Monday, August 13, 2007

Edinburgh diary #2

A little less than thirty minutes' battery life so I'm going to have to be down and dirty with this one. Even further down, I mean. And far, far dirtier.

OK, well, look, we'd better just do this quickly. From our plus ca change dept. (No, dears, I really don't have time to go looking for cedillas.) Exactly ten years ago I did my first Edinburgh piece as a performer, a little show called Puckerlips; it got a one-star drubbing in The Scotsman and a nice four-star appreciation in The List. And now the very same thing has happened to Hippo World Guest Book. ****, The List. *, The Scotsman. I don't have the Scotsman review in front of me and I'm not going to go looking for it online but the bits that come most easily to mind nearly a week on are "Chris Goode, who really should have known better" (which I think I might adopt as my extended moniker, along the lines of Beachcomber's Doctor Strabismus Whom God Preserve of Utrecht), and "Probably the longest hour of my life".

And now of course I get to be the dumbkopf who can't quite get over what everyone else is cheerily saying should be dismissed as a bit of hostile, shallow, self-regarding hackery from a reviewer who plainly had no intention of engaging from the get-go. I never mind people hating my work if there's any evidence of them having made an effort to meet the work where it is. I'm surprised how divisive this piece has been in the context of the Fringe (to which I had thought it was pretty well suited -- I'm so out of touch, really, with what cuts mustard here these days), but I'd have been happy to have the toss argued with me. But Roger Cox of the Scotsman isn't interested in the argument, just the toss. -- So can I really not just emit some kind of devil-may-care pshaw noise and content myself with being misunderstood? Dunno. I don't seem to be able to be. Which I know makes me look like a twit. Point is, it's not some anomalous blip to be treated as merely tomorrow's birdcage-liner. That review plops down in the middle of a field in which I feel anyway confused and despondent; I honestly don't know, I haven't for a while, whether British theatre culture is ever going to be a hospitable environment for the kind of ideas that most interest me, whether I ought to be looking overseas to have some chance of pursuing the work that most satisfactorily embodies what I think of as my vocation. A big part of that feeling of discontentment and strandedness comes from the general poverty of the critical culture here, the failure to develop a circulating dialogue which helps to mediate between audiences and new or potentially difficult ideas. I dare say the Fringe is necessarily at the shallow end of that predicament, with the churn of commodities here (my own included -- I obviously can't claim to be above all this) increasingly adding up to little more than the shrill hubbub of an arms-trading fair; but when I started coming here, in 1994, the idea of experiment still felt like a critical part of the Fringe's DNA. Now it's not the content or the argument of those experimental presentations that commands attention, it's the combination of their novelty and their resemblance to other more familiar discourses.

Anyway, I'm not using up any more computer-juice on all this because there's no way it's not going to look like a nasty case of gigantism in the sour-grapes department. But if anyone's in any doubt about what the Scotsman actually thinks it's for, my one-star review qualifies me for a sort of gallery of shame which means that the piece is one of several that are continually being reprinted for the sole purpose of punishing and humiliating their targets. This is amusing for everyone.

Other things, very very quickly I'm afraid:

Tim Crouch's England is probably the highlight so far. Brilliantly conceived, immaculately written, beautifully performed. Tender, ardent, aware; above all, kindly.

I also really rated Fecund's Special. I haven't seen their work before, though I've heard a lot about it and thought it was probably too cool and ironic and hard-edged for the likes of me. Special initially seems as if it's going to be that, but it quickly gives way to something far braver and more exciting, in which the tonal flatness starts to say something engrossing about how language fails to meet some of our profoundest experiences -- in this case, sadomasochistic sex. It's amazingly well-judged and marvellously unstinting. Terrific acting, amazingly controlled writing. I'd be interested to know how much devising went in to it. (Would have liked a programme, actually.)

