Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

As serious as it gets

In quotables, writers writing now on January 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Notes on and quotes from Fallout (2003) Roy Williams

fallout royal court

“See dat woman’s face? See how scared? Feel my heart… Better than weed.” (Perry)

Fallout barrels onstage via a brilliant coup-de-theatre – four characters kicking a fifth – who isn’t present – to death. Deftly, Williams sidesteps the awkwardness, the ultimate insufficiency of stage violence (especially something so one-sided, so undignified, so free of grand gestures as a street ambush). Equally, the audience find themselves focusing precisely on the victim, lost in more than one sense – but who will echo throughout the action, as police descend and the kids involved – killers, witnesses and friends – button up.

“One time we had dis new teacher in, yeah. So we all decided to play a joke on him. No one was gonna speak fer the whole lesson, not do any work, juss stare out, see wat happens, wat he does. Everyone was up fer it right, except Kwame. Deh he was, sittin deh, doin his work. He ruined the joke.” (Shanice)

Nailed by the title, this is all aftermath – but that doesn’t equal solving a crime (officially), changing anyone’s character (outwardly), even explaining the act (reductively). Formally, the play reels from step-by-step scenes unfolding for a constant flow between crowds – endless jokes and jockeying for position, only occasional mumbled intimacies.

“Have you noticed, everything’s scaling down? … It’s not news any more. Soon, he’ll just be another dead black kid. Kids round here aren’t made to feel important. They never have. They know a token gesture when they see it.” (Joe)

Williams stays on the surface because his mission is to show how complicated this world is, how patronising to presume that, in writing from above, one can unearth, clean off, and exhibit the cause beneath the effect. When the fabric is embroidered with such rich interchanges as girls menacing the teacher who expelled and thus lost authority over them, inept car thieves as a spectator sport, a father too far gone on his daily booze to put a name to his son and even clashes between the officers investigating, a ‘point’ (as such) would deflate the world.

“Yu made me feel special. I wasn’t juss some yattie to yu. Dwayne comes along, and yu stop noticing me. Yu were too busy impressin him. Yu made me lose faith not just in yu, but in me, man.” (Shanice)

This world has its own, often unspoken rules – nowhere are crime series cliches allowed to overwrite. Emile, ground down by grief, is willing to share his girl (Shanice) with his leader (Dwayne), just for some quiet. There is widespread resentment at the victim’s supposed special treatment by the media. And, at the end of the play, this world’s own logic prevails. Time finally seems to be moving forward again – one character gets his qualification, others leave the area for self-protection, and Dwayne and Shanice step toward each other. Life goes on, for the survivors.

“Yer hauntin me, yu know dat?” (Dwayne)


It isn’t my duty to be unhappy

In quotables, writers writing now on January 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Notes on and quotes from Under the Blue Sky (2000) David Eldridge

I’ve been away. Mostly internally. Meanwhile, Subjectiviste splutters back to life with a series of posts based on the string of 10 plays chosen by Methuen to represent the Noughties in their recently published collections Royal Court Plays 2000-2010 and Twenty-First Century British Plays. This, as you may have already noticed, is the first. And that’s enough intro.

under the blue sky / telegraph

“You were heavy and pissed and you moved me around the bed like I was a prone body. But your words? The things you said. Your promises.” (Helen)

‘Under the Blue Sky’ is a tryptich of long, pointedly naturalistic scenes (the first even synchronised to the step-by-step cooking of a meal) between couples of teachers. The first sees said dinner – which one assumes is a romantic gesture – ratchet instead into confrontation as it’s revealed as an apologetic leave-taking. But Eldridge’s intentions are so anti-dramatic, a knife brandished (pathetically) at the fight’s height is returned to domesticity without a word – ‘He takes the knife from her, wipes it with a cloth and uses it to slice the bread’. The play’s world is as much defined by its mass, its mess of rhythms, as its content.

