The best of times:
– Feeding mice with a paintbrush at 4 in the morning.
– Spending hours scraping all the chewing gum off the carpet at The Woolwich Grand Theatre only to be presented with a steam cleaner that had been there all along for the last section, which took moments.
– The glorious day trip to Cambridge to vote for the new Chancellor (Brian Blessed woz robbed): lunch in the Maypole, an impromptu tour of the new (to me) ADC, a spot of dressing up in gowns, tea and cake and memory lane.
The worst of times:
– Well, clearing houses of heaps of stuff.
– And repeatedly trying to guess what the church might actually permit on my father’s gravestone. (Still haven’t managed a good guess).
– And being in the middle of a riot zone.
– (And some other stuff that I talk about in an anonymous blog which I might link to one day. But might not).
So, pretty much on the pants side of poo.
Roll on 2012!
Theatre-wise, I’ve been mostly ambivalent about things I’ve seen this year. I loved The Adventures of Wound-Man and Shirley, which is touring in 2012, I believe, so take a gander at that. And a Cinderella at the Battersea Mess and Music Hall was absolutely delightful, but big shows pretty much left me cold this year as so many lacked heart and humanity. I will accept that 2011 has been pretty extreme in very real ways for me, so I guess my emotion- and compassion-o-meters have become recalibrated, but all the same, I found myself gawping at what I perceived to be alarming cold-heartedness really quite often.
For example, two shows which have been raved about left me feeling empty. The Animals and Children Took to the Streets was beautiful to look at, technically superb, but just lacked heart. I felt no emotional connection to any of the characters – well, OK, maybe the caretaker a little bit – but the rest of the world thought it was amazing. And it was. Technically astounding. But surely there’s only so long you can marvel at a person’s ability to pat the head of an animated dog? Actually, there might not have been an animated dog, I can’t remember, but ultimately, this play would have been the same if it was a cartoon. There’s no doubt that all the members of this company are hugely accomplished, but the fact that there were some real, live, breathing, thinking people in this piece didn’t seem to add to it. The piece had to be precise and regimented because of the technical side of it, and that left no room for it to be fresh each time. No room for real connection. It has to be replicated – like a film – each night rather than be alive. If that makes any kind of sense.
I was also one of apparently only two people on the planet who thought London Road (a verbatim musical about the residents of the road where the man who committed the Ipswich murders of 2006 lived) was bizarrely tedious and unexpectedly nasty (sorry, Adam – you’re brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, but even you admitted in the programme notes that it was, by its nature, boring) in stark opposition to the rest of the world who seemed to side with the critics and deem it the most wonderful musical ever. Like The Animals and Children… it was undoubtedly technically superb, but it was uncomfortable to watch, not as in ‘Heck, I feel uncomfortable because this is making me confront all sorts of uncomfortable issues’ but uncomfortable as in ‘Heck, I feel uncomfortable because I cannot fathom why they made this’. Some of the choices made by the creative team seemed bizarre. For example, the big musical comedy set-piece was all about a reporter trying, failing and eventually succeeding to not say the word ‘semen’. Sounds funny, doesn’t it? I mean, it’s a rude word and everything. But his report is about the bodily fluid found inside women who were raped and murdered. Context does matter. Some might say it’s everything. But this didn’t stop half the bloody National Theatre audience roaring with laughter and clapping when he finally managed not to say semen. Yes, we all know funny, inappropriate things happen in the direst circumstances, but this song didn’t point that up; it was a comic number about a man getting frustrated with his inability to not say a certain word. The context had been forgotten. As people around me guffawed, I was sitting there muttering ‘This is disgusting’. Disgusting and boring! Wow! Bring on the awards!
Verbatim theatre seems to have gone mainstream now, but a verbatim piece that is, well, verbatim, will surely always need work (beyond editing and, in this case, composing music and setting conversations and [endlessly] repeated phrases to it) to become a play, otherwise, why not just make a documentary? You can make compelling documentary theatre – ask Richard Norton-Taylor. I found it incredibly telling that the one time when London Road really came alive with humanity was when recordings of interviews with local women working as prostitutes were played. This was directly after, if my memory serves me correctly, the actors had delivered the same words, with the same vocal nuances, but with no connection to the words and therefore no soul. That brief burst of recorded speech highlighted how unreal the rest of the piece was. And demonstrated beautifully that replicating vocal patterns aint enough – you still need to connect body, mind and soul to the words otherwise you end up with a bunch of people shuffling about looking and sounding like they’ve had lobotomies. Which is sadly, what I saw when I witnessed London Road. And all the way through, I couldn’t help wondering about what Alecky Blythe, the verbatim theatre practitioner who co-created this piece might have been thinking when she started travelling up to Ipswich to record interviews while bodies were still being found. It reminded me of how, when I finished reading In Cold Blood, I felt that the title also applied to Mr Capote.
On a happier note, I discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 2011 (yes, that’s rather more than fashionably late to the party, I know) and its sheer brilliance, wit, intelligence, inventiveness, compassion and character development pretty much knocked all the theatre I saw into a cocked hat. I have a suspicion that it might be quite tragic that I’ve never identified with a fictional character as much as with Spike (seasons 5-7). Or maybe everyone feels that way?