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Clear White Light - A Word from the Writer, Paul Sirett

I couldn’t believe my luck when Max Roberts asked me whether I might be interested in writing a new play for Live Theatre using the songs of Alan Hull. Lindisfarne was the first band I ever saw play live back in the 1970s (supported by Rab Noakes and a band called Genesis…) and I have always dearly loved their music.

The question was: where to begin? My first idea, about a young woman searching for her Dad, didn’t work out. So, it was back to the drawing board. For a couple of months, it felt like I was getting nowhere, then, from somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I remembered that I had once heard that in the 1960s Alan Hull had worked as a psychiatric nurse at St Nicholas’ Hospital in Newcastle. I knew that while he worked there, he wrote some of his best-known early songs. I also knew that one of Lindisfarne’s biggest hits Lady Eleanor was based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe called The Fall of the House of Usher – a book Alan had read when he was working at the hospital. Perhaps there might be something in this connection that might unlock a story? But what? And were to begin? I wondered what might happen if I used the story of The Fall of the House of Usher to tell a contemporary story set in St Nicholas’ Hospital.

So, that night, I sat down and deconstructed the narrative of The Fall of the House of Usher – I have a terrible habit of deconstructing narratives, never watch a film with me, I’ll ruin it for you. I then set about laying a modern-day story over the template of Poe’s short story, exchanging Poe’s male narrator character for a young, female character, similar to the character I had created in my first attempt to write a play using Alan’s songs, but this time written as a student nurse about to do a placement at St Nicks’. To my delight, things fell into place easily.

The narrator in Poe’s story doesn’t have much of a narrative arc; basically, he arrives at a big old house, observes his friend Roderick and his sister Madeline, tells us what happens and then does a runner when things get scary. I still wanted the story to be seen through the narrator’s eyes, but in a very different way to the original, I needed a story for my student nurse, but what? Once again, I found the key to her journey in Poe’s short story. I won’t tell you what it is because it would give too much away, let’s just say, in the words of Edgar Allan Poe, “While I gazed…there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind…my brain reeled…there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters—and…” and…well, that would be telling…

Clear White Light has its World Premiere at Live Theatre from Thursday 18 October to Saturday 10 November. Paul Sirett will take part in a Meet the Writer Post Show Talk after the 2pm matinee on Saturday 20 October, free for ticket holders of that performance.

Get tickets for the show here.

  • Arts Council England
  • Community Foundation
  • European Regional Development Fund


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