MPF2 - Chapter excerpt

Comedy and Narrative

“We read Comedy of Comedies in Doug Bradley and Lynne’s apartment just down from my house in Mountview, in Crouch End,” recalls Clive Barker as he attempts to place it in the running order of his plays...

"I know which room it was – it was this upper room in their apartment which was a really nice room, a nice big room, and we all gathered around and I said, ‘This is a fourteen act play’ and we didn’t have enough copies and of course it wasn’t typed out so they were basically reading from my scrawl, but they’ll tell you how long it took: I want to say 7 hours or something ridiculous like that.”

Peter Atkins recalls the occasion clearly, saying, “It took us an entire day, and it was extremely good.”

Looking at the heavy sheaf of handwritten pages in their lever-arch folder, Clive smiles at the memory of the read-through and of its implications for him and reflects, “I wrote the thing down, we read it, and we never did anything with it. The only draft went up onto my shelf – and was never forgotten, because there was something about its scale...”

Following the read-through, there was no pressure from the others to actually stage it.

“No,” laughs Clive. “I think they all said, ‘What the heck? He’s lost his mind! Give him the pills and send him away... Go away!’ I mean, I don’t know what I was thinking! Except I think that I was writing a book, which is what it really was and I was getting into the rhythm of what a longer narrative would actually feel like and that was – it has taken me, how long is it since then, 25 years ’til this moment to figure out that was probably what was happening. I never thought of it that way before but I think it is what was happening.”

The 461 pages of text show that Clive had moved onto a larger scale of literary endeavour within a single narrative.

“Yes, that’s exactly, in the end that’s the point isn’t it? That essentially it’s not even a play really, it’s a big novel in dialogue and it’s my hope that at some point we will publish the book, publish this play as just that, you know, in a limited edition, nothing too mainstream, but just do it as a big novel in a slightly weird format.

 “And it also has fed into a lot of other things – I mean choking on a cherry pip has become something that happens in Abarat II, the burning of the orchard and all that stuff. When I think about characters I still think so much, so strongly, in terms of what their clowning version is and what their tragic version is. Does that make sense? So that was a very important place for me and it was important for me to say, ‘OK, I’ve done that; I don’t really need to see this up.’

 “In a weird sort of way, as I went away from it, I sort of thought, I think I thought, that was fine, if that was all that happened, that was fine! The journey, curiously, had been taken in the writing and maybe that’s an interesting thing, maybe that’s a moment when somewhere in my head, the theatrical experience becomes the writing experience – how about that?”

Philip Rimmer and Lynne Darnell in The Magician (1978)

Philip Rimmer and Lynne Darnell in The Magician (1978)