Russell Hoban R.I.P.

I was first recommended Russell Hoban’s outstanding novel Ridley Walker by my art teacher at school, who probably thought it would appeal to the dyslexic in me. A couple of years later at university the author’s name cropped up again. Ridley Walker had prompted Impact Theatre Cooperative to approach Hoban to collaborate with them on what became a seminal piece of 1980s physical theatre, The Carrier Frequency.

Of course learning this I was compelled to find a read Ridley Walker, which is amazing and from there scoured second had book shops for Kleinzeit, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and Jachin-Boaz, Pilgermann, Turtle Diaries and The Medusa Frequency (which he must have been writing around around the time of The Carrier Frequency). They are all, to differing degrees, wonderful.

In 1999 Stan’s Cafe was looking to re-stage The Carrier Frequency. The company had all given us their permission, we had a documentation on VHS tape, Graeme Miller had remastered the soundtrack for us and I wrote to Russell Hoban’s asking if we could use his original text. I was anxious as the rumour was that relations between the author and theatre company had got ‘strained’, but I needn’t have worried, I received a prompt and positive response answer phone message from him directing me to his literary agent – so he finally got some royalties from me.

Re-staging The Carrier Frequency stirred up considerable interest. We performed it for two nights and one night Mr. Hoban himself came. He was elderly, charming and enthusiastic. He bust into the dressing room with the cast all half dressed and thanked us all. Later I received a fantastic email from him again thanking us – saying that people who work in theatre are often called ‘lovies’ but that this was a compliment because the care attention and attention we had lavished on his and Impact’s show was an act of love.

I have continued to read much of Hoban’s subsequent work. Reviews often describe his world as odd or surreal but it’s not, it’s playful, beautiful, poetic and human. We met once, fleetingly, he seemed the kind of man it would have been fantastic to have as a friend. Now he has died aged 86 and it’s gratifying to see tributes popping up in the media already – he deserves them all.

3 thoughts on “Russell Hoban R.I.P.

  1. I have three enduring memories of his work, one of which is your revival of The Carrier Frequency. The earliest is being given his children’s book How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsman for my birthday, which I read daily. And of course every man who’s read Kleinzeit thinks of the book when his piss comes out in two streams. Great writer.

  2. I’m looking at this photo with a huge sense of pride and Ridley Walker is actually waiting patiently on my bedside table for me to have time to read it again.

  3. I’ve been meaning to read Riddley Walker for years.

    At university I was in the singing chorus of Pilgermann at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Unfortunately it was one of those productions that goes down in theatre history and not in a good way. It was critically panned and was rather impenetrable. But then again a few bloggers talk about how it took a few attempts to read and required much perseverance.

    I remember singing a song in the production called Death. This was sung in five part harmonies and contained one word – death. On some Saturday morning rehearsals with my student hangover, it perfectly described how I was feeling at that particular moment.

    Russell Hoban was a nice man though and what an imagination!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *