Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Some Goodparley wil ask the right asking and some Ardship wil say a anser"

Friends, sometimes I just don't know -- is it, as Devo tell us, a beautiful world? Or, as Frank Black insists, is it, rather, a bad wicked world? Jeez, if the forefathers of American alternative rock can't agree, what hope for the rest of us? The evidence is so conflicting. On the one hand, 96 per cent of the world's oceans have been damaged by human activity; Todd Carty has been sick on stage in Stevenage; and after three long months, local centrefold Jow Lindsay is still tagged for lack of notability, despite ample, nay buxom, evidences to the contrary (wtf, guys?). On the other hand, the sun has got his hat on (which may well also be human damage, but hey, it's not like I was planning to have kids anyway); I've managed to download The Simpsons Movie onto my iPod; and it occurred to me in the middle of a sleepless night-before-last that the last thousand years of western culture has managed to produce not merely Brunelleschi, Rousseau, and Mr Kipling (to name but three), but also two quite separate number one hit records which contrive to rhyme the words 'Eskimo' and 'Arapaho'. (No prizes this time, but be my guest...) It's your actual swings and roundabouts, innit. I am, like Natalie Imbruglia rubbed with garlic butter and tossed to the wolves, very much torn.

Above all, I'm happy to report having had a really lovely week in Plymouth with (and without) Hippo World Guest Book. Audiences at the Drum were, for the most part, of good size as well as good humour (not counting the gentleman in the neck brace who formed part -- well, half -- of the official welcoming committee and detested the show quite extravagantly; when -- remembering the plaint of The Scotsman's idiot-at-large Roger Cox -- I jovially apologised for having wasted an hour of his life, he rushed to correct me: two hours, he said, it takes a while to get here...). I was well looked after, especially by my excellent technician Matt, and by Dan who made a great job of moderating an amiable post-show event halfway through the run. And it was a pleasure and a relief to hear the large and up-for-it Friday audience helpless with laughter, something which hadn't really happened since the Etcetera last July. During one of the transitional breaks in the show, while I was taking on some water, I heard a guy in the front row of the Drum say to his friend: "I think I'm going to die." Which is about as good as it gets. (Unless of course, as now occurs to me, he was simply very bored and somewhat mortified by the hysteria of his peers.)

More broadly, the week in Plymouth was really nice, notwithstanding an inexpensive and somewhat manktastic apartment on the Hoe. (My own cheapskate arrangement, I hasten to add, not the hospitality of the Theatre Royal.) Some readers will know how porcine my own living arrangements are, but despite setting the bar so low, the owners of the flat in question certainly managed to limbo their way underneath it. The top of the week was also bleak and blustery outside, and I had no internet and no phone reception inside -- a blissful notion until it actually happens to you..., so I found myself inadvertently plonked in front of whole sequences of barely comprehensible tv programmes about antiques and prostate cancer, overexposure to which nearly caused me to enact a spontaneous tribute to Matthew Barney's Cremaster 3 by extruding my remaining brains through my anus. -- But then, on Wednesday, the sun came out, and I was able to wander along the seafront to the Barbican, which feels like a whole different planet from the city centre; it was a beautiful and reviving afternoon, rendered finally perfect by another little gift from the god of climate change: on the 37th day of the year, a little clutch of shirtless skateboarders. (Or, as I like to think of them, grassroots political activists.)

Anyway, on balance, the week was a delight, and it was quite a Tom & Jerry frying-pan moment to arrive back in London to a heap of difficult and irritating stuff that had backed up in my absence, and also to discover that the show had been reviewed in Plymouth -- and not, how you say?, altogether positively. In fact there was almost an upside to it: viz., a new soundbite to replace the old Scotsman quote. Take a bow, Bill Stone, for this stylish encapsulation: "It's sad that Chris Goode, a talented writer and performer, is reduced to performing such a text."

