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Albion Unbound

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madness and the english stage [Jan. 14th, 2011|12:01 am]
Albion Unbound


So as I described in my last post, the staged reading and events around it were quite stressful, but afterward I felt quite positive - getting to that point was a major point in the project, long anticipated (and delayed), a major hurdle overcome. With some impetus, my next job was to move the thesis forward and having my own play exist as a whole, staged entity lead me to start work on a key chapter 'Madness and the English Stage'. Seems amusing in retrospect, but I actually thought it would be fairly straightforward and therefore relatively quick.

Five months later.

Back to work and coming to terms with the new situation. Trying to be proactive and get stuck in, trying not to get sucked into the general doom and gloom of working in a struggling university in a tough economic climate in the face of a new Tory govt and game-changing funding cuts; arguing and tension among colleagues... I was hanging in the evening, absolutely shattered. In the early days of term I tried going into the library for a couple of hours each evening, but it was a battle against tiredness I soon lost. For a few months I was mostly useless in the evenings, tried to shift the emphasis to a more substantial session on a Sunday, which worked better, for a while. Life got busier (doing the LPA with Grandad on the non-football Saturdays)... and in between all this, I'd got well and truly stuck on the chapter.

Before the reading Mick had suggested that I look at Anna Harpin's PhD thesis - she'd recently started teaching at Exeter, and he'd noticed the overlapping interests in our research. I' tried to get it through inter-library loans but couldn't (Cambridge don't participate cos they get too many requests), so I'd contacted her and she'd very kindly emailed me the chapters of her thesis - the first of which, Disordered Stages: The Theatre of Mental Illness, torpedoed me completely when I read it. Apart from Mary Barnes, which was too early for the parameters of her study anyway, she discussed all of the plays I was considering, and a good few more. She also set out two precise summaries of the anti-psychiatry movement and the recent history of psychiatric treatment in Britain. And developed an argument using Blue/ Orange and 4:48 Psychosis to talk about form and staging the experience of mental illness, a dialogue between Penhall's political theatre and Kane's experimental.

Madness and the English Stage: wot she said

I was really stumped. I couldn't do any better. Simply put, Anna knows her shit. Making it plainly evident that I didn't, and that I didn't actually have anywhere near a coherent argument though I knew most of the material and the territory. So I read the plays that she discussed that I didn't know - leading me to finally read The Skriker, and three plays by Martin McDonagh (really good), among others. Did that and was still stuck, so I went back to her chapter with a fine tooth-comb, and finally just before Christmas something clicked. It had been staring me in the face all along - the dialogue that Anna frames was the key, and Bakhtin.

So I finally felt like I had an angle on how to approach it, and how to engage Anna's work without parroting or plagarising... contacted Mick, suggested a deadline of Jan 10, with holiday time to work on it. And then got the flu. Then it was Christmas, and some festive zombie-killing in the Wild West. Then I got going; tough going but I made good progress, scrapping quite a bit of what I had written and reworking it from the start, which meant that as the deadline approached I wasn't able to get into the detail of Anna's argument and my Bakhtin bit, which was a bit frustrating. Became quite tough-going after days of it, despite the darts on in the last week as the perfect antithesis (Wolfie had a shaky tournament but managed to retain his title). Rather than get sucked into some (futile) Herculean no-sleeper over the last weekend, yet determined to meet the deadline, I concentrated on developing it as far as I could and indicating in notes the ideas and shapes of the missing sections - but it was there as a whole thing, about 7000 words. Sent it about 1am feeling reasonably satisfied that things had progressed.

So the switch is back on again. Back to work again, and no less tired, but that block seems to have gone and I'm keen again. Over the past couple of days I've been exchanging emails with Mick. We're going to have a phone supervision next week, talk about the chapter and stuff - most significantly of which is that he's suggested that Anna join the supervisory team. I think it's a great idea, but it makes me nervous. She's got direct input now so even more pressure!  We're all going to meet in Exeter once Mick's got his book deadline out of the way.