Remembering Tony Burns: Blues in Time

One of the ideas informing my dramatisation of the Resnick novel Darkness, Darkness for Nottingham Playhouse was that while we ourselves are alive, the dead – the dead that we know – never quite die. The plot is set in motion by the discovery of the body of a young woman who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, some thirty years before; what the story then does is revisit the significant moments in that young woman’s – Jenny’s – life, showing them in juxtaposition to the present. To Resnick, who knew her only slightly and is now investigating the circumstances of her death, she was little more than the memory of a bright, lively and outspoken young woman, a firebrand, and during the course of the play he gets to know her more clearly, more roundly, so that, in the scene towards the end [possibly my favourite scene of all], when she visits him in his house where he is getting dressed ready to go to her funeral, it is – bar a quick and instant frisson – no real surprise. She talks to him and he answers, much as he would if she were still alive, much as we hold conversations (inside our heads, more usually, rather than out loud) with those we knew and maybe loved long after they are gone. Much as Resnick, in the play, holds sometimes grudging conversations with the strike leader whose funeral he has attended just before the action opens and who, like a somewhat guilty conscience, comes to haunt him – haunt, the word is correct here, I think – as the play progresses.

That I’ve been thinking about this at all was not sparked directly by the Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness [though it does tend to haunt me, both by what was and, perhaps even more strongly, what later might have been] but by the gift of a CD, a remastering of a session by the Gerry Mulligan/Paul Desmond, originally recorded and released in 1957 and sometimes titled simply Quartet, sometimes Blues in Time.

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Listening to it now I am back in the home of my friend Tony Burns, the back bedroom of a house in Finchley, north London, both of us in our late teens; Tony is learning the saxophone – the alto, initially – and I am, less methodically, less seriously, learning to play the drums. Desmond, who plays alto, most usually in the Dave Brubeck Quartet, is probably Tony’s favourite player at this time, though he likes Mulligan too, and, like Mulligan, will play baritone – only finally settling for tenor some good few years later.

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Tony Burns

By profession a tailor, Tony continued to play jazz semi-professionally, only stopping a relatively short time before his death in 2013. By some quirk of circumstance, I was lucky enough, using a borrowed set of drums – my daughter’s – to play with him on a number of occasions in those later years, evening sessions in a pub near the Archway, each one for me a joy. Tony had a way of making you sound better than you really were.

Here, in the final section of a longer poem from Out of Silence called Winter Notebook, are the lines I wrote shortly after Tony died …

My friend, Tony, with whom I first listened,
really listened to jazz, the two of us practising
in his parents’ bedroom, he on saxophone,
me drums, rustling brushes in four-four time
across the top of an old suitcase –
my friend Tony is in a hospice:
the volunteers at the desk welcoming and polite,
all chemo stopped, the carpet deep, the furnishings
not too bright; visiting, we keep our voices low,
talk around you, and just when we think
you’ve drifted off to sleep, you rebuke us
for some mistaken reference to a recording
you know well, Brubeck, perhaps, Mulligan or Getz;
and when Jim retells a joke you first told him
many years before – its punchline too crude
to be repeated here – how marvellous to see
you throw your head back and laugh out loud.

For now I sit alone with you and watch you sleep,
breath like brittle plastic breaking inside your chest,
and, for a moment, without feeling I have the right,
reach out and hold your hand.

One day soon I will push through the doors,
present myself at the desk, only to hear the news
we know must come. It happens, no matter
what expectations we have, fulfilled or not.
And not dramatically, like some monster
rising from the marsh to seize us, drag us down,
but deftly, quietly, like someone switching out the light.

There … you’re gone.

… but not forgotten.

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Tony with, to his right, our friend Jim Galvin

 

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Old Coppers Never Die …

… with any luck, they live on into an easeful retirement … Look at Charlie Resnick, for instance, in the final scene of my dramatisation of Darkness, Darkness, which was produced at Nottingham Playhouse last October … The scene is the chapel garden following the funeral of a young woman who went missing during the Miners’ Strike: after a conversation with another officer who is leaving the force and moving away, Resnick moves downstage and addresses the audience.