It's true that a fraction of almost every audience the show has ever had just don't get it, they just can't see what's going on beneath the frequently banal and wearyingly scatological surface of the piece. That's fine, I can easily cope with those people; I'm just frustrated that such a disproportionately large number of them seem to have access to public platforms from which to broadcast their clotheared opinions. Bill Stone at least gets a bonus mark for some half-stylish punctuation, but gosh, that's difficult to use in isolation for promotional purposes. OK, from one not-insignificant perspective, why should I care? Anybody relying on for their cultural guidance has already pretty much given up on life, and Lord knows work such as mine is hardly likely to have a resuscitative effect on them. But the fact is, these vain, shallow web reviews tend to have the depressingly long half-life that you associate with particularly toxic varieties of goo. When kinder appraisals and more intellectually engaged critical disparagements have long since vanished from the chaotic soup of online recall, you can bet the words of Bill Stone and Roger Cox will still be echoing, with all the persistence of the cockroaches and shitebugs that we are always told will survive whatever apocalypse finally deletes the human race.

What's worse, of course, all this was happening in the midst of -- to coin an appropriately Synodical phrase -- the motherhumping crapstorm that greeted the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech at the Royal Courts of Justice on civil and religious law. In fact, by last Monday, which is when that Hippo World review came to light, the vortex of rancid media garbage that had immediately occluded what Dr Williams actually said had reached its nadir, with a gobsmackingly dismal cavalcade of second-wave commentators noting that, although reportage of the Archbishop's original comments had been hysterically bogus and wilfully distortive in the service of an almost completely unrelated agenda characterised by plain-and-simple bigotry and lowbrow conservative derangement (and I had better say at this point that I didn't, in fact, agree with the substance of what Williams said, but am delighted that we currently have an Archbishop who is capable of saying it, or even thinking it), it was he who was at fault, or perhaps his media advisors; that someone at Lambeth, and Williams above all, was guilty of ill-judgement for attempting to initiate a public discussion whose initial provocation contained traces of -- whisper who dares? -- nuance. That was the thing they couldn't stand, that couldn't be tolerated, that was self-evidently an almost comically misconceived and unworldly aspiration for the pitch of debate in our current culture. He tried nuance. What a twat.

The wildly anomalous appointment of Rowan Williams to succeed the depthlessly mediocre and revolting George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury in 2002 is probably the last indication we've seen in this country of anything other than a kind of hollow, piteous contempt for the concept of the "public intellectual". I'm still not quite sure how it happened. I must declare a non-interest; having been through a spell a few years ago of finding myself quite closely interested in the complex of possibilities that might be broadly called 'religious faith', and fascinated (from close-up: at the time I was working at St Paul's church in Covent Garden) by the highly instrumental performative aspects of day-to-day religious communion, I am at this point probably further from, and more repelled by, the workings and significance of religious faith and its most direct expressions than I have ever been. Which in a way makes it easier to stand the really discrediting aspect of Williams's record as Archbishop, namely his painful (and no doubt pained) vacillation over the question of the ordination of practising homosexuals. (I have no scriptural point of view particularly; I'm just bothered and a bit grossed out by the level of hypocrisy, given that I should think at least a third of the clergy I met during the time I was working at St Paul's were certainly gay and variously open about it.) But all that aside, I approve of Dr Williams; his combination of avuncularity, hairy leftishness and obvious intellectual chops make him, surely, the soft-centred sceptic's Archbishop of choice.

Above all, though, what made Shariagate -- pleased to say that according to Google I'm the thirteenth person to coin that, but conceivably the first to have stuck two fingers down my throat as I did so -- particularly dismaying is that I know very well that, as a theatre maker working mostly away from the field of published text and instantly recognizable forms, I am not much more or less than a professional technician of public nuance. Everything I do, whether it's trying to hold the surface of Hippo World Guest Book in the right kind of tension with its deeper operations, or shape a sequence in Longwave, or put together the right cast for ...SISTERS, or approach the infinitesimally fine details of male eroticism in An Apparently Closed Room, is nothing but the sculpting of slender nuances of time and space and touch and gaze and body and affinity and cadence. To be told -- on the sodding news -- again and again and again for three or four days -- that nuance has become a bizarre and irretrievable nonsense in the zone of public discourse, the use of which indicates the kind of conceptual lapse that might easily become a resignation matter, is pretty disconsoling.