The second pairing is yet more disastrous – an effete history teacher and a promiscuous maths teacher, equally brutalised by booze, using a horribly embarrassing fantasy as their only means of meeting in the middle. When even that goes wrong, we are left with revelations, recriminations and blackmail. It’s pure poison – amid a tone set in large part by the symbolic role of teachers in our culture, ideals compromised and lessons unlearned.

“A thousand humiliations behind closed doors and yet so, so pleasant on parents’ evening.” (Michelle)

And, since these two first acts reflect each other in all essentials – unequal relationships where the most loved holds the power, where negotiations lead to artificial, all too adult arrangements – one can imagine the original audience bracing for the third. Eldridge makes every effort not to disappoint, with a still older couple attempting a civilised split in the aftermath of a party.

It becomes apparent the scenic structure does not merely echo – each becomes a lens to reframe the previous. And thus, we learn what happened next to each of the other couples with gossipy precision – these offstage endings only reinforcing the bleakness descending. After the histrionics of youngish love gone wrong and the sour libidinal twists of more or less middle age, we’re set for a finale which enforces the law of gravity and puts the story to two single beds.

“I’m holding you back. I know I am.” (Anne)

But no! There is to be no long elegiac taper toward numbed applause. This last love is not doomed – although it must navigate the traps of sentiment (a relative’s historical lost love story) and convention (their age difference) – at long, long last, it’s not romance but pragmatism that constructs this particular happy ending:

“I don’t know what love is but I do know that your face is the face I think about every morning… Your twinkling eyes and your hair. Your appalling bad manners in restaurants. Reading me favourite bits of books you’re reading. I think about your lined hands and kissing them… I know I’m just a fat English teacher who drinks too much and insults your students but I think you love me in fact you said a minute ago that you did so let’s please do it and be happy becuase I know we can…” (Robert)

Because, you see, the other thing about ‘the symbolic role of teachers in our culture’ is that they’re in charge of the future.

under the blue sky two

In ten years time she’ll still be dead

In classics long after, quotables on November 2, 2010 at 9:37 am

Notes on and quotes from 4:48 Psychosis (2000) Sarah Kane

“Some will call this self-indulgence / (They are lucky not to know its truth) / Some will know the simple fact of pain / This is becoming my normality”

When people say the psychic firestorm of Kane’s last play – entirely free of stage directions and thus endlessly re-interpreted since – symptomises a natural end, they show a want of imagination. Nothing was inevitable; if anything, art is the enemy, rather than the accomplice, of fate.

4:48 NYC

Such free plays, blank cheques from writers to directors, had been produced before – but even (for example) Handke’s Offending the Audience came with rules and sets. Kane waived such frames, and the form’s predominantly conceptual angle was here wrenched from public address to inward reflection (Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life had still mostly engaged from behind the third person). No directions, only text, and the text only fragments.

Although occasionally rising to the rhetorical highs of performance poetry, more often words pool in the (seeming) first-draft intimacy of diary depths. But beneath the stylistic scattershot and centrifugal emotional flux, there is a story. Of illness, and treatment. Of doctors who ask stupid questions, who understand less with each answer, doctors who prescribe drug after drug, each its own special effect. (“Please. Don’t switch off my mind by attempting to straighten me out.”) One seems to care, but cannot ultimately stretch beyond professional conduct: “You don’t need a friend you need a doctor” (After a pause: “You are so wrong”). Insomnia. And a moment of clarity – at 4:48.

“Nothing can extinguish my anger / And nothing can restore my faith / This is not a world in which I want to live”

4:48 2007

The title of this post is a quote from the playtext. It’s that reflexive, that tangled in tenses. Kane committed suicide in 1999. Even its first performance was posthumous. I could spin out sentences on what might have been, had she lived, but enough, I think, to acknowledge that her works have gone on to be mainstays of modern European theatre. Their questions live on.

“They will love me for what destroys me”

some productions: maurice maeterlinck

In classics long after, some productions, video on June 7, 2010 at 12:39 am

Theater mit Carnet (2004)

OK, so one more Kane play (4:48 Pychosis) to cover this coming week after which expect a stab at Howard Barker. Or Edward Bond. Plus all those other people I’ve already promised (Genet, Lorca, Churchill), with an ongoing chronological series of posts on happenings on the way besides. It’s exhausting to imagine.

