Friday, September 29, 2006

On the forgetfulness of Ursula, &c.

I know it's not the high-art way to look at it, but: one down, one to go.

Which is to say: Longwave is up and open and in fact closes tonight at Newbury. Very peculiar to think that that set, which has begun to seem like a permanent fixture at NGA even though it's only been up about ten days, will be somewhere completely else this time on Saturday. (Bracknell, to be precise.)

There's a really lovely, touching review here, with which I -- hm, is it weird to say I agree? I think knowing that I won't see the show again (unless it has a future life, which I very much hope it might), and it being such a detailed piece of performance which is so much about what Tom and Jamie bring to it, I feel objective enough, or at least sufficiently outside it, to have an immodest opinion for once; and I'm anyway exceptionally proud of Longwave, not least because the process and the making was so difficult and such hard work, as longstanding Thompson's customers will know. Seeing the show made me cry, the other night. (For good reasons.) The pleasure of watching and being around the production these last few days has felt hard-earned. I just hope the boys will continue to enjoy it and stay faithful to it: which latter aim I think is bound to be immensely difficult, particularly for Jamie who has the more overtly demonstrative role in the double-act. I'm sure they will. I'm quite sure. (Yes, that is a bit ambiguous. Shut up.)

Very sad not to be there tonight-- several people in the audience I'd have loved to see. Instead of which I'm at home writing this. Probably seems an odd choice -- though you know I love you and I feel horribly guilty if I don't give you the attention you deserve -- but actually this blog-emission is mostly just something to do while the video files for the next show are rendering in the background. (Amazingly slowly. How is it possible that the Zennish slowness of video rendering is freshly amazing every time?)

The next show of course being Rhymes, Reasons and Bomb-Ass Beatz. (Over curry last night J managed to mangle the title reductively down to Bang-Ass Rhymes which is possibly better.) There's a lot to do -- above all, another dose of round-the-clock sound design will be eating my weekend -- but things are coming together very nicely. As I told the folks on my mailing list, this is probably the only show I'll ever direct about hip-hop, and I've really enjoyed the process: which has much to do with the writer/performer Harold Finley, who's been brilliant company; and he's got a fabulous team together too. I've been very spoilt these last few weeks. Wonderful crew at Greenham, brilliant folks working on Rhymes. What's happened to all the surly techies and jobsworth stage managers? Where have they gone? Is there some kind of emo music festival this month on White Dogpoo Island? Or maybe they all just live year-round in a crypt or smoke-filled ottoman at the Pleasance now. Who can say?

Actually, everything seems a bit weird in theatreworld at the moment. Like this totally inexplicable and unnecessary production of Bent that's opening at Trafalgar Studios with Alan Cumming (scusi?) and -- as far as one can tell from the publicity -- nobody else: and with nothing in particular to say for itself except that it features a new song co-written by the less elderly of the Pet Shop Boys. It all sort of looks like the whole project was invented by some clockwork theatrical version of Leon's Random Band Name Generator. ...And then on Monday the Guardian had a whole pull-out section dedicated to the rebuilding of the Young Vic. A bit like the Venezuelan Trade Supplement that Peter Cartwright would borrow from Reggie Perrin on the train each morning because "Ursula's forgotten my tissues". Lots of sleb-actors managing to brood and shimmer in the same pose, like an update on Muscular Christianity for the Film Four hemi-demi-monde: Jude Law natch, Juliet Stevenson, David Harewood, all speaking up for the adventurousness of the Young Vic (and, by a millimetre of implication, their own adventurousness for daring to work there); David Lan genially doing the same. Much blethering on about energy and dreams and endless possibilities -- and then you look at the season programme (e.g. Rufus Norris directing an adaptation of DBC Pierre's Booker-winning Christ On A Bike) and you start to wonder what other theatre these people are actually seeing, what stuff they actually go to. They project this extraordinary mirage of intrepidity, and the language is so visionary you kind of love them for it, and then you realise it's just a bunch of people who are kitting themselves up with oxygen cylinders and Kendal Mint Cake for an expedition to a post office in Zone 2.

