As an actor I experienced the force fields from some of the great playwrights. Shakespeare, Chekhov, Ibsen, O’Casey, Arthur Miller, Becket – templates to freeze the blood when writing for the stage.
I slid round it by producing two monologues, “Stations,” and “The Eagle” and then got lucky with a last minute two hander, “Me..dancing, ”called it all rather grandly a trilogy, “Passing By”, and received the best reviews I’ve every had in my life.
“Ashton’s concerns are with the dispossessed, the lonely, the crazed, the inarticulate. His three plays are however upbeat, hilarious and outline the myths and structure which his characters construct as a framework for existence.”
“Delightful and quirky trilogy dominated by religious imagery, sensuality, sacrifice and the lingering memory of an exquisite but haunting sexual experience.”
“Humour, affection and delicacy.”
“Like Pinter and Becket before him, Ashton unearths a universal metaphor in the tramp’s daily task of survival.”
“The Eagle” was also performed in Edinburgh and received this review in
“A powerful classical symbol exerting strange sexual force, as, with a great sense of aching hollowness Ashton’s creation casts a longing eye from Earth to Heaven.”
Dominic Dromgoole, who now runs the Globe, directed and then somehow persuaded me to try for a full-length play to be put on at the Bush theatre.
I finally produced a work, “A Bright Light Shining”, that was squashed, somewhat dense and would have run about 35 minutes. The Dromgoole upper lip is long and born to curl in disdain. It twitched slightly as he fastidiously held the piece by one corner and said; “It’s a tad on the short side.” We finally teased it out but I still maintain that any play should be no longer than 90 minutes plus interval, an audience has places to go for God’s sake.
The cast? John Hannah, Ewan Bremner, Joanna Roth and they were hot stuff.
“The Bush audience loved this play. A mixture of spoof, ribaldry and sheer word spinning exuberance.”
“A quirky intelligent and funny play about the importance of miraculous light in an age that needs its batteries testing.”
“Complex moral and spiritual issues which Ashton addresses through the tangled emotions of his four characters.”
The next play two years later also at the Bush. I wrote quite a lot of it in an ex-sanitorium for KGB alcoholics when I was in Russia filming, “Sharpe” for ITV in Yalta. I don’t know whence it arrived but it was a mad world. The name came first, “The Chinese Wolf.”
Ronan Vibert, Maureen Beattie, Julia Ford and Desmond Barrit. They went for it. Dromgoole refereed.
“Engagingly weird. The music of the Platters, Oedipal consequences and the trains thunder by as The Chinese Wolf, Ashton’s equivalent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, stalks the streets.” (Michael Coveney)
“A dark brooding talent somewhere between Joe Orton and Walt Disney overlaid with a seriously weird Gothic high camp.” (Sheridan Morely)
“The strong charm of Ashton’s oddball but down-to-earth sense of humour.” (Paul Taylor)
“In Ashton’s remarkable play, fantasies become concrete reality combining adult comedy and sexual adventure with the contents of a nursery toy-box.” (Irving Wardle)
“Disconcerting mixture of childlike innocence, knowing sexuality and nightmarish terror.”
The last of the Bush plays, what Dromgoole called the Sacred Trilogy was “Buried Treasure.” Tight as a drum.
It was performed at the studio, Lyric Hammersmith because the Bush had burnt down, at least that’s what they told me and Robin Lefevre directed this time, Dromgoole being knee-deep in reconstruction.
Cast? Alexander Morton, Jennifer Black, Colette O’Neill and Jimmy Yuill. Gunslingers the lot of them.
“Fast moving and very funny surface to match the brooding depths.”
“A tone poem to the glory of soul music and the waywardness of love.
Other pieces were “The Mark” at the Cockpit Theatre my most autobiographical play and “The Golden Door” a children’s play commissioned and performed at The National Theatre.
I loved the Bush Theatre. It was like a boxing ring.
In the terror stakes nothing matches sitting in an audience while a play unfolds. Or unravels. I once was tempted to strangle a young boy who ate his way noisily through many packets of crisps while watching my play, “The Chinese Wolf”, but then I forgave all when he loudly announced to his doting parents that he had liked it. “I liked it!” he declared. Such intelligence. Such perception.
Latest full-length piece is Couchsong. It begins with a therapist who hauls her couch out into the garden and takes off from there.
The dark secret of theatre. It is alive. Here. Now. No mistake can be taken back, edited, reworked. If you screw up, it remains screwed. In front of a group of strangers who have paid good money. You are, in all senses, exposed – the naked man. Like having a bath to find them all sitting round the tub. But it is – that terror – addictive.