RESNICK : Difficult things, endings. Goodbyes. Trying to find the right thing to say, the right thing to do.

Barry Hardwick earlier, in the chapel, stumbling over his last few words, tears blinding his eyes. Any anger, resentment there’d been between himself and Jenny, set aside. Maybe some day them as stood either side of the picket line’ll feel the same … and maybe not. Some things too big, happen, to ever forget.

For me now, it’s going to be a matter of going on from day to day. Taking small pleasures while I can. A decent cup of coffee. Saturdays at Meadow Lane. A glass of Scotch. Charlie Parker. Lester Young. (BEAT) There’s this CD I saw in the window of Music Inn. Thelonious Monk in Amsterdam. I might stroll up there later and take a listen.

THE SOUND OF JAZZ PIANO, SLIGHTLY DISCORDANT, RISES UP …

What was it Lynn said? That bloke who plays piano as if he had no arms? Anyone who can play like that without hands – got to be worth a listen, eh?

… AS RESNICK WALKS OFF STAGE AND THE LIGHTS SLOWLY FADE.

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Didn’t think about killing him off, then? someone asked, after reading the novel on which  the play was based. Well, yes. But never for more than the odd moment; didn’t have the heart.

And, of course, for Charlie there’s another life, still happily continuing. A life on the internet: e-books. A life in translation. Darkness, Darkness itself was published in French by Rivages as Ténèbres, Ténèbres in 2015 …

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…and in German as Unter Tage, in a fine edition from Ars Vivendi in 2016.

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And now Donmay Publishing of Taiwan are to publish all 12 Resnick novels in Chinese, beginning with Lonely Hearts, which first saw the light of day in 1989, and finishing with Cold in Hand and Darkness, Darkness in 2022. I hope I’m around to see them.

The cover design for the first in the series arrived today for my approval and what could I say, other than I think it is beautiful. Original and beautiful.

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Resnick on Radio, Stage & TV

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David Fleeshman as Charlie Resnick & Simone Saunders as Catherine Njoroge in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of “Darkness, Darkness”

DARKNESS, DARKNESS
Act 2, Scene 15

CREMATORIUM. FADE DOWN ORGAN MUSIC AS RESNICK WALKS AWAY FROM THE CHAPEL INTO THE GARDEN, CATHERINE, PATCH OVER ONE EYE, COMING TO JOIN HIM.

CATHERINE: God, Charlie! I hate funerals. Hate them more and more.

RESNICK: You’ll come to mine, all the same?

CATHERINE: You, Charlie? You’ll be here forever.

RESNICK: I doubt that.

THEY WALK ON.

I don’t know about forever, but the old boy does keeping popping up, this week especially.

First there was the realisation [they never let you know in advance!] that my three-part dramatisation for radio of the third Resnick novel, Cutting Edge, was being repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra.

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Originally broadcast on Radio 4 in 1996, Cutting Edge features Tom Georgeson as Resnick. Tom Wilkinson had played him on radio the preceding year, in my adaptation of Wasted Years, which, like Cutting Edge and, in fact, all of the radio Resnicks, was produced and directed by  David Hunter. In doing so, Wilkinson, of course, was reprising the role he’d earlier played on television, in the versions of the first two novels in the series, Lonely Hearts and Rough Treatment, both produced by Colin Rogers for Deco Films & Television and the BBC.

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Come the time to record Cutting Edge, he was otherwise engaged, so Georgeson, who had appeared on the other side of the law as a burglar in Rough Treatment, stepped into the Inspector’s shoes, bringing the residue of a Scouse lilt with him as he did so.

Resnick’s most recent incarnation, in the stage version of Darkness, Darkness directed by Jack McNamara for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, saw him being tellingly brought to life by David Fleeshman.

