Observer Playwright's Diary

Edinburgh playwright's diary
Liquor, sarongs and a Game Boy. Hey, I was researching my play. In Fiji...

* Richard Herring
* The Observer,
* Sunday August 1 1999
* Article history

3 July

I am going to Fiji to write a play. It sounds like the cushiest research job of all time. But it's going to be hard work. The first performance is in a month and I have only written 20 pages.

It's called It's Not the End of the World and is about four people who go to Fiji to escape the consequences of Nostradamus's prediction that the Lord of Terror will come from the skies in July 1999.

I arrive at Heathrow wearing a suit because I'm hoping I might wangle an upgrade. I don't even get close. Worse still, I am sitting next to the fattest man on the plane. I am so squashed in, I am having tantric sex with myself. It's the best flight I've ever had. I never want it to end.

4 July

Thanks to the international dateline, we leave on the third, arrive on the fifth and at no time along the way is it the fourth. I've had a day of my life stolen.

5 July

I arrive at Nadi airport at 5.35am. There's an 11-hour time difference between Fiji and the UK. Every know-it-all has told me that it's important to stay awake until the right local time for bed. But I have two beers at 3pm and fall asleep. Oooops!

6 July

I wake up at 4am. Why didn't I listen to the know-it-alls? They didn't become know-it-alls for no reason. I wonder if Shakespeare ever had to write a play in 10 days while suffering from jet-lag? Probably. It would explain why his comedies are so crap.

I seem to be typing all day, but at the end of it all, the script is now only 19 pages long. How did that happen?

7 July

I am still jet-lagged. I can't work. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea after all.

8 July

My solitude is over. The actors arrive. The plan had been to bring out the actual cast of the play, but we have only cast one part, so a couple of friends are helping out. I am fretting about my lack of productivity. I stomp around and then decide that the best course of action is to get drunk. This doesn't help.

9 July

I knuckle down to some hard work. This is more effective.

10 July

I spend most of the day playing my Game Boy. But this is all part of the creative process. Writing is one per cent inspiration and 99 per cent prevarication. We start rehearsals in nine days. My only hope is that the world will actually end.

12 July

I'm 32 today and the others insist I have the day off. I get lots of Fijian presents, among them a sarong. I put it on and am told I look like a fat transvestite, so I retort: 'How can something that feels so right be sarong?' The others have to laugh, it's my birthday. That evening is my surprise party. I am dressed in Fijian clothes by the chief of the local village and am the guest of honour at a traditional ceremony. Warriors dance. Villagers sing. We drink kava, a foul infusion of roots and water that makes me giggle and sends my tongue numb. I feel honoured and humbled. It is the most memorable birthday I have ever had. It is also an ideal set-up for the last scene of my play.

13 July

I do some phone interviews with the British press. I ask them if the prediction has been fulfilled. But all they tell me is that Compo has died. Could that have been what Nostradamus was getting at? The day off has done me good. I write scene four at one sitting and it makes everyone laugh when they read it. But I've still only done 32 pages.

15 July

I get up at 5am and write for five hours. I've written about 20 more pages. I have to finish it before I get home.

16 July

Great news. We have a cast. Paul Bown, star of one of my favourite films (and yours I'm sure), Morons From Outer Space, Rebecca Lacey from Casualty, Ruth Grey and myself. We go on a boat trip round the islands. It is spectacularly beautiful.

17-18 July

Time to go home. I desperately try to finish the play on the plane, but I don't make it. In fact, it'll take a whole week of rehearsal before I arrive at a final draft. This leaves us with only 12 more days before the first performance. But we'll be fine. The cast is very good. The trip was well worth it. I saw and experienced things I would never have imagined if I'd just stayed in Balham.

Will the play be a sell-out success? I don't know. If only Nostradamus had left a prediction about that.

• It's Not the End of the World is at the Pleasance, 4-30 Aug (0131 556 6550)