Category Archives: Writing



(Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/2.)

Theatre’s obsession with the new is magnified during the Edinburgh fringe. But as well as hunting out fresh talent, we need to ensure that artist development schemes support sustainable careers

A wall of flyers at the Edinburgh fringe. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

This week, hundreds of young companies and artists head to the Edinburgh fringe, full of excitement and hope. Many will be graduate companies emerging from the cocoon of college with their first piece of work; some will be returning for a second or third time, hoping that against the odds and in spite of spiralling costs this will be the year that puts them on the radar and helps them make those all-important industry contacts.

For the fringe in August is where the industry comes looking for new talent. A substantial number of theatres across the UK will have teams scouring the fringe looking for what they hope will be the next big thing. I know of one who will have at least 30 people coming and going over the festival’s duration.


(Graham’s play appeared in the Guardian, 7/18.)

In a new play written for the Guardian, the award-winning writer of political smashes This House and The Vote goes inside the Brexit bunker as its sweaty-palmed task force prepare to trigger Article 50

Dramatis Personae

Minister for Brexit Male, 40s, Tory MP

Permanent Secretary Female, 50s, from the Cabinet Office

Dale Special adviser, 30s

Erica Special adviser, 30s

Whitehall, London, 2016. Night time.

The offices of the hastily established Ministry for Brexit. A large map of Europe on the back wall. A screen showing global market activity.

The newly appointed Minister for Brexit is greeting his team of young-ish Spads, Erica and Dale, alongside the department’s new Permanent Secretary.

Minister (looking around) Christ, why are we in this mess?

Dale It’s what people voted for.


(Malcolm’s article appeared in the New York Review of Books, 6/23.)

In Anna Karenina, the day after the fateful ball, resolved to forget Vronsky and resume her peaceful life with her son and husband (“my life will go on in the old way, all nice and as usual”), Anna settles herself in her compartment in the overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg, and takes out an uncut English novel, probably one by Trollope judging from references to fox hunting and Parliament. Tolstoy, of course, says nothing about a translation—educated Russians knew English as well as French. In contrast, very few educated English speakers have read the Russian classics in the original and, until recent years, they have largely depended on two translations, one by the Englishwoman Constance Garnett and the other by the English couple Louise and Aylmer Maude, made respectively in 1901 and 1912. The distinguished Slavic scholar and teacher Gary Saul Morson once wrote about the former:



(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 4/22.)

"God's icy wind" does indeed blow onstage at one point in Ivo van Hove's new production of The Crucible, as predicted in the well-known speech that closes the play's Act 2. A wolf briefly roams the stage (actually it's a well-trained Tamaskan, a new breed with a lupine look), as wolves roamed Salem's roads in 1692. A girl levitates, as "bewitched" girls ostensibly did in Salem (and as Rwandan girls apparently did in the events dramatized last year in Katori Hall's Our Lady of Kibeho). Whatever one thinks of van Hove's direction (of which this is not a review), it evokes, undeniably, the source material in which Arthur Miller's familiar play is steeped. That grounding inevitably makes me think about the parallels between the Salem village witchcraft trials and the anti-Communist witch hunts of Miller's own time, both ancient events that still resonate today.


(Walsh’s play appeared in the Irish Times, 4/2.)

bare concrete room – the walls, floor and ceiling – all grey. A large rectangular window, without a curtain, is on the stage left wall. Facing this, against the stage right wall, is a row of three blue plastic chairs. High, and in the centre of the back wall, is a large LED number-display screen with the number 2986 showing. On the floor, in the corner, is a television showing a silent 10-second section of The Ray D’Arcy Show in which D’Arcy is introducing something. It’s stuck in a loop. But before all of that we’re in the darkness. A strong incessant music fades up. With it a flat light slowly shines through the window. A Young Woman, in her late 20s, sits in one of the chairs, holding a ticket and staring over at the television. After 30 seconds the music cuts. She talks to herself –


(Written by Van Driessen who writes about health and consciousness from the perspective of the practice of Christian Science. He is also the spokesperson for Christian Science in New York.)

Why aren’t we all grateful all the time? Perhaps, some of us have felt at times like the cartoon character Bart Simpson, who, when asked to say grace said, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” Bart wasn’t looking very far beyond the mashed potatoes in front of him.

But maybe we should look farther because–to name a few reasons–gratitude gives us more happiness,  more feeling of being loved and cared for, more motivation to help others, and even better sleep, according to lots of  research.

Abe Lincoln looked higher and gave his sense of why we should be grateful. He said:

“We have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation ever has grown; but we have forgotten God! We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

Lincoln’s attitude must have been part of the reason, in addition to recent victories by the Union in the Civil War, that he formally established a national day of thanksgiving that year, 1863. His proclamation said that the Thanksgiving holiday was to be “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in heaven.”

Perhaps I had some of Bart Simpson’s attitude in me, because it had been a while since I’d spent much time being consistently grateful. But  then I learned a lesson about the importance of gratitude to our health and wellbeing.

