detail from the cover of Little Victims 1988
Cardinal sin… Cynthia Cardinal. Lay it on, but hard..! Leighton Buzzard. Sin and death… Cyn and Buzz. See how it works? Little Victims took its title from the poem by Thomas Gray, Ode on a distant prospect of Eton College. The play is about Leighton Buzzard, who is a singer with a doomed band called The Little Victims (Alas, regardless of their doom/The little victims play) and his girlfriend, Cynthia Cardinal, a fact which I had to explain over the telephone to a policeman who had somehow learned the title of the play I was producing and felt he ought to ring the school to check that there was “no offence in’t.” Apparently a newspaper had used the phrase as the headline to a story about child abuse; he asked me to summarise the plot, but I didn’t get very far before he’d had enough: I’m not sure if that was because he was bored or because he felt it was harmless or just incomprehensible. Possibly harmless because incomprehensible. Those distancing devices again!
A quick internet search reveals that there are two other books out there with similar and delightfully symetrical titles: Little Victims Play by Vera Ryder (1974) and Play Little Victims by Kenneth Cook (1978). I regret to say that I know nothing of the contents of either title, but I do wonder if their authors had to explain themselves to the local constabulary as well! The plot which tried the policeman’s patience all those years ago goes something like this. Choregos, (an ancient Greek chorus master) aided by an ancient Greek chorus, introduces the story of Leighton Buzzard, (a boy, not a town in Bedfordshire) whose third-rate band is about to disband until he is inspired by a passing Goddess to such an extent that at their next gig he is literally torn to pieces by the enthusiastic crowd. This may or may not remind you of Euripides- The Bacchae. Leighton’s parents literally pick him up afterwards, putting the pieces in Tesco bags, but he is re-membered by the Goddess and sings again, going down to a Hades of a recording studio where Cynthia dumps him, but he gets off with Sharon (Charon’s sister?) on the banks of the Styx. Well, it was something like that… All a very long time ago.
The reason I bring it up now is because as I work on my new writing rejoycing (sorry, rejoicing- go away, Jimmy!) in having time at last (good old retirement!) I realise that the old ideas are coming back. But I hope now I’ve developed the technique to articulate them properly. I mentioned in a previous post how much I appreciated the advice I received from Anthony Burgess; a couple of years previously I’d had a letter from Russell Hoban which hit the nail on the head: I was far too interested in myself, and showing off how bloody well-read I was, instead of letting the ideas become themselves. Russ was a very kind man; (he’d need to be, to plough his way through the typescript of Little Victims) and I got to know him a little when my wife (The composer Helen Roe) was working with him on the music theatre work Some Episodes in the History of Miranda and Caliban. Here is his letter: (click on it to enlarge)