The first week of the Edinburgh Fringe is probably not the best moment to announce I'm making a new show. But this is, at least, peak time for reading about theatre, so I'll take my chances and let you know something:
I'm making a new show.
The material is already different to what I said it would be before I started work, and it'll be different again by the time it's finished. But here are some sketches of what I currently think it's about.
I'm instinctively sympathetic to independence movements. I'm instinctively hostile to borders and particularly to the creation of new ones. But new independent states inevitably lead to new borders, new checkpoints, new illiberal immigration policies. It's hard to see this contradiction being resolved. So the show as I currently understand it is an attempt to pursue this argument between two incommensurable positions, both of which I hold.
It's a made-up story set in a tottering oligarcho-fascist sort-of Britain, run by an oppressive President who is absolutely definitely not Theresa May, no, nothing like her. From this crumbling country micro-states no bigger than villages are declaring independence left right and centre. Will everyone please stop declaring independence, says the exasperated President, who in no way resembles Theresa May, why would you think that.
It's also a really-happening sequence of events taking place in this theatre, relying heavily on the presence and activation of its audience. Some of you will join me on stage and play a game of jenga to the death. You will collectively play the oppressive President. Some of the words in the show will be different tonight because of things you said or did. If you want you can have some toast.
Many of these ideas may well not make the next draft.
If I had to write the flyer copy right now, I would describe the show as "the exposed gearbox of a political thriller". The image would be me clutching an AK47 and the stuffed toy mouse I had as a child. Had, and - full disclosure - still have. If I had to write the flyer copy right now, I would have to come up with a title.
These crumbs of content and form are an evolution from the starting point of the process, which was an investigation into notions of "security" - the things we do to make ourselves safer, many of which end up making us a good deal less safe. The walls we build. The fears that make us safer as well as those that don't. For the moment these starting points continue to inform what I think the show is - maybe this will remain so; maybe it won't.
The most consistently difficult and frustrating question continually asked as artists is "where do you get your ideas from?" This question fundamentally misunderstands the process of making work as I understand it. I don't have ideas. I map out territory that seems of interest, and I keep exploring it until I find something surprising - a story element, a counter-intuitive fact, a theatrical moment. Enough surprises put together in a sufficiently satisfying order and you have a show. Which makes it sound easy, but I know I'm going to need the full year between now and the show's opening.
First though, a week off, walking in the Lake District. Then I'm going to start a new draft and hope to finish it before my daughter is born in early September. At that point I'm going to disappear from the face of the earth before re-emerging to do a half-hour scratch at the West Yorkshire Playhouse on the 5th of October. By that point I hope the show will have a title. And indeed half an hour's worth of scratchable material. PLEASE COME.
The show will premiere in Edinburgh almost exactly a year from now - whereupon I hope one of you will attempt to distract attention from it by announcing your own show for 2018. And although as of this moment very little of my new show exists and it doesn't have a title, it does have generous support from Arts Council England and a string of brilliant commissioners as long as your arm. So I can't really back out of making it now. Those commissioners are: Harrogate Theatre, HOME Manchester, Norwich Arts Centre, Oxford Playhouse, Unity Theatre Liverpool and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. Producing, as ever, will be the extraordinary Annabel Turpin and ARC Stockton. These are wise and generous organisations that present, produce and support terrific work. They can't all have called this wrong. The only conclusion available is that my new show is going to be a remarkable work that changes the face of theatre as we understand it. So that's a load of my mind.
Fortunately I have a creative team the envy of the western world. Director Alex Swift has two shows in Edinburgh right now - Heads Up by Kieran Hurley and How to Win Against History by Seiriol Davies. Both shows are doing ridiculously well so it's good of Alex to set me up as his hat trick ball. Dramaturg Sarah Punshon spent Friday with me on this project, as a result of which I have any sense at all of what this show is. Hannah Sibai is designing and Katharine Williams is lighting. They're all awesome.
I haven't got anyone on board for sound yet but for that half-hour scratch at West Yorkshire Playhouse as part of Furnace on 5 October, I'm more than a little delighted that joining me on stage will be the incredible Steve Lawson, who will improvise a soundtrack to whatever I'm doing. PLEASE COME.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will