Posts Tagged ‘video’

where now: when critics relent and punks dance

In life elsewhere on June 10, 2010 at 1:07 pm

Body Map

The second of my strictly irregular surveys of theatreland semi-news starts with the triumphant return of two culture heroes – one of them is, admittedly, dead as anything, but that shouldn’t stop us celebrating on Terence Rattigan’s behalf. The NT’s production of After the Dance is currently being positively smothered in polite cuddles. Meanwhile, Michael Clark is concluding his latest tour and giving long-sighted interviews over his shoulder. The picture in the header is from long-time costumier collaborators Bodymap – and, for those less familiar, I now present two videos of his post-punk crossover work…

‘The Shivering Man’, music courtesy of Wire’s Bruce Gilbert, powder FX and micro-moves of Clark’s own genius.

…and The Fall live, with Michael Clark dancers. Bez they are not, and the prospect of radical band plus avant troupe now feels like a curio, a path not taken (the even more integrated ‘Kurious Oranj’ show here).

Meanwhile, Tricycle are halfway through their ambitious Women, Power and Politics series of events including specially-commissioned plays, documentary screenings and an exhibition. Make it a success and we’ll hopefully see a lot more of these very self-reinforcing, complicatedly-engaged seasons.

Last, I have been a beast in other people’s comment boxes recently. It feels weird to link to them, but feeling weird is a sign you’re doing something new (if not necessarily right), so… a) me on plays-as-literature, b) on regional theatre / coverage, c) aaand…

Seems to me another happy symptom of the shift in theatre away from plays which claim to anatomise a very defined individual via rooted psychology. When a character is written this way, it’s an attempt to illustrate Freud’s biology -as-destiny (plus past-equals-future). The achievement is in  the ingenuity and beauty of their clockwork mechanism (exposed accommodatingly to the audience). The play is the process of solving the character – it’s a modernist whodunnit – the further we move on faster the batter.

Refusing biographical specifics will back to the older, more open forms. And, if ‘human universals’ are just as suspect, what we need is theatre-makers to worry less about representing The Truth, accepting no one of us knows The Truth (whose truth?) and approaching the work as a genuinely experimental process. This means a string of irresponsible chemical weddings – gender-shifts, narrative shuffles, perspective-reversals. We have to accept that our initial unexamined ideas, views and even questions are often banal – it’s in joining dots which look initially distant that we often make the real insights.

Which is to say, the more radical our fantasies, the more they follow a real scientific method, the better the chances of us hitting on new (lower case, y’see?) truths, the closer we get to an art as open as life.


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.

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.

literally a pinteresque soap opera

In classics long after, video on February 16, 2010 at 1:38 am

I hate bloggers’ excuses, and I hate bloggers’ apologies, and I am aware that the health of any blog can be scientifically determined by the ratio of those to actual content (there are blogs in the world which consist entirely of the two – and they are a miserable blight on all our patience). But!

I suddenly have a play in development, and no sooner did that flood my fluttering cortex than I additionally became non-dramatically ill. Bed, reading, really bad food, better. Now, I fully intend to keep my promises re: Jewish theatre so one or two posts on that should arrive this week, but in the meanwhile, I’d recommend keeping an eye to Theatre in Pieces, where small but intriguing things appear daily, plus – for all y’all delectation, a non-programmed item:

Yes, it’s Laurence Olivier’s adaption of Pinter’s ‘The Collection’ for British TV. Click through to YouTube for the other five parts. I have mixed feelings to be honest.

Oh, and – do you have any olives?

lines from fear and misery of the third reich

In classics long after, quotables on January 24, 2010 at 11:15 am

“Not my stomach.”; “Flog his stomach.”

‘Fear and Misery…’ is an unusual play within Brecht’s body of work, consisting of a series of sketched situations lacking recurring characters or a strictly developing narrative other than growing ambient menace as the Nazis consolidate their stranglehold on the Fatherland. Brecht digs for small moments in everyday lives where the oppression solidifies – or, even more interestingly, sometimes briefly liquefies.

fear and misery book

So:  in the scene quoted above, an exhausted torturer makes his victim fake it while he takes a rest. Hearing an inspector approaching, they resume just as the ‘superior’ looks in, giving the order. Elsewhere, an increasingly terrified judge not knowing which branch of the government he must appease in a case wherein they clash, the doctor who trains juniors to diagnose through questioning the patient – except, it turns out, when they’ve been beaten half to death for politics. Most uncomfortably, a man on his death bed demands the priest list the ways in which Heaven will be different – despite his SA son at the bedside.

It’s a tactic which pays off – such was the brutality of the regime, any art attempting to capture its extemes in full frontal would look hopelessly, offensively bathetic held up to real events – and, worse, unrealistic, since the Nazi’s crimes were so black and white, so widescreen.

The last sketch features rebels listening to the radio: “It really does sound like a single people, wouldn’t you say?”; “It sounds like twenty thousand drunks being stood free beer.”

lines from the good person of setzuan

In classics long after, quotables on January 20, 2010 at 10:01 am

“The little life boat is swiftly sent down / Too many men too greedily  / Hold on to it as they drown.”

the good person again

There’s plenty competition, but I think ‘The Good Person…’ shades it as my most favoured of Brecht’s plays – the fond exoticism (itself a kind of picturesque alienation) of the Chinese setting frames a narrative which demonstrates trials of altruism that seem counter-intuitive when compared to almost any post-Christian (often Manichean) ‘spiritual progress’ but ring depressingly true with modern society.

“I haven’t eaten for two days. I couldn’t love you if I tried.”

Only when the titular good person invents a ruthless cousin to protect her interests (herself in drag) can she maintain the business she inherited, but as the play goes on she has to spend more and more time as her alter ego, the desperate measure becoming the dominant personality – a formally elegant and deeply resonant metaphor for the changes those who would be successful must enforce upon themselves.

“I want your water, Wong / The water that has tired you so / The water that you carried all this way / The water that is hard to sell because it is raining.”

Not so long ago, I watched ‘The Trap’, Adam Curtis’ brilliant doc on game theory, which emerges as a system posited on seeing everyone in the world around you as a rational, selfish agent (its populariser, John Forbes Nash, Jr. was quite literally having a paranoid breakdown at the time). Disastrously, this has become the ‘realistic’ default for how we – individuals and organisations – see each other, despite it proving a pretty unsatisfactory prediction tool – spontaneous kindnesses or any changes of heart are beyond it. Incidentally, I include artists in that – when was the last time you saw altruism represented as above without it then being rationalised for some ulterior motive (or pathologised as a kind of irrational love that’s like living with a pleasant but self-destructive sickness)..? What does it do to a society when reflexive kindness is represented as ‘unrealistic’? (Edward Bernays should also take some blame, the fink).

“Your injunction / To be good and yet to live / Was a thunderbolt / It has torn me in two… Why are bad deeds rewarded / Good ones punished? …I became a wolf / Find me guilty then, illustrious ones / But know: / All that I have done I did / To help my neighbour / To love my lover / And to keep my little one from want.”

Also: most narratives, being simplistic depictions, operate via potlatch – favours for favours, etc – but Brecht knows debts accrue interest, gifts (even noble sacrifices) can lose value, people will usually pay the minimum they can for services and, when one can’t pay in full, there will be consequences (those who’ve been good will not be magically luckier than those who have not).

“You’re thinking, aren’t you, that this is no right / Conclusion to the play you’ve seen tonight? …You write the happy ending to the play / There must, there’s got to be a way!”

good person

lines from st joan of the stockyards

In classics long after, quotables, video on November 30, 2009 at 1:30 am

“People don’t move me. They are not guiltless.” – Mauler (3)

St Joan of the Stockyards

St Joan of the Stockyards (1974 production)

Very much an ensemble piece, with large parts of the action being conducted between choruses representing meat-packers, stock-breeders and wholesalers (in a business-class manner Caryl Churchill would later echo with Serious Money), St Joan has at its heart a strange dance between Mauler, a meat trader stricken with doubts (“Oh, what a bloody business we are in”) which may or may not be tactical, and Joan, from the Black Straw Hats (akin to Salvation Army) who confronts him (literally) with the “invisible people” he exploits.

In an attempt to counter her idealistic onslaught, Mauler’s serpentine assistant, Slift, shows her how lowly-paid workers exploit each other, but she sees through crime to the logic of need: “You have shown me not / The baseness of the poor but / The poverty of the poor.”

