agnus dei

Fat Souls

Genesis

Fat Souls marked a change of style and shift in focus in JMC's drama. The dialogue is in verse form, the characters are close to Archetypes and for the first time elements of Christian meta-narrative enter his dramaturgy, in the figure of the character Lamb.

In 1991 JMC began a three year BA (Hons). course at the Polytechnic, later University of East London (UEL) in Independent Study. His personal tutor was Malcolm Hay, co-author of a seminal study of one of the playwrights JMC most admires, Edward Bond, and better known as the long-running editor of the comedy section in Time Out. James gave Malcolm The World Trilogy to read, which Malcolm liked but had a question about - "are things really that bleak?"

At the same time, JMC was visited by a series of dreams which both challenged the extreme negativity of The World Trilogy and proffered a vision of a proto-Christian approach to the world. JMC developed the character Lamb as an Archetypal figure who brings good news to those who have ears and points towards alternative modes of human behaviour. In retrospect, JMC sees this as a necessary personal reaction against the excessive selfishness and gross materialism of the 1980s. For the next decade or so, JMC identified himself with the Christian tradition - specifically a Christian socialist (perhaps veering on Christian anarchist) tradition rooted in a humanistic vision of social justice, creative self-development and Christ as Jungian archetype of the Self. At times JMC's Christianity veered towards New Ageism and mysticism. His imagery was rooted in the Bible and his narratives were drawn from those in the English literary tradition (Milton, Bunyan, Blake) whose roots were Biblical. JMC found in the imagery of the Christian Bible a map for Reality which inspired the idiosynchratic Christianity of many of his subsequent plays during the 1990s.

That said, the character of Lamb was inspired by a real person. JMC caught a Heart of the Matter documentary about forgiveness which featured a woman whose son had been murdered in a brutal and senseless attack. The woman spoke about her son's social awkwardness but basic decency, and also about her own striving to forgive the person responsible for the death. The characters of Lamb and his Mother and the murder of Lamb in the play owes a debt to that mother telling the story of her son.

The work environment in Fat Souls was inspired by a period JMC spent in "community programme" employment before going to University. The atmosphere in the workplace was intense, gossipy, incestuous and sometimes vicious. On one occasion, a large girl came to be interviewed for a job and there was an instant reaction against her. JMC developed the character of Fat Mags from that incident. A proto-Barry BJ was also encountered during this employment. With all of the characters, these real-life analogues underwent a process of alchemical change to become the "epitomized" figures peopling the play.

The style of Fat Souls - its verse, use of archetypes and masks, its poetic imagery - was inspired by Greek Drama (JMC wrote at length about Greek drama for his degree) and notably Tony Harrison's contemporary verse translation of The Oresteia. Another key inspiration was the theatre of the actor/director/writer Stephen Berkoff, whose extravagantly poetic, often scatological and defiantly mythic verse plays were amongst the most vivid theatrical experiences JMC witnessed during this period, a period which also saw him regularly visiting the Opera for the first time. The actor/playwright/director Jonathan Moore described Fat Souls upon seeing it as "An opera without music."

These theatrical stimuli were combined in JMC's aesthetic with his admiration for the raw energy and cascading lyricism in rock music and concerts - which contain at their best a Dionysian energy which JMC found significantly lacking from most of the contemporary plays he saw. One of the play's epigraphs is a quote from a song by JMC's best-loved rock performer/writer Bob Dylan: "Surrender your crown on this blood-stained ground, take off your mask." The song is, significantly, from Dylan's Christian period.

Fat Souls changed JMC's status as a writer considerably. Its use of masks and involved language called for a means of production and standard of performance far beyond the capabilities of the ad-hoc fringe companies JMC had been working with hitherto. So it was a great relief when JMC's impulsive entering the play into the Warehouse Theatre in Croydon's playwriting competition was rewarded by the play being chosen as that year's winner, a full-scale professional production following.

forwards to Fat Souls history

back to Fat Souls The Play