[EDGE OF DARKNESS
They wanted a savage comedy to show up the sad state of a nation. They wanted it to be funny. Very funny. ALAN BLEASDALE was their man. Mark Fisher shares a Strepsil with the Liverpool playwright.
ittle-known fact. When they filmed the
seminal scene in Buyxsfrom the
Blue/(stuff where Yosser Hughes and
his three hapless children stride into
the Royal Liverpool Hospital
demanding instant attention. I was lying with my jaws wired up in a bed upstairs. Such is my part in the course of popular culture.
Eleven years on. I come face to face with the author of the best TV drama series of the 80s. and in GBH. an early contender for best of the 90s. The man who summed up the hollow desperation of unemployment in those two short words. ‘Gizza job‘ (a phrase which returns to haunt him even now). has continued, in a way that few writers have. to cast a scathing eye at the inhuman effects of right- wing policies on those most vulnerable in our society. In a country where the Left has retreated. where unions have been weakened, where individuals have become isolated and scared. this ex-PE teacher who says he was radicalised by Margaret Thatcher. stands out as a beacon of humanitarian truth.
In a Nottingham theatre foyer. Alan Bleasdale is guzzling Coca Cola and working his way through a packet of Strepsils in a state approaching nervous exhaustion. It‘s the day
after the first night of his new play. On the ledge. a savagely comic indictment of a society which has lost all sense of morality and Bleasdale is shell-shocked from the intensity of it all. A self-proclaimed outsider and so content with his home comforts that his wife jokingly suspects him of being agoraphobic. Bleasdale is nonetheless funny. fluent and forthcoming even as his voice begins to give from the
‘I was a PE teacher who didn’t give a toss. I was much more interested in handstands than Dickens.’
constant round of talking. ‘I‘ve always felt like an outsider and I‘m very pleased to be considered an outsider,‘ he says in increasingly husky Liverpudlian tones. ‘I don't go to BAFTA meetings and I don‘t queen around the bar. I love the socialising that goes on with work. but I don‘t like socialising for its own sake. We‘ve been married n' . for 22 years and we‘ve never had a dinner party. I go home and have a very private life. You won‘t see me in the papers again — unless they find out about the other three marriages. the bigamy and the seventeen kids — until I’ve got something to sell.‘
Gary Olsen and Dearbhla Molloy
But for as long as he‘s got something to sell. Bleasdale will chat away to his heart‘s content. ()1: the Ledge is set on the top two storeys of at Liverpool block of flats. brilliantly realised in Bill Dudley‘s towering design. where an oddball assortment of characters are set in precarious balance high above a rioting city. While a woman tries to expose her ex-lover‘s dodgy planning deals. two young scallies inadvertently hamper the thugs who are chasing her. and a would—be suicide case tries to decide whether he or the world has gone mad. ln Robin Lef‘evre’s pacey production. a joint venture between Nottingham Playhouse and the Royal National Theatre. the characters are orchestrated like a three—dimensional game of chess. exchanging lightning-fast Scouse banter from ledge to ledge. dangling from the roof and bursting through the windows. gBleasdale‘s skill is to pack a political punch i behind a hail of first—rate wisecracks, winning Ithe audience over with laughter. only to reveal la darker vision lying below.
‘I always think a good way of kicking someone in the bollocks is to make them laugh first.‘ he says. dragging on one of the cigarettes he claims to have cut down on. ‘There is more to the work than writing one—liners. but the one-liners help because they set people up — they‘re willing to listen to you if you entertain them. When it comes to the heart of the message. hopefully they‘re on your side. We‘ve gone from hysterics to pin drops here in
Nottingham and that‘s always a good sign.
10 The List 26 March—8 April 1993