Guest Blog: Playwright Martin Askew On THERE IS A FIELD
Being working class, writing is never going to be your first career choice, is it?
I was an amateur boxer whose mind went to mush after witnessing my mate Paul get murdered in front of me. I was diagnosed with PTSD and had in-depth therapy to cope. My first scribblings were all self-related, dealing with my own traumas.
I got introduced to a community arts theatre in Hoxton Hall and then some lovely middle-class arty types embraced me and introduced me to great literature, plays and thick lentil soup lunches.
In my twenties, I was living a very dark life. One night I had a terrible fight down a backstreet: five men tried to kill me. As I lay bleeding on the curb, I made a prayer. Suddenly, a police car came round the corner.
I came out of hospital and started reading about philosophies and religions. I met a Muslim who said "You need to read the Quran or you're going to kill someone or be killed", but what sealed the deal was reading about the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, the way he lived and loved, his compassion. "Do not get angry" he said "The strong man is not the one who wrestles but the one who controls his anger". Just practising that one saying of his gave me my sanity back.
In 2009, I was doing an 18-month sentence after going on a demonstration outside the Israeli embassy. I got 70 stitches and a broken nose off the metropolitan police for tickling a couple of riot shields. Whilst in prison, my now wife found a Synergy course online and they accepted me. Great news, I thought, but the only problem was I was still in prison. Luckily, I joined the course when I got out.
More recently, I was on a Synergy course down the V&A. My Dad was dying and I was completely engrossed in his life - what little of it that was left, God rest his soul. I thought, "What if I was that fresh convert, that soppy know-it-all zealot - I wouldn't go home and bury me own father, would I?".
I wrote a short play and Synergy commissioned me, working with dramaturg Neil Grutchfield. The fact that Neil is Spurs and I'm Arsenal helped the dynamics too. It must be a spiritual play for that to happen.
The play is very much about love: looking for it in all the wrong and right places. It's also about the East End of London. I've tried my best to give people the sharp language and humour of the East End. Even though we're dealing with some serious issues, us Hoxton folk make light of most of life's angst. It's the rebel in us all, I suppose.
Whilst writing the play, I feel I have been frequenting Rumi's poem "There Is A Field" because Synergy have helped me find a safe space to create, a place of no judgment, of coming together. Because Synergy is a theatre company that works with prisoners, ex-prisoners and young people at risk, it's got the upper hand on many creative companies out there. Our narratives should be heard more - our stories are real and our voices can transcend so all people will be engaged.
My hope for the piece is for people to engage and maybe think a little bit more critically when they next read a paper or look at a news report. I also hope it builds some bridges for us as Londoners, to come together. "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there."
Watch a trailer below!