I was experiencing pain after eating, which had caused me to lose weight and feel weak a lot.  It didn’t seem I had much to be grateful for. I was in the habit of reading the Bible for both inspiration and healing, and at one low point I opened it to a verse that really caught my attention. It’s from Psalms and says: “I will praise thee (God), for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” What struck me was that if God made me and God is good, then health had to be part of the package. This message was like a command to me to be grateful in recognizing that God made me and that everything that God made worked for good.

So, I began to persistently thank God for making me so wonderfully. Over the next few weeks, the pain lessened and then disappeared, my eating returned to normal and shortly after that so did my weight and strength. To me, this kind of healing is not explainable as just mind over matter. I’ve found that the regular discipline of deepening my conviction of God’s reality and goodness replaces the fear that I believe contributes to sickness.

That healing happened six years ago now. And I guess you can say that I’ve replaced any vestige of a Bart Simpson attitude with daily gratitude for my health and for all the blessings Lincoln noted were the gifts of a beneficent Father.

© 2015 by Van Driessen.  All rights reserved.



The Tragic Hero

By Xi Zheng

O tomb, vaulted bride-bed in eternal rock,

Soon I shall be with my own again

Where Persephone welcomes the thin ghosts underground:

And I shall see my father again, and you, mother,

And dearest Polyneices—                                                               5

                                          dearest indeed

To me, since it was my hand

That washed him clean and poured the ritual wine:

And my reward is death before my time!


And yet, as men’s hearts know, I have done no wrong,  10  

I have not sinned before God. Or if I have,

I shall know the truth in death. But if the guilt

Lies upon Creon who judged me, then, I pray,

May his punishment equal my own.


In the play Antigone by Sophocles, the question of who the tragic hero actually is has been the subject of a debate. Different people have different thoughts about this question.  However, according to Aristotle, the tragic hero must be noble and have high status. There should be a tragic flaw that eventually leads to the character’s downfall. Antigone is a tragic hero because this is true of her. 

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(Avies Platt’s writing appeared in the London Review of Books, 8/27.)

Platt’s account of her meeting with Yeats was recently discovered by Peter Scupham in a carrier bag of diary entries and other bits and bobs. She died in 1976. ‘M.M.’ has not been identified.

One evening in the spring of 1937 I was in London, at the Grafton Galleries. The occasion was an open meeting of the Sex Education Society. This Society was an offshoot of the World League for Sexual Reform, and existed to further an enlightened attitude to all aspects of sex. The members were progressively minded men and women from many fields of life; some were humble individuals like myself; others were distinguished persons. The president was Dr – or, as he prefers, for he is proud of being a surgeon – Mr Norman Haire.

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(Saffran’s article appeared in Horse Directory Magazine, 5/3.)

It is night (or close to it), or is there a storm, in the first scene of the made for television adaption of the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. The horses are clomping along. Fortunately, the cameramen did not run into them, but then again, horses have night vision — it is part of what protects them from predators in the wild, so they know to avoid the cameramen. This is a candle/fireplace lit production, which explains why we see the profile of a distinguished black Spanish movie horse (from The Devil’s Horsemen, Wychwood Stud, Buckinghamshire, UK, Gerard Naprous, Horse master) but we cannot see much else.

The party is en route to Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor, played by the charm­ing Jonathan Pryce, to ask for his resignation. Once inside, the emis­saries are rebuked indirectly by Thomas Cromwell, portrayed by the  phenomenal, enigmatic Mark Rylance, who whispers advice in the cunning Wolsey’s ear. A great team. Then there are many changes of scenes — mostly all indoors without transition scenes of horses and riders going to the locations. After his wife and daughters die, Thomas visits his cranky, previously sadistic father (Thomas had to run away from home at an early age to escape his father or possibly from a stint in jail.) In this scene, Thomas’s father is still a work­ing blacksmith. Thomas walks to where his father is shoeing.

Where is Thomas’s horse in this scene? Young Thomas grew up around horses. It would have been more lively if Thomas rode into the stable yard, then his father would have asked him about what was probably an expensive horse, now that Thomas has moved up in the world — a way to counteract his father and a lost opportunity to reveal status in a class preoccupied society. While abroad, Cromwell fought for the French army in Italy in 1503, and then he was employed by Italians, who taught him about finance. Thomas also sold donkeys while in Italy.

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(Rushdie’s story appeared in The New Yorker, 6/1.)

In the year 1195, the great philosopher Ibn Rushd, once the qadi, or judge, of Seville and most recently the personal physician to the Caliph Abu Yusuf Yaqub in his home town of Córdoba, was formally discredited and disgraced on account of his liberal ideas, which were unacceptable to the increasingly powerful Berber fanatics who were spreading like a pestilence across Arab Spain, and was sent to live in internal exile in the small village of Lucena, a village full of Jews who could no longer say they were Jews because they had been forced to convert to Islam. Ibn Rushd, a philosopher who was no longer permitted to expound his philosophy, all of whose writing had been banned and burned, felt instantly at home among the Jews who could not say they were Jews. He had been a favorite of the Caliph of the present ruling dynasty, the Almohads, but favorites go out of fashion, and Abu Yusuf Yaqub had allowed the fanatics to push the great commentator on Aristotle out of town.