Get to know… Carl Heap

I was the founding Artistic Director of the ‘ground-breaking ‘ ‘legendary’ Medieval Players theatre company, which for 10 years toured the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, including three 3-month tours of Australia. To begin with, our repertoire was pre-Shakespearean, along with commissioned translations of European plays from poets Edwin Morgan and Adrian Mitchell. As an actor my roles included Jesus, God, the Angel Gabriel, the Devil, Death, a Friar, a Pardoner, Chaucer, a wily Shepherd and the Virgin Mary (for Open University). A large part of our success was the incorporation of live music and circus skills – juggling (eggs, bottles, knives, sickles, fire), tumbling, clowning, stilt-walking, puppetry and masks. We challenged the notion that somehow Shakespeare invented theatre and intelligence and that all who came before were rude mechanicals. We soon broadened our definition of ‘medieval ‘ to any material that could be played in direct address to a lit and acknowledged audience – finding ourselves surprisingly in step with a strand of contemporary popular theatre that aligned our values with such as Brecht, Dario Fo and Ken Campbell. 

When the funding finally ran out (lob an egg for me at that statue in Grantham) I found I had four children under the age of 10 and was obliged to get a ‘proper job’. There followed a ten-year interlude as a secondary school teacher teaching English and Media Studies, and taking charge of the School Play.

I made my way back into Theatre with a large helping hand from Tom (War Horse) Morris, a teenage fan of my company – who was then the Artistic Director of Battersea Arts Centre. We co-wrote, and I directed, three pocket-epic Christmas shows, Ben-Hur, Jason and the Argonauts and World Cup Final 1966. During this period I also adapted /directed 5 Shakespeare plays for the NT’s education department – to tour London primary schools (publ. Oberon Books 2010).

More recently, while filling any employment gaps with a mixture of supply teaching and tutoring,  I have been preoccupied with the historical American Old West which has furnished me with material for 3 plays: The True History of the Gunfight Near the OK Corral, Goodfellow: Anatomy of the Gun and Tombstone Tales and Boothill Ballads. The last of these was performed professionally at the Arcola Theatre and all three have since benefited from large unpaid casts offered by RADA and East 15 Drama School. I have a website:, which is in dire need of overhaul at a budget price.

In January 2017 I took advantage of reduced rates at a writers retreat at Cove Park on the Isle of Bute to write what I thought was the first half of a children’s novel. I put this to one side until I discovered the Writing Room where I subscribed to several courses. It soon dawned on me that this could add up to an unofficial version of the Creative Writing MA I had long had a hankering for.

I had just begun to disabuse myself of the idea that I was anything remotely like halfway through a children’s novel when lockdown arrived and Writing Room went online. By this time I’d done Poetry Courses with Paul Lyalls, a Memoir Course with Giovanna Iozzi and more than a couple of Prioritise Your Writing courses with Alison Chandler. Lockdown allowed me to plunge whole-heartedly into a DIY programme of further courses, taking full advantage of the extra contact from Monday’s Start the Week through Thursday’s Writing Hour to Feedback Friday. Over the months one gets invested in other people’s projects, shares their challenges and delights of their progression in the craft. As one used to working in the highly collaborative medium of theatre, this diverse community of people with a common pursuit has been a huge support in my writer’s solitude.

I’m currently working through the second draft of my as yet untitled children’s novel; a memoir of a life as a runner; and I continue to work on poetry.

Extract from a children’s novel in progress

In which a young girl with asthma strikes up a friendship with a wind…

A large rosy-cheeked woman wearing a housecoat and a headscarf, had just finished pegging out a big basketful of wet washing, some onto a long clothesline and some onto a sort of skinny metal tree called a carousel. She smiled and stood back, wiping her hands on her apron as our two friends wasted no time in pummelling the sheets like punching bags; kicking up the shirts and socks and trouser-legs into a crazy and joyous flapping dance; and sending the metal tree – now in full leaf and blossom – into a giddy pirouette.

As the woman turned her back, a long stripey sock broke loose from its wooden peg and sailed across the fence into a neighbour’s garden where it rested waggling on the fishing rod of a garden gnome. The neighbour’s white cat – just for a moment – mistook it for a bird and went into a crouch, wiggling its spine and tensing up its back legs, ready to pounce. The gnome, who was red-hatted and grey-bearded, looked on, vexed and perplexed, until the sock dropped with a soft plop into the company of the goldfish in his pond, the goldfish he would never catch.

While Wind Two flew further up the row of backyards, looking for more washing to bully, Wind One was drawn to a face pressed against an upstairs window, the pale freckled face of a young girl. After first looking backwards over her shoulder, the girl hoisted up the window and poked out her head, gazing wistfully up at the sky and the green field above the town and then out towards the sea and the hazy horizon beyond. The wind couldn’t resist scrambling her straggly red hair about her face, but she didn’t seem to mind.

‘Don’t stop’ she said, ‘You’re nice and cool!’

Well he did. Stop. In his tracks. With surprise.

In that moment the carousel stopped spinning and the washing drooped on the line.

This earthbound wasn’t just making sounds; she was making sounds at him. Was she actually talking to him? In that brief moment of hesitation he experienced an even greater shock as she took in a deep breath and he found himself sucked into wheezy pink darkness. Three seconds later he was flung out again, feeling odd, dazed, and strangely different.