I went to see Twelfth Night with my Shakespeare-mad daughter the other night - an amateur production with a talented cast of comics which had us rolling in the aisles. Sir Toby Belch, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, the Clown and Malvolio were stand-outs. The magic of theatre was centre stage - the careful construction of another reality that the audience knows isn't perfect but that it comes to trust and believe in and becomes part of because it desires to; sharing the same air with actors who quickly become people and seeing the sweat on their brows as they make this magic happen; the delightfulness nay the relief at laughing into the faces of these sweating, breathing characters and seeing their muscles shift, their mouths pout to deliver more of the clever words to make you laugh again, to hear you breathe in with anticipation, see you sweat as you howl. A sweet and ancient alchemy.
And leaving a play like that, driving home with Issy and talking about the foppish asides of Aguecheek and the brilliant choreography of the scene where Malvolio reads Maria's letter, I feel again the need to write that play I've had in notes and draft form since I saw The Taming of the Shrew with an all-woman cast. Also amateur, also thick with fun and energy and sweat and magic. No, in fact, I think I started it after I saw an English comedy on stage - Aykbourn perhaps? - and went home thinking I could do this thing, this play. Surely I could.
But this play of mine requires research and time to write, and I don't have it now. I have a novel to write and a jostling host of other worthy work to do. Still, on arriving home after Twelfth Night, I put Issy to bed and then sat beside her as she slept - with a pad of quad paper I'd found and a suspect biro - and wrote pages and pages of a script. The next morning I woke to an epiphany about the climax of my play. The whole thing shifted then from something potentially unconvincing and verging on cliche to something much more subtle and interesting. It cried out for more work, more time, more research.
I read some of it to Issy over morning coffee, but I could tell she preferred Twelfth Night. Mine is not a comedy. It's a tragedy, really, and it's talky, and it's set in a watchmaker's shop not Illyria. Why, I have no idea.
But there is not enough time in the day for this play.
If only I had two brains - one for the novel, one for the play. Then I could do it. But the novel needs me. I have a contract to complete it. I want to complete it. I have to be firm. The scrawled sheets of this stuttering but insistent script have been put away somewhere and will stay there. Until.... well, until. I know that next time I go to the theatre I'll want to drag them out, for plays have that effect on me. They are, in the words of the delightful Aguecheek, 'very sweet and contagious, i'faith.' I will just have to resist. Well, until I can work out a way of writing two things at once. Or doubling the hours in the day.