Playwriting - Moniack Mhor

Playwriting - Moniack Mhor

Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay

Another event delayed due to the pandemic was a playwriting course scheduled for April 2020 in Moniack Mhor. It took place last week and was their third as they ramped up to full capacity. This one was run at 50% capacity and one of the original tutors had been replaced. 

Set thirty minutes outside Inverness, Moniack Mhor is arguably set in the most beautiful location of all the writing retreats in the UK. Formerly an Arvon centre, its now independent but supported by Creative Scotland. I've been to 2 of the Arvon centres and hope to visit the Welsh one soon. 

There are 3 types of experience: a retreat with no tuition, one with workshops most days with a small amount of 1:1 and a version with no workshops with a greater amount of 1:1s. This was the second type and probably one I will no longer attend, unless learning a completely new activity. I don't feel I'm learning much more in terms of theory and really need to be working in a much more focussed way with mentors.

Our tutors were Amy Rosenthal and Mark Rosenblatt. They shared the workshop sessions. Amy's tutorage was more classic in its focus on playwriting, Mark's came more from his directorial experience. They complemented each other well. Ella Hickson was a midweek guest.

We did the alphabet excercise early doors. You right the alphabet letter by letter on each line of a page, then write a word for each letter. Then you write a short story using the words in the order written. You get quite a surreal narative:

His angle on the whole thing was if you coat the hashish in batter it'd taste jammy but it was grosse. I've had better drugs in Cork or Jerry or even England without any naff mods. Too foreign for me. Now, a Geronimo or Harry done the Italian way is pure Jerusalem. Like a kerrang to the nuts. Pure llama, I'll tell ya. It'd make the Mon Lisa proper grin. A neutron bomb to the head. He hid them in an oboe to get across the border, the prick. Quorum let him through, didn't spot the ruse, the dumb schmucks. Had to sacrifice some to a guard, dressed lik a Tunnock wafer with an umbrella to protect hisself from the sun. Gave him a violin's worth. The wind blew his umbrella off. It was so funny we gaggled like xeroxed cheetahs, yella and black spots, zooming to a a pay day. 

We did another session where we were asked: 

  1. What makes you angry?
  2. What is the opposite of the central premise?
  3. How would you like the audience to feel when you leave?
  4. What a stage play?
  5. What interests you? 
  6. What could you write that you woudn't want your parents to see?

Amy referrred to characters = plot - quite similar ot Phil and Ted's ascertain that characters are structure. She talked about a play as having a linear shape with characters in conflict. This is the skeleton of the play and is literally fleshed out to create a whole play. Much like a dinosaur, a storysaurus!


We did a character creation activity and I focussed on an interesting chap I saw in the pub a few weeks back. We answered questions on them and wrote a shorty story

It's quiet in here today. Two rum-looking chaps in the corner. I'll sit here with my whisky. Weather meant to  stay fine, will head off to grave after. Have a chat to Elsie and tidy up the flowers someone left. I hope he's not there again. If it was him. All this time and its the first time I've seen him since. He looks like her. I wonder what he does. Wasn't smart - looked a bit scruffy in them jeans and hoodie but you can't tell these days. Look at that Branson fella. 

I wonder if he saw me. I ducked behind that tree pretty quick but you just don't know. What if he's there today? He won't be. Probably just came the once. For the anniversary. So he won't be there today. I needn't worry. Muck pick up some milk later and Joe wanted a paper. To check the results. I tell him he can use my iPad but he's too old he said for that stuff. I said my daughter taught me. Millly next door has one. She went on and on about it so Julie got me one. 'Keep me up to date' she said.

What if he is there? Maybe I shouldn't go. I've only not been cause I'm ill. Its duty. I saw where he stood. It'd do no harm to go over, would it? I'd just tell Elsie, I saw it by chance. She's forgiven me once already.


We did the newspaper excercise - looking for an interesting story - then expanding our understanding of it and what we'd still like to know. For Ella Hickson's night, she kindly shared her process. She writes short prose pieces, similar to diary entries, for characters who may have an association or part in her play. She has a strong idea of the themes she wants to tackle and likes to push against the traditional features of plays. For this play, she wants to experiment with subtext by having characters speak their mind but no one listens. We read a few pages of an early draft of it. It was fascinating. We had a short discussion and Q&A afterwards.

During my tutor sessions, we mostly discussed my short play, A Game of Two Halves, and how it could be improved and lengthened. Both tutors gave both complementary and helpful advice. The main elements were to start the story earlier, so giving more time for a full length piece and to hide more of the information, both from the two characters and the audience - drip feed the revelations. 

For the final night, we all prepared a short new or reworked piece for performance. We all take roles in each other's pieces. I was pleased with my new opening scene. It still felt a little fast and wasn't as funny as I hoped but I think the main character, Froggie, does have enough to intrigue people, to continue to extend the play up to an hour.