Sand On the Star – On Jan Woolf’s BLOOD, GOLD AND OIL

Upstairs at The Gatehouse, London, April 28th,  2023


While it was The Beatles or even Sinatra for some,
For Jan Woolf it was Lawrence. Sat at those Seven Pillars
She sensed a presence which has remained to this day.

As her pin-up through poise and time’s artful pose
Returns to us, lovingly guided onto the acted page
Of this play. For this three-hander applauds the love

And loss in that Desert, free of Lean we are learning
About the multitudes in one man; from Lawrence’s view
On the fame his ghost and shade has been offered,

And on into the storm in the sand-dune roused
By his great masterplan. TE Lawrence for Woolf is the first
Celebrity Rock-(and-sand) star. His reach and image have

Continued to touch her whole life. She has walked in his steps,
And stood at the summits he scoured. She has written compulsively
For and about him in acts of devotion, with a playwright’s

Faith and mind-marriage, as pen becomes ring; an art wife.
And so the play shimmers in Upstairs at The Gatehouse,
A dry-land oasis as Highgate’s fluids flow. A stone’s throw

From Marx, this revolutionary returns to dodge bullets,
While defying the country lane swerve that killed him,
To tell us where it is lost love goes. Into an anniversary

Exhibition play framed by its protagonist Dr Caroline Howard
Played by Suzanna Hamilton, strident, eccentrically yaffle-ish
And as beguiling as she was in Radford’s 1984, where

While Burton and Hurt both essayed men who were ending,
Here two young actors seek to serve the experiences
Of each woman, who as writer and her representative

Extract secrets sand-rooted from beneath a theatre pub’s
Sawdust floor. What truly charms is not taste. What touches us
Is intention. And here Woolf is writing her way back to a place

Where she can confront the revered by bringing him 
Into battle, not only with his past, but the future, and where
She can with words at least, kiss his face. And this play is a kiss.

Every line leads to passion. For man and martyr, for Politics
And for peace. As Mascuud Dahir’s soft Muzz honours 
The Arabian face, slim as shadow and Douglas Clarke-Wood’s

Earnest and Christ-like TE teaches how even the most
Conflicted of souls finds release. Isaac Bernier-Doyle’s direction
Peels worlds, revealing for all golden moments. Simon Jackson’s

Light and sound design presents passage from the love of girl
And boy across time. Holly Louise Chapman’s costumes allow
For true transformation as an army shirt unveils into Jubbah

Summoning up in one image the ridges and hills Lawrence
Climbed. The correct music allows the dream-drift to prosper.
From Delius and Arvo Part to Beethoven with a scimitar

Raised to Jarre. But that is hardly the point as this Woolf howls
For her hero as he bleeds for all warfare and advocates
For the Arabs who left his heart captivated and so much

Of his flesh bearing scars. Jan Woolf has borne this play
For ten years. She has polished it, like a relic in Howard’s
Arabian revolt exhibition. It is her own excavation of the soul

And the source of her joy. Which is to do with understanding
Our place, be it lived in or fought for. Her own activisim
In turn allows others to see that politics today is a toy

Placed into the fat hands of fools who have lead us
Into makeshift wars, or to Brexit; but take that toy away
And it glistens as a truly socialist stance captures light.

We just have to unravel the dark that we have drawn
About ourselves, suffocating under ignorance and avoidance,
Whereas it was men like Lawrence who in living his dream

Coloured night. The blaze of blood smears the play;
In containing life, it floods through it. The pitch of oil and skin
Creates pictures richer than those on the wall.

And all the while as you watch the gold of grief grows
And glimmers, as if it were a snake sliding sweetly
Across the bosom of sand. Stay enthralled.

For this play has a point. It is not just about adoration.
It is about what we value as represented by whom.
It could be Lawrence, Lennon, or Woolf’s dearly departed

Colleague and friend Dr Neil Faulkner, to whom the play
Is now dedicated, a classic Lawrentian himself, gone too soon.
This then, is Play as purpose, and more: play as evocation.

Of a time and a standard that the hours we have do not share.
For we are in the mirage. We no longer deserve its enchantment.
We have become insubstantial; so in reflection it is for

Both the sand and the star to beware, in case we trespass
Too far and pay no heed to those heroes who made a stand
For a moment and were then removed, tragically.

From Christ and Lawrence to – who? How tightly do you
Hold your own hero?And in what context is that status deserved,
Practically? Politicians perform. But actors attempt to people

The mask and the magic. Writers reveal them and in unlocking
Each truth kiss the key. And so it proves in this heartfelt call
Across London. In which Arabia’s anger is both myth and muezzin.

Great books are binds. Strong words seal us. And while plays
Can scale prisons, we can see the gates open. Awake!
Love is learning. And while night provokes insight,

It is only in dreams we stay free.  


                                                                     David Erdos 28/4/23


Blood Gold and Oil runs until April 30th matinee. 
Tickets and Information

Listings information

25th – 30thApril
Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Highgate Village, N6 4BD
Tues – Sat, 7.30pm, Sun 4pm | Running Time: 75 minutes
£20 – £16 | | 020 8340 3488
Press contact: Annlouise Butt / Jan Woolf
E: [email protected] T: 020 8340 4256
E: [email protected] T: 07967 161 291



This entry was posted on in homepage and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.