But – just for today – thought I’d play catch-up by supplementing my previous series on Maeterlinck with a selection of performance clips. I like this feature. Try doing this in a newspaper (and click through for source / credits).

The Death of Tintagiles was the last of Maeterlinck’s plays to feature marionettes alongside actors (although he preferred puppets to people), and apparently relates the story of a queen sending for the surviving child of a family she has had murdered to complete the job herself. She is successful. PS: Maeterlinck did not get on so well in Hollywood (other clips from this almost Lynchian presentation if you click-thru).

And here’s a bold staging of his opera with Debussy, Pelléas et Mélisande, played up and down invisible staircases. The clash between their tradional costumery and what seems to be a stark geometric mountain is especially good.

And – not the clearest videocapture of The Blind, but placing the figures on sterile plinths is a nice touch. Additionally, excuse the excruciating ‘eye-opening’ unjoke in the introduction (and thumb-up soft-soaping) in this news piece on a production of the same played entirely by blind people.

the stain of a scream

In classics long after, quotables on June 3, 2010 at 11:38 pm

Notes on and quotes from Crave (1998) Sarah Kane

“I am lost, so fucking lost in this mess of a woman.” (A)


Famously, fearing her reputation was saturating reactions to her work (for and against), Kane trialled Crave under a pseudonym – and this was possible only because its total rejection of setting or stage direction was so formally remote from the explicit scenes of her previous plays. Likewise, extreme characters make way for genderless, ageless ciphers – A, B, C and M. “…one can almost feel the intoxicating release of Kane’s writing as the borderlines of character evaporate entirely and her imagery moves from physical to textual realisation.” (David Greig)

“She’s talking about herself in the third person because the idea of being who she is, of acknowledging that she is herself, is more than her pride can take.” (C)

Without proxies, there’s a tendency to listen for Kane’s own unfiltered voice – though the text is littered with quotes from other works. “I am an emotional plagiarist, stealing other people’s pain, subsuming it into my own.” (C) In this it perhaps functions in a similar way to TS Eliot’s The Waste Land (itself referenced in the play), but presented in a headlong rush of multiple views and voices recalling Beckett’s Play. Unlike the latter, Crave is never still or clear enough to allow a stable narrative to emerge.

Perhaps the closest to a common element between the voices is some trauma in the past, identified by at least one voice as sexual abuse – the picture painted indelible. “An empty car park which I can never leave,” says C. “That moment which I’ve been hurtling away from ever since,” says A – and the tension between the two goes a long way to embody the permanent aftermath many abuse victims feel. Kane did hint the roles might be played by a pair of older and younger men and women, suggesting classic family dynamics.

Crave 2

In fact, the longer the play goes on, the less real distinction there feels between the voices, the more it begins to feel like a single mind – or body which has internalised a conflict it is doomed to repeat. “Guilt lingers like the smell of death and nothing can free me from this cloud of blood.” (A) The same emotions erupting periodically. The same lies rehearsed and recited. “The same lesson, again and again.” (B) There is the sense of a family splitting just as there is a single wrecked psyche attempting to understand its wrecker. As the play ends, it has turned toward a feeling of almost hysterical heavenly redemption, but there is no resolution – the final positive climax ultimately seems as jumbled a mass of emotions as the lows before – this is the difference between message-based and experiential theatre. It’s like music. It’s like the weather.

“What’s anything got to do with anything?” (C)

they burned your body

In classics long after, quotables on May 28, 2010 at 12:33 am

Notes on and quotes from Cleansed (1998) Sarah Kane

“Think about getting up, it’s pointless. Think about eating, it’s pointless. Think about dressing, it’s pointless. Think about speaking, it’s pointless. Think about dying only it’s totally fucking pointless.” (Grace/Graham)

If Blasted made Kane’s name via its full-frontal short-circuit of naturalism, Cleansed would start in a resultant afterworld denuded of socio-historic context. And if the form of the former was explosive, the latter is institutional – some curious, awful hybrid of university and death camp, to be exact. The play’s episodes are experiments – to measure the power or worth of love in the face of violence as pure as dissection.


