Out of Time is taken exclusively from the diaries of Keith Vaughan, an English painter who flourished as part of the post-war neo-Romantic movement, along with his friends Graham Sutherland and John Minton.
He kept these diaries for over forty years, and they are remarkable in their frankness, honesty, wit and powers of description.
He brings the same absolutely clear eyes to destroyed legs of a wounded soldier after Dunkirk that he brings to his beautiful and unashamedly homoerotic drawings of divers and sunbathers.
Out of Time was originally called ‘Locked In’ and performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and subsequently in London in 2012. It was the year of Vaughan’s birth centenary, and the Radio 4 book programme, ‘A Good Read’ drew my attention to the diaries at the time and in particular to the extraordinary way that they end.
Vaughan had talked of suicide for years beforehand, but his yearning for self-annihilation became more acute with the death of friends, loss of fashionable popularity, increasing impotence and illness. If anyone ever doubted the truth of Bette Davis’s dictum, ‘Old age is no place for cissies’, they have only to read Keith Vaughan.
On the morning of 4 November 1977, he took the pills he’d been hoarding and carried on writing his diaries until consciousness slipped away, and the pen trailed off the bottom of the page.
I knew immediately when I read the diaries and saw the facsimile of that last page, that this had to be a stage show, and Vaughan was a character I could play. I had been looking for a new age-appropriate role for some time, and this would be fine for a 63-year-old.
We were doing two shows at Edinburgh at The Space, the other was ‘Strip Search’, with this one being the lunchtime production. Because of the time allotment, I had to strip the script back to fifty minutes, although this meant losing some good material.
Since that original production, two more volumes of Vaughan’s diaries have been published which had been withheld earlier because of the very sexually explicit entries about his sex life, particularly his Masturbator, and about the medical details of his decline.
A little of this has been added, but not too much because the entries can be obsessive and repetitive. There is also more about his English lovers, Johnny and the bipolar Ramsay. Johnny was a working-class youth who played very rough, and Vaughan shared his extreme masochism with Francis Bacon.
He never lost his love for Johnny because Johnny never aged with him. Ramsay, on the other hand, became whiny, needy and totally dependent. Vaughan came to hate Ramsay with a passion for dragging him down. His fantasies are murderous.
Perhaps the nearest he comes to expressing love is towards Raoul, a Mexican teenager with whom he had a holiday romance. It is charming and touching, but Vaughan is aware of how he is exploiting Raoul in what we would now call sex tourism. Right from the start he knows that this can have no future, which means Raoul will have no future.
He abandons the boy with a finality which makes his expressions of sympathy ring hollow. Vaughan is never harder on anyone than he is on himself.
He also comes to hate his own mother, who lived until she was ninety-five and was also constantly manipulative and demanding. She died the year before he did.
With about 40% more material, the running time is now about eighty minutes. To tell the story we also include slides of his paintings, and music which captures his feeling for landscape and countryside. I offered the revised show to Simon Callow, a bravura master of the solo biographical show, but it went nowhere, despite his known interest in art.
To show the paintings is an important part of re-establishing him. Keith Vaughan is rapidly slipping out of fashion, almost out of our collective consciousness, and of interest only to art historians.
I went to see the Vaughan pictures which were in the Tate collection. None of them were on display. Likewise, the ones in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh. All this is as he feared and predicted.
But for our purposes he lives still in the diaries.
Peter Scott-Presland (April 2021)
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