film and theatre, I love sitting in a space and luxuriating in a work, with the characters. This play is something I wanted people to feel like they could let envelope them.
Having said that, I suspect that since it has almost the reverse trajectory of a classic dramatic build it will perhaps feel anticlimactic to some. This is entirely what I’m seeking to produce, a replication of the feeling of the characters in the play – a life slowing, shrinking, not quite working out how you expect. But it’s one of those aforementioned big decisions that you have to own and accept that it won’t land for some people (that doesn’t mean though, as already stated, that it isn’t scary).
More broadly, I think our creative endeavours are as often motivated by lack as they are by desire. A lack of a certain face on a stage. A certain story. A certain style. For me, it’s mostly roles that are my drive. Roles outlive you as a writer and to create them is to leave behind a vessel for other to refill with whatever they wish. This was the first place I felt that lack.
It made me want to create these two Asian characters as romantic leads, across a span of ages, where they are mighty and complex and – yes, even happy at times. Madani said when we were talking about the marketing images that “brown people are never smiling in posters” and that made me laugh. As someone who was made some definitely unsmiley moments for brown characters, I wanted to rebalance my output a little.
That desire for romantic leads I think comes from knowing that there is a lack of my own in that I’ve fucking awful at relationships and am staying well clear of them for a while, yet there is nothing more I adore in life than seeing people in love. One of my favourite things is hanging out with couples who are really into each other. It makes me hopeful for the world. And that’s the last lack – the hopeful narrative. I’ve tried to put as many stories that have a hopeful aspect to them into the world as I can, even if it’s work like Murdered By My Father where the hope comes after the fact in the way it might change a life for the better via either a phone call to a charity or a better informed police officer.
In creating a mythology of my grandparents’ lives, one that I can share with my kids and their kids one day (when I sort myself out), I aim to honour their hope more than anything else. After all, it’s their own mythology of the future rather than one of the past that makes immigrants so daring. Unlike native inhabits, they know there is nothing romantic in the past, but if they were to cast their eyes further to the horizon, there might yet be a chance to find a good story for themselves. Whenever I despair about where I am or what I’m doing, I like to remind myself that immigration is an act of hope. I exist because people had hope that if they could not change the world, they could at the very least change theirs. The last post on this website is my paternal grandfather’s eulogy. I’m gutted he never got to see this play, though my maternal grandfather, thankfully did. That he came out smiling took six years of worry off my shoulders.
A final thought – writing this play has aged me. There’s a head-wrecking meta-dynamic going on within in it, in that it spans a lifetime and I can tell the parts that were written by the younger version of me and the older one. While it’s meant to showcase the people whose lives I wanted to write about, it’s as much a conversation with myself, a document of my own process.
Which is really what this blog is meant to be. Must do better.