HOW WE MET

PATRICK MARBER AND CRAIG RAINE; Patrick Marber, 31, was born in London. Last year, his play, Dealer's Choice, ended a successful West End run; he has also worked on TV programmes such as Knowing Me, Knowing You. The poet Craig Raine, 51, was born near Dart the Almeida Theatre in London, Marber lives alone in Islington. The poet Craig Raine, 51, was born near Darlington. He has published four poetry collections, and was poetry editor of Faber & Faber from 1981-91. He lives in Oxford, where he is a Fellow...
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
PATRICK MARBER: I started reading Craig's poetry when I was at Oxford in 1984. His book of poetry Rich had just come out; if anyone read poetry, that was the book they had. I think I'd read interviews about him or seen pictures of him; I knew he was this bearded, ex-hippy type. He was someone I admired from a great distance.

Then, last year, I was looking for a play to direct. I was in the bookshop, and Craig's play 1953 was there. I read it and really liked it; the way he writes, the use of imagery and his sensibility. I got in touch with him after that. I only wanted to do it if he'd collaborate on it; I thought, if I've got him in the rehearsal room, I'll have more of a clue about how to do it.

Craig knew who I was through Paul Calf's Video Diary. It must have seemed weird, this bloke who he'd seen with wigs on and doing funny voices, suddenly wanting to direct his play - but he was open-minded.

We went to dinner, and got on with each other straight away. It's a strange friendship, because I'm 31 and he's 51. But I tell him just about everything. We started talking about sex quite quickly, which is usually an indication of the level on which you're prepared to open up to someone. He knows quite a few of my secrets. I'm a fairly guarded person, but I found it quite easy to confide in him. I can tell him a lot because he doesn't have an axe to grind; we're not chasing the same women, or in competition in terms of who we are as writers.

To me, it's a great friendship because there's no subject that isn't available for discussion. He can educate me on literary things. He can run the gamut from Nabokov to sexual perversion and back again. One minute he can be talking about farts, the next it can be images of nature in Jane Austen. What's interesting about him is his combination of crudity, infantile humour and great intellect.

Our sense of humour is fundamental to the relationship. I didn't think I've ever meet anyone who's ruder than me - but he is. He's expansively perverse and comically coarse for effect. We take the piss out of each other and we are cruelly, blackly comic about the work we are doing.

He finds it funny that I'm repressed and anal; and I send up his clothes - he's the worst-dressed man I've ever met. It's extraordinary what he wears. He's not averse to the smock shirt done up at the waist with a thick belt or the strange physics teacher's shoes with the tight-fitting trousers. He was also a big fan of the blue padded skiing jacket, which made him look like he was wearing that kind of cladding you put on old boilers.

We're both sticklers for detail and fairly observant - but microcosmically. I don't think either of us has a strong world view, but we'll notice a tiny bit of dirt under the fingernail and that'll be more interesting. One of his greatest qualities is that he's never once lorded his superior intellect over me in terms of work. He's certainly more easy-going than me: if I had some bloke like me trying to cut my play I'd be much more antagonistic than he is. He's utterly unconcerned by reviews, good or ill; he doesn't need a pat on the back. Like anyone, I prefer praise to criticism - but he's aloof to it. I think he has genuine integrity.

While we were working together, the play didn't really dominate the conversation. We'd go out to dinner, and to the pub, and talk about other things. His general line to me is "get married". Because he's happy with that, he assumes I would be as well, although I'm not so convinced. His domestic set-up does seem pretty ideal. He's got great kids and a fantastic wife. The fear is that when you have children, you're going to spawn monsters who will hate you and be alienated from you, and he hasn't. We had an interesting conversation recently about having children, and he was trying to make this case that the greatest writers have families. I gave him this list of those who didn't, starting with Austen and ending with Eliot, Kafka and Beckett. It kind of upset him. But his big argument is that Joyce and Nabokov had children.

