Monday, May 22, 2006

Seven year itch

Well, good. I made it. Last night was my final performance in the present run of We Must Perform A Quirkafleeg!, which I've been taking round people's homes for the past ten weeks. I know ten weeks isn't much of a run compared to Blood Brothers - which of course dates back to the early fifteenth century (in fact, surprisingly, it was only as recently as 1922 that the title was updated from Bloud-Brethren) - but it's the longest haul I've ever done of any show: and given that (a) my attention span, particularly when I'm performing, is considerably shorter than, say, this sentence; and (b) I never meant to make Quirkafleeg in the first place, it's rum to have been doing it so long, and nice to have a break for a bit. There are more performances of it to come in a while - I'm doing the Cork Midsummer Festival again, happily, and also I have to reschedule a handful of shows that I cancelled due to illness and misc shenaniganisme. It's possible that in fact it might have, o, seven shades of afterlife. If it does, I'm thinking I might remake it for two people. Flying completely solo is horrible. Audiences are (on the whole) very nice, but I find that, post-performance, I want to share with somebody the pleasantness of shows that have gone well, as much as have someone to sob all over When Things Go Wrong.

Performing in people's houses is a huge deal and one I never really get used to. The intimacy of it is almost always a delight, though goodness knows, proximity and intimacy don't always go hand-in-hand. And I love the idea that people's living space is a little bit (re-)charged by it, if only for a day or two. But I think it also makes me a bit cautious. I wonder whether the performances are a little bit soft. And it's odd that, after ten weeks, these questions, and most of the others I started out with, are still unanswered. I suppose that's a good thing, really.

Actually the strongest and most compelling consequence of doing Quirkafleeg! has been an intense sharpening of my appetite to do the anti-Quirkafleeg! at the earliest possible opportunity. It feels like ages since I made a large group show, or a piece that dared to be really reckless or furious or whatever the unpejorative antithesis of gentle is. In a way, the experience of the past couple of years has been a replay of the years between leaving university and doing my first piece in London in '99. After I graduated I found that the work I was making was getting smaller and smaller: Weepie, in '96, was two actors and two chairs; Puckerlips, the following year, was two actors (one silent throughout) and one stool. Practical constraints were starting to impinge for the first time, as if the walls were closing in: clearly my next piece would be for a miming homunculus sitting on the end of a pole. (At the time, not quite the appealing prospect it now seems.) And that's why I made The Consolations as my first piece with Signal to Noise in '99. Rip it up and start again. Seven actors, two and a half hours, a huge theatre, an almost terminal haemorrhage of money. Probably only about fifty people saw it during the weeklong run. But - I was saying this to Theron yesterday - it's hard to think of a piece I've made since then that was more like the work I really want to be making. And that's soon going to be seven years ago. So maybe the piece I wrote for the Guardian a few months ago about the seven year cycles that theatre seems to run in might turn out to have been a message to myself more than anything.

The big obstacle, of course, is that seven years ago, we were all hungry and unsettled enough to work for five months on no money to make The Consolations. I'm not sure what response the same proposal would receive now from the same (sorts of) actors: though, to be fair, a couple of preliminary soundings have been quite encouraging... I wonder if maybe to work for a year on a piece, in snatched evenings and weekends, with no money and much blagging, and allowing the structure and content of the piece to reflect the conditions of its making, might be quite an interesting thing to try and undertake at this stage. Certainly the prospects of making something (relatively) largescale with the support of a funding body or a funded partner organization seem to be, if anything, receding. It's odd, though, to be regressing to the point where I even feel a little bit envious of those colleagues who have stuck with the pattern of working in a non-theatrical day job and then making stuff happen in their spare time. I'm sure it's uncomfortable for them, as it was for me; but, it turns out, freelancing doesn't seem to be the answer either. At least not in London. But my attachment to London feels, right now, absolute.

Anyway, it was interesting, in the light of these thoughts, to see Les Ballets C de la B's VSPRS at Sadler's Wells in the week; and also, earlier, the new Petra's Pulse show Donkey Shadow in the Sprint Festival at my old gaff CPT.

