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or, The Pirates of Circumstance

ISBN: 9781847477293
Published: chipmunkapublishing, 2008
Pages: 88



The Sanctuary Cafe, Hove, 2000

The Red House, Brighton, 2003

The Open House, Brighton, The South Fringe Festival, 2004

Shepherd's Bush Library, Westwords Literary Festival, London 2004

Resonance fm (broadcast) 2005

The Poetry Cafe, London, 2005 (notice in Guardian Review)

The George Bernard Shaw Theatre, RADA, London, 2006 

(reviewed by DADA South)

Step aboard the ship Nightshelter and meet its motley piratical crew! Bow Bell Glidey, Red Squirrel, Willie Grog, Starboard Scouse and cabin boy Jimmy Pin-Eyes, to name but a few, spin their yarns of a life on the homeless waves - but there’s ‘something rumbling down in the galley’: a self-divided Midshipman discovers whose side he is on in the wake of mutiny; and who the true pirates are on this deceptive vessel of charity...

Munayem Mayenin for New Hope International, original review 2005


These nameless, addressless, homeless, jobless, identityless bunch of people who have no face and no tongue and lost in the age of coloured television, the days of media gone mad about scandals and innuendo, the age of big screen hollywood producing alien block buster or other coloured escaped, these utterly written off people get a voice in Morrison's powerful writing that gives us the reality: raw, stinking, rotten and brutally fresh.


Picaresque deals with issues that do not create news and do not get debated in the power houses. It is not clear who are the villains here: charity? the market? or the people who show their charitable faces from a high moral pedestal? Charity that lives with the stinking breath of capitalism, that feeds with people's sheer helplessness that is injected and caused by the system.


The juxtaposition which is used in this play as a backdrop of a ship that is the Homeless hostels where charitable faces act out their power to establish gratefulness and order. It serves as a stark reminder to the readers that it's a ship taken over by the pirates and you are either on it by the mercy of the market or thrown overboard onto the sea that is as dangerous as the chaotic landscape ashore.


There is no humanity in this piece that comes to the readers, the characters take a self-defying, self-cynical and witty and wry sense of humour, probably to act as a calming influence: a healing mechanism.


A play or dramatic piece of work, like PICARESQUE, is always better felt and seen once it is live on the stage. Hence reading will never give the real sense and purpose that Morrison intended of this piece. However, it is a genuinely creative achievement that shows Morrison's talent in grasping the idea and ills that his characters fight with and live in.


In response to a question Morrison says: 'I don't know. It is what it is. The circularity of the storyline might serve to resemble the circularity of its issues.' This is essential for the readers to keep in mind: the circularity of issues and storyline. Nothing much happens in this ship where the Midshipman becomes almost like a commentator taking an approach almost apocalyptic...


The healing that does not take place, the salvation that does not come in to rescue, instead the cycle continues to run like the hamster wheel where the voices, the characters keep talking about themselves: despair paints their eyes hollow, cynicism colours their skin dry and hopelessness befriends them in hostels that encourage them to be grateful and follow their rules on the ship that stinks of vomit and nausea. PICARESQUE is a piece of work that Morrison says, has gone through a fundamental rewrite. It succeeds in getting the work substantialised, characters become real not only with their homeless smells and odures but also with their representative tongues, accents and chaos.


PICARESQUE is not like any other play, there is not much that happens in the way of actions or confrontations, yet Morrison succeeds in keeping the suspense going and building by getting the characters speaking in colourful, genuinely life-like language. Morrison's voice is powerfully vivid, colourfully real and he picks the dull and brutal reality to write its own drama and become the voice of the voiceless. Picaresque is a good read and fairly substantial portrait of the characters that make us think and smell their stinking cigarette breath and sympathise with their cynical self destructive outlook on life that hangs on the balance: a struggle to keep on board and walk the journey in fear of getting thrown out overboard.


'A crammed basement at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden... Main event of the evening was a performance of Picaresque, an ambitious half-hour dream-like play for voices by Alan Morrison, based on his experiences of working in a Brighton night shelter. As his contemporary hostel dwellers merge into the crew of a hallucinatory pirate ship, the listener picks up nearly as much about sea-lore as about the addictions and mental collapses that have led the men to the hostel, and Morrison helpfully supplies a glossary for the uninitiated in both spheres. "Garboard strake": one of the planks next to the keel on the outside of a ship. "Gouching": the heavily sedated state a heroin user enjoys on taking a hit...'

The Guardian, Review

'An extraordinary piece of writing. The only thing I know that I can compare it to is Gorky's The Lower Depths.

I love the richness of the phrasing, musical and rhythmical, mixing the vocabularies of piracy, drugs, crime and homelessness.

This is real poetry'

Andy Croft


'...the use of poetic imagery and verse (which to some extent calls to mind Dylan Thomas) is very effective in creating mood'

Paul Taylor

Samuel French Ltd.

'...a beautifully clever, druggist parody of Under Milk Wood'

DADA South


'...flawlessly performed and hugely enjoyed by the audience, many of whom felt they had been exposed to a piece of verse of classical quality'

Xochitl Tuck

Poetry Express

Picaresque 1.jpg

Original publication: 2005

Survivors' Press,

Survivors' Poetry


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