Tag Archives: Strumpet City

The Play’s Not The Thing

Our adaptation of Strumpet City has been cancelled.

Four of our Writers Group had agreed to adapt the book, which is Dublin’s “One City, One Book” for 2013, into a play for a city centre Drama Society, but we no longer have to do it.

This is not because what we had written to date was so dreadful that even an Amateur Drama Society recoiled in horror, but because of some issue to do with copyright. Apparently Dublin City Council had been unable to get permission from the author’s family to do any performances so the Council has told everyone to shelve any plans they had.

All of us, as one, are very disappointed.

Oh, except me. To be honest I’m thrilled.

It is a waste of lot of hard work, but there was more hard work to come, the hardest work of all, merging the bits we had all written, and re-writing and then re-writing. And then re-writing.

And all of the hardest scenes were still to be done. I had written two scenes so far and was part of the way through a third. So far I had written about a dinner-party, about an argument between two priests and was writing about a character being offered a job. When I asked what I should do next it was suggested that I try the scene where one of the characters commits suicide.

Never has the phrase “that’s not really my scene” been more apt. I wouldn’t have known where to start, and certainly do not have the skill to handle such a scene powerfully, believably or sympathetically.

It has not been a complete waste. I am quite proud of some of the stuff that is in my two scenes, and some of what I wrote will be stolen, if you can steal from yourself, and put into future posts.

And it made me try something different, taking someone else’s ideas and trying to represent them in my own words. It made me try to write a bit more seriously, and with a bit more depth. It took me out of my comfort zone.

Having said that, its nice not to wake each morning thinking ‘oh God, I’d better try and write some more of the play instead of one of my own daft ideas‘. It’s nice not to have to lug the book around everywhere so that I can read bits whenever I get a spare second. It will be nice to have spare seconds as spare seconds.

So I have invited the others to a ceremony where I go to O’Connell Bridge, at the end of Dublin’s main street, and hurl the book out into the river.

One of the group has suggested that this would be littering. I prefer to regard it as literary criticism, through the medium of performance art.

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The Play’s The Thing – Act 1

The time for procrastination is over, or at least will be tomorrow.

I wrote last year that some of our Writers Group have agreed (I think we were fed cheap rum and then hit over the head) to take Strumpet City, Dublin’s 2013 choice for One City, One Book, and adapt it for the stage for an amateur Drama Group. The director is now ready to start casting, so we have now decided we’d better start writing.

We have done a certain amount of preparatory work. I, for example, have bitten the bullet (which would have been more fun) and actually read the book. We have decided that we will update it to modern times, since the same sort of deprivation and rich-v-poorness that happened in 1913 is happening here now. We have decided which scenes we are putting in, how the storyline will go (pretty much like the book, otherwise we wouldn’t be adapting it, we’d be writing our own play) and who will write the first drafts of each scene.

I have been given a well-off couple’s dinner party scene to do. There are a couple of problems with it. In the book the four people in the scene retire after dinner to play music and sing Gilbert and Sullivan songs. As far as I know this does not happen at dinner parties these days. I feel that I can hardly have the four of them playing Wii Sing, belting out tunes by Beyoncé or Aerosmith. Perhaps they could play Twister.

In the book one of them plays the cello. Now there’s a challenge for the props director.

In the book the foursome (no, that’s not what I mean) consists of the Bradshaws, who own the house, Yearling, a rich and cynical “gentleman” and the young local priest. In modern day Ireland I can think of no reason why a priest would be invited to such a gathering.

My first draft of the scene races off in all directions. Yearling is, at various stages, a retired headmaster, a civil servant, and a bank manager. The same line appears twice in the scene, some forty lines apart, since I’d forgotten that I already used it.

If we want the play to last for 90 minutes and have ten scenes then each scene should last about nine minutes (I can’t write drama, but I can still do maths) . I have acted out what I’ve written, the scene into which I’ve put in everything I could think off, and it lasts about two minutes. If I take out the line that’s in twice it will be even shorter.

The one good thing is that I have managed to sneak a joke into it. It’s not a very funny joke, but it’s one joke more than James Plunkett put into the whole of the original book, a tome unrelenting in its grim purposeful depression. I may not get away with this, the Plunkett police may arrive at my door late one night and tell me that I have broken the spirit of the book, indeed the spirit of the author may turn up to say the same thing.

Still, we promised we’d do it, and we will. We’ve set ourselves the utterly ludicrous deadline of January 31st, purely to force ourselves into activity. Four of us each writing different scenes should necessitate some line editing, after we’ve discovered that one of us has a character as a carpenter, one as a steelworker and one as a marine biologist.

