The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat Diary.

Oh Dear … Another Year …

It is about a year, Dear Reader, since I started working on “The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat” … a year! How can making a piece of theatre last that long, I hear you ask? And the answer is … some itches are harder to scratch than others. It all depends on the nature of the itch … some itches are near the surface, some are in an easily get at-able spot, some are mere trifles, some are hardly worthy of the title “itch” and some, oh some, are deep and hidden and awkward and huge and very definitely harder to reach. These deep seated itches; the sort that are often in slightly embarrassing places, where scratching them can cause offence, broad grins and a pulled muscle, can take a lot of serious scratching … and you can scratch them time and time again and yet a ghost of an itch remains. Such it is, Dear Reader, with “The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat”.┬áThe original itch, the one that started well over a year ago, is taking a lot of scratching.

I think that all creative and artistic endeavours begin with an itch … or a desire, a need … there is a story that has to be told, or a scene that has to be painted, or a ┬ádance that has to be choreographed and the artist has no choice but to scratch. Such it was, is, with the life and times of AWN Pugin. His life, his story, his loves, hopes, fears just have to be experienced by as many people as possible and the only way that this can be achieved is for me to steadily but surely create a stunning piece of theatre that will do him justice. Of course, there have been a great many distractions … last year I wrote two plays for Proteus Theatre, helped run a Summer Squall (an Arts Festival down here in sunny Ramsgate), directed “You All Know Me – I’m Jack Ruby” with Cliff Barry, created a short one-man play about John Hardman-Powell (Pugin’s one and only pupil/assistant … that is me being him in the photo above) and helped create and perform in “The Sagas of Noggin the Nog”, a co-production between Mischievous and Third Party Productions, which ran in London for two weeks and is due to go out on tour in a months time. That is me as Queen Grunehilde in the photograph below (beautiful, I hear you say). So, I haven’t been sitting on my bum and twiddling my thumbs … honest. And in the midst of all of this, I have been slowly noodling about with “The Man …”

The first half of the nineteenth century in Britain was a period of enormous change … one of the greatest changes, driven by the huge strides made in technology, was that we turned from being primarily a rural economy to an urban one. Towns and cities grew out of all proportion and people who had once worked on the land, now worked in the modern manufactories that sprouted the length and breadth of Britain. Thousands of houses were thrown up to accommodate these new factory workers and urban dwellers. Lifestyles altered beyond recognition as did the economy and the politics of the land. AWN Pugin was born with one foot in the old fashioned Georgian era and one foot in the new steam-driven Victorian age. The story of his life is also the story of the lives of all who lived in those fast-changing times. When I first started to research into Pugin and his life, I was aware that there are an enormous amount of parallels between his altered world and the technological, economic and political changes that are occurring in ours. His story is in many ways, our story. There are resonances that are impossible to ignore … it is for these reasons that “The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat” feels like an important story to tell and an important story to get right. That is the itch that I have to scratch.

I have a script … sadly, it is about eleven hours long but I do have a script. I have a wonderful director, Ellie Jones. I have, at the moment a huge number of designers that I unfortunately have to whittle down to one. I have a fabulous composer; Mark Bandola. I have an amazing sound designer; Filipe Gomes. I have a number of superb performers. I have a stunning group of film-makers. I have a clever, witty and academic dramaturg. I have a technical producer that will not be phased by anything that is thrown at him. I have a consummate producer. I have a huge amount of chums who all want to get involved. I have some super community artists. I have two incredibly passionate educationalists. What I don’t have … YET … is enough money to make it all a reality. But, Dear Reader, when the itch itches nothing will stop it until it has been scratched into extinction. “The Man in the Wide-Awake Hat” will be performed in June and July this year and not even the itch-inducing head-louse of destiny will alter that.