Our October play will be “Have a Good Week Till Next Week” by New Stagers member Ian Pring. Here, in a series of articles, Ian gives us an insight into the inspiration behind the play and the process of writing it.
‘ON THE CREATIVE PROCESS’ .. 15 April, 2014
Creativity isn’t easy, and neither is the act of creation itself. Sure, basket-weaving and knitting are relatively stress-free creative activities, but they’re hobbies really. And yes, I’ll admit that some people approach the creative process in a relatively easy manner – for them it’s a rather jolly affair involving plenty of chat, cakes and tea.
But for most people who are really serious about the creative process, and are immersed in it, it’s not like that. It’s a process full of blood, fire and anguish. That feeling when the lines aren’t bedding in, you can’t understand what the director is getting at, you can’t get the actors to do what you want, that’s the stuff of the creative process. Creation’s full of energy, sometimes full of conflict, and if it feels easy, well you’re really just not doing it right.
I’ve experienced the creative process in several ways with the group, but none has been more difficult than writing this play. I had a TV script which I was happy (ish) with, and the horror that came with my feeling that the transition to a play was going to be more than a few scenes tweaked was paralysing. First, I thought, I have to rewrite my beloved script that I’d slaved over, and second I was going to have to abandon one of the central aspects of the script: the ‘real’ characters. (This was because of the work that would need to be done around life rights – the thing that got David Peace and his publishers in some much trouble when he portrayed the Leeds player Johnny Giles unfavourably in The Damned Utd.)
The third thing I was stuck on was portraying the wrestling matches. Back and forth I went, trying to fit them into the structure of my new plot, deciding whether to show them or not show them, employ a coach to teach the moves, etc, etc. By the time I got to writing the first episode of this diary a few weeks ago, I was completely blocked, and was using the diary as a motivator to write the damned play. And it wasn’t working. Blood, fire and anguish.
The, several things happened. First, in desperate need of inspiration, I read 60s grapple king Jackie Pallo’s book ‘You Grunt, I’ll Groan’, a biographical expose of the astonishing fact that wrestling was ‘staged’. Great book, but it depicted a world which I didn’t really want to write about. So I finally decided, realism was out. Suddenly that freed me to write how I wanted.
Second, I listened to Luke Haines’s album ‘Nine and a half Psychedelic Meditations on British Wrestling of the Seventies and Eighties’. It gave me new love for a subject I was getting sick of, portraying the world of wrestling as a fantastical pantomime.
Finally, I was ready for that complete rewrite. Or so I thought. Fate intervened in the form of a collaborator.
Having looked at the original TV script, fellow New Stager Richard Allport showed me a marked-up copy of it, full of stage directions and set designs. It was then that I realised what my biggest problem had been – I couldn’t properly envisage the TV script for the stage, because I lacked the ability to ‘lose’ my original vision of the script on TV. Richard, not having that vision of a TV play, just imagined the script for the stage – our stage, in the hall.
So I realised I didn’t need a rewrite, just a bit of tweaking. Three weeks’ work tops. The stage version I was angsting so much about was pretty much there all along, abandoned on my study floor. All I had to do was lose the ‘real’ characters, replace them with fictional ones and make sure all references to them in the script were in the public domain, add a few scenes, rework the revelation about what happened to the character Mary Naylor, and that was it.
That’s the opposite of the blood, fire and anguish. The moment when you get it right, and you know it’s going to be great.
And finally, another thing about the creative process. It’s easier when you have a collaborator.
‘SECONDS AWAY, ROUND ONE’…28th March, 2014.
In the late 1830s, Charles Dickens was in a newsagent when one of the customers asked the owner when the next edition of “Pickwick Papers” was out. This reminded Dickens that he hadn’t finished writing it and he rushed home to do so.
Every time I come down to New Stagers, for a rehearsal or other event, I’m reminded of that story. Not because I classify myself with the greatest novelist of this or any other age, but because, like him, I’m up against a deadline.
I began working on a TV script about the old ITV wrestling in 2009, having had the idea one sunny morning on Bexleyheath station, when my mind wandered back to watching my grandmother howling with rage at the rule-bending antics of Mick McManus in the 1970s. One of his signature moves was to get his man in a headlock, turn his back on the referee and administer a swift punch to the face of the opponent, who would drop to the canvas in agony while McManus, ‘THE MAN YOU LOVE TO HATE’, innocently pointed to the heel of his hand, denoting the move was really legal, all accompanied by the rueful observations of Kent Walton, veteran commentator cum Greek Tragedy Chorus (“I don’t know why McManus has to bend the rules like that, he’s SUCH a good technical wrestler, he doesn’t need all these illegal moves!”)