It doesn’t leave much time for blogging, so apologies if I miss the occasional day. How we are getting on will, however, provide material, so there will be regular updates here, so that you too can feel the gnawing ache of terror as we get nearer the deadline but no nearer the end, like the way Olympic stadiums seem to be built.

They say it will be alright on the night. I’m just not sure when that night might actually arrive.

Booked Out

Whenever someone is missing from work for four whole days it is customary to give an explanation, such as that one had flu, or the dog ate one’s car, or that one was abducted by aliens.

If you abandon your internet friends for the same length of time than the same politeness should surely apply, so I feel that I owe you all an excuse for Monday to Thursday’s absenteeism. This excuse consists of two words, which for once are not Bone Idleness.

The words are “strumpet” and “city”.

I mentioned recently that some of us from my Writers Group have agreed to try to adapt the book Strumpet City for the stage. I also mentioned that I have never read the book, and felt that this might be an obstacle.

It turned out to be a very serious obstacle, because the tried and trusted method used by people on the way to a Book Club meeting – reading a summary of the story on Wikipedia – does not work here. Wikipedia’s entry for Strumpet City is one of its shortest about anything, ever. To pick something at random, the submarine from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea gets a longer entry.

Basically Wikipedia tells us that the book was written by James Plunkett and was made into a TV series by RTE. There is a link to a piece about the TV series, which tells us that it was based on a book written by James Plunkett.

It is Google’s equivalent of a piece of paper which has P.T.O. written on both sides.

There was only one other solution. I had to read the book, which seems to be more that Mr Wikipedia was able to bring himself to do.

Now, finer minds than mine have described this book as a classic, so I have no doubt that it is my own shallowness, and the fact that my own writing style tends to be crappy happy-clappy clap-trap (and that I am unashamed of having just used that phrase) rather than the gritty realism of this book, which have caused me to struggle. After three weeks I had read just 200 pages, so I steeled myself and stopped bringing my netbook on the bus, where I usually do my writing. With no way of writing and only Strumpet City to read, there could only be one outcome. Well, now that it’s too dark to stare out of the bus window, anyway.

So I have finished. One of the girls in the group said that when she had cried when she finished the book back in the 1980s. I know how she feels.

And ok, I did get more interested towards the end, and I am glad that I read it, if only so that I can warn others not to.

Now we have to turn it into something stageable, either by using a serious of extracts, or letting a narrator tell most of the story, or by getting a cast of about 12 members to play about 40 characters plus the angry mobs that turn up in quite a number of the scenes.

It’s going to be interesting.

Blowing My Own Strumpet

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The title of this piece probably needs some explanation.

Someone at the Irish Writers Centre made a plea for help recently, saying that a very old Dublin Drama Group had fallen on hard times in terms of membership and asking us to come along to a meeting to see what they could do to revive themselves. Since she mentioned that they need writers some of us said yes, and although I have no interest whatsoever in acting I have since found myself at fortnightly workshops where I have facially expressed quizzicality, bodily expressed happiness and internally suppressed wind.

But the writing part has arrived, though not in the way I’d expected.

Each year Dublin has “One City, One Book”, in which a famous book connected with Dublin is chosen as, effectively, our Book of the Year. In the past it has been The Picture of Dorian Grey, this year it’s James Joyce’s Dubliners.

And apparently each year this Drama Group of which I’m definitely not a member stage something based around that year’s book.

Next year’s book is Strumpet City, by James Plunkett, and in March the group are going to put on an adaptation of it, an adaptation that myself and two of the girls from our Writers Group have somehow found ourselves promising to write.

There are one or two problems.

None of us have ever turned a book into a play before.
None of us have ever collaborated with another writer on anything before.
None of us lives even vaguely near either of the others.
The play is planned for March, which means that the actors probably won’t want to be handed the script on, say, the 26th of February. In other words, we’ve only a couple of months, with Christmas in the middle of them.
Because its linked to “One City, One Book” the Group get funding from Dublin City Council, so this is a serious venture.

I have one further problem, and perhaps I should have mentioned this one sooner. I have never read Strumpet City.

I gather though that it’s exactly the kind of writing that I don’t do. The book’s popularity derives from its realism and its naturalistic presentation of traumatic historical events. There are no made up words like “austeritised”, no intentional anachronisms and no character who is the re-incarnation of Cleopatra.

I didn’t write the sentence before last, I stole it off the back cover of the book. Since I’m planning to steal the whole of what’s inside the cover then I might as well get in practice.