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David Fleeshman getting in some Resnick Research in Nottingham

Now, Claudia Ferlisi of New Perspectives has assembled an absorbing “storify”, in which the history of the production is traced through a selection of photographs, video, blog extracts, tweets and so on. You can – and should – look at it here …

Delving further back, Colin Rogers  alerted me to a review on the Letterboxd site of the 1992 television adaptation of Lonely Hearts, starring, as has been said, Tom Wilkinson, and directed by Bruce MacDonald. Quite why the review, by Mark C., has appeared now, when no official DVD of the programme is available, I’m not sure. A DVD was advertised as forthcoming on Amazon.com some time ago, but since then there has been no news as to when – indeed, if – it might actually become available. What’s holding things up, I have no idea. Nor do I know which copy Mark is reviewing … but what he has to say, is, I thought, really interesting. Here’s a sample …

It helps of course that the author himself, John Harvey, adapted the novels for TV. But crucially the director of Lonely Hearts, Bruce MacDonald, understands the material beautifully and gives us something unique that still stands out as a distinctive piece of drama some twenty-four years later. Crucially MacDonald’s style, combined with his knowledge and understanding of Harvey occasionally somewhat fragmentary writing style, works in close harmony to deliver an deeply atmospheric piece. Like the jazz beloved of our central character, Harvey’s writing often strays from the narrative through line to provide quirky and unusual flourishes or glimpses of other themes. This is best exemplified in the way that we see the team at Nottingham CID (which includes a youngish David Neilsen before he headed to the cobbles of Coronation Street, looking rather different with short hair and a military moustache, and actor/writer William Ivory as a scene-stealing leery, neanderthal cop who despite his blunt methods gets the job done in a way we cannot help but admire) involve themselves in other secondary cases or how we catch references to their home lives. All of these instances help lend a sense of multi-dimensionality and authenticity to the proceedings.

You can read the review in its entirety here …

Darkness, Darkness Soundtrack

Anyone who saw the recent production of Darkness, Darkness at Nottingham Playhouse will have been aware of the importance of music and sound in the creation of mood and the reinforcement of meaning. The soundscape – incorporating, in addition to  everything from police sirens and gun shots to the chants of Notts County supporters and striking miners, no less than 23 pieces of music – was created by sound designer, Drew Baumohl, working closely with other members of the design team, including filmmaker and video artist, Will Simpson, who was responsible for the projection design.

The initial idea of using the noirish slowcore music of the German band, Bohren & Der Club of Gore and the ambient post rock of the Canadian Godspeed You! Black Emperor to provide the atmospheric interludes and backgrounds, came from the show’s director, Jack McNamara, while the more obviously jazzy selections were mine. I think they work well together.

Here, for anyone wishing to follow up, is a listing of the music used …

Bohren & Der Club of Gore

  • Midnight Black Earth
  • Vigilante Crusader
  • The Art of Coffins
  • Grave Wisdom
  • Maximum Black
  • Skeletal Remains: all from the album, Black Earth
  • Cairo Keller: from Gore Motel
  • Im Raunch
  • Fahr Zur Hollie : from Piano Nights
  • Staub: from Dolores

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

  • Moya: from Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada
  • Asunder, Sweet: from Asunder, Sweet & Other Distress

Thelonious Monk

  •  (I Don’t Stand) A Ghost of a Chance With You: from Thelonious Himself (1957)
  • These Foolish Things: from Thelonious Monk Trio (1954)

Billie Holiday

  • These Foolish Things: from The Quintessential Billie Holiday, Vol 2 (1936)
  • For All We Know: from Lady in Satin (1958)

Joe Temperley

  • I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart: from Easy to Remember (2001)

Coleman Hawkins

  • One Note Samba: from Desafinado (1963)

Pablo Casals

  • Suite No. 1 in G Major, Prelude
  • Suite No. 1 in G Major, Allemande: from Bach Cello Suites (1939)

Cyprien Katsaris

  • Waltz No. 10 in B minor, Op. 69. No. 2: from Chopin-Waltzes

Human League

  • Together in Dreams

Frankie Goes to Hollywood

  • Two Tribes

 

 

 

Darkness, Darkness in Review

So, one week in and one to go, and personal comments, tweets, emails and audience reaction aside, there have been reviews a-plenty, ranging from a miserly two stars out of a possible five in The Times to a resounding thumbs up The British Theatre Guide – “one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in years.” The truth, to my mind veering strongly towards the latter, lies somewhere between the two.

