Sunday, 13 June 2010

Why teenagers shouldn't necessarily be encouraged to write!

When I was in the 6th form, a school friend and I spent some time trying to write a play. This was in the mid-1960s, the heyday of the so-called “Theatre of the Absurd”, led by the great Samuel Beckett and the now-sadly-forgotten N. F. Simpson, and our production was intended to be very much in that vein. The curtain would rise to reveal a nondescript middle-aged couple watching television. On one side of the stage there would be a staircase ascending into the darkness. It would become apparent that the couple had never ventured up these stairs, nor did they display any curiosity as to what might lie at the top. The audience would be able to hear, though not to see, what was being broadcast on the TV, which would be of a distinctly surrealist character, during which the couple would exchange desultory and inane dialogue.

Every so often, other people would enter the stage. They would be generic types; a policeman, a poet and so forth, and each of them would have a different motive for wanting to climb the stairs. The couple would, of course, ignore them.
So far, so good, you might think. They trouble was, we had no idea of what should happen next, let alone what denoument (if any) there should be. Now it’s all very well for the audience not to be sure what might be found at the top of the stairs (in fact, usually in this sort of play, they’d be no wiser at the finish than they were at the start), but surely the authors ought to have at least some notion of what it all meant? Was the staircase perhaps a religious allegory, or what? And we simply hadn’t a clue.

So in the end we gave up, and our play duly took its place in that great gallery of abandoned projects, known to some as “the round filing-cabinet”. It was to be joined there some months later by a very different, though equally derivative, aborted production; a play for Easter, to be entitled “The arrest of Jesus, as performed by the cast of Z Cars”. Looking back, I’m inclined to believe that this latter effort was rather better, but before people start to have thoughts about mercy-killing, I’ll end by saying that that is (or to be more exact, might have been) another story.

P.S. Thought for the day:- “Youthful vanity and dullness, determined to write, will almost certainly write in the dominant form of their epoch” (C. S. Lewis; “The Allegory of Love”)


  1. As an member of that same sixth form, I'm curious to learn who your collaborator was.

  2. Christopher Barrand: do you remember him?