This Cultural Life: Mark Ravenhill

The playwright can't get enough of 'Doctor Who' but has already had his fill of classical ballet

What was your cultural passion at 14?

Buying the NME every week to find out what was cool and not cool. I followed pretty much everything, and in 1980 Pete Murphy of Bauhaus was the coolest person at that time, and the look was as important as the sound. I was a goth a bit later, black crimped hair and black clothes and all that stuff.

What do you cling on to from childhood?

My loyalty to Doctor Who has remained undimmed through the years. I watch all the DVDs of the old Doctor Whos and keep up to date with all the new ones, which are fantastic. And I buy Doctor Who Magazine, which I did then and I still do now. Tom Baker was my favourite Doctor Who, this weird, flamboyant guy, with Elisabeth Sladen playing Sarah Jane - a classic combination.

What are you reading in bed at the moment?

I'm reading Edmund White's biography of Genet. I didn't know much about Genet.I hadn't realised to what extent he was self taught - he was literally on the run from 14, didn't know who his parents were, brought up by peasant farmers, ran away from them at an early age, and taught himself everything. It's exciting to find someone who's completely invented themselves.

What book have you bought it in a fit of misguided enthusiasm and not yet read?

I've got piles of Zola novels, waiting to be read, I bought them all a few years ago. He wrote a big cycle about the Second Empire and the Franco-Prussian war, and I'm trying to read them in sequence. The later ones are sitting there until I get round to them.

Are you a re-reader?

About two or three times a year, I reread a self-help book by Louise L Hay, called You Can Heal Your Life, which somebody gave me about 12 years ago. It's full of practical exercises for when you're feeling a bit down. It's a Californian, New Age thing, but for some reason it works for me. The other stuff I reread is Brecht: the letters, the diaries, the poems, the plays, the theory. I normally have some Brecht by my bed. It's a bit like the Forth Bridge, once I finish them I just start again.

What is the least disposable pop song?

"Dance Yourself Dizzy" by Liquid Gold, is guaranteed to make you jump out a chair and leap around the room. It's about 1979, 1980, a manic, disco pop song. It's like injecting sugar straight into the vein.

What might your alternative job be?

In my ideal alternative job, I would be Freddie Ljungberg in those underwear adverts; I'd just have an amazing body and be photographed in underpants all day. More realistically, I'd probably be an A-level English literature teacher in a small comprehensive in the provinces. I'd be bored shitless. I have done teaching before - when I first came to london I did some A-level theatre studies teaching. I did it for a year and knew it

wasn't for me.

Do you have a hole in your cultural life?

I don't get ballet. Modern dance I can just about do. But ballet looks completely redundant from my perspective. I don't get why you recreate The Nutcracker with the original sets.Opera to me is still a form that's alive, but ballet just looks like a dead form.

Do you have a secret cultural passion?

Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps: it's on every night on BBC3 at 11.30. I've watched all the episodes about seven times now (I can say the dialogue along with the cast). The writer, Susan Nickson, feels like she knows the lives of these young kids in Runcorn. Two Pints places young, chavvy people at the centre of the drama in a really different way. I really feel affectionate towards those characters. And it's also got a very filthy sense of humour.

Which cultural item would you like to steal?

When I went to the Rodin museum in Paris, I had a strong urge to touch the sculptures. But you can't cop a feel at the Rodin Museum. So I'd like to heist one away, and have one of the smaller ones in my living room to stroke and touch it whenever I wanted to.

Which painting most corresponds with your vision of yourself?

One of those Francis Bacon bodies - he painted quite a lot of his lover, and they're a very strong mixture of something very sensual and sexual. But you can't tell whether they're in sexual ecstasy or in pain. There's a kind of strength about them, but they're almost disabled as well. I relate to those.

If you could tear down any building in the world, what would it be?

I'd tear down any shopping mall. It's like a phobia, shopping - I almost hyperventilate. But I like Argos. I'd tear down all the major stores and replace them all with Argoses - it's lovely looking through the catalogue, it's a beautiful system. I think the world would be a better place if there were more Argos stores.

Who should play you in the Hollywood version of your life? And who would be your nemesis in the last reel?

I'm liking Daniel Craig a lot at the moment - yeah, he'd do it. The only person who brings you down in this world is yourself, so the person trying to finish myself off in the final reel would be played by myself. Quite deep that, isn't it?

Your house is on fire: what is the thing (not person) you save first from the flames?

The first time I had a play at the National Theatre they took a photo of my name and play up on that big LED screen outside. Mother Clapp's Molly House. But I quite like the idea of a fresh start, and saying goodbye to everything.

You die and go to heaven - who would you most like to meet in the bar? What question would you ask first?

It would have to be Shakespeare. I'd ask him didn't he think it was a little bit unfair to start writing plays 500 years ago and to grab 95 per cent of all the playwrighting talent for himself. That seems wrong, selfish and quite bad karma.

Mark Ravenhill is the writer of 'Dick Whittington and His Cat', Barbican Theatre, London EC2 (0845 120 7500), to 20 Jan. He will also star in his own play, 'Product', Bush Theatre, London W12 (020 7610 4224), 9 Jan to 3 Feb

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