I liked VSPRS much more than the company's previous Alain Platel piece, Wolf, but it still didn't excite or move or inspire me in the way that Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's gobsmacking pieces for the company did in recent years. There's something arch about Platel, what might lazily be called an ironic detachment, so that even when the piece shifts into more directly emotional territory towards the end, the abruptness of the tonal switch seems itself a bit coolly ludic. Both Platel and Cherkaoui seem to cherish the idiosyncrasy of the diverse individuals that perform the work, but I wonder if only Cherkaoui is willing them to signify beyond their anomalousness into some kind of civic coherence. In a way, it was a good lesson: that putting large diverse groups on stage isn't in itself political. But that just makes me more frustrated, because it can have political ramifications, and in a way it takes more effort to lock those effects down than to let them out.

Man, I wish I'd read the promo material before I saw the piece. I hadn't realised quite how much the Monteverdi Vespers were going to be reworked (pretty unattractively on the whole); and I didn't know that Platel had drawn so much on early film footage of patients in psychiatric care. That does seem a bit worn out now, to me, the raiding of tics and neurotic and compulsive behaviours by contemporary choreographers looking for wonky new shapes to throw. Still, there were some good moments, I'm glad I saw it; I wouldn't have missed for anything the eye-boggling salvos of Ross McCormack, or the brilliantly unstable presence of Iona Kewney (the substitute, I guess, for the poor spun-out doggies in Wolf).

But I'm pretty sure I'll remember Donkey Shadow for longer. It's difficult to say much, because Selina and Jamie are longtime friends of mine and, since Escapology, collaborators, and I had a hand (or two fingers, more accurately) in the sound design. But I really thought it was an exceptional piece: not quite what I expected, though in some ways a plainly logical development from their previous work. The images were wonderfully strong, the performances were incredibly supple and delicate, the tone was kindly but robust and able to reach towards darkness and difficulty. There were problems with it, transitional longeurs in particular (they think in discrete scenes, like I do, not in fluid throughlines), practical boinks and botched decisions. But all of these things seemed simply and unaffectedly part of the work, not antagonistic to it but merely features of it; in other words (I suppose), you fall in love with them and their aspirations for you, and it's therefore unnecessary to like or agree with everything they do. We are all just people in a room, huddled together. (Especially at CPT: cripes, was it always that cramped?)

& it was nearly as long as VSPRS too, but it felt shorter. Actually, no, it didn't, it just messed up my time sensors right from the get-go. Selina's astounding Butoh-inflected solo at the end of the piece, had it not been soundtracked, might well have dismantled my temporal sense for good. -- & the other great thing (and Jamie's unbelievably good at this, I already knew, but suddenly it was really load-bearing) is that everything they have on stage with them is an actor too, every object, every bit of clothing. I'm not sure how they do that. ...It suddenly transports me back to the end of a rehearsal back in the early days with Unlimited Theatre, with the blessed Paul Warwick and me on the stage of the studio at Leeds Metropolitan, trying to work out how to make a paper cup more interesting than the actor holding it...

All of this gratuitous BLAH makes me think that when I shot my mouth off to The Times last weekend about hating most theatre, I was talking in foolish arm-waving shorthand. What I hate is the frustration that rises out of the nearliness of most theatre. How nearly it comes to being as life-changing as it could be; and how often it just misses. And how stranded, how powerless, one feels, even as a fellow practitioner, to do very much about it. How if I were braver and cleverer and more imaginative, it probably wouldn't make enough of a difference. How theatre can't quite close the gap because, to even (and especially) its most fearless and dedicated artists, it is the gap.

1 comment:

mayamidsummerfestival said...

We are pleased to note that your website mentions the Cork Midsummer Festival and we’d like to thank you for your support. We are contacting you with updated details about the 2007 Cork Midsummer Festival and would ask that you add a link or a banner to your website.
If you'd like to give us an hand in further marketing the Festival, here are the details you just have to put on your own page. Thank's again for your support and we hope to see you during the 2007 Festival.

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