Alan Bissett On...Moria Bell and The Ching Room
Date: 24 September 2010
Falkirk born and Glasgow based Writer Alan Bissett has a double bill of comedic plays ready to roll in Manchester - The Moria Bell Monologues and The Ching Room. He plays Moira Bell and the BBC have already shown an interest in this feisty female character. We caught up with the novelist and playwright to talk about both productions, his future plans and what Scotland means to him.
What inspired to write these two plays - are they based on personal experience?
Both are, to some extent, based on personal experience. I did actually have a surreal conversation in a toilet cubicle in Edinburgh which started the way the one in the Ching Room does. I'd burst in there for an 'emergency' and the occupant, who wasn't doing anything, refused to leave. It took me a while to realise what he was doing there, of course, and why he kept refering the cubicle as the 'Ching Room'. All the next day I heard his voice in my head, and had to commit him to paper.
Moira comes from the same housing scheme in Falkirk as I did, and is pretty much based on some of the women in my family - very funny, no-nonsense, storytelling queens who take shit off no-one. Sometimes I wish I was a bit more like them. I wrote the play so that I could be.
Introduce us to Moira Bell. What is the character like - what makes her tick?
Moira is fierce and feisty, but can soften up after a couple of joints or the right song. She's a single-mother who works as a cleaner in a school. She spends every minute with her best pal, Babs, her dog, Pepe, and her two sons, Gary and Steven. She likes Bob Marley, a good bit of weed, karaoke, and has a crush on one of the English teachers who works in her school. She's pretty sorted about who she is. Her politics are a crazy mish-mash of stuff, but they make sense to her in her world. Basically, she's just a strong working-class Scottish woman, which are rare to find onstage.
Many actors - from Michael Ball to Paul O'Grady have played female characters. How is it for you?
I love it. It's terrific fun being her. There's a scene when Moira makes a play for the teacher who works in her school, which means I'm a man playing a woman seducing a man. You'll pretty much find every corner of your own sexuality when you have to do that! She's also much more aggressive than me, which gives my id a good, healthy work-out.
Tell us a bit about The Ching Room?
The Ching Room is about Rory, who finds himself trapped in a nightclub toilet-cubicle by an enigmatic and violent stranger, whose language veers between growling threats and surreal poetry. We don't know what the stranger is doing there or who he is, but he toys with Rory until they form a bond, and Rory is slowly drawn in by the stranger's charisma. It's funny-dark. Like all my stuff.
What do you like about using Scotland as your setting?
Scotland feels like the most natural setting in the world to me, since its the country of my birth and where I still live. The culture and the language are something that are inside me, so when I write about the place, or in the Scots dialect, there's a truth that flows out without being forced. Everyone should write about their home culture, as they're the only ones who can get it right. It's important that people who live there think it's legitimate to make and see art about their own place, and aren't just fed a second-hand culture from America or London.
Can you think of two reasons why people should see both plays?
We have a Tory government again and a savage assault taking place on the living standards of ordinary British people. This makes any art which articulates the experience of being working-class even more necessary. And secondly, together they form a damn good night. You will not be bored. Not for a second. I guarantee it. Scotland promises you!
I hear the BBC have signed up Moria. When does that start?
They're developing Moira for radio, and I'd imagine that will be on sometime in the first half of 2011. If that's a success then hopefully there will be a TV adaptation. She's not finished with me yet.
Will you return to theatre following the BBC adaptation? If so, what are you writing next?
The Moira tour is coming to an end in Manchester and I'm handing her over to the BBC now. But if they make a success of it I might tour her again. But I'll be writing more plays for sure, even if I'm not in them. I'm having too much fun in theatre not to.
Funnily enough, my next novel, Pack Men, which is due out in Aug 2011, has a Manchester theme. It's about the day in 2008 when Glasgow Rangers fans invaded the city for the UEFA Cup Final and trashed it. I was there that day. It felt epic and terrifying. By the end of that day, I was convinced it had to be a novel. Call it an extended apology to the city of Manchester!
Alan Bissett was speaking to Glenn Meads
The Ching Room and The Moira Monologues run at the Royal Exchange in Manchester from 6 - 9 October.
- by Glenn Meads
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