Actually my most pleasurable experience of the past week was seeing Brief Encounter for the first time, at the Filmhouse. Nothing to do with the festival. Just a strikingly beautiful film and far more passionate and enthralling than its reputation (via countless rather unfair parodies) suggested. That and The Simpsons Movie have kept me the right side of sane this past week and I can't wait for the Film Festival to start. The news that they're moving the Film Fest to June from next year is baffling and utterly miserable. Another reason to suppose that this is very likely my last Fringe.

OK, I'm getting the yellow triangle dying-battery warning signs now. Later, taters.


simon said...

∫Oh for fuck's sake. (Cox, not you Chris). Well I'm not going to say I told you so, because clearly I didn't. I told you the precise opposite, I said it would all be fine. Sorry. (The next sentence uses a lot of "that"s). It is extraordinary, and worth a wilderness of 'pshaw's, that - given how much headspace is afforded an audience by even the most bloody awful piece of theatre - theatrical criticism is still so totally useless/unhelpful/thoughtless when set against criticism of media more numbing. It's like tagging. It's just small enough a medium to be a gang, or at least Fringe criticism is, as you point out. The only other perspective I can recommend to take on the Scotsman nonview, and it may be no help either, is: Bollocks to that, what are other strangers making of it? Vital as it is to have graduated from one-star reviews and tiny houses for any theatrical's career (and yours continues to display a matchlessly healthy integrity) there is still the chance that someone comes along in spite of the reviews and sees something they haven't seen before and it's some of the best stuff they've ever seen and it shows them where to go next and some of it's yours. Whether you wish to pursue this in Britain or somewhere less annoying is - in your posting - maybe the question. But there's maybe another question as well, the vocation thing:
This will initially read as obnoxious but, you know, bear with me: A week back I witnessed a tiny televised fruit of mine, a very silly idea that someone had decided to build a set for and film infrontofalivestudioaudience. The set was perfect, and the sketch - a mock Gaelic seventies craft show explaining how to fold a padlock into a swan - went down very, very well and I was incredibly happy. And that evening I saw that someone had changed their photo on myspace into a padlock folded into a swan, an image that turned out to be much more touching than I had considered when writing the sketch. None of this I claim responsibility for, it simply goes towards explaining what I hoped would be so exciting about working outside the theatre... ie, this tiny thing I had written had taken on a life of its own. It had a real chance of existing totally independent of me "the artist", far beyond my own commitment to it. It would make its own friends and take on its own significance, and what started off as mine will soon be everyone else's, not simply as a memory, but as itself. Yes I'm talking about a daft little sketch, but any fan of Sesame Street will know what resonance even a sketch can have. That doesn't make me a better anything, but I love that it's not *about* me any more. Like you said about performing the guestbook, you read someone else's words and new people came out of your mouth. Stuff is passed on. Stuff is produced. Like Cern. And I don't think that this life-beyond-the-artist can ever happen in theatre, unless you're a playwright. In theatre you will always be bound to the fate of your work and if at any point the reception it gets means you're better off leaving it, then it's dead, not even dead, gone. I don't think I find that idea as exciting as you do. A theatrical work can only exist in this iron lung, this life-support system, no? which may be where the whole work-in-progress culture comes from (because as long as a piece is being worked on it is protected from indifference) but this doesn't alter the fact that a show's survival is tacitly dependent on its arrested development as a thing independent of its creator, which is why theatre critics can afford to be so wrong. Your baby was making a noise so they killed it, but there's no body and soon it will be just your word against theirs.
So make some noise about it, yes, with impunity. If in doubt, shout, like the page says. And while I seem to spend far too much time in these posts seemingly oblivious to what it is that actually interests YOU about you do (I'm not though) I'll just say... what? I don't know, actually. If you can do something else, give it a go, what fun. If you can't, fight your corner, you're earned it, and even if it's possible to lose such a fight, your report on that rivalry will enrich enough to make the fight well worth your while. That's what I think.
What the hell am I talking about? No really, sorry.
And thank you again.

Chris said...

Interesting, Simon. Thank you.

Big Bugger will get back to you.