Craig is full of interesting images. This bloke came to the show who we don't particularly like, and we were watching him sitting in the audience and hating the play. Craig said, "Look at him. He's just a gasometer of boredom." I found that very funny. He once punctured a silence when we were just sitting staring into space in my living-room by asking, "Do you think insects fart?" That's a very Craig thing to say.

He stays a lot at my flat because the theatre is round the corner. Often he reads, while I play with the dog, and this feeling of domestic bliss descends. Our relationship is akin to a student who gets on with his tutor. He's more experienced than me, cleverer and a better writer. I'm a big fan. I respect him on every level, and that's quite rare.

CRAIG RAINE: Patrick phoned me up last May and told me that he'd read my play 1953 and would like to direct it. He sort of waxed lyrical about my poetry, so we got all of that out of the way early on. There was no embarrassing face-to-face stuff later on, and there hasn't been any since. But he was deeply flattering and naturally I thought he was a man of taste and clearly a good bloke.

We met at the National Theatre. I had gone to see his play Dealer's Choice, and we went for dinner afterwards. I remember thinking Patrick was quiet, self-contained and slyly funny. When I saw him, I realised immediately that he had played Spiros, the Greek criminal in Steve Coogan's Paul Calf's Video Diary, so obviously we talked a lot about Alan Partridge. Then we talked about 1953 and bits we wanted to re-write; it was very businesslike really.

Patrick said he wanted me in rehearsals, which is the first time that's ever happened to me. Usually my role is to be incredibly silent and then go for a drink at the end of the day with the director and say what's on my mind. Patrick would ask me what I thought. I realised that I was expected to participate more actively than before. I remember, one night, coming back from the theatre and staying up until 4.30am with him re-writing one of the scenes. It was terrific to have somebody else who could write.

I'm used to working with people who talk to you in code the whole time, like, "Lets get this bandwagon on the road." Patrick and I have a realistic and slightly depressive take on things. There isn't any, "Wow, isn't it terrific", or "Isn't this marvellous?" - that's unusual in the theatre.

Patrick is anally retentive about detail, but he's also got a good temperament. It was possible for me to say to him, "Aren't you missing the point of the scene here?" and he would discuss it in a perfectly level way. There were no conflicts. Patrick's open and down to earth. I admire him because he's straightforward, humorous and generous with money. He'll always take me somewhere nice for dinner, rather than some old sandwich shop down the road. We often go to Granita in lslington because the set of Dealer's Choice is based on its layout.

His flat in Islington is interesting; jam-packed with play manuscripts. I've spent a lot of time on his sofa bed and seen a lot of him slobbing around in the mornings. He can be very amusing. I remember he did a wonderful impromptu impression of 1953 - turning it into a musical and improvising the tunes. It was incredibly funny to watch. Occasionally, he'll say or do something hilarious and I'll be helpless on the floor, begging him to stop.

During rehearsals, we were obsessional about the play. There was a wonderful moment last week when we came back from the show and I started to talk about it. He said, "Listen, can't we just drop that for five minutes? I want to watch the football." He's very keen on football, whereas I'm slightly bored by sport. I did once say something sarcastic about the Arsenal towelling cover on his toilet lid, which seems to have gone now.

We talk about poetry quite a bit. We both think Nabokov and Updike are great. We also know various people in common; he's a great admirer of Martin Amis, who's a friend of mine. I said to him recently, "You've got a lot of Henry Green around. Why are you interested in him?" He told me he liked these minor writers, and he said, "Perhaps it's because I identify with them." But I see him as a major writer. Dealer's Choice is a great play. I wish he'd write another one.

I'm sure we'll carry on seeing each other - I know my kids are very fond of him. They always want him to stay in Oxford, because they think he's so funny. When 1953 first opened, I saw every show, but now I come down to see it more sporadically. But I find I miss him - now he's sort of like family. I miss all the jokes we shared. I think his unillusioned intelligence is what I value most. If something isn't working, he doesn't pretend that it is - he just gets on the case and fixes it. !

Comments