STARS 

Stars was first presented at Scarborough Library Theatre in 1976, with the following cast:
  • DICK - Malcolm Hebden
  • GIRL - Diane Bull
  • JANE - Elaine Strickland
  • BOY - Robin Herford
Directed by Alan Ayckburn Nottingham. Early June, 1944.

[Stars] is an infinitely thoughtful and touching and fascinating play ... in its account of a wartime Nottingham cinema manager and his ever-optimistic usherette living out fantasies of Humphrey Bogart and Hedy Lamarr amid the ice-cream wrappers.
Punch

Stars is published in Moving Pictures: Four Plays, Methuen, 1985. 

INTRODUCTION TO MOVING PICTURES: Four Plays

A Warning: an explanation: a couple of confessions, and a hope: all jumbled together in bad prose

Twenty years ago, at school in Nottingham, I played M. Jourdain in Moliere's The Bourgeoise Gentilhomme, and whilst, perhaps fortunately, I can no longer recall the subtle nuances of my own performance, the recollection of one of the aspiring M. Jourdain's epiphanies has remained with me. It is a very funny scene, where, attempting to rise into the `highest culture', he is first taught the terms verse and prose, and discovers to his amazement and delight that he has been effortlessly speaking prose all his life. Art, for one blissful moment, seems to him to be easy. And I have a sneaking suspicion that as I hammed my way towards ecstasy playing him, I thought so too. Years later, my first professional acting job was to play his teacher, and I learned otherwise. And, of course, M. Jourdain himself is in for a rude awakening, as are we all, and there are sometimes a few laughs to be had from that, and sometimes some very difficult silences.

This is by way of saying that as I sit attempting to write this introduction, this particular parcel of prose, the discovery I come to yet again, is that I am not, unlike my old friend, a master of prose, but more importantly for you (dear reader) I am not a writer at all, of prose, or poetry, or anything else between. And it seems only fair to warn you in advance in case you approach the task of reading my work with any expectations of literature. My pretensions, or aspirations, are in quite a different direction. As soon as I left university, having failed to complete my last attempt at prose in a postgraduate thesis, I had written onto my passport that I was a playwright.

Since then I have been trying to live up to that moment of conceit that is only really `possible when you've never had a play performed. As time goes on, the difference between literature and theatre has struck me with increasing intensity.and I'd like to quote in clarification from another playwright for whom I have the greatest admiration. In his book To Present the Pretence (a work I recommend to anyone interested in the theatre) John Arden articulates the crucial distinction.

A playwriter is simply a person who puts pen to paper and sets down dramatic dialogue. But the playwright pursues an ancient and complex craft analogous to the crafts of the Cartwright, the Millwright, the Shipwright or -- in old Scots -?the Wright. pure and simple. The origin of the word is Old English Wyrht = a work, or Wyrcan = to work. The playwright works drama just as the millwright works mill-gear.

Ironically, my true surname is not Lowe, but Wright, which I had to change when I joined Alan Ayckbourn's company in Scarborough as an actor. I took my mother's maiden name, and with it a professional identity. Wright, anyway, had always seemed to me a boring common name when I felt I clearly should have been called something more exotic, like Buchner or Shakespeare. This was during a period of seven years and twenty odd plays that no-one seemed remotely interested in doing. But now. having for the last ten years worked solidly in the theatre, I have become a great respector of just this commonality of wrights. A key factor in my continuation as a playwright is that such work involves so many other people's creativity working in different forms -- a number of which I have had the opportunity to practise in the past.

I have never been bored wrighting for the theatre, though often I've been depressed and frustrated by the state of the art, and probably no more than now, in the present political climate. But the language of theatre is as relevant as ever, and that 'empty space' remains there, only waiting for us to decide to work together within it. And its potential for expression in this collective language is well nigh infinite. Whenever I turn again towards that space where the magic that we need can be rediscovered I fee a real excitement, the nervous excitement of journeying towards the unknown that I experienced as a child at pantomimes before the curtain went up. And a thrill of coming to a space that argues possibilities, change, transformations.

The first play I ever recall doing (as an amateur, a lover, of the theatre) was when was seven and it was called Fat King Melon. No doubt kids up and down the country are still doing it. I hope so. I played the king who, having fallen in love with what would now be considered as an anorexic princess, diets to fulfil (his mistaken belief about) her dream of the ideal man. Meanwhile, of course, she is fattening herself up to be attractive to him. Such is life. I was padded up with a pillow, but 1 couldn't get the gradual stages of dieting to work satisfactorily until I discovered that if I ripped the pillow (leaving a trail of feathers behind me) it worked. I remember being told even then that it made no sense, having the king waddle around like a balding chicken, that it was in some sense, not 'real'. But it worked. And years later. I began to see why. Because it dealt in a desire of the character that made possible a visual trans-formation, and it acknowledged the theatre language itself as it did so. I didn't have Brecht to quote from at the time, but they let me get away with it anyway, and I've been trying to get away with it ever since.

Re-reading these plays again, I'm struck by how far M. Jourdain and his epiphanies, and King Melon and his transformation have influenced them. They have involved me in a theatre of embarrassment, of self-awareness, of people struggling to change, to break out, with people trying to connect. And I've been struck by how, like Fat King Melon, they seem preoccupied with the problems of love, in one form or another. Whether that will match your perceptions of the plays I can't tell. I don't recall that being consciously in my mind at the starting point, but then again one often forgets the point of embarcation and are left in memory with only snapshots of the beaches to restimulate our feelings. I hope my plays are more than that, that these `personal islands' will come alive for you and connect with your personal landscapes, that the creative effort you make to try to visualise beyond the words on the page will be rewarded by something that truly works as moving pictures.

Stephen Lowe. December 1984 

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