Of course, Kent Walton, and everyone else, knew that McManus DID need his arsenal of eye-gouges, kicks, punches etc, because he was the baddie – the ‘heel’ in wrestling parlance. In his trademark black trunks, standing at five foot six, squat and with an unfeasibly black Dracula haircut that lasted till his death last year at age 93, McManus stalked the ring like a nasty spiteful colossus, whipping the ringside granny tricoteuses into a frenzy. Wrestling needed its heels even more than it needed its ‘faces’ or ‘blue-eyes’ (the good guys) who McManus dispatched with such style, because wrestling was not a sport – it was storytelling in six five-minute rounds, with two falls, two submissions or a knockout to decide the winner.
From 1955, through its heyday in the 60s and 70s and its slow decline and fall in the 1980s, the ITV wrestling was a national fixture. Taking place between the half-time and full-time football scores on ITV’s World of Sport on Saturday afternoons, it once attracted audiences so huge that shopkeepers complained to ITV that they had to close early because everyone had gone home to watch the wrestling.
The transmission would begin with WoS presenter Dickie Davies (who hated the wrestling but presumably not the royalties from the historical box sets of old bouts, which he fronted). Dickie would excitedly give us the run-down of the bill, then hand over to Kent Walton in Huddersfield Town Hall, or whichever unglamorous venue it was this week.
Walton’s trademark intro – “Greetings, grapple fans!” – would herald 45 minutes of action. It would often start with a skilful bout between two blue-eyes, having a ‘fair fight’ ie neither of them would break the rules. In his classic essay ‘The World of Wrestling’, French semiotician and philosopher Roland Barthes poured scorn on these supposedly fair fights because everyone knew wrestling was fake and they didn’t care. What they wanted to see was a good guy fight a bad guy. As the 70s drew on, the promoters started to agree, and the highly skilled (albeit fixed) bouts between “technical wrestlers” fell out of fashion a bit, much to the chagrin of Kent Walton, who lamented as much in the TV Times of all organs.
What replaced them, from the mid-70s onwards, was an increasingly bizarre array of characters. Most of them, such as the masked and unspeaking Kendo Nagasaki (aka Peter Thornely from the West Midlands), uber-baddie Rollerball Mark Rocco (a vicious and skilled sadist in the ring and a very nice bloke out of it) and Giant Haystacks (46 stones of hairy scowling foulness) had been around for a while, but they became megastars.
Even so, they were eclipsed by a former rugby league player who, sacked for being too violent, took up a career as a wrestler named Blonde Adonis. A couple of decades later, having presumably let himself go a little, Blonde Adonis returned under his real name, Shirley Crabtree, an unpleasant heel whose level of fitness was now such that his winning moves were limited to the belly-butt and, well, the belly-splash.
Finding life as a heel and tag partner of Giant Haystacks presumably a bit dull, Crabtree did a sudden ‘face-turn’ (going from baddie to goodie) and emerged as Big Daddy, complete with a leotard on whose ample belly was sewed a “D”, cut from a quilt-cover by his loving wife. From the mid-70s Daddy dispatched pretty much every heel in the business, with the exception of those who, like the effeminate and highly skilled Adrian Street, hated the idea of this ‘fat bloke in a nappy’ getting all the attention.
The Big Daddy era was wrestling’s high point as spectacle, but it also killed the ‘game’ as the glamour and showbiz started to become a bit ridiculous and the Americans, in the form of the WWF, started to do it a lot better. The nadir came when in Great Yarmouth one night in 1987, Big Daddy belly-splashed Mal “King Kong” Kirk, and the 25-stone Kirk, who hated wrestling and just wanted to run a pub with his wife Ilona, didn’t get up, dying minutes later. Big Daddy was mortified, and a couple of years later Greg Dyke, ITV’s controller of sport, took the wrestling off the TV for ever.
Quite a story. So I wrote a TV script with it as a backdrop, focusing on fictional characters, not the ‘real’ ones. Like most TV scripts, it’s never going to get made, but I liked the story so decided to adapt it as a play for New Stagers. I thought it would be easy, but it’s not. The stage presents opportunities, but also restrictions. And I can’t get the TV show that’ll never be made out of my head.
But I have a deadline. We start rehearsing at the end of July. At the time of writing, I have storyboarded most of the main plot and have still to storyboard the B story (a subplot about two middle-aged female fans). Some scenes are written Some are as good as written.
I have the beginning (comic) and the ending (in which I intend to make you all cry). And that makes me confident. Because the only other play I’ve ever finished (a one-acter called “Waiting”) began with me sitting there with a beginning and an ending and not much in between, and that turned out pretty well.
Farewell, grapple fans.