“The cruel thing about hunger is that / However often you satisfy it, it always comes back again.” – Mrs Luckerniddle (7)

“…nothing, however good it looks, should be termed good unless it / Really helps, and nothing counted honourable but what / Irrevocably changes the world, which is in need of change. / I was just what the oppressors wanted. / Oh, inconsequential goodness! / Oh, negligible virtue! (…) Take care that when you leave the world / You have not merely been good, but are leaving  / A better world!” – Joan (8)

Joan exploits the curious hold her innocence has on the softening Mauler by sitting down in solidarity with the jobless from his plant (“The snow will be falling on someone you know”) but, in her heroism, she refuses to compromise herself with pragmatic matters, and the workers lose out as a result of her negligence. She dies, still preaching, pure and useless, canonised by her movement, who have been bought out / ‘supported’ by Mauler (“We’ll promise them that the rich will be punished – after death, of course.”)

“For there is a gulf between the top and bottom, wider / Than between the high Himalaya and the sea / And what gos on at the top / Is not known at the bottom / Nor on top what goes on at the bottom / And top and bottom have two languages…” – Joan (8)

Brecht’s real heroes are ‘flexible’ tricksters or unromantic pragmatists, and his happy endings, few – the frustration of seeing how the world really – mostly – works is supposed to send the audience out at the final curtain wanting to change it. But this play has what is maybe his most enduringly hopeful exchange – between workers who have tried and failed to convince the police that they are equals and should unite. One turns to the other: “Will it always be like this?” The audience considers the tragic conception of the human race, so endlessly fallible, the good intentions gone awry, original sin, hubris and nemesis. And, as they are taken away: “No,” answers the other.

lines from the threepenny opera

In classics long after, quotables, video on November 30, 2009 at 1:00 am

“In five minutes, I can turn any man into such a pitiful wreck it would make a dog weep. Is it my fault if people don’t weep?” – Peachum (1:3)

Threepenny Opera poster

Brecht’s early spectacular (which was spectacularly successful – not often the case for his work in his lifetime) features crime and punishment as close friends, a beggars’ bureau, a kind of anti-wedding burlesque, ballads including ‘…of Immoral Earnings’ and ‘…of Sexual Obsession’, all building to a public execution that’s aborted for the audience’s sake (stage-signposted: ‘THE APPEARANCE OF THE DEUS EX MACHINA’).

“Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance / In keeping its humanity repressed / For once you must try not to shirk the facts / Mankind is kept alive due to bestial acts.” (Second Threepenny Finale: ‘What Keeps Mankind Alive’)

See video above for taster trailer of what happened when Robert Wilson joined forces with the Berliner Ensemble for a recent production.

“The law was made for one thing alone, for the exploitation of those who don’t understand it, or are prevented by naked misery from obeying it.” – Peachum (3:7)

Peachum, the king of the beggars, may have the quotes here, but Macheath (who would enter popular culture as ‘Mac the Knife’) has a hell of a black wit, and Polly, Peachum’s daughter, delivers an antisocial star turn with her song (and imagined alter-ego) ‘Pirate Jenny’ (“As they ask which has got to die / And you’ll hear me as I softly answer: the lot!”).

“Our judges are absolutely incorruptible: it’s more than money can do to make them give a fair verdict.” – Peachum (3:7)

who owns the world?

In classics long after on November 20, 2009 at 12:23 am

A sideshuffle – click-thru below to watch Kuhle Wampe (‘Empty Belly’), as written by Brecht about endemic unemployment in the Weimar Republic.

Kuhle Wampe

Full film here. The sound quality is pondlike, and the action often overwritten by subtitles bigger than extras, but consider medium-fails as A-Effekts and stay the course. Not that I’ve made it all the way through myself yet.

brecht on BBC

In classics long after on November 19, 2009 at 11:09 am

This amiable enough BBC2 doc is presented here mostly for its footage of the Berliner Ensemble (including  Helene Wiegel’s definitive Mother Courage). That said, I spent much of it snarling at the (American) voice behind the voice-over for pronouncing our immortal firebrand’s name as ‘Bresht’. There may have been some unworthy feelings of superiority draped over a series of small tuts. I liked it even less when a fellow German talking head up-popped to pronounce it the same way.

Can it be? ‘Bresht’? Sound like a drunk remakrking on a bosom. I’ve always liked the brutal percussiveness of ‘Brekt’. I think I’m going to ignore the correction, at least until told in the real world. You should follow your soft + yielding bourgeois heart.