Series Gives Preview of Pet Project Screenplays; Where Dancer Led, Others May Follow. DAVID WHETSTONE Talks to Billy Elliot Writer Lee Hall Ahead of a Series of Readings of Screenplays Yet to Make It to the Big Screen

The Journal (Newcastle, England), January 22, 2014 | Go to article overview

Series Gives Preview of Pet Project Screenplays; Where Dancer Led, Others May Follow. DAVID WHETSTONE Talks to Billy Elliot Writer Lee Hall Ahead of a Series of Readings of Screenplays Yet to Make It to the Big Screen


Byline: DAVID WHETSTONE

LEE Hall may be most famous for Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, but he has written much, much more than that, as a new series called Live Screenplays clearly indicates.

It features a series of his screenplays that have yet to blossom into actual films. Some are first drafts, others have been reworked several times. Directed by Max Roberts, they are to be read by actors at Live Theatre over the coming months, beginning on Thursday with a co-written account of the life of cricketer Harold Larwood.

There can be no clearer indication of the workrate and fizz of ideas that have helped to make Lee, born in Newcastle, one of Britain's most successful and sought-after writers.

On the phone this week, he explains that these are just his pet projects rather than the commissioned work that he accepts. He's in the fortunate position of not having to take everything he is offered - which, if he did so, would result in an impossible workload.

"I've always got two or three things on the go and I suddenly realised, over the last year, that I'd suddenly got five or six things," he says.

"They're screenplays - not that they'll all ever get put on screen - but I thought it would be a really nice idea to share them with other people. I spoke to Max at Live Theatre and luckily he agreed.

"It's so hard to get films made and these are labours of love really.

George Orwell means a great deal to me and this (Down And Out in Paris And London) is one of my favourite books. The Messiaen (Quartet for the End of Time) is one of my favourite pieces of music." In fact, just before we speak I have lost an 800-word article with a misplaced finger on a computer keyboard. It wasn't the end of the world. But I wonder if this has ever happened to Lee.

"I lost a whole script last year," he confesses cheerfully. "I thought I'd had it backed up but I hadn't. It was the Messiaen."

Undaunted, he sat down and wrote it all over again. "Actually, it worked out quite well in the end because the second one was much better. I knew it wasn't quite working out."

His screenplay For The End of Time tells of the French composer Olivier Messiaen who composed his famous piece and premiered it in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

It will bring the metaphorical curtain down on the Live Screenplays series with a reading on June 20, accompanied by a performance of the work by musicians of the Royal Northern Sinfonia.

But the series opens with Harold Larwood, which might lead you to suspect that Lee, despite having grown up in a football-daft city, is a fan of cricket and the sound of leather on willow.

Not so. "I really didn't know much about cricket but I was at Cecil Sharp House (London home to the English folk music archive) researching another play about folk music that I haven't worked out what to do with yet and somebody told me about Harold Larwood.

"I know cricket is something people know everything about, every team and every Test match, so I told a friend of mine, Simon Beaufoy who wrote The Full Monty and Slumdog Millionaire, and we decided to write it together. He knows about the cricket and I know about the miners."

Harold Larwood was the pint-sized Nottinghamshire miner who became one of the country's best bowlers and acquired an undeserved notoriety during the so-called 'bodyline' Test series of 1932-3 against the Aussies. Under orders from England captain Douglas Jardine, Larwood adopted a new style of bowling designed to intimidate batsmen. While the aggressive bodyline technique wasn't illegal, it was deemed unsportsmanlike by the Australians.

What drew Lee to Larwood wasn't so much his cricketing exploits as the fact he was prepared to stand up to the English cricket establishment who put pressure on him to apologise for his actions on the pitch.

"He stood by his principles and wouldn't apologise for what he didn't think was his to apologise for. …

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