Jane Darke talks Nick Darke, The Dead Monkey, Cornwall and the Nick Darke Award

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Ahead of the start of rehearsals for our revival of Nick Darke's classic The Dead Monkey, Mongrel Thumb caught up with writer, painter and filmmaker Jane Darke to talk about her husband's work, their life together and the importance of Falmouth University's Nick Darke Award. It’s a fascinating insight into the inspirations behind one of Britain’s most unusual and celebrated playwrights.

Jane, how did you meet Nick?

We were staying separately with relatives in a large house divided into flats. My three year old son Jim became a friend of his and then Nick became a friend.

You are a filmmaker, painter and writer – did you collaborate with Nick on any projects?

We made the film The Wrecking Season together after he had a stroke aged 52. He wrote and presented, I filmed and directed. It was shown on BBC4 after his death. It’s about things that wash onto beaches in Cornwall from the Americas.

Much of Nick’s work is based in Cornwall and the surrounding area. Why was

this so key to his writing?

He was born in Cornwall, it was his home. Most writers write about where they live, a lot regret leaving home and write about that, he did that too.

The Dead Monkey is unusual among Nick's plays in that it takes place in California. Why did Nick choose to set the play here?

He was brought up on American TV and films. One of his favourite films was Chinatown set in California. We had American Nuclear weapons on British airbases then and the CIA was getting deeper into other countries’ business. Many people felt that our relationship with the USA was ambiguous if not dangerous.

What was the inspiration behind The Dead Monkey?

He’d seen Fool for Love by Sam Shepherd at The Royal Court and wondered why that play should be chosen for a British venue when it said so little about America and the wider world. He decided that he would write a different kind of love story set in America.

AND we had two young children. I was studying at the Royal College of Art. We were living in two rooms in the Halls of Residence in the Fulham road. He was writing at night. We were broke.

Why a Monkey?

I think its Darwinian, a reminder that we haven’t come very far in our evolution. And biological!

Tell us a little about Nick's writing process.

Usually he wrote from research, gathering information, talking to people, writing notes. Then dialogue developed in his notes books early on and plot developed through the characters. But this play was different. He wrote the first act in 3 days straight out and it hardly changed at all. It was performed at the RSC festival with Lesley Manville as Dolores. He was then commissioned to write the second act, which took a lot longer.

What do you feel is Nick's legacy?

Wonderful plays, varied in subject, always funny.

What does Falmouth University’s Nick Darke Awards mean to you and to the people that win each year?

Falmouth University have developed the award adding more to the pot and helping to pull in more writers. We work closely with Nick’s archive at the University and have a wonderful set of judges, all of whom knew Nick. The award leads people to Nick’s work which is important but also I love giving money to writers. The Award money helps writers to keep going, I know how difficult that can be. Writing is very hard work. Good writing is rare and needs help.

Lastly, what does this play mean to you?

It’s a very important play. My relationship with Nick was a loving one. Hank and Dolores have a few problems which we didn’t encounter in our marriage but I experienced some of them in my childhood. Nick grew up with a happy family who lived on a beach, where he had complete freedom. Hank and Dolores have everything they need but…………

The Dead Monkey is partly about fighting for time. Nick died when he was 56 so he didn’t have enough but he used what he had well. Every play was his child and I want to see them live long lives.

Jane Darke lives on the North Coast of Cornwall. This is the subject of her work as a painter, filmmaker & writer. She has a close connection to the place, particularly the littoral zone, between high and low tide. Jane was married to the playwright Nick Darke until his death in 2005. He grew up on this stretch of coast and taught her everything he had learned while they fished for lobsters and mackerel from their small boat and explored the rocky shoreline.

Falmouth University is home to the Nick Darke Award – a stage, screen and radio writing award that recognises Nick Darke’s contribution in these disciplines, with an annual prize of £6,000. This year, on the 10th anniversary of his death, Falmouth is celebrating Nick's achievements through engagement with the world in which he worked. The award will be open for submissions towards the end of 2015.

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