‘Dandyism’, for these purposes, is the quality of being ‘Dandy’ rather
than being ‘a Dandy’. In 1999 I wrote and directed a play called ‘I Am
Dandy’. The title referred to a state of feeling ‘just fine’. The play took
three years to write, ninety per cent of which involved making notes.
I love the play.
In 1994 I got a job. For the previous thirty years I had been either a
free-lance or the co-director of my own theatre company. These do not
count as jobs because the work was not alienating. The job I got was as
a Senior Lecturer at a provincial university. Of the many shocks I
experienced in my first employment, the most profound involved discovering
that there were people ‘above’ me who could tell me what to do. I
hadn’t experienced this to any significant degree since leaving my family
home at the age of 18. I was now an employee with a number of employers. I
was expected to want only the best for the institution that employed me. Since
I didn’t really care very much for the institution, a degree of pretence was
called for. Many readers will find these observations rather commonplace. I
can only further observe that, largely as a consequence of a twenty year
spell of writing and, initially, performing with Lumiere & Son Theatre
Company, I had become sequestered from the experience of subjugation.
Anyway, for five years I went into shock and didn’t write a thing. One
day an affable colleague in charge of ‘research’ asked me how my
research was going. I had no idea what he was talking about. I saw
myself as an ex-theatre writer and, most recently, journalist. I didn’t
do research, that was something my father, a biochemist, did. I told my
colleague this, I insisted I was a journalist. His face fell. You have
to do research at universities or else your department doesn’t get
enough money the following year. As a result, a great deal of research
material of no great use or importance is generated. Rather like the
Dutch government, which used to buy artists’ work off them to give them
a living then put it in storage, universities maintain libraries in
which a lot of nicely bound research outcomes sit, unbothered by human
I told my colleague that I had just done a programme for Radio 4, in
which I had interviewed a number of writers and commentators about
their view of the future. ‘That’s national exposure!’ he cried. ‘Is
there a book in it?’ What do you mean? ‘You could publish the
interviews in a book, couldn’t you?’ Not one that people would
wish to read, I thought. Yes, I said.
So began the promotion of a piece of radio journalism into a
fund-worthy venture that eventually, thanks to the system-savvy
persistence of my colleague, generated a sum of money large enough to
mount a play. I had tagged the notion of writing a play onto my
application, recognising that I had just been offered a way back into
doing what I do best. The book fell by the wayside, politely declined
by publishers who knew that few would wish to read it.
Despite my feeling that employment was synonymous with the end of art,
I had been making notes for a show that I imagined I would put on one
day, whenever circumstance delivered me from the day job. I wanted to
present a succession of non-narrative scenes that examined aspects of
contemporary hysteria. Blessed with a profound atheism for as long as I
can remember, I found myself increasingly fascinated, as the Millennium
approached, by the persistence of irrational beliefs in an age that
boasted of its technologised victory over nature and superstition. I
was bored with reading about UFO abductees and accounts of the
interesting past lives of the currently dull, however, and more
concerned with the extent to which everyday transactions were suffused
with a vagueness that was justified as a form of spirituality.
In the programme for the show, which opened at the Festival of British
Visual Theatre on the South Bank in October 1999, I laid out some of the ideas that I wanted the play to articulate.