Tinker is doing the dissecting. He’s a doctor and a dealer. It’s his institution, and he is god within his own creation. When Grace arrives looking for her brother – whose overdose, presented almost as ritual, constitutes the first scene – she gives herself up to be closer to his memory, which will shadow her through the trials to come. She will dress in his clothes. Eventually they seem to fuse.

“Listen. I’m just saying this once. I love you now. I’m with you now. I’ll do my best, moment to moment, not to betray you. Now. That’s it. No more. Don’t make me lie to you.” (Rod)

Meanwhile, among the other inmates, Rod and Carl – a couple – will be torn apart with exactitude. 1984‘s fear of torture used to invalidate or de-idealise love is only the beginning for this pair of pinned butterflies. And it is in the physicality of their relationship’s dismemberment that we see how far beyond the arm’s length etiquette of psychological normalism Kane was willing to go. When Carl speaks love, his tongue is removed, when he writes, his hands, when he dances, his feet.

Cleansed again

So, where her first impact came from epic atrocities visited with the sudden force of divine thunderbolts on realistic characters, her second original play dovetails equal brutality so deeply in its everyday structure that it seems a stable element, a fact of life. What became the talking point this time was not the starkness of the action, but the calculated challenge of its impossible stage directions – most famously ‘The rats carry Carl’s feet away‘ but also the anti-illusionistic magic tricks of flowers growing through the floorboards or wounds synchronising on different bodies. For all the bloody carnage, the emotional cruelty, the fallibility of body and personality alike, the power of the play is manifested in its visual poetry. Suitably, it’s difficult to think beyond Yeats to summarise it – “A terrible beauty is born…”

“Shh shh shh. No regrets.” (Tinker)

some productions: sarah kane

In classics long after, some productions, video on May 22, 2010 at 10:34 am

Before moving on to Kane’s later work – and to demo just how firmly it’s taken root (especially in mainland Europe) – today I’m presenting a selection of performance clips. As her career progressed, she increasingly gave up stage directions, which has become a licence for radically different productions of her scripts – a kind of artistic roulette documented here in five videos (there are pages more on YouTube). Some nudity, violence, general emotional carnage – click through for credits…

Cleansed in an institutional loft space – bullets scattered on the floor and a fluorescent table holding props and visible sound effects (such as the amplified snip of shears which impacts on the characters remotely).

Meanwhile, 4:48 Psychosis – which famously comes with no stage directions – is often reinvented as physical theatre / dance. This production shows how its angst can become unnecessarily amplified in the process, but there are inventive elements – and it’s surely the share-all challenge of Kane’s writing which has seen her become so popular – especially with younger audiences.

Stark lighting and casual clothes give this 4:48 (recently staged at the Barbican) a hard-edged clarity often lost in an anti-dramatic morass haphazardly punctuated by melodramatic gestures (more from same production). A script with no guide demands a lot of director and actor(s) – when they fail, it’s most often due to indulging themselves (directors with over-literal and/or reverent staging, actors treating the play’s supremely exposed internal landscape as one showboat breakdown scene).

Another very physical take – the strength here being (aside from being admirably well-drilled) that the actresses aren’t afraid to have fun – when 4:48 Psychosis is performed as a one-note piece on depression, it tries the patience (ha – ‘tries the patients’ would be a pretty good plot summary). In itself, this flatness, this difficulty to endure may even be a point worth making, – but it’s almost certainly unintended by most who expect the supposed verite / endless emoting of unleavened pain to hold an audience’s attention indefinitely…

Some of the more interesting productions step away from the script as monologue / chamber piece and flesh out as full ensemble – there’s something perverse about Kane’s painfully personal  confessional emerging from such a plethora of mouths, but there’s maybe also a nice feel for the splintering of self – or even a comfort in solidarity.