The reviewer for The Times, opts to judge the play primarily as a police procedural and as such finds “little to distinguish it from any number of mediocre TV cop shows”, and although she recognises that other elements exist – the Miners’ Strike, issues around gender and social inequality – chooses not to allow these the significance I believe the play accords them. As anyone who’s read my novels, or, indeed, seen this production, might attest, the nuts and bolts of the plot – the who did what to whom – are not what interest me most. [Perhaps I should have taken up another line of employment.] I want the mechanics of plot to work, surely, but what I’m more interested in is the why – motivation and characterisation – and, perhaps just as importantly, what the telling of the story allows me to say about the society and values of the world in which its taking place. So it is exactly the Miners’ Strike and its legacy that I’m interested in here, as well as, yes, gender and social inequality, and, running through everything, the persistence of memory. And if those elements don’t come through for the majority of the audience more strongly than they did for The Times then, as a writer, I’ve failed.

What clearly hasn’t failed – even for The Times – is the production itself …

The good news is that Jack McNamara’s production, for Nottingham Playhouse and New Perspectives, is supremely stylish.

Ruth Sutcliffe’s design of gliding black panels and Azusa Ono’s arresting lighting conjure up a murky unease as the plot stops across decades. Figures lurk in shadows or in the sickly yellow glow of streetlights, jazz music curls like smoke around scenes of tense domesticity or police interrogation. Monochrome video imagery flickers – fingerprints, X-ray images, miners on the picket line hemmed in by battalions of uniforms.

Sounds good to me.

And what doesn’t fail – even at those moments – a few, but they’re there – when the script falters – are the actors, whose work has been universally praised and who can, night after night,  even knowing the piece as well as I do, make the back of my neck tingle, my heart beat faster, reduce me to tears.

You have to be a subscriber to read The Times review on line, but for anyone wanting to track it down it was in the Friday, 7th October issue. Links to other reviews follow.

I was grateful, of course, for Steve Orme’s wholehearted response in The British Theatre Guide and particularly enjoyed reading the piece by Emma Pallen in Impact, the University of Nottingham’s Official Student Magazine. And I was especially delighted – nay, thrilled – to have the play’s authenticity attested to in the Traffic Light Theatregoer blog by Francis Beckett, who, together with David Heneke, wrote a history of the Miners’ Strike, Marching to the Fault Line, published by Constable.

http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/darkness-darkn-nottingham-play-13546

https://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/2016/darkness-darkness-review-at-nottingham-playhouse/

http://www.thereviewshub.com/darkness-darkness-nottingham-playhouse/

http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/review-darkness-darkness-nottingham-playhouse/

http://www.nottinghampost.com/murder-and-miners-darkness-darkness-at-nottingham-playhouse/story-29779840-detail/story.html?gvc

http://trafficlighttheatregoer.blogspot.co.uk/

Darkness, Darkness in Production

The Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness, directed by Jack McNamara, began its two week run at the Playhouse on Friday, 30th September. The set was designed by Ruth Sutcliffe; the lighting designer was Azusa Ono, sound designer, Drew Baumohl and projection designer, William Simpson. The final performance will be on Saturday, 15th October. All production photographs © Robert Day.

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The body of Jenny Hardwick, who disappeared during the Miners’ Strike, is unearthed after 30 years.

