We’re just about to enter week three of rehearsals for Tiny Heroes, unless you count the weeks we spent making it the first time, or the second time. Yet despite it being probably the most rehearsed of my shows, I don’t imagine you’ve heard of it, because no-one notices the things that don’t tour to regional theatres. Or indeed, no-one notices the things that don’t tour to London or the Edinburgh Fringe. By which measure, since everything I’ve finished in the last year has been community-focused, you probably think I haven’t made a show in years.
So before I get on to anything else, since you haven’t heard of it: Tiny Heroes is a show about acts of heroism, small and large, and about the dangers of the very idea of heroism. At its core are stories of often virtually invisible acts of heroism, sourced from the communities with whom I worked when developing it. It was originally commissioned by the Bike Shed in Exeter and Beaford Arts in North Devon. It ran for two weeks across those two places in February 2016. The second time round, we made a new version for Leeds and it ran for a week there in December 2017. This third version brings together some of those stories along with some new ones and some we’ll collect along the way, to create a sort of national tapestry of arguments about heroism. It’ll be on the road on and off throughout 2019.
Since The Price of Everything I’ve found political optimism harder and harder to maintain, but I still think it is the only responsible political choice. Yes, we probably are all a bit fucked, but to act on that basis is to do nothing. It’s no coincidence that my bleakest show (or at least, my show with the bleakest ending) is also my award-winningest. That show, Going Viral, was also about grief, so I was finding optimism especially hard. But generally, I think hope, though it’s hard, is worth the effort. So it’s nice to get back into Tiny Heroes, which, while acknowledging that we only need heroes when things have already gone badly wrong, celebrates dozens of causes for optimism. With songs.
Hero of the week: we’ve been rehearsing at Slung Low’s new gaffe, the Holbeck Working Mens’ Club, after an unfortunate double-booking elsewhere left us, at short notice, without a room. I wasn’t going to ask Slung Low, because they’re literally building the venue as we speak. But I did a shoutout on Facebook and Alan stepped into the breach, tall dark handsome stranger that he is. I know a lot of people whose values infuse their work and the structures they build around it. I try to do this myself. But no company I know does it with such ferocious rigour as Slung Low. Heroes all.
Confession of the week: I promised myself I’d do a blog post a month this year and here we are on the third of February. The thing is that imagined posts inflate in my head until they just seem like far too much work. Then I saw Annabel is doing weekly blogposts and thought, that’s an idea. (Annabel is, as ever, an inspiration.) A shorter one every week oughtn’t to be impossible. Sometimes I’ll talk about my work, sometimes I’ll talk about the industry, sometimes I’ll talk about politics, just depending on what’s been going on in my week. I can put a photo from the week at the top, maybe another. And at the end I can do a little rundown of stuff I’ve read/seen/done, like this:
Show of the week: hard to see this becoming a regular feature as parenthood means I see very little at the moment. But I loved Third Angel’s Department of Distractions. In lots of ways it’s a massive departure for Third Angel: it looks and smells like an Actual Play. Despite that, it is stuffed full of all the things you want from Third Angel, with the bonus of an incredibly satisfying plot. It’s choc-a-bloc with Pynchonesque, Twin Peaksy details, my favourite being the bloke who fakes his own death several times a day. About halfway through I found myself thinking it had a curious absence of politics, but then, in the next scene, there they were. And the ending plays out in a few different ways depending on the politics of what you think is going on. It’s a great script by Alex Kelly. The cast are great. The entire design team – Bethany Wells, Heather Fenoughty, Katharine Williams – have done rich things that keep it alive and moving before the story kicks up a gear. I really liked it, and I’m still thinking about it, and I'll be thinking about it for a while.
Third Angel have been a hugely important company for me: their work is really different to mine, three or four of their shows that have influenced me profoundly, and I still carry them with me. The first of them was pushing twenty years ago, but there it still is, in my head, no doubt getting further and further away from whatever it was actually like.
Telly of the week: In about forty minutes it’s the final episode of the BBC Les Miserables. I love it. The novel is overblown and melodramatic and you can absolutely understand how the musical got to be like it is. But this adaptation puts back in all the context and the politics that the musical denuded, and that are what make the novel so remarkable. People often remark how extraordinary it is that a mainstream musical was made about mid-nineteenth century revolutionary French politics – and of course this would never have happened without the subsidised sector. But it’s not really about the politics, is it? What I love about this TV adaptation is that without sacrificing the entertainingly hokey plot, it puts that political context right back at the centre. Every episode opens with an image of widespread human misery that somehow then haunts the rest of the episode. Thirty-five minutes. I should just have time to get this post up before it starts.
Book of the week: I’ve just finished Johnny Muir’s The Mountains Are Calling, which is about hill running in Scotland. It’s fabulously enjoyable if you like that sort of thing (and I’m aware that most people don’t). Most noteworthy to the general reader will be the chapter on Jasmin Paris, who suddenly came to national attention a couple of weeks ago when she won the Spine Race along the Pennine Way.
This week I was in a pub with a friend who expressed irritation about the times when, come the play-offs every year, people suddenly affect interest in her niche sport, basketball. They don’t know these teams and players, they’re just repeating something they saw in the Guardian. Whereas no-one has ever expressed interest in my niche sport, long distance hill and mountain running, so I was delighted when the absolute legend that is Jasmin Paris briefly became a star. She is surely the most impressive human alive and I don’t even think her outright victory and ten-hour course record (while stopping to express breast milk at every aid station) is her most impressive achievement. She’s the fifth fastest ever on the Bob Graham Round, which only about two thousand people have ever even completed. And she’s the outright fastest at the Ramsay Round, which less than 150 people have ever managed. And next month she’ll submit her PhD thesis.
Run of the week: Tomorrow marks the beginning of a sixteen-week training cycle til my next marathon, so this was probably silly. But you can’t turn down the fells in the snow. The photos above were taken on the run.
Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will