But, ah, I'm over it, honey. There was plenty to be cheerful about in the ensuing week. Another couple of interesting and encouraging conversations about possible projects particularly helped with the feeling that -- though I'm still vertiginously skint for the time being -- the coming year, if not more, should be full of scary and exciting projects. A trip to Sidcup to see my most recent group of MA students showing a production of Deborah Levy's intriguing The B File was a delight: what was particularly pleasing was not so much the bold experimentalism of their approach both in the process and the staging, as their complete insouciance about how daring they'd been; it was nice to think I may have played a small part in helping them to absorb what I'm sure is the key point of their year of studies together: that on being handed this text to work with, their first reaction was not "What are we going to do with this?" but "How are we going to work?" Really heartening stuff.

The same day ended with a trip with a dear (platonic) pal to a Valentine's screening of Shortbus at BFI; oh man, it's a beautiful film, and wonderful to see it again in such good company. And yesterday took me to Newbury for a Greenham outing for Hippo World, which went much better than expected, thanks to the sweet and capable offices of my friend Elfie riding the desks like Annie Oakley; a decent and, again, generous audience, including three pairs of familiar and exceptionally welcome faces. (Attached to the appropriate heads and bodies, I'm pleased to say; not stuffed in a box like Gwyneth Paltrow in Se7en... -- hm, I'm happy to have clarified that.)

This evening I'm just back from the last of the Jerome Bel season, which I'll write about in toto next time, along with a few reviews of other things that I'll have seen by then. I may as well say now that tonight's Bel piece was a complete and unconstrained pleasure; the stuff that's lined up in the next few days may be -- will be -- bigger, but I doubt I'll leave any of those forthcoming shows on quite the same kind of high.

Lastly before I go -- this being the only real reason for this post, actually... Close readers of this blog may remember that a few weeks ago I was moaning frustratedly about a ticklishly complicated post that I was trying to get done while battling with weedy and intermittent wireless. Well, the connection is not much better these days, but the post at least is finally seeing the light of day, not here after all but over at Dennis Cooper's blog, where it's become the introduction to a project that I'm going to be working on over the next few months which directly engages with DC's blog -- of which, as you'll probably know if you've ever been here before, I am a hugely admiring fan. So, please, if you have a couple of minutes, do pop over and have a look at the post; after all, it was conceived initially for your entertainment... I promise there's nothing terrifically horse-frightening in there (for those who know better than to try and access Dennis's pornucopian blog from a workstation...).

And that, says Jack, is that.


querik said...

hey chris,

i tried a bleisch post on my blog yesterday, which turned out as akward as his movies I think, but nevertheless...

I did not see platel stuff for a while. he has not been playing in here in the netherlands lately I guess, or I missed it out.

I best remember his theatre pieces where he used bach, purcell and monteverdi's vespers of the virgin mary plus a bunch of the various off-springs from his company.

I think this was the last one playing here that I liked much. i think its related too, at least in style.

oh, and I loved jerome bel. I've only see two of his performances though. not in a long time agian :-(

one of the bel shows was "the show must go on!"

here is an excerpt from a now yrok review:

To briefly describe the theatrical conceit of this "spectacle" (seen March 24 at Dance Theater Workshop): Bel composes nearly static tableaux vivant with a large cast of trained and untrained performers while a sound engineer in the front row of seats plays a string of pop songs. The sound guy takes his time changing the CDs for each song; the cast stands watching him in silence as he does this. The physical activity, or lack thereof, that happens mimics the lyrics of the songs in a daring but sophomoric way. So for instance, the stage lights fade up to "Let the Sun Shine In" (Hair); the house lights fade up, tinted red, to "La Vie en Rose" (Edith Piaf) while the stage sits empty and in darkness.

well, I remember a lot of people walking out of he theatre during the performance! :-)

7:34 AM

querik said...

new york review, that is ;-)

Andrew Haydon said...

Interesting stuff on nuance. Quite see where you're coming from, although I think a certain amount of the knee-jerk-ism was informed by the initial subject of Williams's comments.

Oddly, the only other notably nuanced figure in the political arena, who seems to keep popping up on Radio 4 a lot at the moment is the Conservative Party's David Willetts (cue howls of anguish from all sides). No, really, he actualy seems to say things that a) he has thought about, and b) can be thought about further. He's forever citing game-theory as an interesting model for community structuring, which isn't something one generally associates with the Tories...