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David Fleeshman as D.I.Resnick & Simone Saunders as D.I.Catherine Njoroge, both very much on the case

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Elizabeth Twells as firebrand supporter of the striking miners, Jenny Hardwick

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John Askew as striking miner, Danny Ireland

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Chris Donnelly, as Jenny’s former husband, Barry, facing up to some probing questions

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The older Danny under interrogation

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Martin Miller as retired P.C.Keith Haines & Emma Thornett as his wife, Jill

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Catherine enjoys a reunion with her former boy friend, Adam, played by Jonathan Woolf – or does she?

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Resnick and a fellow Notts County supporter at Meadow Lane

 

An Actor Speaks Out …

The actor Martin Miller, who plays Keith Haines in the Nottingham Playhouse/New Perspectives production of Darkness, Darkness, wrote this piece for the New Perspectives blog, and gave his permission for it to be reproduced here …

And so it’s all over bar the shouting. After 4 weeks of intensive work on John Harvey’s excellent stage adaptation of his final Charlie Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness, we now leave the relative safety of the New Perspectives rehearsal room in Basford and move into the Nottingham Playhouse from next week to start the technical and dress rehearsals for what will be the next show of the Sweet Vengeance season. If anything, this is where all the hard work needs to come together. The actors need to adjust their performances from the intimacy of the rehearsal room to the theatrical space without losing any of the subtleties and truth of their characterisations that have been developed through the rehearsal process (so rule one: don’t panic, rule two: don’t start shouting). Our hardworking technical crew including Kathryn Wilson (Deputy Stage Manager), Drew Baumhol (Sound Designer), Azusa Ono (Lighting Designer), Ruth Sutcliffe (Set Designer) amongst many others will be collaborating with our director Jack McNamara to bring the world of the 1984/5 Miners’ Strike and Harvey’s CWA Dagger award – winning Detective Charlie Resnick seamlessly to life, and from Friday 30th September audiences will see the finished product.

I have been impressed throughout this process by the collaboration between Jack McNamara and John Harvey. It is rare for directors and writers to cooperate so effectively. I worked with Jack on a previous New Perspectives play about Alfred Hitchcock and he has a strong sense of how to engage with a piece visually, almost filmically, and in collaboration with our Video Designer, Will Simpson, audiences will find themselves transported to the heart of a mining community bitterly divided by the strike, and of a murder investigation 30 years later which threatens to open these divisions once more. Harvey’s skill has been in not only placing Resnick front and centre of this action in the theatrical space, but also in bringing the world of this torn mining community to life. One could argue that the work is even more politically charged and relevant today with the recent announcement of an inquiry into the events at ‘The Battle of Orgreave’ . Harvey’s play explicitly references Orgreave and its aftermath, indeed Resnick finds himself conflicted by the police conduct on that day, and we see the casual brutality of the Met. The recent inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster laid bare the failings of South Yorkshire police and the Hillsborough families had to fight courageously and persistently for years to get any semblance of justice. The Orgreave families have had an even longer wait. Indeed, post-Brexit result, it appeared the issue could conceivably be dropped from the government agenda altogether. How can one even begin to disentangle the bloody events at Orgreave, of systematic and systemic state and police collusion, the very worst example and excess of what Tristram Hunt MP called ‘legalised state violence’?

Over thirty years on, the events of the Miners’ Strike still divide communities and we see in the play how these divisions are just as raw today. All of this plus at the heart of the play we see the dogged determination of Charlie Resnick to solve one last murder case before his impending retirement. John Harvey first created his famous Nottingham Detective back in 1988 and I am confident that with the team Jack McNamara has put together and the strong collaboration between cast, production team, director and author that we can do it justice. As we head into our final rehearsal week, John Harvey’s beloved Notts County have just beaten Leyton Orient 3 – 1. Surely a good omen? Hope to see all you Resnick afficionados in the theatre bar afterwards for a drop of Highland Park. “No sense arguing, Resnick raised his glass and drank…”.

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Here’s Martin, during rehearsals, with Emma Thornett, who plays his wife, Jill.

