MPF3 - Chapter excerpt

Paradise Amongst the Concrete


Nothing better reflects Clive’s desire to bring illumination to the artistically barren wasteland of Liverpool than the central premise of Paradise Street – a transformative visitation from Elizabeth I and her court from the Golden Age of England, bringing spring, vibrancy, colour and excitement to the previously rain-drenched domestic drama of Quinn Bonner’s life on Paradise Street.

“Liverpool is a great city,” he observes, “but a grey one, especially in winter. Leaden skies and a muddy Mersey; grimy civic buildings and rain-soaked streets bounded by row houses, built back to back with refuse-strewn alleys between: a deeply dispiriting spot.  I know, I passed twenty winters there and, apart from those few snowy Christmases of my childhood, it was a wet, gloomy place through the long winter months.  This play, named after a real thoroughfare, Paradise Street, imagines what it would be like if, in the depths of that season, magic were to transform the city, replacing the grey with green blossom, and lending the people trapped in its streets a new perspective and a new purpose.

“Elizabeth I is the progenitor of this miracle.  Time-travelling on the beatific light of her own glorious presence, she arrives in the frigid city with a few members of her court: a group of masquers prepared to perform a piece by Ben Jonson, Jonson himself, the royal lady-in-waiting, a wilful ape called Benny Butterblood and the even more wilful Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux.  And with them comes a miraculous spring.  Trees crack the concrete and blossom overnight, balmy winds blow; the eponymous street, which has previously been walked by a lonely Irish derelict, is suddenly buzzing with plots and counter plots.”  

In the initial draft, Clive had actually written himself into the opening of the play, entering a set dressed with washing hung on two lines as the strains of Blow the Man Down faded.  Although deleted and replaced by the two masquers for the production, the text grants an insight into its author’s mindset at that time about his place in the world:

Enter Clive Barker, a playwright.  He is wearing heavy clothing against the bitterly cold weather.  He weaves his way amongst the clothes hanging on the line and looks up wearily at the audience.  He is freezing cold and irritable. 

Clive Barker:      What’s worse?  Sleet, snow, freezing rain?  It’s all brass monkeys weather.  Two days to Christmas; wind like daggers: short days, long nights: one solid streak of grey piss.

He converses with two women who have come to claim their washing from the lines:

First Woman:     You didn’t ought to be out in weather like this.  What are you doing?
Clive Barker:      I’m a playwright.
Second Woman: A playwriter?  Really?
Clive Barker:      Yeah. 
Second Woman: Hear that?
First Woman:     Playwriter.
Clive Barker:      Yeah. 
Second Woman: What are you doing here then?
Clive Barker:      I used to live here. 
First Woman:     Moved did you?
Second Woman: Down South.
Clive Barker:      London.
Second Woman: Don’t blame you.  We was going to emigrate.  Ken wants to be a sheep-farmer: I said to him you don’t know one end of a friggin’ sheep from the other: he said, I can learn: I said meantime you’ll be sticking grass up their backsides.  No, it’s not a city for a young man, not enough jobs – 
First Woman:     Work, do you?
Second Woman: He said: he’s a playwriter.
First Woman:     No, but does he work, like?
Clive Barker:      No.
Second Woman: Just watches, eh?  Thinks.  You’ve got to do a lot of thinking for plays haven’t you?
Clive Barker:      Yeah. 
Second Woman: But not much talking.
Clive Barker:      No.

After the two women have exited, the playwright again addresses the audience directly: 

Clive Barker:     Paradise Street.  Up from the Pier Head, past the Victoria Monument, down Lord Street and left at the first junction.  Paradise Street: if you don’t like it, write me a letter.  If you do like it, send money.  Skin off your coats and your suppositions and go where we go.  Sooner or later, the whole world walks down Paradise Street.  And smile: it’s only art.

Exit Clive Barker.
Konni Burger as Elizabeth I for Paradise Street

Konni Burger as Elizabeth I for Paradise Street