9/21/2016 7 Comments
1. What was your inspiration for creating F*cked.com – A Tale of Bubbles and Crashes?
This was observing some bubbles - the staggering delusions that have grabbed hold of the minds of many millions of people three times since the year 2,000, in the markets themselves, but in the other spheres of life that were swept up too (namely the dot.com mania in 2000, the sub-prime frenzy of 2007, and the current bout of speculation) and then noticing that the phenomenon has never been portrayed on stage, or in fiction.
As I mused on the subject, it occurred to me that the all the writers who covered the events in these periods identified corruption as the driver of the process. But while Enron, The Big Short, Wall Street etc are fantastic dramas which I couldn’t hope to emulate, it seemed to me they had missed the point when it came to financial market speculation, and that the truth was much more unexpected and probably more interesting than plain old corruption, and would revolve around the questions: how can we all, not just financial types, periodically abandon our reason? How can we think we are being rational and objective when we’re not, when it’s our environment and our emotions that are dictating our thought? How come brilliant people are no better at figuring out what’s going on, that intelligence doesn’t help? I think these questions are not just relevant to trying to understand markets, but ourselves.
In a way, the best dramatic portrayal of financial bubbles and crashes is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, because it gives a genuine insight into how a group frenzy can occur. Miller was brilliant at seeing how demented and destructive people can be when they think they are being rational.
2. Where do you do your writing?
I only ever write between 9.30am and 3pm, when my concentration, never great, rapidly wanes, but the location can vary. I once heard of a writer who wrote going round and round the Circle Line in the London Underground, and always rather liked that idea. Infinity would give you enough time for adequate revision.
2. Do you have a favourite line or moment in the play?
Yes. I have a friend who recently had a manic episode. One evening he turned up, sat down in my sitting room, and began holding animated discussions with himself. He then suddenly ran out, saying he was going to commit suicide. I chased after him, and called the emergency services, but we couldn’t track him down. Later in the evening he wandered in again, and picked up his conversation with himself. Then the police came, and one of them took me aside and told me that when I’d lost track of him after he turned into the High Street, he’d slipped off down into the tube station on the corner, and thrown himself onto the tracks. A train had actually gone over him but not touched him. He’d then climbed out between the carriages, and come back to my sitting room, to sit back in front of the TV. Eventually an ambulance came and they bound him and took him off to a secure psychiatric ward. When I visited him in his bolted room with sealed windows a day or so later, he was doped, but still disturbed. At one point he leaned forward and said to me, confidentially, “Some of the people here worry me.” I thought, in the circumstances, this was a great line, and included it in the play when one of the characters is in a psychiatric institution.
If you had to give F*cked.com a theme tune what would it be?
I’d like to write the lyrics for a new song if I could find a composer. I toyed with somewhere including Tom Lehrer’s ‘Selling out’.
5. What are you most looking forward to about having your play staged at the Traverse?
Seeing which bits work and which bits need work, courtesy of a sophisticated audience.
6. Do you have a favourite Edinburgh haunt?
My daughter Hannah lives in Edinburgh, and my favourite place would be wherever she is.
Otherwise, the marvellous art gallery. Edinburgh is obviously a majestic city with countless wonderful haunts – that said, I’m half Glaswegian, so that city has to have a place in my affections, too.
7. What’s been your most memorable theatre experience?
Maybe watching a children’s show when my son Joseph was still inside the tummy, and noticing him kick in time to the music; now that he’s been out for a few years he is interestingly still hyper-sensitive to sound, so perhaps personalities really do develop in the womb. I remember seeing another show when a tide of emotion, which you could almost see, suddenly rippled over the audience, and you knew that from that point that the audience were on board and had bought into the show. I always love seeing Shakespeare because you know that no matter what the quality of the production you can be thrilled by the language, so a Shakespeare production is a risk-free proposition. Ranjit Bolt’s Tartuffe at London’s National Theatre was a specific high point.
8. What’s been the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve been given?
I love advice, and I’d cite three pieces of it. I read that the playwright Duncan McMillan said: don’t write what you think people like or ought to like, or what you think theatres want, write what you yourself would like to see. I think that’s a good principle for everybody trying to write for the stage. In my case, it’s encouraged me to put in lots of plot/story, and as much action and spectacle as possible. David Hirson the playwright once told me: be extreme! Moliere was extreme. Thirdly, Timberlake Wertenbaker said: people write plays with the characters sitting around in a room all the time, and that’s dull – people’s imaginations are rich, and you can set scenes anywhere you like, and change scenes too, and that will make it more interesting.
9. If you could put together your dream cast to perform in any play, who would they be and which play would you choose?
In finance there’s a thing called ‘The efficient markets theory’ which basically means that the price of a share makes sense – it accurately reflects all that we know about it and its environment. Actors live in an inefficient market. That is, there are lots of absolutely top class actors who are not that famous but who are better performers than some with Oscars and Knighthoods/Damehoods. I think this is particularly true of Scotland, where there is a wealth and depth of amazing acting talent. So the dream cast would include brilliant professionals who are not necessarily the biggest names. But, who specifically, I’d prefer not to say here and now.
10. Finally, describe F*cked.com in three words.
A different take.
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