Photo © Robert Day

Light in the Darkness

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Here we are, meeting and greeting at Nottingham Playhouse this Tuesday just past, the cast of Darkness, Darkness – most of them – along with the director, Jack McNamara – that’s him far left in the snazzy shirt– and the designer, Ruth Sutcliffe, looking suitably designery in black at the centre. Otherwise, left to right, you’ve got Martin Miller, who plays Keith Haines; David Fleeshman, who is Charlie Resnick; Chris Donnelly, who wears, as it were, two hats, those of Peter Waites and Barry Hardwick; Emma Thornett, who plays Jill Haines; Elizabeth Twells, playing  Jenny  Hardwick and John Askew playing Danny Ireland. And that’s me, nicely squeezed in between Emma and Elizabeth.

That afternoon, we all headed up to the  New Perspectives’ home in sunny Basford, north of the city centre, to begin rehearsals. And here we are – having been joined by Simone Saunders who plays Catherine Njoroge – reading through the script.

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That looks suspiciously like the stage manager about to make her escape through the window and into the waiting bus!

Rehearsals continue through the month, with me in attendance on occasion, but certainly not all the time. The actors have got to be able to rubbish the lines without worrying I might be in earshot.

Tickets are selling well and if you’re thinking of coming along and haven’t already booked, you might be well-advised to do so. Details here …

We’ve got a great cast, the set design is really exciting, and I’m excited, also, about the other elements such as visuals and sound that will add immeasurably to the final work and help to bind it together.

I would say more, but it looks like another email has just arrived from the director asking about a few more rewrites …

 

Walking the Resnick Walk

Yesterday, August 9th, I spent the day in Nottingham with David Fleeshman, the actor who will play Charlie Resnick in this autumn’s production of Darkness, Darkness at Nottingham Playhouse. Though David is no stranger to Nottingham – nor to the Playhouse – it was interesting for us both to trace some of Charlie’s footsteps around the city centre, even though a number of the places he would visited in the novels, the earlier ones especially, are either no longer there or have changed almost beyond recognition.

Here’s a pictorial record of our day …

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David at the Indoor Market in the Victoria Centre, where, in days (long) gone Resnick would have an espresso at Aldo’s Italian coffee stall before making his purchases from one or other of the two Polish food stalls, one of which, thankfully, remains.

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The sign outside The Peacock, at the foot of the Mansfield Road (and round the corner from the old Central Police Station) commemorates the fact that the pub has featured in the lives and work of both D H Lawrence and that bloke who wrote the Resnick books.

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Next stop, Music Inn on West End Arcade, source of a large proportion of Resnick’s music collection, Monk and Billie Holiday especially. Here’s David with the owner, David Rose.

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It seemed right to end the day at the Playhouse – where we were delighted to bump into another Nottingham writer (and Notts County fan) William Ivory. No time for David and I to get down to Meadow Lane this time, but he’s keen to take a break from rehearsals in September and join me in the stands.

Resnick Takes to the Stage

Ck2Po-TWsAAWpZlWell, after last night’s Season Launch at Nottingham Playhouse, the not very well kept secret is out; this coming autumn sees the redoubtable Charlie Resnick step on stage for the first time in what the Playhouse like to call – well, it’s true – the World Premiere of my dramatisation of the 12th and final Resnick novel, Darkness, Darkness.

This is something I’ve been working on for some eighteen months now [writing for the stage, as I’m discovering, is a long and arduous – if, one hopes, ultimately rewarding –process] during most of which time I’ve been greatly assisted, prodded, cajoled – I’m tempted to say, occasionally goaded – by the play’s director, Jack McNamara, Artistic Director of New Perspectives. And despite the occasional less than polite thing I’ve said about him under my breath during this process, I know full well that without Jack’s input the script would be but a pale shadow of what it is now. Which is, I’m emboldened to say, pretty damn good. And still with room to get better.

At the Playhouse it sits at the centre of three-part Sweet Vengeance season, beginning with Anthony Shaffer’s Sleuth and finishing with Thomas Middleton’s The Revenger’s Tragedy.

To say I’m excited and not a little terrified would be an understatement.

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