Sunday, February 14, 2010

Christopher Hampton in Hull

The Philip Larkin Centre took its latest event into the city, Christopher Hampton's name emblazoned on a dressing room in the new Hull Truck Theatre. We wandered corridors, all white and brightly lit, toured the auditoriums and found John Godber in a mirror-lined rehearsal room with views out across the city. ‘Very New York,’ Christopher commented. He was last hear for the opening of the old Hull Truck theatre almost forty years ago. Build a new theatre, and he will come!

We were ‘in conversation’ about his career, running from the West End play he wrote in his ‘gap’ year (asked to leave school and already with a place at university) through musicals, opera libretti, best play awards and Oscar wins and nominations. It was our longest event yet, his answers well-formed, eloquent and long (and we had no booksigning to accommodate, Faber having failed to come through with the promised volumes!). I asked him what had struck him as new from his answers … for that is my aim, to surprise people into reconsidering their work. For Christopher, he was struck by how a work discovers itself as you are writing it, it develops by stealth no matter what preparation you have put in, or whether it is an adaptation or an original script.

He wrote a novel when he was 16 – and realized that the best parts of that were the dialogue, hence the switch to plays. For him, the play is the hardest literary form to master. The bonus is that when it is complete and moving toward production, the process becomes a joy (unlike with film, which for him comes easier in the writing and then grows tough).

I was most taken with his tale of working with David Lean on the script of Nostromo. The firstdraft came in six weeks. After that he worked every day, 10-6, with the director, finetuning the work. ‘Do you think this is a cut or a dissolve?’ Lean would ask, then put the question to the storyboard artist to deliver images of the next day. After a year Christopher moved off to make sure his screenplay of Dangerous Liaisons was made. That won him his Oscar – which he credits to the David Lean masterclasses. Can creative writing be taught? Well yes … given calibre and dedication on both sides.


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