Honestly I've no beef with the Young Vic (although David Lan did once fall asleep while I was talking to him, which I feel might have put-out a less resilient chap; to be fair, it was only for a few seconds and he was plainly very tired and I'm sure I was being quite boring, so -- as with, say, a set of lyrics by Martin Sherman and a tune by Chris Lowe -- it would be utterly inappropriate to make a song and dance out of it). It was just one of those weeks -- compounded by a slightly wonky "post-show discussion" (as if) after Longwave yesterday -- that made me wonder a bit. When I say I work in theatre, what do people imagine I mean? David Lan's a good and interesting bloke but do we do similar jobs? Talk in a shared language? Have similar lifestyles and experiences and expectations? I don't know. I mean I really don't know. I wonder. And then, you know, is that how David feels about, I dunno, Bill Kenwright? Or Peter Sellars? Or whoever runs the youth theatre at Oval House? And yet if you're my auntie who sees one West End musical a year and might accidentally watch the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, we're all doing the same job.

I think I'm also still a bit lost in the very peculiar zone I visited last weekend when I got immensely, bountifully, bunting-wavingly drunk and then went to bed and tried to listen to a World Service documentary on Robert Wilson. It was like trying to thread a needle but looking at the process through the spyhole of a hotel room door. But with the spyhole breathing and the needle made out of, I dunno, worms or thread or something. And someone's giving you instructions in a peculiar voice, like Edith Sitwell behind a curtain with a megaphone full of parsley. And you really are life-threateningly drunk. I won't tell you what the consequence of the enterprise was, except to say that a surprising proportion of it actually came out of my nose instead. If nothing else, it was an unexpectedly vivid synaesthetic insight into the later works of Philip Glass. ("It went MMMMM," indeed. You clot. Just drive the damn taxi.)

Not to worry! Into this wibbly-wobbly world of theatrical blee rushes a veritable flood of blogs to help you make sense of it all. Two excellent commentators, poles apart geographically (though what care we for the long and lat, in our post-caring-for-the-long-and-lat culture?) but not, I think, so far apart in the terms and conditions of their respective engagements, have kindly linked to Thompson's in recent days, and it's literally the least I can do to reciprocate. The guilty figure Guardian-side is the pretty splendid Maxie Szalwinska, who seems to brandish with tremendous cheerfulness and a lot of sharp intelligence the fistful of short straws that are her lot and souvenir; at her own Webloge she's unfailingly either right or interesting, and mostly an enviable mixture of all two. Meanwhile, where it's spring, the throbbingly necessary Alison Croggon is manifestly incapable of conceiving a bland thought or an ugly phrase as she continues to compile her rather heroic Theatre Notes. Taken together, Croggon and Szalwinska are the Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson of theatre criticism: which is why it's to everyone's best advantage that they live in contrary hemispheres and ideally will never meet.

I continue to hear a rumour that there is a world outside of theatre, and indeed I was going to address that rumour in my remarks this evening. But I find it hard to write when I keep having to switch windows to stare in tremulous Cleetus-jawed abjection at the marmite-slow progress of these wretched video files. (Next time we're doing the back-wall images through the medium of live embroidery. Far quicker all round.) So with a bit of luck I'll have a moment to return here in the next day or two and drone on about real life instead. Oh, would you, Chris, would you really? Of course, my lovely chouettes. For you, dears: anything.

Actually, just to round things off while I'm spending all this time on (a) theatre and (b) the Guardian, can I just pop this bit of Billington here?

Theatre can't change the world. But what it can do, when it's as good as
this, is to send us out enriched by other people's passionate concern.

(
Michael Billington on 'My Name Is Rachel Corrie', 14 April 2005)


It's the single most exactly and reverberantly wrong thing I've ever read (not in respect of that show, but in respect of theatre in general), and I keep forgetting to write about it. (Not here, it's OK.) So if I put it here, at least I'll remember where it is.

Don't have nightmares.

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